Pleasing your core customers beats antagonizing new ones

Pleasing your core customers beats antagonizing new ones

Appealing to a variety of customers is a great thing, but if a dish intended to eliminate the “veto vote” is not as well planned or executed as the rest of the fare, it’s probably better not to offer it at all.

On a recent afternoon I went to get some burgers at lunch with a coworker. The burger craving had apparently struck everyone in Manhattan at the same time, so there was a long line at our favorite joint. At the table next to us was a young couple on a lunch date waiting for a bacon cheeseburger and a vegetable sandwich.

I was a little surprised to hear there was a vegetable sandwich available because the menu was otherwise entirely for carnivores, but it made sense that the restaurant would offer at least one meatless option. The woman, a vegetarian, probably wouldn’t have chosen a burger restaurant on her own, but since that vegetable sandwich was available, she agreed to the restaurant.

She definitely regretted that choice once her sandwich arrived, however. She unwrapped it to find only a hamburger bun with one leaf of lettuce, a slice of tomato and a lonely pickle floating in an unappetizing mess of mayonnaise. She peeked under the lettuce to see if the world’s tiniest veggie burger was under it, but there was only more mayonnaise. The vegetarian and her date assumed someone had made a mistake and took the sandwich back up to the ordering counter.

“Someone forgot the insides of this sandwich,” the vegetarian’s date said.

In fact there had been no mistake with the sandwich.

“That’s what the veggie sandwich is,” said the woman at the counter. “Have you never been here before?”

I can’t imagine there are many repeat orders for that sandwich. People at other tables were giggling at the absurdity because it was only a “vegetable sandwich” by the most generous of technicalities. The vegetarian and her date had been waiting over an hour, and they were frustrated. They demanded their money back and stormed out furiously.

The price of serving such an unappetizing meatless option turns vegetarians from merely indifferent to antagonistic, and it can lose other customers as well. That vegetarian’s date probably won’t be back, even though his bacon cheeseburger looked so amazing I wanted to ask, “Are you not going to eat that?”

That restaurant serves excellent hamburgers. If a restaurant is really good at executing a certain type of food, it’s important to be realistic about its capacity for versatility. If it is not possible to maintain the standard of quality across the entire menu, it may be best to focus on what a concept is best at and accept the loss of a few noncore customers.— [email protected] [3]