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Under the Microscope: Battle of the Burrito Brands

CHIPOTLE

CHIPOTLE

With its bigger-than-big burritos stuffed with cilantro rice, beans and naturally raised meats, Freebirds World Burrito feels super similar to its main competitor, Chipotle.

Both feature ads, food packaging, websites, social media and uniforms with playful, irreverent writing mixed with messages of social consciousness. Both fast-casual Mexican restaurants are clad in metal surfaces that mimic foil tortilla wrappers.

Since they’re practically twins, which burrito joint wins?

The deciding factor is the biggest difference between the two – something you’d expect to be a huge advantage, but that actually bears out results of a study showing too much of a good thing really is too much.

Identity

Through its name and pepper logo, Chipotle shows its simplicity. The chain’s color palette is limited to black, white, silver and a reddish-brown hue that matches its smoked jalapeno namesake.

Freebirds conjures the Lynryd Skynyrd song and gives a wild vibe with its rainbow of colors, backward-F logo and peace signs. The identity doesn’t say burrito restaurant as much as it says anything goes.

Product

Freebirds seems like a better option because it has more choices. Four flavors of tortillas! Three types of cheese! Two types of dessert – Chipotle doesn’t even offer dessert!

So at Freebirds, I tried a green spinach tortilla with chicken, queso and several salsas. The tortilla didn’t taste any different than a regular flour one, and the queso and salsas masked the flavor of the chicken.

Next time I tried a cayenne tortilla with steak and hot sauce. Again, the orange-red tortilla didn’t taste much different from an ordinary flour one.

Side by side, I prefer the more robust flavors of the chicken, carnitas, steak and barbacoa beef at Chipotle.

Experience

Long lines are yet another thing Chipotle and Freebirds have in common. But they move more slowly at Freebirds because the myriad choices trip up customers. Even when my family was second in line recently at Freebirds, ordering felt like too much.

Chipotle is more streamlined, with just a few items at each point along a prep line that chugs along smoothly.

Comparing Chipotle and Freebirds calls to mind the Columbia University study in 2000 that’s become known as the Jam Experiment. Shoppers at a grocery store that had only six types of jam on display bought jam 30 percent of the time. Another group that had 24 flavors only purchased jam 3 percent of the time.

The study concluded that too many choices make you 10 times less likely to actually choose something, and more likely to second guess the choice you do make.

Freebirds gives too many choices. Chipotle serves up just enough. When it comes to burrito brands, curation is the secret salsa.

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Under the Microscope: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

BMD_Issue6_December2013_Cover.jpg

As a diehard fan of films and the movie palaces that show them, I was happy to land one of my first jobs popping corn and selling tickets at a popular Kansas City theater. I kept going back for more, especially at independent art houses.

But a few years ago, I stopped frequenting multiplexes. Lots of my film-loving friends did, too, for similar reasons:

  • Expensive ticket prices
  • Convenient flat screen at home
  • People talk and text during movies
  • Repeat all of the above

When I learned Alamo Drafthouse, a movie chain from the Lone Star state, was moving into the former flagship theater of locally grown AMC, a heavy dose of hometown pride kicked in. Kansas City, a moviegoing metro with more screens per capita than nearly anywhere in the U.S., was doing just fine without any help from Texas, thank you very much.

But my hard heart softened when I heard one of Alamo Drafthouse’s ads, a hilarious, uncensored rant from a customer who was kicked out for texting during a movie. It brilliantly demonstrates the movie chain’s zero-tolerance policy.

So when “Lincoln” began its run, my husband, friends and I decided to give Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet in the Power & Light District a try.

I’d done the dine-in movie theater thing before at AMC and Cinemark in Kansas City and Living Room in Portland, but Alamo wins. Drink and food orders at Alamo are written, not spoken, to keep distractions to a minimum. Still, the servers interacted with us before and after the film in a super-friendly way.

“Have you kicked out any customers today for texting or talking during the movie?” I asked.

“Yes, one, but he got a warning,” the server said.

Fair enough. Before the movie, Alamo announced its one-warning kickout rule. As a brand manager, I value consistency, the hallmark of smart business.

Then the previews started. Alamo doesn’t robot through upcoming films or pimp lame TV shows. Instead, it curates content to match the movie. For “Lincoln,” we were delighted to watch parts of a “Scooby-Doo” cartoon and a “Star Trek” episode featuring likenesses of Honest Abe.

My husband’s whiskey sour was the best he’d ever had. “We don’t use mixes,” the server said. “We freshly squeeze juices for cocktails.” I opted for my favorite ale, Boulevard Tank 7, something you don’t find at most theaters. One of Alamo’s missions is to serve local craft beers. Our other menu selections — warm chocolate-chip cookies and popcorn with a side of grated Parmesan and herbs — upped the ante on everyday concessions.

We recently treated my brother- and sister-in-law to a movie at Alamo Drafthouse when they visited from Southern California.

This time at Alamo, we enjoyed drinks at the bar, where its two televisions were airing AMC and Turner Classic Movies. Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was showing.

The bar’s name is Chesterfield, after the Silver Screen-era cigarette brand. I was charmed by the framed vintage ads that were less about smoking, more about smiling sophisticates. In the back of Chesterfield, dancers were crowding a West Coast swing band like something from a 1930s film.

“They have dance lessons several nights a week,” a guy on a leather couch near the bar told me.

I grabbed a magazine, its cover reminiscent of a pulp novel. Badass Digest is the content arm of Alamo, highlighting upcoming films. December featured journalism movies including “All the President’s Men” and twists on holiday films such as “National Lampoon’s Vacation Quote-Along.” The magazine is printed proof Alamo Drafthouse understands its customers, the essence of smart branding.

Other reasons I’ve become an Alamo Drafthouse devotee:

  • Tickets cost $9.50, less than some other theaters charge.
  • There’s more entertainment there than in my living room.
  • Its customer service and communications value my filmgoing ways.
  • Repeat all of the above.

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