A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, June 03, 2004 :::
Jay Nordlinger today makes a good argument about influencing the market, and he uses the small selection of sodas at restaurants to key off of. Good argument, but perhaps not as good an example.

Herewith, the explanation for a certain pudgy, balding English teacher with extensive experience slinging hash.

Dear Mr. Nordlinger:

I hope this finds you well.

Having worked in the food sector for years--my extra work is with the most presitigious catering company in DC--and being very nosey about how the restaurants I go to are managed, I can tell you the reason they only have one kind of diet soda.

Most restaurants do not make their money off the variety of sodas that they offer, so they offer those that they know they must have. An establishment that caters to momentary whims and fast dining, such as a deli, will have the display space to provide more choices. Real reastaurants want their space for selling purposes, selling things that offer a higher return. (That would be salads, apetizers, desserts, and a whole range of drinks. If you are at the average fine dining place and order a main dish that costs $25, it probably cost $24.78 to get it to you, which is why your waiter spends so much time pointing out the salads.)

Now, if it is a neighborhood place, you can probably lobby to get something added. And an enterprising owner might look into a different sized gun that can allow him to offer a wide variety. (The gun is the thing your sodas come out of. The standard one has soda water, tonic water, a cola, ginger ale, a lemon-lime drink, and water, if memory serves. There are huge ones for the big maragarita places, etc.) But the chains of big noisy family places--some of which are quite good--are always throwing questionaires at you, so they do in fact test for demand, and so the demand in fact may not be there.

I suspect there is just not much profit in it.

I am also certain, as you suggest, that there is something like coercion from major companies to get restaurants to buy their stuff. I am also certain that the waiters are just saying "coke" because, though the soda companies deny it, sugar is such an overpowering taste that it is hard, in blindtaste tests, to tell the difference between even cola and giner ale. Root Beer and Dr. Pepper are the only ones that jump out at you. So if they say "Pepsi," it is only because they especially buy Pepsi and there is a corporate rule. (People will deny this one up and down the street, but bartenders on busy nights play jokes on customers because it is true.)

The only instance where I know for certain that the market has pushed for innovation is Down South. I spend a lot of time in bustling Wilmington, home to lots of Northern retirees and film professionals and lots and lots of Southerners, so any decent restaurant offers both "sweet tea" and unsweatened. Fine dining only hit there recently, and when the fine dining places opened up, they at first offered only unsweetened tea, because that was what the fine dining how-to books said. The entrepreneurs are as often Southern as not, so it wasn't regional prejudice at work. It was more a matter of trusting Gourmet and making a mistake. But the market corrected it: Southerners drink "sweet tea," and Northerners can't abide it, so you'd better have two kinds of tea available.

Hope that's helpful.

A Mind That Suits

And there is this further thought:
All the major suppliers offer a wide range of drinks, so an exclusive contract with a major chain would not preclude that chain from offering a wide variety of drinks of the demand was there.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 1:21 PM



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