Chickpea Burger (Issue 1141)

In which we are encouraged to avoid brand or reputational damage by guiding clients toward what we do best and away from our weak elements.

As my wife and I wrapped up a week-long vacation in Rhode Island, we decided to stop late afternoon at a restaurant we’ve very much enjoyed on previous trips through the area. While the menu is standard Italian American pastas, sauces, chicken, steaks, and fish, they prepare them well, the food comes out hot, and the wait staff is personable, efficient, and encouraging without being pushy. While I was eager to reach home after a week away, I looked forward to another of their meals.

“What will you have?”, my wife asked.

As I reviewed the menu, I felt torn. The pastas looked great, of course, but I didn’t feel like tackling a heaping plate of pasta or taking half-a-heap home for the next day. I didn’t feel like the salmon, or the scallops, or the protein-of-your-choice Parmesan, or the piccata, or the saltimbocca. After a week of vacation, I wasn’t that hungry for a heavy meal.

The salads looked good and I looked at the sandwiches and burgers… the house burger, the chicken parm panini, the tuna conserva melt…. they all felt like “too much” for my dinner. And, then I spotted the chickpea burger.

In general, I prefer vegetarian options and the chickpea burger looked surprisingly good – chickpea patty topped with wood roasted mushrooms, aleppo, fontina cheese, caramelized onion, and sweet onion aioli, served on ciabatta bread. So, I ordered that with a side salad instead of the parmesan French fries.

When the food arrived, I gasped a little. The serving was….generous. The ciabatta loaf puffed cartoonishly high, about 3 ½ ” at its peak and about 6” long. The smashed chickpea patty (ah, really disappointing, fried rather than grilled, I should have asked, I avoid fried foods) covered the entire base of the ciabatta. The abundant still-steaming mushroom-cheese-onion mélange had lethargically overflowed the patty edges, nearly hiding them completely.

But, as I got into it, the chickpea patty tasted OK, the hot cheese with mushrooms tasted like a nice pizza, and the lightly dressed side salad was a nice complement.

Eager to reach home, we skipped dessert (which this place also does well). But, as we walked across the parking lot to the car, I noticed that my tummy felt uncomfortably heavy, challenged, and that I felt a little weak.

“You know,” I said aloud, “my dinner was filling yet unremarkable and I’m not sure I’d be so eager to come back here again or recommend it. Not what I expected from this place.”

We walked for a few moments as I considered the dinner, then I laughed and blurted, “Yeah, and, seriously, who goes to a nice Italian restaurant and orders the chickpea burger?”

Silence came the confirming reply.

Replaying the scene, I thought: Our server could have said (and never in a million years do I think she would have said) something like (and this isn’t exactly right and let’s go with it), “The chickpea burger, yes, of course, and, if you’re willing, I’d love to hear what you’re thinking. While the chickpea burger is good, it’s not what we do best. Would you consider another option if I’m able to offer one?” Something like that. Protect the brand!

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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