Monday, April 07, 2008

How lemmings draft a menu

Listen: That crunch you hear is the sound of quick-service chains squashing their points of differentiation. Instead of learning from the tragic blunder of casual dining, players one click down the service spectrum are just as avidly turning their menus into clones of the competition’s line-up. If they haven’t already copycatted McDonald’s Snack Wrap, vis-à-vis Wendy’s, Sonic, and KFC, it’s only because smoothies, premium coffees and espresso-based drinks are higher on their To Develop list. And that’s after deciding how to join the discounting binge.

In the currrent environment, you can readily understand why a chain copies a sure-fire hit for someone else. But it clearly speaks to a dearth of cleverness and creativity within the sector. Instead of analyzing why a certain product appeals to consumers and then crafting an alternative that sates the same desire, even contenders with considerable marketing knowhow are merely giving a twist to what’s already selling well.

The follow-alongs are not only betting that lightning will strike twice, but leaving themselves vulnerable to the upstart that hatches a true New Idea. If a newcomer hits on the next Bloomin’ Onion, fajita, Blizzard, chicken nuggets or smoothie, the old guard is cemented into the role of hawking commodities. How much pressure on prices can a concept take when costs are squeezing margins from the other direction?

The copycats would be better served by staying attuned to what makes their concept unique and then nudging their menus in the direction in which public tastes are moving. Leapfrogging to a far afield idea just because it worked for another player is like trying to make it as a rock star by covering last week’s hits.


  1. Peter, I don't understand what you mean? I just went to TGI AppleChili's Neighborhood Bar & Fajita Moeatorium the other night and had a very delicious original meal.
    Sincerely, Steakman

  2. Nice post Peter. I'll add in the consequences of adding in an extra inventory item you don't need. How long is it going to take KFC to sell enough snack wraps to go through a whole case of tortillas? Not exactly offering the best quality product by the time they make it to the bottom of that case, are they?

    Every one of those extra inventory items represents a small increase in waste. Wasted inventory, used up menu real estate, and prep room they could have used to offer something unique.

    When did it become smart business to try and be LIKE your competition, instead of trying to be different? Something is happening at the top level of many of these chains. Ingenuity is stagnant. There are so few new ideas. Meanwhile, markets are offering more original and interesting ingredients. Americans are learning what they are and how to use them from cooking shows on channels like the food network. The market base is getting more educated and raising their standards while the corporations are busy chasing after and copying every fad that comes their way.