The secret decoder ring and the myth of authenticity
One of my favorite Christmas movies is “A Christmas Story,” where 10-year-old Ralphie Parker’s grown-up off-camera persona narrates his experiences over a particular Christmas season. One of the scenes stuck out to me this year: the one where he finally gets his Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Ring and learns a hard lesson about getting ripped off.
What really struck me is that there are a lot of companies out there advertising “authentic” experiences only to offer not-so-good impersonations of the real thing. We consumers are so wrapped up in wanting “it all” that the retailers out there are more than happy to offer “it all” up to us in cheap, knock-off substitutions that rarely if ever reflect the true nature of the original experience. I can only assume that we like these fakes as the real thing since I keep seeing more and more of this stuff for sale, especially over the holiday season.
A better question is why do we, as consumers, think that we should be able to have or deserve a particular experience even if we can’t afford it? Why do we so readily accept the cheap substitutions and then convince ourselves that it is an authentic product?
As food and beverage professionals, are we pulling the same tricks on our guests? Are you completely honest about what you are and what your product is? Are you selling first class and serving coach?
I was recently at a charitable reception held at a very fancy hotel with a reputation for luxury services. Nosy I am, so I asked my friend who organized the event what she was paying for the banquet food, specifically the rancid coffee being served. She told me that the hotel catering person had presented her with two levels of coffee: one regular quality and the second of much better quality. The higher quality or “luxury” coffee was only $90.00 dollars a gallon (plus plus). She opted for the luxury coffee, wanting to offer only the very best to her charitable donors who were planning on writing some significant checks that evening. She had not asked for the hotel’s definition of “luxury coffee,” instead relying on them to hold true to her internal definition of luxury.
So I got really nosy and asked the banquet captain to tell me about the coffee. He had no idea what I was talking about, so I asked him to take me to the brewing station. To my surprise, he did. We walked into the heart of house where he pointed me to where the coffee was brewed. Or mixed, in this case. It was a liquid coffee product, better known as concentrated coffee mix system. Hardly fresh brewed and hardly “luxury.” I did not ask to see what the first option was, instant?
Now there is nothing wrong with coffee concentrate. It is not my favorite, but it is enjoyed by many. When I asked her what came to mind when the hotel upsold her on a “luxury coffee,” she told me that she envisioned freshly roasted beans being ground just before brewing and then served to her guests.
My friend had been duped. That is my opinion. The hotel knows good and well that concentrated coffee should never be sold as luxury or premium coffee.
So what are you offering? Is your local produce really local? Is your organic really organic? Is your filet really the highest quality? Is your small batch, freshly roasted fair trade and shade grown coffee really what you say it is?
If hotel F&B outlets and banquet facilities want to stay relevant and trusted, then we need to be true to what we are. Take a close look and make sure you are honest in what you are offering. Don’t sell something you know not to be true. Don’t sell a dream and then serve a nightmare. It might make you money in the short run, but sooner or later your customers will figure it out, and that, as they say, “will be that.”
Are you selling authentic experiences or secret decoder rings?