So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Using Facebook

If your restaurant has a Facebook account, you might want to become a fan because sometimes you can find out what’s going on in your restaurant  quicker than you can find out through the grapevine or preshifts. This is possible especially with larger chains that might do regional promotions or test promotions that haven’t hit all of the stores. It can also give you a sense of the corporate culture. Are the powers-that-be dinosaurs that don’t understand social media and the internet and have just started a Facebook account because they’ve heard about this social media thing and don’t want to be left behind? Or are they überfreaky nerds who have decided that the operation can’t survive without social media? Perhaps they are “scientists” who decide to use Facebook as their own little chemistry lab, trying this and that little micro-promotion in order to see if they can get 50 people in their bar at 7:30 on a Monday night through the use of “shooters for a penny”.  

In any case, if you haven’t checked out your restaurant’s Facebook page, perhaps it’s time you started.

You might not want to become a fan though. First of all, it gives your corporate office a direct link to your own Facebook account. As I’ve written in the past, an impulsive status message after getting stiffed by a prominent actor could cost you your job. Plus, do you really want Corporate to know that you are a fan of The Dead Kennedys, that your political affiliation is anarcho-syndicalism and that the last book you read was  The Phantom Tollbooth? Do you really want them to know that you’ve linked to this blog as well as Waiter Rant, Crazy Waiter, and Serving Trash (What, you haven’t linked to us yet? What in the hell are you waiting for)?

There are plus sides to becoming a fan. One is that you get updates through your newsfeed. Perhaps you have nothing worrying on your profile – perhaps it might be a plus that you are proud enough of your restaurant to participate in its social media methods. You might even be able to draw attention to yourself to potential call parties my marketing yourself through notes or status updates. For instance, you might do some micro-micromarketing  by offering to buy a free appetizer for any guests that “mention this note” between June 1st and June 15th. This is a very sketchy sort of thing because first, you have to find a way to drive your potential guests to your own newsfeed. Of course, you need to make sure that this sort of offer is OK with your GM/corporate office and you also should be careful not to abuse this by surreptitiously having the restaurant buy those appetizers because, “They waited a long time for their entrees – can we buy their appetizer” sort of scam. Keep in mind that this sort of thing could cost you some money and only you can decide whether it’s generating more business for you personally.  While it seems unlikely to make a big impact right now, as the fanbase for your restaurant grows, the possibilities could increase geometrically. I have actually seen restaurants be successful in driving a “Facebook only” event. Perhaps you could find a way to do this for your own section. Think outside the box. However, you should always vet something like this through your GM (who can do the checking with Corporate to make sure that it’s allowed).

This idea of using the restaurant’s own Facebook page is a function of thinking outside the box because, unless you have authorization to use the restaurant’s Facebook account, you really have no way to identify yourself as a waiter. You’re just one of a thousand fans of a Facebook account. But I mention it because perhaps one of you is clever enough to figure out a way to make it happen. Obviously, the simple solution is simply to write on their wall…but this doesn’t give you the ability to write a more interesting “note”.

A more likely strategy is marketing through your own network. This is really no different from telling someone who you met at the bowling alley that “I work at Pedro’s Tex-Mex Emporium. You should check us out – our food is great and if you ask for me, I’ll take care of you”. Doing it through Facebook leverages this sort of personal networking. Once again, you should weigh carefully whether you want to out yourself as a waiter in a particular restaurant. First of all, it makes it more likely that your own restaurant could find out that you are on Facebook. Second of all, if you have a wacky stalker, it’s like giving them crack. You’ll never know if they might come in and stalk you in the restaurant.

Obviously, this all applies to other social media such as Twitter.

Just remember, posting on social sites is “forever”, even if you delete a particular posting.

Here’s an example of a posting that might or might not work for you:

TITLE

Special offer for my friends!

BODY

If you come into Pedro’s this month, ask for me and mention this note, you will get a free upgrade from well to topshelf on up to 4 drinks per meal.

Pedro’s is also offering a free appetizer with the purchase of two entrees and is also rolling out the new “Chef’s Specials” portion of the menu this month. One of the new highlights is our brand new Chicken Chocolate Chimmichanga with raspberry mole sauce. It’s delicious!

I look forward to serving you in June!

<insert cute photo here>

Note that you have to be careful offering any type of drink modification due to local regulations. In some places, it’s actually illegal to “give away alcohol” and the above posting could be interpreted as contravening said statute. You also obviously have to make sure that this is OK with your GM and that you can actually follow through with it (in other words, you have to make sure that the Assistant GM is in on it because if only the GM knows, other managers might not be prepared to do any discounts for you). You might even be able to get the restaurant to fund this if they are interested in seeing how much effect it might have to have an individual server drum up business on Facebook. But even if they aren’t willing to fund it, they might OK it for you to do as long as you pay for it out of your own pocket. You’ll need to make sure that they have a way to allow you to pay for the difference in price, which could be difficult.

I hope I’ve given you food for thought here. Better minds than mine are reading this post. Get your thinking caps on! This applies to managers as well as waiters, especially managers in restaurants that rely on four-walls marketing:

https://teleburst.wordpress.com/?s=four-walls+marketing

PS, I take no responsibility for any outcomes should you decide to use Facebook or any other social media outlet. All readers should do their own due dilligence and are responsible for their own actions.

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Pride in your restaurant…

…can help you in your interactions with your guests.

Even if you work in a fairly generic restaurant like Chili’s or Applebee’s, surely there’s something in the history of the organization that can be pointed to to distinguish it from every other restaurant in world; sometimes it can even distinguish it from others in the chain.

I work for neither of the above restaurants, but for example:

Chilihead waiter points to picture on the wall, directing the patron’s attention to it – “Did you know that every Chili’s has one picture that hangs upside down? Have you ever noticed this picture and wondered why it was upside down? It’s a tradition that every Chili’s maintains…” Waiter tells whatever story they’re taught about the way the tradition started. If there’s no “official Corporate version”, they make up something outrageous. They also point out, “We’ll be 35 years old this year. We’re very proud to be one of the oldest surviving restaurant chains in the country”.

Or O’Charley’s waiter says, “Did you know that there’s an actual Charlie? He founded our restaurant and he’s still alive and lives in Nashville. We just turned 40 last year. We’re getting pretty good at cooking by now”!

Or an Applebee’s bartender tells a bar patron, “Did you know that our first restaurant was called T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs? Have I got a prescription for you – my special Cosmopolitan features Absolut Citron, Cointreau and fresh squeezed lime juice. Would you expect anything less from the worlds largest restaurant chain? We might be large, but we’re your neighborhood restaurant, right”?

Yeah, I know, the verbiage is a bit corny. I’m not suggesting that you copy these, but you should know your restaurant’s history and be able to integrate relevant parts of it whenever it seems appropriate. Even if you mock your own corporate restaurant to your friends because it’s “too faceless”, “too corporate”, “too impersonal”, etc., remember, as long as you work there, you should take advantage of whatever advantages the corporate history that you were forced to memorize during your training phase offers because, remember, it’s your income. If you find this onerous, I’d suggest that you’re probably not working at a place that is comfortable for you.

If you work at an independent restaurant, you have an advantage. Simply by reminding your guest that your restaurant is locally owned, you put yourself apart from the competition. It’s likely that the history isn’t formally taught in a structured fashion, so you might have to use anecdotes that has been passed around, or, failing that, ask your ownership about the history of the restaurant. You might be able to find some interesting things to relay to your guests.

There’s always a hook somewhere – whether it’s community involvement, the artwork on the wall, the piano that’s 60 years old that was played by Van Cliburn during a visit in the 60s, the menu item that’s been on the menu for 20 years; the list is endless. Every restaurant has something that distinguishes it from every other restaurant. Sometimes it’s sitting right in front of your face.

Waiter Extraordinare on taking the order

Steve at Waiter Extraordinare discusses the art of simplifying the order.

http://waiterextraordinaire.blogspot.com/2009/07/here-is-what-i-do-when-i-take-order.html

I’d only add a couple of other things.

On a side note, one key principle in closing the sale is limiting the choices or offering choices rather than a yes or no answer. Try to avoid yes and no questions if possible. Instead of “Would you like an appetizer”, try “Would you like to enjoy the fried mozzarella sticks or the spinach dip”? Also, suggesting certain items puts a picture in their minds and starts to trigger the hunger gene that we all have. The word appetizer just isn’t a very strong image. “Can I start you out with the grilled calamari steak?” is usually more effective than “Can I start you off with an appetizer?”.

Let’s say that it’s the end of the shift and you don’t really want to spend another 30 minutes with a dessert savoring table for an extra $1 added to your tip, or you are incredibly busy and would like to turn a table. Sure, you’re supposed to upsell desserts and coffees because it will build your check, but it might also mean missing a whole turn of the table or a delay to your checkout and beeline to the nearest bar. One little trick that I employ is “Does anyone still have room for dessert”, or “Can we squeeze in a nice dessert”? The idea is to plant the idea that they are probably too full for dessert. Dessert is sometimes a hard sell to begin with, so you can take the path of least resistance if necessary. Don’t deny your guest the opportunity to order dessert, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do a little mind control over them.

You can also help them make decisions by clarifying their needs. “I’m torn between the sea bass and the cowboy ribeye – I just can’t make up my mind”. My reply? “How hungry are you”? The answer to this will help me guide them. It also helps when they are trying to choose between something that has a heavy sauce vs something that’s simpler, especially if the menu doesn’t make clear that an item has a rich, filling sauce or accompaniment.

Some questions might simply be a guest fishing for validation of a decision that they’ve already made. “How big is the dinner salad?” might very well mean, “I’m looking for an excuse not to get the salad” or it might mean, “I’d sure like an excuse to order this salad without looking like a pig”. You won’t always be able to tell, but try to use your best judgment to guide them to the conclusion that you think will offer them the best experience, whether it’s validating their leaning or moving them off of their decision. For example, if it’s pre-decision A, you either want to validate that by saying that it’s fairly filling if you think that they should skip the salad because it might keep them from ordering a dessert and an after-dinner drink or you might want to counter the objection by saying, “It’s basically a starter sized salad that most people think complements the meal”. Just make sure that you’re describing it accurately. If your dinner salads are huge, then say so.  When you use this technique, the needs of the guest should override the possible financial or personal gain to you, although you never completely lose sight of those considerations. There have been many times where I’ve waved a guest off of an item even though it would have meant a bigger tip because of a fatter check. That’s why restaurant and I get as much repeat business as we do. I did it two nights ago as a matter of fact. 

Thanks to Steve for his nice post.

Twitter becoming new tool for restaurants

From Adam’s Hospitality & Tourism Industry Blog, a blog run by a Boston area

Friday, July 3, 2009

‘Tweets’ on the menu are a sweet deal
Restaurants using Twitter for cheap, effective marketing

By Devra J. First, Globe Staff | June 29, 2009

On Dec. 2, computer consultant Jen Deaderick got on the social-networking site Twitter and posted: “Tupelo02139 is preparing.’’ It was her first missive, or tweet, on behalf of the Cambridge restaurant Tupelo, where her husband is a chef. The restaurant was more than four months away from opening.

Other tweets followed, about getting inspected, planning the menu, picking the paint. By the time Tupelo opened at the end of April, word had spread among followers of the restaurant’s Twitter stream (@tupelo02139), and their followers’ followers, and so on.

“Our opening night was packed,’’ Deaderick said. “At least half were there because of Twitter.’’

Read the rest of the article here:
Every large city should have someone performing this service. Adam is to be commended. His blog is an interesting read, even for those of us who don’t reside in the Boston area. Here’s his mission statement:
 
“My blog is a compilation of articles from various newspapers and other publications that directly relate to the Hospitality and Tourism Industry in Boston, in Massachusetts, and across the country. Any articles I think would help concierge in Boston to be better informed are also included. I intend this blog to be a spot where someone in the industry who may be too busy to read the paper daily can find out the information they need to know to better serve their guests”.
 
 

Refills, food costs and ignorance about how the restaurant business works

Over at the forum at www.tipping.org (a forum that has some problems with connectivity at the moment, so you pays yer money and you takes yer chances), there’s a discussion about soda refills and how some people feel that just the act of buying a soda makes them feel like they’re “overcharged”, much less not being able to order a Coke and get free coffee at the end of the meal, or not get free refills of a stated beverage. There’s also a basic lack of knowledge about what food costs are all about. I’m going to take some selected quotes:

“I fully admit I have no experience whatsoever with restaurant budgets. However I do buy two liters of pop. I know what they cost. I know how many glasses of pop you can get out of a two-liter. I know that fountain drinks cost even less. There is no way that restaurants aren’t making a ton of money on drinks”.

Well, yes. Food costs a lot less on your grocery shelves than it does on a menu. That quarter pound hamburger patty on that $7 burger will only cost you about .75 on the shelf. Add another $1.50 for the fries, bun and condiments and you’re sitting about a 32% food cost.  However, that prime  160z New York strip that costs you $45 in a nice steakhouse costs the restaurant close to $20 a piece right now. So, this item has a food cost of about 45%. Yes, soft drinks have a much lower cost. It’s been a while since I’ve had to monitor that sort of thing, but it’s something in the order of 8 – 12% food costs (anyone currently running a restaurant is free to correct me).

But here’s the thing. A kitchen needs to have a certain food cost on average in order to maintain profitability. Even though a kitchen will try to hit 30 – 35% in most cases, this doesn’t mean that you can use a 32% food cost for all of your products (or charge 3 times your raw cost for everything). Some products have a very high food cost and some have a lower food cost. Some products have a lot of waste (like fresh produce or, in a way, the expense of someone who drinks 5 refills of soda) and you have to factor this in as well. Things like soft drinks subsidize the more expensive food cost items like steaks. It aslo tends to smooth out spikes in the food costs. The average restaurant goer doesn’t know this but kitchens buy most fresh products, even steaks and lettuce mixes, at market price, which fluctuate from week to week. The menu has to stay stable from 6 months to a year at a time, but the prices will fluctuate wildly. A product like Coke will keep its price for quite a while. It doesn’t jump all over the board so it’s a constant that restaurants can use to keep their prices in line and not have to change the menu everytime corn futures go up, driving the price of beef up as well.

“Since soda, coffee, tea and juice fall under ‘Food Cost’, the restaurant tries to run a 30% food cost, meaning if I buy 100 percent of my products, I should sell 70% or more.

Food costs include employee meals, lost product, and PR comps (buying food for VIP or service issues)

I’m not sure what you are saying here. Are you trying to say that food cost should be no more than 30% of your total costs, or that 30% gets wasted? Do you mean that 30% gets given way for various reasons”?

See above for simplified explanation of food costs. Simply put, food costs is a ratio, expressed as a percentage of the cost of the product divided by sales price. If something costs me a dollar and I sell it for three, my food costs are 30%.

“If a restaurant is charging 2.25 for a soda, but the customer is allowed to drink soda, tea and coffee, then food cost increases. This is not how a restaurant likes to run. But, let’s be honest, most people drink tea OR soda and then most people will finish the meal off with a coffee. So your saying, everyone should receive a free cup of coffee if they buy a soda or tea?

Yes, that is what I am saying”.

This is like saying, “If I order a hamburger, I should get a free hot dog” (it’s meat on a bun, right?). Or, “If I buy this dress, I should get this blouse”. That’s fine. Some stores might run a “buy a dress and get a blouse free” special. Or they might say, “Buy a hamburger, get a free hot dog”. But they do this as a planned hit against expenses. Each menu item on a restaurant’s menu is discrete (unless they offer a bundled dinner plan of some sort). You don’t get to say, “It’s a drink, so I should be able to get any number of different drinks for the price of one drink”. Many places have free refills for a certain drink, and that’s fine. However, each drink is a separate line item in inventory and it has to be accounted for. If refills are offered, that’s part of the food costing and they are priced accordingly. Some restaurants don’t do free refils at all, and that’s part of their pricing strategy as well. It allows them to sell that 16oz New York Strip for $45 instead of $55 and get away with running a 45% food cost on that single item without busting the kitchen’s “budget”.

There’s also a lot of talk on that forum about budgets and how people budget and it’s wrong to ask them to pay even an extra dollar or two for a tip because they might have a set budget of X dollars and even spending X+2 dollars will screw up their budgets. Well, restaurants have budgets as well. It’s the same principle. Once you’ve established what it takes for a specific restaurant in a specific location with a specific menu and a specific payroll, food costs become critical. If it’s established that you need to be running a 32% food cost and you end up running 36%, this is serious budget breaking money. Just as some guests say, “You shouldn’t ask me to break my budget”, you can expect the restaurant to reply, “Well, don’t ask me to break mine either”.

“What about the people who are spending 100.00 for a bottle of wine? Don’t you think they will demand a free cup of coffee for the money they are spending on a bottle of wine?

Yes, I do. I also think that anyone that would nickle and dime a customer that just spent $100.00 on a bottle of wine is being very short-sighted”

Total lack of knowledge about business and economics. Is a grocery store “nickle and diming” someone who’s spent $300 on groceries by charging them for that 2 liter bottle of Coke? Of course not. And a restaurant isn’t doing that either. This brings up the fact that wine is also on a sliding scale of costs. That $6 glass of white zinfandel that you enjoy has a “wine cost” of 40%  15% (oops, sorry ’bout that) .  That bottle, which costs you $24 in the restaurant, only costs you $6 on the liquor store shelf. However, that $100 bottle probably costs close to $50 or a wine cost of around 50%. Most restaurants sell their wine by the glass and cheapest bottles at a 4X markup, their mid-priced bottles at 3 times and their $100 and more bottles at twice the price. They aren’t going to mark up Jordan Cabernet at the same rate that they’ll mark up Yellowtail Chardonnay. Otherwise, your $100 becomes a $200 bottle very quickly. So, believe it or not, you’re getting a much better “deal” on expensive bottles than you are on the cheap plonk.

“This slippery slope your wanting to tread on will close a business in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure why people think that by charging 2.25 for a soda, with free refills will buy a corvette for the owner.

Where am I wrong? Am I wrong in how much the two liter costs? In the idea that fountain drinks cost even less? The restaurant may choose to throw drinks under the category of food costs – but on the individual drinks taken by themselves restaurants are making one heck of a profit. They have to be. More importantly, customers know it. Almost everyone buys pop themselves – they know what it costs. There are no “preparation costs” – there is no pepsi-chef making my drink for me. We all know that the server’s time doesn’t count since there is little in the way of labor costs to the restaurant”.

But there are preparation costs. Have you priced a canister of CO2 lately? There is a little labor involved as well. Who do you think changes out the syrup, cleans the machine of all that sticky gook that accumulates on the nozzles, breaks it down at  night, etc.? No, it’s not the same as cooking a steak, but it’s part of labor costs. How much do you think it “costs” for a line cook to cook a steak? About 80¢, if you only count the 5 minutes that it might take to cook a rare steak. And that’s out of $40 cost. But that’ s not how you look at labor costs. You don’t look at the “actual cost” of cooking an item. You look at how many manhours have to be used to crank out a given amount of food at a given amount of overhead (including food costs). It’s the same with beverages or any other product in the restaurant.

“I also have to point out that the more I am paying, the more I feel aggravated by this. If I am in McDonalds I have no problem paying for separate drinks or even refills. But when I have just spent over $100.00 on a meal – then it aggravates the heck out of me”. 

It shouldn’t make any difference.  McDonald’s doesn’t have to let the cola subsidize their case of crystal wine glasses that get broken every month. Or the $300 of lost sliverware a month. Or those nice flowers in the entrance. Or the CIA-trained Chef that you have to pay $50k a year. Plus, due to their volume, you are probably paying even more as a percentage than the actual cost of the product at McDonald’s.

Just because you spend a lot of money on a meal, this doesn’t automatically entitle you to free stuff. You have free will to not eat there, or not to pick the lobster or the $100 bottle of wine. Having said that, a nice restaurant will sometimes treat its better guests to things like an occasional complimentary coffee or dessert. The key word is complimentary. It should be up to them, not the guest demanding it. Does the customer demand a free wristwatch when they buy a TV at WalMart? I think not.

I hope that this has clarified things just a little. There are books written about this sort of thing. I tried to cover the subject as succinctly as I could.

Weird things that I didn’t know about Norman Brinker…

…he was married to tennis star Maureen Connolly.

She was only the first woman to win Tennis’ Grand Slam…that’s all.

And he was on the Olympic Equestrian Team in 1952 and was a world class pentathelete (competing in the World Championships two years after the Olympics).

And he was played by Mark Harmon in the movie “Little Mo”, his wife’s filmed story.

And an ex-wife went on to be Ambassador of Hungary.

Seems like founding Chili’s was about the least interesting thing in his life.

And I might be the last person in the world to know these things, but that’s OK. I did know that he was responsible for the salad bar.

21661-004-36BB645C

Selling the sizzle…

This is an old school advertising term that applies in spades to waiters and waiter-wannabes.

Originally, the term probably came from the mouth of a mid-60s chain-smoking, chiseled jaw, (m)ad man describing how he could make a client’s product or service pop by making it as mouthwatering as a sizzling steak on the Weber.

The actual phrase is “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” but you usually don’t hear the last half of the quote. However, the whole quote illustrates the concept better because, let’s face it, if you were confronted with a sizzling steak on the barbie or a shrink wrapped, perfectly marbled porterhouse, which do you think would push your buttons more?

Since the concept is a food metaphor in the first place, it’s particularly apt for waiters.

<editorial insert here> For any new readers of the blog, realize that I use the word waiter to describe both female and male servers>

If you are simply a passive order-taker, I suppose it doesn’t matter, but then, that just makes you a mediocre waiter. You really don’t want to be one of those, do you?

It’s a commonly-held psychological fact that people respond on an emotional level to “s words” (it’s one of the reasons that vowel-filled French  is a “romance” language and consonant-ridden German isn’t). The sound of “s” and vowels are soothing (even the word soothing embodies this concept). It’s especially true when s is followed by vowels. For instance, the words “shit” and “sharp” aren’t particularly soothing. But the word “soothing” is…well…soothing. There are certain consonants that mimic vowels to a certain extent. For instance, “w” is a softer consonant when following an “s” and, therefore, you could consider “sweet” as one of those “sizzle” words.

But a word doesn’t have to be an “s” word to be a sizzle word, especially in the culinary world. Crisp is a sizzle word (yes, it has an “esss” sound that finishes it). Toasty is a sizzle word.

Basically, a sizzle word is a word that triggers an emotional response in the brain similar to a sense-driven trigger like the sense of smell. One of the big axioms in the biz is that we eat with our eyes. That’s true. But we also eat with our ears. that’s why fajitas are so popular – the sizzling mound of meat is soooo enticing. A good example of this sensory conditioning is the smell of popcorn. You smell it – you want to buy and consume food. Basically, you want your words to be the aural equivalent of hot buttered popcorn. Which sounds better, “We have a nice 24 oz porterhouse as our special tonight” or “I love the olive oil brushed, broiled, perfectly marbled porterhouse that we’re offering tonight. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it”?

The application of an appropriate sizzle word or phrase conditions the guest to be pre-disposed to wanting that item. “Crispy, deep-fried tender calimari” sounds so much better than “fried calimari”. Basically, you want the guest’s mind to start manufacturing in their minds the very qualities that you are describing.

Is it manipulation? Sure it is. All successful selling is.

Start coming up with your own list of sizzle words – words that make your own mouth water. Words like buttery, succulent, soft, luscious, unctuous, tasty, round, feminine (the last four usually used to describe wine). Phrases like perfectly broiled, seared rare, subtly spicy, outrageously decadent. Triggers like tequila-laced, caramelized crispy skin, steaming hot cappuccino.

Start pairing those words and phrases with appropriate menu items and you’re on your way. Once you’ve done that, learn how to stretch the words out slightly or emphasize them just enough. Learn to build a vocal rhythm to your spiel, much as a skilled playwright creates music from dialogue.  Don’t get sing-songy, but try to elevate your spiel from a flat, uninvolved line reading.

Once you get practiced at it, you’ll find that you can guide your guest into an above-average dining experience by suggestively selling the strong items from your kitchen.

And you’ll move this:

OXFORD-DELMONICO-STEAK

To this:

6a00d8341c95f553ef00e54f1a98ad8833-800wi

Change for change’s sake – foodie post for the day

I don’t know about you, but I have to wonder when a company makes a marketing decision like the one that Heinz has made with its iconic Heinz Ketchup label. The label is a brilliantly simple and instantly recognizable representation of its product. It’s so much so that  I bet you never gave the label a second thought – it just is .

Here’s the old label, in all of its glory:

heinz-ketchup-old-bottle

And now, the new label:

heinz-ketchup-old-and-new-bottles-compared

The label on the right is the one that most consumers will be seeing, and I’d argue that the one one the left is also a “new” label, with the rather superfluous bright blue slash notifying you that you can fit the bottle in the door of a refrigerator.

Now, the fact that Heinz was written in a little pickle, an ingredient that you don’t find in the product, is almost beside the point. That little pickle is part of the gestalt of the label, a gestalt that we’ve all grown up with. As much as I’m glad to be informed that tomato ketchup is made from tomatoes, and I’ve always wondered what a tomato looks like before it is turned into the ubiquitous paste that we all have come to know, I think it’s a mistake to tweak the marketing gods. Why mess up a good thing? The label’s been the same for about a zillion years. Is this a case of change for change’s sake? Is this some marketing department struggling to validate its very existence?

Today at lunch, we had the president of the Nashville division of the second largest record group in the world dining with us, as he often does. As he was leaving, I accosted him and showed him the label and said, “You’re a bit of a marketing guy, right? (with my marvelous sense of understatement)” “He grinned and said, “Yes, I dabble in it a bit”. I said, “Would you have bothered to change this classic label”? He looked at the label, almost with surprise and shook his head. “No, why mess with such a classic image. At least they didn’t change the type or the shape”.

Exactly.

This might work out just fine for Heinz. Most people might not even notice. So, if that’s the case, I guess my point is, what is gained by messing with it in the first place?

I’ll bet this was a half a million dollar process. But I guess it’s worth it to the marketing people who depend on “doing stuff to stuff” for their living.

I’d call it a cautionary tale.