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Saturday Night Stromboli - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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Saturday Night Stromboli [Jul. 11th, 2010|03:35 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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Paul F. Tompkins' riff on the ghost stromboli (album: Impersonal) got me thinking about how we used to periodically eat stromboli back at Rutgers at Stuff Yer Face, a neat little restaurant. They opened in 1977. I ate there from 1988-1993, I think. I don't remember eating there before I left town in 1994.

So this week, I dug up some stromboli recipes & we bought ingredients when we went shopping. Tonight, the BF made pizza dough (from scratch, as usual) and I created 2 shrimp stromboli (one with garlic, one without; both with shrimp, baby spinach, grated parmesan, & a little shredded cheddar) and 2 ham stromboli (one with broccoli bits, one without; both with sliced ham, honey-dijon mustard, shredded cheddar, & grated parmesan).

They all blew open in the oven, though none spilled in any sort of horrendous way like calzones sometimes do, which was nice. Next time, we won't roll the dough quite so thin, I think. Other than that, VERY tasty. Lots of dough, which I like.

Random life lesson learned from Stuff Yer Face way back around 1990:

When they first offered their "baby shrimp & broccoli florets stromboli" it actually came with baby shrimp & broccoli florets in a small amount of white sauce. It was stunningly delicious as baby shrimp tend to be sweeter than regular shrimp & florets are just the leafy bits at the top of broccoli, which cook quickly, are very tender, and don't overwhelm the entire stromboli with the taste of broccoli.

Once it got popular and caught on with the regulars, they switched to chopped up regular shrimp and diced broccoli. It wasn't as good. Too much broccoli, especially too much chewy stem pieces; the newer stromboli were too chunky and not as interesting or tasty overall.

And that was how I learned about a weird sort of bait-n-switch that some restaurants & manufacturers do. Nutri-grain did the same thing when they first arrived on the scene. At first, their bars were good-sized and full of fruit. As soon as they caught on, they made the bars smaller, used less fruit (same size wrapper, though) and generally provided an inferior product. BUT PEOPLE KEEP BUYING IT.

The lessons I took from this is that most people either don't notice or don't care about quality differences, especially if they're a bit subtle. And companies don't care about providing quality product once they've got an audience. They will trim and skimp until people complain and figure that's where they gotta stop.

I can't be the only one who notices that kind of shit. But I never see complaints about it, except for "things ain't as good as they used to be" kind of bull, which is more about nostalgia than quality control. It's really irritating.

Er, right. Anyway, YAY STROMBOLI!

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-07-13 03:32 am (UTC)
I wish there was something we could do as well.

Some sort of reporting or amplification agency so other people would notice.
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2010-07-12 01:26 pm (UTC)

I think that's a very cogent response

And I just want to add two things...

1. There's a basic item of psychology here - people notice prices.

Let's just say you make a 1lb frob for $1. But then your costs go up. Assuming you want to make the same profit that cost has to be passed on somehow. Sometimes you raise the price and keep everything else the same. But it turns out people notice when prices go up and prices have secondary impacts on things like coupons and other discounts that retailers can offer.

So another alternative is to reduce the size of your frob. You make one that's somewhat less than 1lb but you keep the price the same. People might notice the smaller quantity but statistically fewer people do and fewer people complain about it.

2. Particularly in the area of food there's a lot of waste.

If you bought a 1-lb frob but didn't eat all of it you'd be paying that $1 for less than 1 lb anyway. If you buy a smaller frob for the same buck, but eat it all then your personal taste and consumption aren't affected.

Again, this is one of those things that works well as a statistic and lousy as a personal experience. People who are conscientious buy what they think they'll consume. People who aren't, buy too much or too little. Institutions - even those that are trying - can't always predict demand.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-07-13 04:00 am (UTC)

Re: I think that's a very cogent response

I also tend to think of the famous business case (apocryphal?) where some fellow noticed that if they put one less olive in the jar of olives his company produced, it would save the company a million dollars (or something similar).

Whether it saved the money due to what I've described - less product for the same price - or because it fixed some issue in the production process was never explained to me, but the case is often brought up anecdotally to point out how one guy can save the company tons of money (implied: by screwing the consumer).
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2010-07-13 09:01 am (UTC)

Re: I think that's a very cogent response

I remember that story - I think it's probably based on various real cases of cost-saving analyses. Your point about 'screwing the consumer' embeds the implication of malicious motive. I certainly don't think corporations are saints by any means but they're driven by a set of factors (including seeking profit) that are usually opaque to consumers.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-07-13 03:52 am (UTC)
I don't imagine all businesses are out to screw me. That would be paranoia at a level which I have not yet achieved.

However, I do think that most for-profit companies value how much money they can make over whether they offer a high quality product. It's the nature of capitalism and it inspires things like green-washing.

There are, of course, exceptions large and small. Your friend is an exception. Restaurants that are willing to say "I'm sorry, but we ran out of that entree" (rather than going to inferior ingredients) are another. There do seem to be a few medium-to-large companies that try to act in ways that are responsible at the expensive of a (usually small) portion of their profits. Although, whether they actually feel responsible or whether they think the reputation boost garnered by their "sacrifice" will make up for the loss in additional sales is debatable.

I understand that many actions in this arena could be caused by changes in manufacturing plants, in distribution requirements, in seasonal problems with produce, etc. But I also think there's often an institutional intelligence involved, where no one person wants to make a crappy product, but everyone in the company is under pressure to spend less money/bring in more revenue and the product suffers.

And I equivocated over using the term "bait-and-switch" because it's not quite the right term. Nor is it quite lifestyle marketing, but again, it's similar. A move toward introducing a good product, getting good buzz, getting people interested, inspiring recommendations, etc. and then dropping the quality once the reputation is established. The "new" version of the product may not necessarily deserve all the kudos that the original collected, but there's no one differentiating them.

I strongly believe in maintaining a critical perspective when it comes to what we are being told & sold. I try & consider all the influences on a newspaper as much as I do on a snack bar, and it's a habit to try and deconstruct commercials to determine what they're really selling. This post was kind of an exercise in that arena.
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[User Picture]From: spinrabbit
2010-07-11 10:16 pm (UTC)
I remember that place! Dad used to take us there for dinner as a stop on the way from mom's place in Princeton, NJ to his place in Yonkers, NY. Good stuff. We went there during about the same time period as you.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2010-07-13 03:52 am (UTC)
It's kind of amazing that it's still around, actually! And kind of cool...
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