In the early 80’s I holidayed in a lovely fishing town on one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain. It was bliss. Quiet, peaceful days followed by a relaxed evening stroll around Town hunting for the perfect place to eat. Choosing the restaurant was as much of the experience as actually dining. Our rudimentary Spanish and what was, at the time, exotic sounding dishes made the whole thing a voyage of discovery. We would peruse menus, scrutinise the wine list, check out the existing clientele and finally make a selection based on all these things and our mood. After returning, we talked of it often. It was the perfect, as one of my colleagues refers to them, ‘fly and flop’ holiday.
Marketing Begins to Suffocate it’s own Product
We made the mistake of returning some years later. There was little room for building so it hadn’t fallen prey to over development. In fact the beach and the local walks were every bit as relaxing as we remembered. However, the Town had become a battle ground.
It was clear what had happened. One restaurateur, tired of waiting for customers to randomly walk into his establishment erected a much larger menu board than anyone else. Other’s responded so the Town was awash with ugly over-sized signage. The heat of competition hadn’t stopped there though. In a level playing field of deals, discounts and enormous menu’s the restaurateurs started sending their staff out each evening to huckster holidaymakers before they walked on elsewhere. As we strolled we were interrupted with information about chef’s specials and one night only deals. Coupons and mini menus were thrust into our hands as we walked. We were even sometimes accompanied if the desperate seller didn’t feel that we had quite understood the quality of their food or the generosity of their deal. The dining experience had stopped being about the customer and was all about the restaurant. It had stopped being about a relaxing holiday experience (interaction) and was only about filling tables and cash registers (transaction).
In the Absence of Product, Nothing is left But Marketing and Marks
Add a few timeshare touts also in pursuit of their transactions and what was once idyllic was now annoying. What was once a joy of discovery became as irritating as a picnic near a wasps nest. We ended up hiring a car and eating out of Town but the collective opinion was that the quality of the food and service had taken a nose dive too.
A whole Town was behaving like the worst kind of modern marketers. They had forgotten that their value is in meeting the needs of their customers. Their customers, actually holidaymakers, wanted to make their own choice, in their own way largely without interruption. The ‘product’ was a set of interactions, driven by the desire to discover, to explore, to find local dishes. To uncover the best fish in Town or find a rare Rioja whilst promenading and people watching.
Instead a whole Town full of Restaurateurs forgot about good food, great service and reputation. Even in holiday Towns, you get to hear about the good and the bad very quickly. Instead, they fixated on what happened at the end of the meal, their bill, and worked back. We don’t get the transaction unless we remove that random element of discovery and exploration so we will slowly and persistently drive it out. They killed the very thing that their customer came into Town for.
In Memory of the Interaction
I hear that the Town is much quieter now, European holidaymakers favour long haul destinations or stay at home vacations. I am sure though that it is also because they tired of the huckstering. What used to be a warm, and fun experience, a rich set of human interactions became all about the transaction.
Picture: Katherine Le Grice: Mediterranean Village