12.12.2005

Manipulation by chocolate

So here's the scenario: You're out to dinner. You had an appetizer, a salad and an entree. You are now in the throes of a food coma - your eyes glaze over, your waist button pops and you simply cannot imagine forcing another bite into your mouth. The waitress comes back with a small menu. "Can I interest you in some dessert?"

What do you think, waitress? My guess is that nine out of ten people say no. But why? I'll tell you why. They are simply being asked at the wrong time.

Grand Lux Cafe, in downtown Chicago, has finally cracked the age-old dessert dilemma. Why are we asking people to indulge in sweets when they are stuffed to the brim? Why not, perhaps, ask them about dessert when they are - gasp - still hungry?

And so, the servers at this plush, velvet-and-gold, indulgence-for-all restaurant ask you about dessert, first. In fact, it's right after you sit down. Oh, they act like it's a real "time constraint." The pitch goes something like this: "We have a selection of five desserts that take a half an hour to prepare. Would you like to order one now?"

And of course, our eyes bigger than our stomachs, we think "Sure! I'm so hungry I could eat a house! I'll get dessert going now, because I'll definitely still be hungry in thirty minutes!" Definitely.

Well let me just tell you, I ordered the mini chocolate chip cookies, and I ate less than one cookie. I think I paid eight dollars, too.

Don't get me wrong - I think Grand Lux is definitely onto something. They cleverly looked at their problem, "We're not selling enough dessert," and lived it through the eyes of their customers. I'll bet their dessert hit rate is a lot better than 1 out of 10, too.

But people, don't be fooled. Since when does dessert take a half an hour? The pre-order is a clever trick, but in my opinion, it's just plain manipulative.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

Grand Lux Cafe is owned by the same people who do the Cheesecake Factory. I worked there for a year as a waitress so let me tell you, I'm an insider.

The way Cheesecake handles dessert is interesting. I mean, it's their biggest draw--it's in the name! But then, when you look at their entree portion sizes, you've got to wonder what they're thinking. I've never seen salads this big anywhere else, and in the year I worked there, I saw a guy finish one only once.

But during waiter training, they tell you to "upsell" dessert. You're not allowed to push anything else on your customers--no "would you like to add chicken to that salad?" or "for an extra dollar you can get cheese!" That's for the customers to decide. But once dessert rolls around, we're instructed to casually walk up, offer open menus, and even recommend which cheesecakes we like the best. What's more--if we're serving a dessert, we're actually told to walk it around the restaurant *at eye level* before dropping it off at our table so that the customers at other tables can look at it and say "oooh! I want that!" And it works, more than you'd know.

I think what's so interesting about Cheesecake is that even though people are being stuffed to the brim with other food, I had more tables order dessert there than anywhere else I've worked. It doesn't matter that you're about to explode, if you basically walked in the door for the explicit purpose of eventually eating dessert.