Save a dollar, lose a customer


Buca di Beppo, you may know, is a chain of Italian restaurants. Their particular focus has been rustic, family-style Northern Italian food. Although it’s a chain and has grown like gangbusters, until recently they seemed to have retained their authentic charm, which included great food, service, ambiance, the whole package.

My foreshadowing skills are awful, so you can probably already guess where this is going.

Today, Buca feels more like a Cheesecake Factory.  The menus on the wall are gone, as are the placemat menus.  In their place are slick, spiral-bound and laminated menus.  Fewer choices, seasonal offerings.  The food isn’t as good, and the service is rushed.

To top it all off, they screwed up the Celebration Cake.  If you’ve been to Buca, you might know what I’m talking about.  It’s a huge slice of, essentially, an Italian flag-colored red velvet cake.  It used to be reason alone to dine there.  I was sent there to pick up a slice when my wife was pregnant with our first child.  It was pretty damn good.

That cake is also why I took my wife and kids there last week.  We had always enjoyed the experience and food, but my wife particularly had a hankering for the Celebration Cake on her birthday.

The cake, although the same price, is half the size it used to be.  And it now tastes awful.

I’m sure someone in the corporate office is pretty excited about what they’re done.  Slicker menus, faster service, same products but cheaper production.

Unfortunately, those spreadsheets and decisions aren’t translating into a good in-market experience.

We all need to innovate, change, improve what we’re doing.  We need to deliver better products at lower costs.  But if you do that at the expense of your brand, at the expense of what your core customers have come to expect from you, your spreadsheets won’t look so good for very long.