Have you ever experienced a real life marketing situation and suddenly understood a point that was previously only hypothetical?

Dinner for five, hold the attitude
Last Friday night my parents, beau, and I took my 87 year-old grandmother to see the Glenn Miller Band. (If you have even the smallest appreciation for big band music, they are worth checking out.) Before the show, we hit a local restaurant – The Village – for dinner. Little did I know I’d be getting a side of Marketing 101 with my fried seafood.

Waiter, there’s a stupid tule in my soup

When the waitress came by, we paused our familial chatter to place the following order:

  • Me and my beau: Fisherman’s platter – $29.99
  • My parents: Cajun popcorn shrimp appetizer ($8.99) and baked, stuffed clams ($8.50)
  • My grandmother: Crumb-encrusted haddock – $15.00

A moment after disappearing towards the kitchen, the waitress came back with the unfortunate news that there weren’t any baked stuffed clams. (That always happens to my dad.) Nothing else appealed to him, so he opted to go with just the Cajun shrimp. The waitress departed again, but was back in less than two minutes to inform us that there was a restaurant rule against sharing meals and a $4.50 minimum per-person charge.

A slightly stunned silence fell across our table. The waitress turned to me, and asked, “So, would you like to order a cup of chowder?” On top of my $30 plate of seafood? I think not.

I felt bad for the poor girl. After all, it wasn’t her rule. It was the rule of the establishment’s ill-advised management. In the end, my beau and I weren’t forced to order food we didn’t want. My parents, however, ordered a dessert to take home for later.

Reality check
Here’s the thing. If you do the math, we spent over $60 between the five of us … $12 and change per person (nearly three times the mandated minimum). And yet, the restaurant owners still stuck inflexibly to a rule that shouldn’t have been applied in the first place.

Although my dinner was good, I walked away from the table with a bad taste in my mouth. Being asked to order food I didn’t want simply to fulfill a financial quota made me feel more like a number on a spreadsheet than a valued guest at a friendly, neighborhood eatery.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the restaurants that make me feel like I’ve been invited into a friend’s home. One place my beau and I visit frequently is The Black Cow Tavern. When we split a burger at this cozy little retreat, they not only take our order with a genuine smile, they serve it up to us on separate plates. It’s not hard to figure out why we keep going back.

The marketing lesson
From a marketing perspective, The Village restaurant would have benefitted from more careful consideration of how their rules would be perceived. If you’re considering implementing minimum order requirements or similar constraints on your customers, be sure to think about how they might react to your demands. Put yourself in their shoes. Weigh out what you stand to gain against what you might lose. In the case of The Village restaurant, I doubt the extra $4.50 we paid for the unwanted dessert compensated for five disillusioned patrons.

What do you think? Are consumers savvier about these types of demands? Have you experienced fallout from a poorly conceived customer requirement?