It struck me the other day during lunch at a local Moe's Southwestern Grill that a new phenomenon has swept the restaurant landscape in the form of poor attempts to differentiate from the competition--renaming accepted terms of business with cutesy nicknames. This is readily visible in the faster food sector, and it's becoming more prevalent as companies struggle to connect with the consumer in manners which create loyalty and/or preference.
Take Moe's as a primary example. Personally, I believe they have a very good product to offer, but they've gone and out "cuted" themselves with ridiculously silly nicknames for their fare which only serve to confuse and frustrate the customer. It's easy to see them thinking behind the scenes, but it's a risky attempt at product differentiation. They're in fierce competition with franchises such as Qdoba, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, LaBamba, Taco Bell, and Tijuana Flats, (plus many others) but those competitors don't require a translator to order a simple burrito or taco. Try popping into one of those places one day or night to order a "Joey" or an "Alfredo Garcia." You'll get looked at like you have three heads (with good reason).
What would possess a franchise to resort to childish nicknames to try to differentiate themselves? It's probably an executive's poor excuse of a marketing concept designed to separate from the competition, but that's not the type of separation that enables your concept to survive long term. It will ultimately separate them all right--the competition will eventually gain as the initial shtick gives way to annoyance and turns consumers off to the point they prefer the competition even with all other factors being relatively equal.
Sure, things look great for Moe's presently, and the concept seems "fresh" today, but that can change on a dime without warning. Their current growth could be sapped with one false step because there is less room to wiggle when you're attempting to retrain your customer base to conform to your concept. What happens if the consumer collectively says "I'm no longer in the mood for Moe?" Would being "cute" be overruled by a desire to becoming truly different (i.e. better)?
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of positives. Their restaurants are well laid out, the décor is modern, the lighting is appropriate, and the food is tasty not to mention reasonably priced. The physical atmosphere is hip and inviting. There are glaring negatives, too. The staff collectively insisting on yelling "Welcome to Moe's!" at the top of their lungs as a new customer enters doesn't make me want to setup shop for very long. I can't wait to get out so I don't have to hear that any more than I have to. I'd like a little peace and normalcy with my meal Moe, thanks.
Topping off the frustrating concept Moe's obviously insists upon cramming down the consumer's throat is the staff correcting the customer when ordering by the desired ingredients instead of its nickname. You're not training me Moe, you're supposed to be providing a quality and quick meal which I am going to ring your register for--don't correct me, simply make the food, take the money, and let me eat in peace!
Moe's is not alone in this feeble attempt at differentiation, and they won't be the last, but the lesson to be learned is to keep customer service just that--customer service. The customer is paying so don't believe you're going to train the customer as long as the equation is structured that way. If you begin to pay people to come into your franchise or business, you're well within your rights to try to train them to do business your way. Stick to doing business as the industry dictates until you develop a better way of doing things. Then, and only then, you will have a true differentiator. Simply renaming a common item or process doesn't make you different--it makes you contrarian. Don't confuse the two.