Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random thoughts III

When everyone’s giving away food that’s remarkably similar in the first place, service becomes the real way of differentiating restaurant chains that compete at a given price level. That underappreciated fact was underscored today by coverage of how both Boston Market and Chili’s are trying to shake off their lethargy.

A USA Today story revealed that Boston Market is moving toward the classic fast-casual model by testing table delivery. Guests place their order, take their seat, and wait for the food to be brought to their table.

CEO Lane Cardwell also noted that the concept will strive to be more of a true market, vis-à-vis Eatzi’s and the gourmet food shops that inspired both it and Boston Market.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal ran a super-premium story on how Chili’s is hoping to get its pizzazz back. Last week the chain started serving a different sort of burger, made from chuck and formed by hand to retain more of the meat’s juices, the article noted.

It also reported that the recipe for its Baby Back Ribs has been rewritten. The ribs are now smoked for a longer stretch, using pecan instead of mesquite to impart more flavor.

Service enhancements are also part of the revitalization effort. The story noted that restaurant-level employees were required to partake of a distance-learning program on service. Among the upshots is a requirement that servers now look all guests in the eye and cite new features of the menu.

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