Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Così Fan Tutte: Stop shrinking our daily flatbread

I'm not sure how geographically wide-spread the chain is, but there are a few Cosis in the Boston area, and they are my all time favorite place to grab a lunch salad. For those unfamiliar with Cosi, they sell sandwiches and salads (and, I think but am not sure, breakfast-y type bakery goods), and the place runs as an assembly line. You get in the salad or the sandwich line, at least with the salads, two-three-four employees pass the salad down the line throwing ingredients in and tossing. In preparation for their lunch rush, they also keep a supply of pre-fab Signature Salads ready for you to just grab and go.

The Signature Salad is to die for - the con-yourself virtue of eating a salad, and the complete indulgence of consuming a salad that's got grapes, pistachios, cranberries, and blue cheese in it.

They also have one of those nice buy-9-get-1-free deals going. Nothing tastes better than that got-1-free.

While the place is hectic, they also have a lot of tables so that if you want to have a sit-down lunch with a friend, there's generally room available.

But the absolute best thing about Cosi is their sublime bread - a salted, just out of the oven, pizza-crisp flatbread (white or Tuscan wheat). Yum.

Because of the Signature Salad, the get-1-free, and the manna from heaven bread, I gave Cosi a pass when they switched a few months back from Coke to Pepsi. (I strongly prefer Diet Coke to Diet Pepsi, but you have to give those Pepsi institutional sales guys credit, they know how to close a deal.)

Although I general grab lunch from Cosi once a week, it's been a couple of weeks since last I ate there.

Last Friday, I stopped in for what I've come to think of as my Signature Salad. And a piece of warm, Tuscan wheat flatbread. Which, since last time I stopped in, has shrunken from a generous slab to a far less generous slice.

Were people complaining because the pieces were too big? Did they think we wouldn't notice?

Come on. This is not exactly like shrinking the size of a piece of Wonder Bread. Cosi bread is well worth eating every bit of.

Most likely, some bean-counting efficiency expert decide that they could save $0.0001 per meal if they shrunk the bread.

I HATE things like this. If you're losing money (which I doubt - the place is always mobbed, and if you walk around Boston's financial district at lunch, you have to dodge Cosi delivery people lugging shopping bags full of meeting-lunches) or if you want to pay your generally excellent staff more money (which I doubt - and whatever they do get paid, they should get paid more.)

I suppose it's easier to shrink the goods than raise the prices, but I'd rather see the prices go up.

Now that I think of it, I wonder if they've shrunken the size of the salads, too. I'll have to check next time, although this is more difficult to gauge.

Shrinking the amount is a time-honored practice. Shave off an ounce here, a gram there. It all ads up. Change the 4 for $3 yogurts to 5 for $4 and maybe nobody will notice that the price for each yogurt container just went up a nickel.

The whole thing reminds me of the time at Wang when they unscrewed half of the lightbulbs to save on electricity costs. What had been a dreary and depressing place to work became even drearier and more depressing. Morale was already in the dumps. The unscrewed lightbulbs just made the dumps all the darker.

Nobody likes higher prices. Nobody likes less for more.

Restaurants fan tutte. Restaurants are like that. But I'm hoping the Così changes it mind and gives us more of our daily flatbread.

Before new pricing and slicing schemes are put into effect, marketers need to think long and hard about how these little things can ad up over time and erode the brand experience.

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