Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Restaurant Mediocrity & Excellence As Explained by the Long Tail

Unique dining experiences at one-of-a-kind restaurantsIs it any wonder that many mediocre restaurants are going out of business or are in financial trouble when they all offer the same kind of food:  Buffalo Wings, Chicken Caeser Salads, Grilled Salmon…

“The Long Tail” concept explains this beautifully.

What got me thinking about this was something I read recently saying that Applebees Restaurants were struggling because of so much competition from similar restaurants for the same market. 

“The Long Tail” is a popular book that shows how the future of commerce and culture is not in hits, the high-volume head of a traditional demand, but in what used to be regarded as misses — the endlessly long tail of that same curve.

The book doesn’t talk about restaurants, in particular, but I am going to translate it for you in those terms.  It says that the average restaurant has a relatively narrow dynamic range of quality:  mostly average to good – to appeal to the masses. 

They go on to say that there is some really great food out there but much of that is too expensive for the average restaurant.  It is the niche restaurants (greater in number but also greater in variety) that have the greatest potential for truly great or awful food.

High quality vs low quality is subjective.  Stay with me here.  The book does have a point.

“High quality” might be judged as follows:

  • Addresses my interests
  • Is well made
  • Fresh
  • Substantive
  • Compelling

“Low quality” might be judged as follows:

  • Not for me
  • Badly made
  • Stale
  • Superficial
  • Boring

Thus, there are no absolute measures of quality and one person’s “good” could easily be another’s “bad”.  So, the compromises necessary to make something appeal to the masses means that it will almost certainly not appeal perfectly to anyone.

So, the best stuff is in the long tail of the curve — those restaurants that cater to a niche and are willing to deviate from the lowest common denominator to meet the “High Quality” criteria that appeals to other “like minded” niche food officianados.

So, for really great food experiences, don’t go to the chains.  Take some effort to seek out and frequent your local niche restaurants.  

  1. CoCo,
    I agree with that completely. Many of the chains are putting the independent and mom-and-pop out of business. Therefore we’ll be stuck with mediocre dining.

    I feel that you can go to Claim Jumper or Applebee’s in any city and get the same meal. When I travel I like to experience the city and its food offerings not the same meal that I can get at home.

    At home I strive to patronize the small business owner. True the chains are employing locals and helping the economy but it’s the independent restaurant that really does care about you or if they don’t, they won’t be in business for long.

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