Monday, July 14, 2014

Epiphany #43: A Bad Business Decision

This is absolutely the smallest thing to think about, but Cracker Barrel is no longer serving pure maple syrup.  No, they are now offering a 55% maple syrup/ 45% cane syrup blend with all of their pancakes.  It matters, though.  It matters to me.

Why?  Because one of the signatures of the Cracker Barrel chain was the real maple syrup that came with their pancakes.  To move away from that is a business decision that I'm sure involved a lot of discussion and exploration of options.  Unfortunately, they made the wrong decision.

WEAK BUT FUNNY ANALOGY:  "Sir, I just wanted to let you know that in order to keep our costs down, the beer I'm serving is actually 55% Monkey Balls Quadruple IPA and 45% Miller High Life."  Can you imagine?

PERSONAL ASIDE: "Dad, you know, if you didn't always ask for the second bottle of maple syrup that you take home, then maybe they wouldn't have had to do this."

But really, there are two kinds of restaurants in the world: those that use real butter and those that use butter spread.  Those that pride themselves on using top-notch ingredients and those that don't.  It's a given that at some places generic rolls, institutional ketchup  pancake syrup that could have come from an IV bag are the norm.  It's just that Cracker Barrel didn't used to be one of those places.  They even use Dickinson jams, one of the more expensive national brands.  Or did.  Who knows?

So this compromise makes a pretty big statement.  It says, we no longer choose to be the kind of restaurant that we were when we first opened our doors.

Why not raise prices a little bit?  I realize that might not make sense to the chain when their billboards are pushing cheaper menu options.

Okay, so, why not tell customers like my father that he will have to pay a little extra for that second bottle of maple syrup?

I buy maple syrup fairly regularly.  I track it's cost.  It has not, to my knowledge, experienced a recent spike in price.  A few years ago, yes, but then the price stabilized.

Or, how about offering two prices for pancakes, one if you want real maple syrup and one if you want Aunt Jemima's oddly-thickened corn syrup?

I don't know if you've ever had a submarine sandwich made for you in a Publix (they're pretty darn good!), but when you order, you have the option of choosing Publix cold cuts or, for a bit more money, the premium Boar's Head brand.  People know the system and, when you're in line, you'll find that people order both ways.  I've gone both ways myself, depending on the current state of my personal finances.

See, there are two clienteles out there--those who love real maple syrup and those who could care less what they are dumping on their pancakes (plus, clientele #3, those who have grown up with a certain syrup like Aunt Jemima's and actually prefer it).  For Cracker Barrel to shift to a compromise syrup satisfies no one.  To get sort of the real thing is not what a purist is after.

I fear this cut in quality from Cracker Barrel will lead to further cuts.  It usually happens that way.  Maybe it's already happening and I don't know it.  All know I know it that this usually-reliable road chain when I'm on the road feels like a different place now.  Bring back the real maple!

1 comment:

Kath said...

Agreed. After making that discovery, I'm going to be going savory at CB from now on, despite my sweet tooth.