Local diners can’t compete with corporate chains

An increasing number of family-owned San Diego eateries are feeling the blow of the worsening economy and many have had to close up shop after years of service to their community’s loyal diners.

As more town favorites struggle to maintain in this time of recession, an increasing number of corporate chain restaurants are demonstrating their financial resilience by picking up the slack, but at what cost to the consumer?

Most chain restaurants stand by a common motto: good food at affordable prices. In just five words, the corporate marketing team at any chain restaurant has managed to catch the attention of families on a budget, the 32-year-old single male, and the starving college sophomore alike. Advertising slogans like “great hospitality” and “excellent service” can sway even the most loyal of mom and pop’s patrons into believing in the greener pastures beyond the neon lights of the Denny’s sign.

The truth behind their million dollar ad campaigns is that quality can be sacrificed in quantity, and most of these chains provide mediocre fare at prices not far off from the generally more appetizing food at smaller restaurants.

For anyone who has ever been to a chain Mexican restaurant like Chevy’s, they know the authentic flavor of the Latin cuisine has been generalized into an easily marketable depiction of the “Americanized” Mexican food prototype. There are also those ever-popular Italian food chains whose commercials depict their chefs at a culinary institute in Sicily being trained in the classical and authentic food of the region. In actuality, the only thing Jose in the kitchen at Olive Garden has in common with an Italian is fluency in a similar romance language.

As far as service and hospitality are concerned, it’s always comforting to know that your waitress has been extensively trained (or brain washed rather) on the key elements of customer service. “Up selling,” or the repetitive suggestion of higher price menu items and meal upgrades is key for most corporate chains.

A major advantage for chain restaurants is their ability to statistically track the amount of up sales done by each individual server. This makes it easy for them to see which member of their service team isn’t contributing enough profit to the gross income of the restaurant and may in turn be the most cost effective employee to let go. With scare tactics like that, you’re sure to get great service.and a ten dollar addition to your bill after being pushed into ordering their grease-on-a-stick appetizer. Now that’s hospitality!

Granted, some small restaurants go under because they provide bad service, fail to deliver great food, or can’t live up to the standards of their corporate competitors. In this case, it is probably rightfully so, as the bar isn’t set that high. However, those that have withstood the test of time did so because of the quality of their food, the service they provide and the loyalty of the patrons that keep coming back

Many people love to say, “I go to this quaint little diner that’s been here for years,” or “I know this great Hungarian place owned by a real nice couple.” It seems, though, that many restaurant goers are still sacrificing quality and integrity for the mere allure of $5.99 all you can eat soup and salad.

To the small restaurant owner, every customer swayed to the dark side by corporate marketing tactics strikes hard at their chances of staying afloat. Restaurant patrons who appreciate good food and a local feel during their dining experience need to actively commit to taking their business where it is needed and deserved. If not, it won’t be long before our great San Diego eateries are replaced by the bland mediocrity of the corporate cuisine.

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