Be Careful When You Substitute Products – You Never Know Who Is Watching

I used to stop at a convenient coffee outlet on my way into the office. Frankly, I didn’t care for the coffee as I am a Starbucks fan, but this place had a great chocolate scone; the first time I ordered it the person behind the counter said, “Be careful with these, they are addicting!” While I thought that was an exaggeration, and though I place that comment on my top ten cliché list along with “decadent chocolate,” the scone was really good.

I added that coffee shop to my weekly list of places I could stop for a good piece of breakfast bakery. It was on a busy street, but there was parking, and even if the staff wasn’t always quite as efficient as I would have liked, I always got my scone.

What Happened?

One day my scone wasn’t available. In fact, I realized that all of the bakery had changed. At first I was excited that maybe they found some even better stuff, so I bought a piece of chocolate pound cake and a scone that looked completely different, but nonetheless was still labelled a scone. You can probably predict what I am going to say, and you’re right, the new bakery was terrible. The scone was burnt and the pound cake had a Little Debbie quality that made me think they may have purchased it at 7-Eleven.

No More for Me

I hated when my customers used the “d” word—as that injured me the most—but that new bakery was disappointing. So disappointing, in fact, that I never went back to that store.


But every day, on my way in to work, I would drive past that store and notice that it slowly was becoming less busy. It wasn’t just me, but others were staying away also. Today, there were boards on the window and a for lease sign in the parking lot.

Great Location

The amount of traffic that passed that little store was huge. The rare urban parking spots in that location made the property even more appealing. The place had lots of positives, and even if the coffee was only OK, the bakery drew customers in. So what could have happened?

Bean Counters and Food Brokers

Someone who didn’t care, or didn’t have the proper knowledge, or thought that quality bakery was an insignificant piece of the coffee shop picture made a fatal error. Maybe they did a “cutting” where one product was placed against another. Maybe they actively had sought cheaper food. Maybe at the cutting they didn’t notice that much difference between their normal product and a cheaper one. If they didn’t, I and many other customers certainly did.


Don’t arbitrarily switch to lower quality products. All of the following bad excuses to do so:

  • It almost tastes the same.
  • It’s a lot cheaper.
  • No one will know the difference.
  • People know us for our ______ so switching to a cheaper _________won’t make a difference.
  • We’ll go out of business if we don’t cut food costs.
  • The saleswoman gave me a great rebate.
  • If I buy one hundred cases I’ll get a travel voucher.

Most customers won’t complain about their food. I certainly didn’t—I just didn’t go back. Ever.

How We Can Help

There are many time-tested and also innovative strategies to cut your food costs and still maintain your customer base. With our years of corporate catering experience, we can help! If you have questions about this, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Published by Michael Rosman

Michael Rosman has spent more than three decades in the food industry. He built a $1.8 million a year corporate drop-off catering operation from the ground up in suburban Boston. Throughout his company’s steady growth he kept detailed records of the process. His membership website is a compilation of tips, tools, templates and behind-the-scene trade secrets that he and his team have created over the years.