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There’s a reason it’s called cutting

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By Steven Tingle

March 21, 2011

I first saw it at one of my favorite pizza joints. Walked in, Wednesday night, kids in tow, place was packed. I’d been going there for years, always busy, never packed. Had to wait for a table. Crazy. One of the reasons I loved this place was you never had to wait for a table. Are you out of your mind, it’s Wednesday night, I’ve got two starving teenagers and I’m in desperate need of whatever’s hoppy and on tap, there’s no way I’m waiting for a table…..

So there I am waiting for a table. Then I see it. Written on a blackboard near the host stand, “Half Price Bottles of Wine every Wednesday.” So that was it, my favorite pizza joint was filled with bargain hunters. I looked around; almost every table had a bottle of wine, some two. Now it’s just me and the kids you see, and whether I can drink a whole bottle of wine by myself is a matter I like to keep private so I made note not to return to this particular place on Wednesdays. But bad ideas spread like wildfire and soon several places I frequent were on the half price bottle kick, and always on Wednesday.

So now you’ve got the pizza joint, the Mexican place, the red sauce dive, the seafood house, even the white tablecloth restaurant offering the same special on the same night in the same town. Makes people expect half price wine on Wednesday no matter where they go. If you’re a restaurant how do you ever pull that plug? Worse yet, how do you sell the same bottle of wine to the same table on a Saturday? Guy paid 20 bucks for it Wednesday, now on Saturday he thinks he’s getting screwed. It’s like when you move your kids bed time to ten, you can’t go back to nine without a hell of a fight.

The restaurant business is like dating. If you’re a single guy you can get polished – shower, shave, new suit, car washed, manners guide memorized and still some women will not dig your vibe. No matter what you do or what you try you will never appeal to everyone. You might pine over it during long winter nights, asking yourself, “why don’t they like me?” But the truth is, the more you try to appeal to everyone the smaller your net becomes. And when your approach is cutting prices that net is tiny.

Whether in dating or dining the magic is in providing a unique experience. But if your unique experience is discounts you’re not that unique. Your competition can pull that rabbit out of the hat tomorrow. Hell, they can pull two rabbits out, do it Wednesday and Thursday. Then where are you? Selling half price bottles on Thursday I bet. But offer something truly inspired, exceptional, creative, with your signature and you can leave the rabbit to the amateurs, you’re now levitating. You’re doing something your competition can never recreate, which is being you.

Cutting prices is a band aid, a quick fix that might slow the bleeding but will never heal the wound. Half price wine, 2 for one apps, reward cards, all you can eat whatever, are all substitutes for creativity. Unless you’re a chain, these gimmicks cheapen your reputation and demean your customers. You’re basically saying, “will you eat here if it’s cheaper?” That may work for tires and plane tickets and socks and office supplies, but food is about passion. I don’t care if you’ve just received your third Michelin star or you’re the Sub Shop in the food court, creating a unique experience is the foundation of success. So knock off the cutting will ya, and get to work.

By the way, golf courses you’re even worse, stop it!

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