What a proposition isn’t. What a proposition is. With a little help from a French café or two.

  • Ed Haigh

It’s a cold, bright January day, and I’m walking down the Avenue Montaigne in Paris. My meeting has finished early and I’ve got a couple of hours before my next one. Pulling my coat tight around myself against the wind, I realise that I’m hungry—I was up early to get the Eurostar from London and it’s been a long time since breakfast.

Approaching Place de l’Alma I spot a café—Chez Francis—with what looks like a menu on a board outside. I make a beeline for it, my mind already anticipating what might be on offer. A beef bourguignon would go down well on a day like this. Maybe a nice pot-au-feu. Something filling and warming. As I get closer the words on the board come into focus:

1 chef
2 sous-chefs
1 chef pâtissier
25kg of beef
18kg of carrots
50kg of onions
12kg of butter
18 litres of olive oil
75 bottles of burgundy
35 tables
120 chairs

I stop. That wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Nor is it what I need. I mean, to my untrained eye there’s pretty much everything you need to make a beef bourguignon on that list (although I’m wondering if there are some mushrooms and tomatoes missing), but there’s not actually a beef bourguignon. And I’m still hungry and cold.

I look up and down the street: There are a few other cafés but they look much the same, and from what I can make out they’ve got the same sort of list on their boards. So I step inside Chez Francis.

The waiter brings me a menu—it’s got the same list on it too. I ask him if it’s possible for these things to be used to make a beef bourguignon. He looks unsure, disappears for a few minutes, and then comes back with the chef. The trouble, according to the chef, is that the sous-chef is Polish and doesn’t understand any French. The last time the two of them tried to make a beef bourguignon together they ended up with a sort of Franco-Polish goulash, and it wasn’t quite what the customer was looking for. The chef says he’s hopeful this can be avoided, because the Polish chef has now been given a French name (he was Piotr, he’s now Pierre) and they’re really committed to working together to produce great food; however, he can’t guarantee anything.

I mull over my options for a moment, and then ask how much the beef bourguignon will cost, assuming they’re able to make it. The chef scratches his chin and then says that he thinks it will take them about an hour to make the dish, so I’ll need to pay both of them for their time, and also pay for the ingredients they use. But then he leans forward, as if to suggest that he’s about to make things a bit easier for me, and whispers that he’ll put 20% of the combined fees at risk dependent on them being able to produce a successful meal for me.

I weigh up my options for a minute and then, to their clear disappointment, get up and walk out the door. Still cold, still hungry, and also a little confused.

Turning right onto Avenue George V, I spot Bistro de Marius. Outside there’s a board on which is written: “Cold? Hungry? Come inside and have a big, warming bowl of cassoulet de Toulouse. €15.

Now that’s a proposition.

The cafés in this little story exist, but everything else about them is made up to make a point that I hope you’ll get without me insulting your intelligence by spelling it out. Incidentally, we think that the future success of the world’s leading professional services firms depends in no small part on them being able to break with their past and create unique and powerful propositions, and we’re working with many of them to do that. If you’d like to talk to us about creating or refining your own proposition, we’d love to hear from you. Oh, and by the way, Chez Francis actually has a lovely terrace that catches the winter sun and which has a view of the Eiffel Tower. I have no idea whether it does a beef bourguignon.