Let me preface this post with two points. First, I am odd – I veer towards the Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) social interaction skills and lack of empathy for the common person. Second, I want to like Spain and Spaniards and fundamentally have nothing against the country or it’s countrymen. In fact, when I was growing up one of my good friends was a Spaniard (Julio) and we got on famously.
But … and here’s my point. Nothing in Spain really works (and probably never will).
OK, OK. All the Spaniards in the room calm down. Yes, yes. Some things do work and some things work great. Just the other day we travelled through Barcelona Airport and it was fantastic.
Spain looks like it has all the trappings of a modern society – but in reality they don’t work or don’t work very well.
Housing, ugly. Internet, slow. Motorways, avoided because they run parallel to other major roads that don’t have tolls. Post offices, huge edifices where you will spend hours (well maybe not hours) waiting in line. Food, obsessed with ham – no really, ham everywhere and seemingly at every meal.
The other year they decided to re-number the motorway system in Spain. Probably a European edict that said they needed to be more Euro-like (I don’t know, I’m guessing here). Well sounds like a good idea – except they decided to keep the 2 numbering systems side-by-side for a year or two. Until everyone got used to the new motorway numbering system. Can you imagine the chaos for visitors from out of town!
We were driving from the North-East corner to the South-West corner of Spain – it took us 2 days to figure out what was going on, after a number of let us say “heated” discussions in the car between the driver (me) and map-reader (Mrs. Emini-Watch). Why would you do that? Keep 2 motorway numbering systems side-by-side for a couple of years – can you imagine the motorway signs?
And here’s where Tapas comes in. I hate Tapas bars. Tapas food – great. But Tapas bars – suck.
The deal with Tapas is that you enter the establishment. Are greeted by a friendly barman. You order your drink and then lean casually agains the bar. Maybe chatting to a friend, maybe chatting to the barman. As you drink your drink, you occasionally select bite-sized or double bite-sized snacks from plates liberally distributed on the bar area. The plates cover the entire bar, often two or three high. They look amazing, colourful, enticing. OK there’s a liberal amount of ham involved – but there’s also cheese, anchovies, shellfish, sausages too.
What’s not to like? Well, it’s a fiasco.
As soon as 3 or 4 groups crowd the bar the whole system stops working. New customers coming to the bar can’t get a look-in. Have to shout their order to the barman. Can’t get access to the food. All the while, the early birds just ignore you. No attempt to move out of the way – no, they’ve marked their turf at the Tapas bar. And they’re not giving it up.
So what’s the big deal? Why do I care so much? Well, it’s not the crowding behaviour of the common man, not the good time seemingly had by gregarious people that I object to.
No, it’s the inefficiency. It’s the lack of logic in the whole setup. As Spock would say: “Highly illogical, Captain”.
Let’s look at the economics of a Tapas bar. Tapas is cheap – and so is beer in Spain. Typical Tapas (not tourist prices) about 3.00 Euros per piece and a beer or glass of wine about the same. Your typical Tapas bar can accomodate about 10 people and during the 2 hour Tapas frenzy, you’ll “turn you table” maybe 2 or 3 times max. So your typical Tapas bar revenue at lunch time is 270 Euros. Then maybe you’ll do a little more at dinner time. Which makes your total revenue for the year (only working 270 days a year, they have a lot of ‘Feria’ holidays) about 200k Euros. Then you’ve got food costs, staff, premises.
It’s not a goer, the economics of Tapas bars are dreadful.
And all because the layout is wrong. Why would you let people crowd around a bar stopping other people buying your product? Once you’ve made your initial Tapas and drink sale, what are the chances of a second or third Tapas sale to the same person? It’s too hard, the incremental sale (“Would you like fries with that?”) is never made because you can’t get close to the bar.
Maybe my numbers are light. Maybe Tapas bars are a bonanza and that’s why there are so many of them (although my guess it that they’re easy to start, no pricey chef involved). But what I do know is that without throughput you are limiting your revenue potential. Letting people stand in front of your sales counter consuming your product while obstructing others from buying is frankly – stupid.
So, there you go, a Spanish institution as Spanish as flamenco dancing and bullfighting (both, incidentally, pushed by Franco to create a Spanish national identity) just does not work.
And that’s what I keep on saying whenever I’m visiting Spain, when things just don’t work: “That’s just Spain”. And the Spanish are seemingly OK with that.
Slow Internet? Meh. Ugly apartment buildings? Meh. Crowded ‘A’ roads and empty motorways? Meh. Failing Tapas bars? Meh. Unemployment rate of 23%? Meh. Youth unemployment rate of 44%. Meh.
Sorry Spain. Economic progress is all about incremental fixing of small problems. Small innovations that move the ball forward, year after year after year. So until you fix the Tapas bars I don’t think there’s much hope for getting out of your economic funk.