On Sunday evening, my family went to a restaurant in Oak Brook that we’ve been frequenting since they opened their doors several years ago.

At the time they opened, it was small and crowded. Crowded because people came out to support them, believed in their food and believed in the brand.

Over time, they expanded, taking the adjacent space, adding a pastry kitchen and continuing to remain crowded. During this time, though, the prices started to creep up and the portions and food quality started to trend down.

As a result, we’ve gone there less, but we had a gift card to use. Dinner for two adults and two kids with one alcoholic beverage came to just shy of $50. After dinner, I went to get dessert and an espresso and saw cracked and crushed donuts with smeared or melted chocolate. I was already going to comment on this to the manager, but when they passed me my espresso, this was what I got:

I was flabbergasted. Between the restaurant and the brand equity they have built and the brand equity of the coffee company (Intelligentsia, a roaster here in Chicago), I couldn’t fathom WHY I’d be served advertising with my coffee. When I reached out to them on social media, the response that came back to me was “We get the sleeves for free which helps us keep the cost of coffee down for our guests. Sorry to disappoint.”

It’s not a disappointment, it’s an undermining of the brand. You’re telling me the premium dining experience and menu items and prices aren’t making you enough money, you’ve got to pick up $0.05 or so per cup of coffee as well. And you’re dragging another brand (Intelligentsia) down because of your choice.

What do people think of when they think of your brand? What expectations have you established? Then ask yourself, “What choice could we make that would be so discordant we couldn’t recover from it in the eyes of our customers?”

Once you’ve identified that, make sure you never ever make that choice.

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