The Signature Dish

On my trip to the slightly surreal gated communities in Surrey this week, we ate at a delightful, if very expensive, restaurant. As seems to be the norm, there was a “signature dish”. It led me to ponder – what constitutes a signature dish?

If it is a dish that nobody else can make, with ingredients they cannot access, that showcase exceptional skills, that would count. In this case, however, the signature dish was good but not outstanding and one I would expect to see on the menu at any similar restaurant. It seemed to have the same characteristics as one of those rubber stamp signatures used years ago to make the task of signing many documents less tedious or the scanned signatures found at the bottom of emails.

The reality is that every piece of work we do carries our signature, whether we work in a call centre or run a corporation. We are not machines, so whatever the interaction, it bears the imprint of who we are, how we behave, and our level of skill and commitment.

The thought that everything we do carries our signature is a sobering one. Is our signature legible, stylish and memorable, or is it a cheap rubber stamp? If we are proud of what we do, everything should be a “signature dish”. The alternative is a cheap marketing trick of showing one classy, attractive, beautifully presented and photographed dish in the hope that its halo effect will cover the rest of our average menu. If we get someone else to make our “signature” dish, does that make it a forgery?

Our signature is precious. We are in an age when we can automate and precisely replicate most products and services. Think of banks, insurance companies, hotel chains and many others, where the brand becomes very fuzzy and indistinctive. We need to take great care with our own if we are not to become, like those brands, a commodity.

The effort we put into being distinctive – what we read, how we prepare, the details we notice, how we take care of our products, services and clients – are all elements of our signature. In a time where everything that can be automated can be replicated, what we put our name to determines our future.

So we need to do it with care.

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