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While in my doctor's office recently, a harried, busy secretary began to sound off and vent to me. It was noon, what should be her coveted personal-space time, and she picked up her favorite sandwich from a neighborhood convenience store while driving to the office. Now in anticipation, she opened her corned beef on rye and discovered there was no mustard or Russian dressing, neither on the sandwich, nor on the side.
Incensed, she telephoned the convenience store to complain that they forgot to include the mustard and dressing. Apparently, she was not happy with their dismissive response when she tried to describe for them their transgression.
So look at the damage here: A regular customer who paid good money for a premium, prepared sandwich, now dissatisfied and giving a black mark to that store to others about her frustration. Perhaps this woman had an extremely sour attitude, even though she felt robbed of her delight in eating the sandwich. Perhaps she over-reacted. But the store's failure to satisfy its customer's desire for condiments jeopardized the opportunity to get future business from that customer. And the store's reputation was further negatively influenced among other potential customers to whom she would tell her annoyance.
To any convenience store owner or counter person, recognition and application of condiments on food needs to be Food 101. How many are guilty of not giving any thought to condiments, or giving them the short-shift when they are in the process of preparing food or selling it?
Perhaps it is a mindset based on economy and savings. There's a school of thought that believes putting out condiments or encouraging use of them drives up the unit cost of an item and makes the bottom line less profitable.
Yes, it takes a little extra time and effort to make sure a good variety of condiments are available, and to make the presentation display of them appealing. But condiments are a key partner to food. Mustard, onions, relish, ketchup and the like make the hot dog, hamburger, sandwich, sausage or fried egg something special. The store that recognizes and advocates this gives the perception that it is pampering the customer, looking out for them and making sure they are serving up food exactly the way the customer wants it.
The enhancement to a good sandwich is the condiment. If you put bad, tasteless mustard on a corned beef sandwich you are killing the experience. The mustard, mayo, ketchup or horseradish is what makes the sandwich, hot dog, salad or any convenient, quickly prepared meal a success.
If you have high-quality meat, and you have inferior condiments on the sandwich, what have you accomplished?
Look at the connection and dynamics where condiments can enable customer relationships. For example, horseradish on a sandwich (instead of mustard or mayo) opens a whole new world of flavor. Increasing use of wasabi sauce on a sandwich or appetizer (such as chicken wings, nuggets or hot dogs) offers diversity and new variety.
Why shouldn't cooks and counter people encourage or suggest this among their customers? The Latino marketplace likes to eat hot and this can be accomplished through condiments.
Some proprietors believe scrimping and minimizing the condiments allows them to get away cheap and increase profit margins. As part of this, some will use non-descript, institutional brands, which again do not create any excitement or enthusiasm for the customer's eating experience. The use of recognized brand-name condiments enhances consumer confidence and promotes a good feeling and fondness of that food as part of the eating encounter.
A simple comparison is why Starbucks, Henry's or 7-Eleven brands of coffee have been so successful when compared to the faceless, institutional brand.
Marc Gold is a principal and fourth-generation family member of Gold Pure Food Products Inc. (www.goldshorseradish.com), a 78-year-old manufacturer of some 50 condiment foods based in Hempstead, N.Y.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.