Le Relais de Venise: L’Entrecôte; Le Relais de l’Entrecôte; L’Entrecôte. The names of these restaurants are similar, partly overlapping, and they all follow the same concept of steak-frites bistro (more on the concept shortly) developed in the family Ginsete de Saurs. Yet the restaurants belong to three separate business entities within the broad family, each with its own small chain. It is so easy to mix-up between them.

The restaurant ‘Le Relais de Venise: Son Entrecôte’ was established by Paul Ginsete de Saurs in 1959 near Porte Maillot in Paris. He bought an Italian restaurant and turned it into a bistro-type restaurant that serves a fixed menu of steak-frites (it is said he received his inspiration from a restaurant, Café de Paris, in Geneva, Switzerland).  The founder added, however, his own specialty secret recipe of sauce to the steak that differentiated it from creamy sauces served with entrecôte steaks at other restaurants. Conspicuously, he kept the interior traditional Venetian design of the restaurant although its food had nothing to do with Italian cuisine any longer. To the existing title signage on the restaurant’s frontage Paul Ginsete de Saurs just added: ‘son entrecôte‘. This year (2019) the founding restaurant celebrates its 60th birthday.

The concept initiated at ‘Le Relais de Venise’ has to these days several distinguishing marks. The fixed menu includes a starter of green salad with walnuts, and a main course of slices of entrecôte steak and pommes frites (allumettes); the steak is accompanied by a green sauce described as butter-based with a secretive combination of herbs, spices and condiments. The only choice given to customers is how they want the steak to be made — rare, medium or well-done (the latter is least recommended). The main course is served twice (i.e., each customer receives a supplement when finishing the first serving). The restaurant patrons can choose, nonetheless, from a selection of homemade desserts and cheese. The restaurant also offers its house wine from the family’s winery near Toulouse. As yet another attention-grabbing characteristic, the serving staff are all waitresses dressed in a classic French-maid black-and-white outfit. Finally, as a cautionary note, the restaurant takes no reservations (i.e., expect to stand in line to get allowed in).

One cannot miss how well these distinguishing marks form a brand, endowing it with visible identifying elements whilst suggesting the foundations of its identity, such as product, culture and style. The secret sauce stands at the centre of this apparent brand’s unique assets.  A distinct brand could emerge if a single brand were associated with all these marks. Alas, the reality turns out to be more complicated.

Paul Ginsete de Saurs passed away in 1966. The restaurant concept is continued by Paul’s two daughters and son in three different restaurant business groups (chains)[*]:

  • Le Relais de Venise: L’Entrecôte — Helene Godillot, keeping the original Paris location + branches in New-York City, London (3) and Mexico City.
  • Le Relais de L’Entrecôte  — Marie-Paule Burrus, having branches in Paris (3), Geneva and Zürich  (plus holding of the family winery).
  • L’Entrecôte — Henri Ginsete de Saurs, proprietor of five restaurants in France: Toulouse (started already in 1962), Bordeaux, Nantes, Montpellier, and Lyon, plus a branch in Barcelona.

Restaurants of all these groups are popularly known in short as “L’Entrecôte”, but that might just mask the inability of consumers to distinguish between the apparent “sister” groups. Behind the scene stands a more intricate situation of ownership and control of the concept. The short name could be only a virtual brand in the minds of consumers without being actually managed as a marketing brand (e.g., three completely separate websites with no crossover links or mentions). The third generation of the family is now active in all three enterprises. It is noted that restaurants in France from the three chains sustain the rule of taking no reservations whereas restaurants outside France tend to allow reservations.

  • Reviews on TripAdvisor (French, British, American)  do not openly reveal confusion between the groups. When reviewers name the chain of restaurants they refer to, it is hard to tell if they are familiar with the other chains offering the same concept. At least one reviewer described “Le Relais de l’Entrecôte” as the original French restaurant, and another reviewer thanked “Le Relais de l’Entrecôte” for opening a restaurant in NYC when the branches there are really only of “Le Relais de Venise: L’Entrecôte”.

The customers might not care who in the family is delivering to them the concept of “L’Entrecôte”; it could be outright transparent to them. But this state of affairs can be troublesome and even cause awkward situations when customers wish to compare their current experience to previous ones at any restaurant they associate with “L’Entrecôte”. What happens in particular if the experience falls below the diner’s expectations? — such as when the slices are cut more like narrow strips than slices or are not red enough (when medium-done). Above all stands the reputation of the sauce — it could be perceived as greenish-brown, but what if it looks more brown than any green, if it is too thick and creamy, or it just does not taste as one remembers from a past experience.

The problem arising is: what experiences should be right to apply as a reference for comparison. Is it fair and valid to compare, for instance, between a restaurant of Le Relais de l’Entrecôte in Zürich with a restaurant of Le Relais de Venise: L’Entrecôte in Paris? Are they truly from one and the same organisation-union? Subsequent concerns may arise as to what level of co-ordination exists between branches of the broad family Ginsete de Saurs, and who is in charge of ensuring the consistency of the concept? It is further less clear who looks after consistency and credibility of the ‘brand’ “L’Entrecôte”, if it is at all real and matters to family owners of their restaurant groups.

In practice, it seems that there are three restaurant brands closely competing with each other based on the same product and a concept surrounding it. It is widely recognised as a tough task to maintain consistency of quality in food and service among a chain of restaurants, especially when some are run by franchisees / licensees (e.g., outside of France); it should be far more complicated if the restaurants belong separately to different groups that are not properly and effectively aligned together. Moreover, it might make them even more vulnerable to challenges from external, unrelated followers, me-too and imitator restaurant establishments, worse so if they also adopt names similar to those of the three groups of the family Ginsete de Saurs (e.g., L’Entrecôte de Paris).

The restaurants of “L’Entrecôte” from the three family groups have a good concept at hand: a tasty meal of entrecôte steak with its secret sauce and a generous serving of frites (served twice), kind service, and pleasant traditional ambience. It has the potential for a strong supportive brand to help keep the restaurant business thriving for longer. It  might be the right challenge for the third generation of the broad family Ginsete de Saurs to come together, re-organise their culinary kingdom and unite it under a shared roof with a single brand to identify their concept; they may call it “L’Entrecôte au Relais”.

Note:

[*] The restaurant groups are listed as in Wikipedia’s value: L’Entrecôte, and corroborated by other sources, including the groups’ websites. Henri Ginsete de Saurs passed away in 2016.

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