Many of us will be taking our valentines out for a special meal to celebrate. It’s nice to have someone else do the cooking every so often and hopefully that food is of a higher quality and more sophisticated that what we’d prepare ourselves. Then again, it might just be frozen vegetables and a microwaved entrée. Think I’m kidding?
Anyone who has ever watched any of the “kitchen rescue” shows – Restaurant Impossible or Kitchen Nightmares – knows that some lower quality places substitute the microwave for the stove, presenting reheated frozen food as freshly made. However, as a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, even high-end places in France serve food that has been cooked elsewhere. In fact, of the 80,000 table-service restaurants in France, fewer than 10% have labels certifying that most of their ingredients are fresh and that the dishes are cooked on site. The reasons they cite are high labor costs and high food costs. Who needs a chef when you have a factory?
The reasons behind this aren’t the point today. Instead, let’s think about the diner. When most of us go out, there is an expectation that we’re paying for convenience, sure, but also for food that’s prepared on site. As with any business, when the business knowingly delivers something that differs widely from what the customer is expecting, that business is teed up for problems. Put aside the fact that you’re deceiving the customer. If all the restaurants serve the same frozen food from the same factory, what is it that distinguishes their product from the competition? Service and decor to be sure, but is that enough to keep a customer in the face of the guy across the street with the same food at a lower price?
The message for all businesses is pretty clear in my mind. If we cut corners, do everything cheaply, and sacrifice quality for margin, what are the long-term prospects? Someone else can always find a cheaper way (hello, U.S. electronics industry, car industry, etc.) to do what we’re doing. Instead, we need to provide value, quality, and something uniquely our own. We need to honor the expectations WE set in our customers’ minds. Deception is a self-defeating business practice.
I’d be angry if I found the exact same meal for which I paid $25 in the frozen food case for $4, and question going back to that restaurant again. Wouldn’t you?