Symbiotic Services

Today I happened to pass a restaurant over in Potrero Hill that caught my attention. It was a hole-in-the-wall deli with practically no seating. But next door was a spacious cafe with slim pickings for lunch. People were buying their sandwiches and then walking next door to eat them at the cafe where they could buy a magazine or some coffee.

For me, this symbiotic relationship was fascinating. It made me think of other examples of businesses working together. The first one that popped into my head was a parking garage in Kansas City. When I worked at d3 we often stayed late and the garage attendants would simply leave our car keys at the bar next door. We had to stop by and dig them out of a bowl on the counter. That might have been more parasitic than symbiotic, since I’m not sure how much the bar really got out of the deal.

This goes beyond the normal level of business-to-business service interaction. Companies frequently outsource functions like accounting or housekeeping to other service companies if it’s not within their core competency. The restaurant interaction seems at once perfectly balanced and ad hoc.

Anyone have other examples of symbiotic services?

  1. Enric

    A very similar example (also in San Francisco) can be found in the lower haight. You can go to Rosamunde sausage grill (which has no seating besides a couple of stools) place your order, go next door to Toronado, sit down to grab a beer, go back to pick up your sausage 15 minutes later, eat the sausage back in Toronado with another beer, and after you are done, the people at Rosamunde will even come in to Toronado to pick up the plastic basket in which they served you the sausage.

    I don’t know how long both businesses have been around, but I am sure they like each other enough (same crowd behind the bar/counter) to continue the symbiotic relationship.

  2. Jeff

    That’s awesome Enric. It’s right up the street too; I’ll definitely have to check it out.

  3. In the Twin Cities area, for whatever reason it seems to be common for Chipotle restaurants to be located near Noodles and Company restaurants. Often I’ll want to eat at Chipotle, while my wife will want to eat at Noodles and Company. So we’ll buy our food separately and then eat inside one of two restaurants. We usually sit inside Chipotle because of the access to hot sauce and lemons and limes.

    Were the two restaurants not in close proximity, it’s likely that sometimes we wouldn’t eat at either. So both benefit by being located near each other.

  4. Enric

    Another interesting phenomenon is ‘ambulant services’: Think about the guy who walks into a bar where you are having a drink, places a bouquet of roses in between you and your girlfriend, and asks you to buy one or two (Besides paying for the rose, you pay for the convenience/service of having it available for purchase in the spot). The group of Mexican musicians that enter a restaurant in the Mission, sing a series of rancheras, and then pass the hat. The girl that can do your pedi/manicure for $15 at Beauty Bar in the Mission (no joke here. check it yourself )

    The questions is: based on what rules business owners let these people operate within their premises. Does trust on the ‘ambulant vendor’ influence the relationship? Does being acquainted with the owner give them an advantage to operate without being kicked out?

    I think business owners would be foolish to say no to anyone who is trying to provide a service that complements their own service and does not hurt the image of their business or its profit.

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