business news in context, analysis with attitude

In a story about the increased availability of boxed wine yesterday, we wrote:

Count us among the purists who are horrified. After all, we object to screw tops – you can only imagine how we’d feel about wine in a box.

We have to admit to a certain amount of inner conflict on this issue. After all, we’re always preaching about how wine needs to be democratized and demystified so that more people can enjoy it – so why not move to screw tops and boxes, if one of the results will be broader acceptance.

On the face of it, that’s a good argument. But we also think that the world has too little magic in it, and that everything is being commoditized and dumbed down to the point where there are no differences, no magic moments that differentiate one from the other.

Someone once said that little plans “have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Wine in boxes and in bottle with screw tops have no magic because they cannot create that wonderful moment when the cork is removed from the bottle.

Some will say this attitude makes us elitist, but that’s not really our intention. We just want to resist with all our strength the mediocrities that make life less special.

MNB user Sriram Daita responded:

So I bet…you cringed when beer came in a bottle first and then a can, had fainting spells about TV dinners, and ran to the hills when you heard about vending machines.

Ten to 15 years from now, consumers will assume wine always came in a box.

And another MNB user wrote:

Betcha you object to bourbon sold in a paper bag too...

Well, let’s not get crazy…

MNB user Scott Svarrer had an interesting thought:

This could be an opportunity for Coca Cola to get into the wine market. Just imagine... Diet Cabernet, Merlot with Lime or Fridge Packs of White Zinfandel.

No thanks! Wine should be celebrated, not just consumed.

MNB user Vic Hansen wrote:

First, closures: I have had to take four bottles of corked wine back to the shop in the past month. I now consciously select wine with plastic or screw closures and, for my money, the industry should ditch corks. The sooner the better.

Second, Wine boxes: These are commonly available where I live, in the UK. They are great for everyday wine with a meal in the Mediterranean style. The wine arrives in good condition; it can be used over a period of time; it becomes part of daily life. Wine boxes shouldn’t and don’t remove the mystery of wine as an art and magic on a special occasion. The only problem I’ve found with wine boxes is they tend to make one drink more of the stuff.

MNB user Kerley LeBoeuf thought we were getting hysterical about nothing:

Recently bought a case of WillaKenzie Estate pinot blanc – was surprised to find screw caps as all previous WillaKenzie’s have been corked. The winery informed us that they are converting all of their wines to screw caps, which puts screw caps on some really nice pinot noirs. Is the loss of the “cork popping” ceremony a contribution to our environment?

Even without cork, the pinot blanc was excellent with grilled salmon and capers.

However, another MNB user wrote:

Well, the research I saw sometime back said that 90% of bag in a box wine was priced under the equivalent of $5 per bottle (do you drink that?) and was consumed almost entirely by people over age 60. It is their ‘sleeping pill” (which may be the only use for it!).

Which ties into the other commentary we did yesterday about resisting the paraphernalia of advancing age…

One MNB user wrote:

Have to agree with you wholeheartedly on the article about boxed wine.

The idea of opening a box of wine just loses the ambiance and feel of a great bottle of wine...or even a $8 bottle for a meal with the people you love the most. I would hate to lose the pop of a wine bottle at special events.

Last year I got engaged and we toasted with a special sparkling wine I had bought on a trip to Napa a few years earlier. As we were enjoying the first moments of engaged life we popped the cork and enjoyed the bottle. I am guessing ripping open a box of wine and opening the spout wouldn't have had the same lasting memory.

While reading this article I was thinking of the movie ‘Sideways’ when Paul Giamatti and his friend were meeting some women for dinner. He said "If they order Merlot I am leaving!" I happen to enjoy some merlot...but I have similar feelings for white zinfandel or boxed wine.

We all draw our own lines.

By the way, several people wrote in to tell us who originally made the “no little plans” statement – Daniel Burnham, a Chicago architect who lived from 1864 to 1912. The whole quote is itself magical:

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.

In a piece about McDonald’s considering the creation of new, hip uniforms for its employees, we commented:

We could be wrong about this, but we suspect that the moment these new uniforms are handed out to employees – no matter who designed them, how much they cost or what they look like – they instantly will not be cool enough to wear anywhere other than when saying, “Would you like fries with that?”

Hell, we have a better idea for how McDonald’s could invest its money so that its employees would be relevant to consumers.

English lessons.

To which MNB user Frank Milo immediately responded:

I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. Funny but true.

You know you’re gonna pay for that…

MNB user Don Brandt didn’t think we were nearly as funny as we thought we were:

I sincerely hope you weren't taking a shot at folks for whom English might be a second language...that would be beneath you...and I'd be really surprised…

We actually wrote Don back:

Absolutely not.

However, we do think that companies that hire people who have trouble speaking English owe it to their customers and their businesses to teach them how to speak the language. We also think there are a lot of people for whom English is a first language and who show only a passing familiarity with pronunciation and sentence structure.

To which he responded:

Having spent many years in that business....many of us would like to do that and try to do that...but the sheer number of people who go through even well run restaurants makes it nearly impossible...hiring friendly, neat, responsible, and responsive employees always worked more miracles than the perfect English ever did...many customers appreciate the struggle of those who are trying to better themselves and are quite willing to help them along...some of my best employees over the years were undereducated folks or folks straight from another country who had heart and they became extraordinarily popular with our customers.

MNB user Martha Russell of Clickin Research wrote:

We sometimes study the impact of new branding tactics - such as apparel – on consumer awareness and impact.

In studies of apparel we have documented a very interesting secondary effect of employee apparel that has primary importance to sales and loyalty.

Employee apparel - if associated with training on service protocols – can play an important role in reminding employees of the behaviors expected of them.

MNB user Chris Fries wrote:

Time to pile on. In addition to your suggestion, how about teaching them the meaning of fast food restaurant, and also the idea that the quicker they move, the more customers they will serve, the more money their company will make, the more opportunities they may get…etc…etc…!

Another MNB user wrote:

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Does McDonalds really have nothing better to spend their money on? What's next, "bling" in a happy meal? Customers of fast food chains are going there for one reason, to get food fast. Do most people even bother to look at the outfits of the personnel when in a hurry? This baffles me.

And yet another MNB user chimed in:

Are you allowed to say that in this politically correct world we live in? Fortunately I seldom have to resort to lunch in a bag but, when I must, I can't remember the last time a clerk repeated my order to me and I understood what they were saying. I have resigned myself to always looking in the bag before I get too far from the place.

But another MNB user disagreed:

I actually think new uniforms is a good idea. I remember as a teenager deciding where I wanted to apply to work and I factored in all kinds of intangibles - like how dorky would I look in that uniform. All of the jobs paid the same minimum wage, so I ended up at a hardware store because I liked the environment - and I could wear jeans and a golf shirt!

I don't know that employees would actually wear their McDonalds uniform out in public, but if a person feels good about their appearance they will generally feel better, work better and be more pleasant to be around. In the case of McDonalds, it certainly couldn't hurt!

But another MNB user observed the real problem:

Went to a McDonalds the other day, drive thru closed, 2 customers at a table eating. I walked in, somebody yelled from the back "be right there". I waited, and waited, and finally this young lady came up and asked for my order, I asked for a sausage McMuffin and a hash brown. It took a minute or two for her to enter this complicated order into the register. She then could not get the total out of the register, she then asked if I had ordered the two-fer special, I said no, just one. I then noticed they made two McMuffins and the girl, who barely spoke English, could not answer my questions and still could not work the register!! I walked out and went to Burger King.

Kevin, I am out in California, I started eating at McDonalds in the 60's in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. I don't care what their uniforms look like, if they don't improve their food and their service, they are going to continue to have problems. McDonalds is no longer on my list of stops.
KC's View: