— As Long as the Quality Doesn’t Get Too Good
This article from today’s New York Times is about the first IHOP restaurant in Vermont, which was the last holdout among states to get one of the pancake franchises. Pancakes, of course, need syrup — and don’t try to tell me they don’t. Vermont, of course, is all about real, honest-to-God maple syrup, something that does not factor into the IHOP menu, nor, for that matter, the menu of most breakfast restaurants and diners in the country, chain or independents. So the owners of Vermont’s first IHOP franchise had to receive special permission to include maple syrup on the menu. The story doesn’t quite go into the reasoning that special permission would have to be attained, but the story reminded me of something that happened here in Central Florida.
Most of you know Manny Garcia for his Pebbles restaurants and the recently closed Harvey’s Bistro and Manuel’s on the 28th. But 20-odd years ago he was the local Burger King king. He owned a number of area franchises, and he was always looking for ways to distinguish his burger joints.
Some of the things he did included upgrading the condiments, using a brand name ketchup instead of the BK-issued stuff and buying better pickles. Customers started to notice that things were better at Garcia’s Burger Kings, and pretty soon Burger King officials started to notice too. And they were not happy.
The issue, they told Garcia, wasn’t that he was making his food better but that he was making the other franchisees’ food look bad. And not just the food, his restaurants were always somewhat nicer, more kempt than the average fast fooder. So they asked him to stop using upgrades and go back to using the general issue ingredients.
Garcia tried to reason that if he could offer his products and still make a profit, so could the other franchisees. But the Burger King officials didn’t see it his way. Garcia ended up selling all his franchises (whether or not this issue had anything to do with the ultimate sale I can’t say, and should not be inferred).
So when you’re eating in a chain restaurant and wonder why the food isn’t better, maybe it’s because the franchisor doesn’t want it to be. Wouldn’t want to make everyone else look bad.
Oh, and a postscript for the story: Manny Garcia is now on the board of directors of Burger King. Watch for better ketchup.