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Your consumer lingo decoder ring

Understanding the restaurant customer involves more disciplines than you’d find in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” as Technomic demonstrated today at its Consumer 2014 Trends & Directions conference.  To, um, master the task, a restaurateur needs at least a smattering of macro-economics, psychology, sociology, and maybe even freakonomics. It’d also help, speakers suggested, to make some adjustments to the industry’s vocabulary. Here are some dictionary additions that operators were advised to consider.

Pre-gaming: Consumers’ strategy of knocking back drinks at home before heading out to a bar, so they don’t have to spend at a premium price to build up to a buzz. As a Millennial speaker suggested, it’s not a new term, just one that might be unfamiliar to members of an older vintage. But the phrase is being stretched to cover strategic eating at home before visiting a restaurant, countered Baby Boomer Darren Tristano, a.k.a. Technomic’s executive vice president. With a partially full stomach, the customers don’t have to order as much food, he explained.

Homelanders: The label being applied to the generation behind Millennials. The tag refers to the youngsters’ distinction of being born in the wake of 9/11 and hence living their whole lives under the vigilance mandated by homeland-security concerns.

Voice of the customer: The title for a new restaurant headquarters job, a sort of consumer advocate’s post, that could crop up at chains with a heightened focus on patrons. Right now, the lone user appears to be Chick-fil-A, which currently has both a voice of the customer (Margaret Olson-Cox) and a voice of the customer manager (Kelly Hunter.)

Bully pulpit: As defined by Friendly’s CEO John Maguire, it’s the corporate megaphone at the disposal of any chain headquarters to highlight attributes or practices of the brand that should be a source of pride for employees. In Friendly’s case, he explained, those plusses include the use of fresh milk delivered directly from dairies to make the family chain’s ice cream, and the in-house preparation of several ice cream toppings.

The Misery-Loves-Company Attribute: The phrase coined by Technomic Vice President Joe Pawlak to explain the preference of families with ear-splitting children to eat with other families pushing the decibel level. As he noted, parents believe other customers will be tolerant of a ruckus-raising tyke because their little nipper also forgets to use his inside voice.

Order-takers: The chop on servers who fulfill their roles without warmth or a hospitable demeanor. It was used by Friendly’s and Joe’s Crab Shack representatives to characterize the front-line employees who had tarnished the brands before each redefined what kind of hires would provide a differentiating caliber of service.

Stay tuned for more observations from Technomic’s two-day conference.

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