TGIF Is A Replacement Level Restaurant

I hope I don’t get fired by Tim, Adam and Berselius for writing a post that is only loosely tied to sports, but after reading a couple threads on the fantastic The Book Blog over the last week, I’m going to do it. The first thread I’m not going to bother looking for as it was mostly about fast food. The most recent thread though, that’s what I want to talk about. It’s about the dilly-dallyers in restaurants and how those establishments deal with those people.

First of all, I worked in the food industry for a long time. I graduated from Scottsdale Culinary Institute in 1998 and worked in several higher end restaurants around the country after that. I owned a restaurant that failed. I was part-owner of another and have since sold. The types of restaurants I was affiliated with served high quality food. It came with significantly higher priced items on the menu.

Tom Tango is saying that he shouldn’t be run out of a restaurant if he’s dilly-dallying. I had initially started to repond in the comments there on two different occasions, but my comment became long and not as organized as I would like. I organized my thoughts a little more and decided to write it here.

The restaurant that Tango is speaking of is TGIF. He bought a dinner for $10 and some drinks and was told to leave after he hadn’t been a paying customer for awhile. The commenters were quick to compare how restaurants in Europe respond to this (they don’t bring your check until you ask for it), but this misses the point. I’m also afraid that Tango doesn’t recognize the service he is paying for at a place like TGIF (insert Applebee’s, Denny’s, or whatever other chain restaurant you want here).

Those places are profitable becasue of the turnover. They get you in and get you out. The fact the server is there so quickly after you get your menus and that your food comes almost instantly after you order is evidence of this. They want you to eat and leave. It’s not because they just want your money. It’s because in order to offer that same food at the affordable price it is, they have to do so much volume.

Think about McDonald’s for a moment. If there was no drive through and people took 2 hours to eat inside, what is McDonald’s going to do? They will either close or raise the prices at which point nobody could justify spending that kind of money for that kind of food. Then they’d close.

It’s the same thing at TGIF. They can offer the food they do at the affordable prices because they’re going to seat that very table 5 to 8 times in one night. Maybe even more than that if they get them in and out as fast as they’d like. That’s how they offer those dinners at $10.

Tango also brought up some math about him returning and it was a justification. It was well done and it’s the reason I go to that blog in the first place. But, a TGIF manager sees thousands of customers each week. He can’t possibly be thinking to himself, “OK, this guy paid this much, sat around this long, the result is he’s paying as much as someone who doesn’t dilly dally.” Can’t be done. Not in the short amount of time a manager or other employee has to figure this out. He’s not going to break out a calculator and he or she is probably unlikely to be able to figure it out without doing so. However, if you really do go to the same restaurant once a week, they aren’t going to tell you leave shortly after you’re done. If you sit there for 4 to 6 hours they might, but certainly not if you’re just wanting to stay there for another 30 minutes.

The service that people pay for at those restaurants are numerous. It’s all built into the cost of the food and we know they sell $10 dinners. As a result, we know that all of their services are done with as little money spent doing them. This is true across the board. Everything in those restaurants is made in a way that they can serve that kind of a meal for that cost. They spend as little money on food, preparations, cleanliness, servers, bar-staff, carpet, wood floors, decor and even the toilets themselves are cheap. They use cheap cleaning supplies. Their tables and chairs are cheap. The paint is cheap. The woodwork is cheap. Their bar stools are cheap. The bar itself is cheap. Everything.

To show this, I searched TGIF bar on google images and this was the first one I found.

That’s like a freaking circus. Seriously, I think I’ve seen circuses with less color.  That is an awful bar. Everything in it is the lowest quality imaginable. That looks like something made with colored legos and I’m guessing it doesn’t look much better in person. Compare that one to this one.

Notice the quality difference between the two photos above. If you’ve been to the place where the bottom picture was taken, you’ll feel like you’re slumming it if you go into the place where the first picture was taken. In every single way. There is nothing superior in quality in that TGIF image than the lower one. The design in one has a color for everyone. The design in the second one is elegant and beautiful. Notice the cheap separation between bar and tables at TGIF. Not so cheap in the other. Quite expensive actually. The top place spared cost everywhere possible while the second one spared none. Down to every little detail, the bar in the second picture out-spent the first one. There are many, many bars in fine restaurants that are much more extravagant than that one. I showed that one for its simplicity.

Take a look at the food from the same restaurants.

What the fuck? I can actually count the visible pieces of parsley (I doubt they’d use basil, too expensive). There’s one way over to the left, another two at the bottom, two on the chunk of food and then a larger chunk on top of another.  Speaking of chunk of food, what the hell is that? It’s a 100% guarantee that it came frozen, breaded and ready to be dropped into a fryer. No clue what it is though. I could take the very same stuff on that plate and make it look it somewhat edible.  Compare that to this image.

That’s just a soup, but notice the attention to detail that lacks in the first one. When this soup was arranged, it was done so with with pride. Somebody wanted to serve something that someone else would fall in love with when they first saw it. The garnish makes it appear as though it’s flowing around the bowl. The towers are wrapped in in some sort of green, but still standing. I suggest you try to do that at home. You’ll get frustrated and quit.

The difference between these restaurants is ridiculous. In one of them you’ll be asked to leave once you stop being a paying customer. In the other that won’t happen. You’re paying for something entirely different if you go to a place like that.

Instead of paying for the minimal amount of detail to everything possible like at TGIF, these places pay an enormous amount of detail to every single thing they do. You are paying for that attention. You are paying for the atmosphere. You’re paying to seated comfortably and taken well care of. You’re paying so you can dilly dally if you want.

When I started thinking more about this, the more I realized that a TGIF (and all the others) are really nothing but a replacement level restaurant. A replacement level player in sports provide the minimum amount of production for the minimum salary. When a player gets injured and you call a guy up from AAA, you’re not expecting much or any positive production from the player. If he was capable of that, he’d probably have already been up on the team. That’s not always true of course, but in general it is. The Cubs had two pitchers go on the DL yesterday and the typical replacement level pitchers have replaced them in the rotation until they are healthy.

In sports, we compare players to that replacement level because that is the player that would replace them. Replacment level is worse than average. If you look at the talent curve in baseball or any sport, you’ll see there aren’t all that many players who are average or better.

This concept can be used in a variety of ways. I’m not sure a replacement level restaurant really exists, but when you think about what you expect from a replacement level athlete and what goes into creating a TGIF, you can’t help but see how damn similar the two are. To be honest, my expectations are very similar too. I wouldn’t expect much if I went to TGIF, but I’d have very high expectations in the other place.

TGIF provides the minimum amount of comfort and quality. In return, you pay little money for that food and all the services that come with it. It’s not good service. It’s not good food either. It’s an acceptable place to eat for many reasons. Traveling is one. They’re often located so close to hotels and people are less familiar with the area and tend to prefer a meal they’re familiar with. TGIF offers a wide variety of food. Ever sat around on a Saturday knowing your hungry, but don’t know what you want to eat? TGIF is great for that. I think they plan to have every cuisine represented on their menu in the near future. It seems like they already do. Don’t want to get dressed up? Or even cleaned up? TGIF is there.

However, if you do know what kind of food you want, there are many places that serve that same food at a much higher quality. Some of those places aren’t even more expensive than TGIF. If you are familiar with the city you are in, you surely know of several restaurants that serve superior food. Many of them sell their food at the same cost too. If you do want to get cleaned up after working in the yard or even dressed up, there are much better places to relax and have a nice dinner than the circus that TGIF is.

TGIF is a replacement level restaurant because there are a number of reasons why you may choose to eat there, but few of them will ever have to do with the quality of their food, service and hospitality. As a replacement level restaurant, TGIF has to be more strict with their customers. They can’t take the time to figure out who spent what and how often they spent it. They’re too busy for that. They have a one size fits all rule book. Those rules include that all people inside the establishment must be a paying customer. If at some point you are no longer payiing customer, they should kick you out. There are likely several other people waiting in line anyway and nothing is more frustrating to someone in line than seeing someone sitting around not eating or drinking. I’ll guarantee more people have left those lines because of that than people who have not returned becasue they were asked to leave when they were no longer a paying customer. I’ll also guarantee far more people have left the line to eat elsewhere than the people who won’t return. For those who do not return, it just means that one of those who left for another restaurant will remain in the line.

If TGIF is a replacement level restaurant you may be wondering what McDonalds is. Mcdonald’s is Koyie Hill or Jeff Samardzija. TGIF is Darwin Barney. The other restaurant is this one.