in Hospitality, Marketing

Just because your competitors fail at something, it’s not your job to improve it

Most hostels provide a meal approximating breakfast for their guests. Emphasis on “approximating”. One glance at a review of most hostels, and you’ll find the all-too-frequent complaints about the quality of breakfast. “They put out boxes of pizza and old doughnuts (half a donut each, if that),” wrote one traveler on the review website HostelWorld. From another: “The hostel’s ‘free breakfast’ consisted of ROTTEN EGGS, Stale BREAD.” And that’s only scratching the surface. A hostel breakfast is a culinary roll of the dice.

Why is that? Simple: It is labor-intensive and cost-prohibitive to cook great breakfasts for dozens of guests, each one with their own specific tastes, allergies, and preferences. Hostels run on relatively low margins, so simple decisions like whether or not to serve a gourmet breakfast can actually make a big difference. The result: a meal that begins the day and starts with the best intentions turns out to be too much of a hassle for the hostel owner, and you, the unfortunate hostel guest, are left smearing peanut butter onto white bread and calling it breakfast.

I know what you’re thinking: HK Austin decided to make breakfast amazing, right? Nope. In fact, we decided not to serve breakfast at all. Here’s why: Across the street from HK Austin are the best breakfast tacos in the city (and possibly the world). We encourage our guests to visit Veracruz All Natural, and we’ve never had a single complaint about the tacos or about our lack of breakfast. After all, half the enjoyment of staying at a hostel is taking in the local flavor and culture. We want to encourage that for our guests, and we knew that our own pitiful attempts at breakfast would never compete with the Veracruz migas (a taco that Food Network named one of the Top 5 in America). Competing against that was a losing battle, and one we had no intention of fighting.

Here’s the truth: Competitive advantages are excruciatingly hard to find, and it’s tempting in business to think that any one of your competitor’s weaknesses is something you can exploit. But sometimes what can seem like a hidden advantage for you turns out to be a warning. That was the case with our breakfast issue. If you notice a defect in your competitor’s product, rather than race to say, “We can fix that!”, take a step back and ask yourself, “Why is that a defect? What is keeping them from fixing it themselves?” More often than not, you’ll discover good reasons why they’ve chosen to leave a flaw in their product, and that knowledge can be valuable competitive intelligence.


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