Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.

The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.

As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.

Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.

I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.

For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

5 responses to “Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

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  • Mark Aaron Murnahan

    I believe that even regardless of whether it will cause a direct loss of business, the opportunity cost (the cost of lost opportunities) is high. The opportunities to make an indifferent customer a loyal one, or a frustrated one a fan are not pipe dreams.

    One of the most important features of online reviews is the ability of a company to use the information to adapt and better themselves, and not just as a consumer-to-consumer communication. I do not check for an online review before I eat, but I hope the restaurant owner is in the know about what people like. Reviews are their best opportunity for this.


    • Rick Ladd

      Couldn’t agree more, Mark. In fact, I was going to include an example of a local restaurant I believe gets it and uses the opportunity afforded by Yelp to specifically address bad reviews (although there are a couple that are positively mean he has yet to respond to; probably won’t and I doubt I would blame him). He does essentially what he would do if someone had a bad experience and mentioned it while they were eating; he apologizes, thanks them for taking the time to let him know, reiterates his guarantee of their satisfaction, and offers to make it good by providing a free meal to replace the one they didn’t care for. I believe he would think very hard about what he was doing if he was getting consistently bad reviews or if many people were complaining about the same thing. His overall rating, with 61 reviews, is four stars (30 five star and 19 four star). I think he’s doing something right.


      • Dan Keldsen

        Feedback loops are fantastic – but only if you follow all the way from Observe to Act (and rinse and repeat).

        Big companies PAY to find out this information. When customers (happy or not) are giving it to you for free, publicly, what other gold are you (dear business owner) ignoring?


        • Rick Ladd

          Excellent point, Dan, and forgive me for not answering earlier. Hell, I believe we’ve talked on Skype since you made this comment. I’ve been kind of head-down lately, concentrating a lot on the direction my business is going and have been neglecting much of my web presence. Thanks for dropping by.


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