|August 2011 • Volume 25, Number 5 • http://www.foodchannel.com|
IN THIS EDITION
Toddlers in Restaurants: Endure, Embrace or Embargo?
The debate over the presence of infants and toddlers in midscale and upscale restaurants really heated up a few weeks ago when a Pittsburgh area restaurant decided to install a ban on children aged 6 and under.
Mike Vuick, the owner of McDain’s Restaurant and Golf Center in Monroeville, Pa., said he was acting on the behalf of customers who had emailed him, complaining of dinners ruined by loud or unruly children.
The controversial move brought a swarm of media attention to Monroeville and Vuick’s restaurant. He was interviewed by TV and radio stations from as far away as New Zealand and Australia. NBC’s Today Show did a segment on the topic.
Vuick describes the situation as a three-part issue. One, he says, is the increasing number of small babies that can’t be controlled. They can’t be quiet and they can’t really be expected to be—they’re babies.
The second factor is toddler-aged kids “who have shown increasingly poor manners,” and finally he blames parents who become offended when staffers ask them to quiet down their kids. Most people are on his side in this issue, Vuick says. He claims that of the more than 2,000 emails he’s received, the ratio that supports his ban is about 11 to 1. A Pittsburgh TV news poll received over 10,000 respondents, and nearly two-thirds supported the under-6 ban.
Reporting for TIME magazine, James Beard Award-winning food writer Josh Ozersky got in touch with a number of people in the restaurant business and found almost all the chefs and servers he spoke with said they hated having kids in restaurants.
Offering a completely different viewpoint is Danny Meyer, owner of the Union Square Restaurant Group and one of the most highly respected restaurateurs in the business. He’s totally opposed to such bans, but cautions that it’s up to parents to keep their little ones under control, and if they can’t, they should remove them from the dining room.
Counter trend: Cater to kids
In stark contrast to the movement to ban tykes from restaurants is an emerging trend to completely cater to the needs of young parents with babies. Some restaurants are now taking the time to prepare special pureéd foods that babies without teeth can enjoy.
One eatery that’s been doing that for a while is GustOrganics, a casual dine restaurant in New York. After observing mothers ordering regular food and mashing it up for their little ones, the restaurant decided to begin doing the pureéing for them. The restaurant offers organic choices such as beef tenderloin pureé with zucchini, carrot and bay leaf, plus a banana and dulce de leche pureé dessert. Dishes are made from scratch, without additives such as salt.
Some chains are very pro-tot. Starbucks offers the Peter Rabbit Organics line of packaged pureés for babes in arms, in hope of allowing parents to stay awhile, and perhaps purchase an additional latte while they linger.
Baby food is also on the menu at Bay-area restaurants owned by celebrity chef Tyler Florence. The chef’s own line of Sprout organic baby food is available to customers who bring their small children to Florence’s Northern California establishments Wayfare Tavern (San Francisco), El Paseo (Mill Valley), and Rotisserie & Wine (Napa).
Florence says it’s a good way to entice families with infants and toddlers—who may otherwise be reluctant to bring their tots into an upscale restaurant—to enjoy a night out without the added cost of a babysitter.
It will be fascinating to follow these parallel, polar opposite trends. Will more restaurants opt for peace and quiet by keeping the little kids out, or will they embrace the young ones in hopes of gaining customers from among the young parents who’d rather avoid the additional expense of a babysitter? We expect the biggest majority will neither embargo nor embrace the presence of squeally, squirmy tykes, but rather will simply endure them with a “comes with the territory” attitude.
Extreme Coupon Clipping Catching On
If you’ve watched the TLC reality TV series “Extreme Couponing,” you’ve seen grocery shoppers racking up some amazing savings. On a recent episode, J’aime Kirlew, a Maryland mother of three, was shown walking out of the supermarket with four shopping carts worth of groceries for which she had paid a mere $103—saving an incredible $1,750. Another episode showed a proud dad who has turned his basement into a veritable warehouse of groceries for which he’s paid a fraction of the MSRP.
How do these bargain hunters do it? With coupons, of course. Stacks and stacks of coupons sourced from newspapers and coupon websites such as CouponSherpa, or with coupon apps for smart phone devices.
The combination of a stagnating economy and rising food prices has more and more consumers on the hunt for ways to save, and coupon clipping is becoming a hobby for some, a necessity for others, and an obsession in some “extreme” cases as documented on the TV series.
Coupon clipping devotees have formed vast online communities that collectively spot and swap digital, mobile-phone and paper coupons. They trade deal information on sites like Slickdeals.net and TheKrazyCouponLady.com.
The most devoted (obsessed?) combine dozens of coupons, and hop from store to store all over town buying massively discounted items in mass quantities to stock up in their basements, closets and deep freezers.
Some resort to thievery
You may have even read about the rash of reported newspaper thefts believed to be the result of the coupon clipping frenzy. One woman was arrested for stealing 185 newspapers. She claimed she didn’t realize this was unlawful.
For many years, shoppers clipped coupons from newspaper circulars, magazines and coupon booklets. Redemption of these paper coupons peaked in the early 90s, and then couponing gradually declined as many supermarkets created loyalty programs that rewarded repeat customers with discounts.
But when the recession hit in 2008-2009, the number of coupons redeemed went up by a staggering 27 percent—the largest year-over-year increase since coupon processing agent Inmar started tracking the statistic more than 20 years ago.
All this coupon clipping can put a major squeeze on profits for supermarkets, which are already dealing with thin margins. Craig Herkert, CEO of Supervalu Inc., the operator of Jewel, Albertson’s and other supermarkets, recently told analysts that shoppers who zero in on these deals were “executing with surgical precision.”
Online coupons heavily redeemed
Coupons downloaded from the Internet get a redemption rate of nearly 17 percent, according to NCH Marketing Services, many times more than the 1 or 2 percent redeem rate (or less) garnered by newspapers, free standing inserts and other paper coupons.
The high redemption rate for online coupons could be attributed to both a growing familiarity with the process as well as the increased availability of online offers. NCH also found a 15% increase in promotions distributed digitally in the first half of 2011 versus the first half of the previous year. Downloaded, home-printed coupons not only stand a better chance of being redeemed, they also attract more new buyers than traditional coupons, according to NCH.
The food manufacturer and grocery retailer are no doubt wondering how far this coupon frenzy will go. Writing for the trade journal Supermarket News, contributing editor Phil Lempert says he is now convinced “extreme” coupon clipping will do more harm than good.
”Watching and reading about these (may I say?) obsessed savers, makes me wonder just how long it will take them to use the 200 rolls of toilet tissue or 12 gallons of mayonnaise that is stored in their custom-built store room,” Lempert writes.
Showcasing over-the-top coupon clippers as role models for the average person trying to save a few bucks the way TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” does is wrong, says Lempert.
Many supermarket retailers are now revising their coupon policies to avoid driving themselves out of business with abnormal redemption costs.
Couponing can be a great tool for brands and marketers. It’s a powerful method for introducing new products and igniting sales in particular ZIP codes or with other targeted customers. With the Internet’s ability to focus offers better than ever, retailers should be thrilled. Instead, many feel they are being taken advantage of by coupon specialists who manipulate the system in ways it was never meant to be used.
Many experts predict the future of couponing will be digital. Owners of iPads and similar tablet devices and smart phones will be able to flip though coupon inserts with the touch of a finger on the screen–coupon inserts that were once the exclusive province of the Sunday newspaper. Touch a coupon on the screen and a popup invites you to load the e-coupon to a loyalty card—no clipping necessary. Touch another box and users can also view videos of the products to help determine if they want to buy them in the first place. It’s a brave new world, and an exciting one for savvy marketers.
As digital takes over for paper coupons, perhaps more controls will be put in place to help avoid the excesses of extreme coupling as well as outright fraud—not to mention cut down on newspaper theft and dumpster diving.
The changing landscape of couponing will be a subject that food manufacturers and retailers will be watching especially closely in the coming months and years. There’s a ton of money riding on it.
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