Building Class

A seemingly innocuous article on Red Lobster has some language I’d like to take a look at (Mark Chediak, Orlando Sentinal, via wwf):

Part of the goal of the makeover is to attract higher-income customers who tend to be less vulnerable to economic pressures.

Those customers tend have sophisticated palates and tastes that demand fresh menu offerings and a sleek dining environment.

The lower income customers, on the other hand, will eat just about anything anywhere.  Right?  That’s the implication.  What this article is doing is building on top of the myth of discrimination.  As in discriminating taste.  As though the wealthy have a finer appreciation for the more sensual aspects of life.

When you build on top of a myth like this, you do a couple things.  You drive that myth deeper into the national consciousness.  Constant repetition across a variety of topics and mediums cements the myth firmly in our sense of social reality.  You also build the foundations for other, grander myths.

It is something to keep an eye out for.  When you pay attention, it is harder to just buy in.

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8 Responses

  1. In Orlando? Curious…with the influx of Puerto Ricans into the area. You people that are born in a tropical island and now what real lobster looks like? Curious indeed.

  2. This post is the reason I read blogs.

    Yes, a perpetuation of class myths and the system of it in general.

    Red Lobster is also saying with richer diners, they can charge more $ with essentially the same costs of production.

  3. Pardon me for slaughtering the English language. But isn’t Red Lobster the same as TGIF and other fast food/theme restaurants? Nothing unique about it, its a chain/franchise which specializes in cheap food at high prices (and lousy service). Correct?

  4. Rafael,
    Well, in the article, they also say they are changing the menu to match the new “brand”, if you will. More fresh food, etc.
    Mirth,
    (aw gosh)
    Definitely, although the fresh food dishes will cost more to produce, they will likely charge a corresponding amount for these, and be free to raise prices on other items as well.

  5. I hate to play devil’s advocate here, because in general I agree with this sentiment. But in my experience there are a great many people of lower income who do eschew the things that are generally associated with wealth. They are set in their ways or afraid of change or resistant being associated with “snobbery” or whatever the situation may be.

    I’m not sure if this new development at Red Lobster really makes a difference, but I think that the wealth discrimination issue is perpetuated on both sides by the people involved. Business aren’t helping, but they make no bones about their intent to make money. We might have an easier time condemning them if it didn’t work so well.

    People with more money will pay more for the same goods if you make them believe it’s for more discriminating tastes. People with less money buy cheaper food. Sometimes out of necessity but also a lot of times because you get more of it… and they’re hungry.

  6. This is part of a trend of restaurants and other businesses “upgrading” their offerings to attract a higher income demographic. Think of it as the Starbucks effect. Starbucks has proven that people will pay more for something if it is packaged as an “affordable luxury.” In some ways it speaks to the aspirational mentality that is predominate in American culture where it is the other person that is poor not me and where lots of people believe that if they just work hard enough, they too can become the next Bill Gates.

  7. marco,

    We might have an easier time condemning them if it didn’t work so well.

    Actually, this has no bearing on it at all.
    Just because a company succesfully exploits us does not mean we lose
    the right to condemn that exploitation. Why should it?

    My problem with this whole brand of marketing (and more importantly, reporting), is that it perpetuates the myth of a “value” gap between the rich and the poor. Namely, that rich people are “worth” more than poor people, as people. People become the product, and we are suddenly looking at two very differently priced brands of coffee at the supermarket.

    Suddenly a bunch of things happen. You become a whole lot less comfortable with the choices poor people make, and a whole lot more trusting of the ones rich people make. You buy into the idea that some people are entitled to a certain way of life, while others wouldn’t even appreciate it in the first place. I think that feeds part of the fascination with Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. They provide an example of how “new money” just doesn’t buy class.

    Bloggernista,
    This is a good point. That much of this is marketing aimed at the middle class, at people who want to feel like they wealthier than they are. So by elevating the perceived value of the wealthy, you attract people who simply desire to be wealthy. That’s a much larger (and more sensible) market for Red Lobster to be after.

  8. […] Its because they have zero class! This is highly problematic however. You see, we have this myth of upward mobility that keeps everyone who isn’t rich laboring under the assumption that they too, can transcend […]

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