Spoiled for Choice

When less on the menu, really is more. Choose to be special.

Spoiled for Choice

When we live in a world of instant gratification and ever increasing options, it’s no wonder brands can get lost in a bid to please their customers’ every whim.

Take Taco Bell for example, representative of a scene playing out across restaurants in America, they serve tacos, burritos, Gorditas, salads, nachos, Chalupas, dozens of sides, desserts and drinks. Not only are there dozens of items to choose from on the menu, but there are multiple menus like the Cantina Bell for up-scaled gourmet items, Drive Thru Diet, and Volcano.

All this leads to one thing, information overload. It’s like wandering in to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and being so spoiled for choice that you end up trying all the things and feel worse for it afterward. So the question restaurateurs should be asking themselves isn’t “what more can I offer?” but, “Do customers really want a lot of options?”

Trends and backlashes

As with every trend, there’s always a guerrilla segment – in Margaret Thatcher’s reign of conservatism, punk was born with its spikes, make-up and larger than life, in your face attitude. In art, with the overly full of itself Modernism reaching its egotistical height, came Pop Art with its art made of cartoons and mass produced materials and ‘for the masses’ sentiment.

So the antithesis of restaurants offering everything under the sun in several different variations, comes the backlash that include scaled back pop-up restaurants, food trucks and small independent operators offering a handful of carefully perfected, specialty items (which has the added advantage of lowering overheads too).

Ultra-specialised is the name of the day

Here you see stores selling only cupcakes, Asian-style hotdogs, Italian Porchetta sandwiches, or meatballs. As a case in point, the Meatball Shop in downtown Manhattan has taken the concept of specialisation and applied it to its menu.

Founded by Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, the restaurant focuses purely on meatballs – there are six varieties daily to choose from, and the only other choice is how you want them prepared: Just sauce, with pasta, veggies, or in a sandwich.  Think this isn’t enough choice? The restaurant is always packed.

Because the menu isn’t vast, the owners don’t skimp on the quality of their ingredients or other important aspects of their business. They follow the simple philosophy of being “best in the world at…” And it’s paid off in a big way.

Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice, explains that it’s a misconception that people want more choice in order to satisfy their needs. Excess choice, he says, makes the consumer-buying process much more difficult and less satisfying.

Why? Because they overthink, can’t stick with a decision, and invariably give up and/or regret the whole experience. And, according to Schwartz, nothing is worse for repeat business than a dissatisfying spend.

Where to from here?

You need to offer your customers choice without confusing them with your offering. If you’re offering an array of items, you need to reduce the effort behind making a choice. Remember people want choice, they just want it to be easy to make them.

So, if you’re offering salads, you could offer two base options with an array of toppings and dressings. Alternatively, create a guided decision-making process, as this will lead to happier, satisfied customers.

Franchise Zone
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Franchise Zone is published by Entrepreneur Media SA. It offers advice and franchising opportunities in South Africa.

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