I like my food spicy. The problem is, for most restaurants – it just doesn’t pay to make food really spicy. If it is, a large number of customers will send it back, and once you’ve added the spices, you can’t remove them. So the safe solution for most restaurants is to offer a way for customers to add spice to their liking and giving the control back to them. That way, you don’t have returned food and unhappy diners. But in many restaurants, the only option for spicing something up is Tabasco. Tabasco has lots of supporters and brand loyalists, but I’m not one of them. It’s too much vinegar and too little chili for me. A few weeks back, I went to Lauriol Plaza (marketed as the "Best Mexican Restaurant in DC") and asked multiple times for some spicy salsa. Tabasco was all I got. Then this week I headed into Chipotle in downtown DC for lunch, and on the table beside the soda fountains – there are nearly 20 bottles of Tabasco … and nothing else.
Somehow, Tabasco seems to have become the "third spice," right beside salt and pepper – a stand-in for restaurants wanting to offer a way to add spice without thinking more creatively about it. Yet there are restaurants that are breaking the rules and going beyond Tabasco. For example, California Tortilla offers a wall of choices from all over the world – and gives you the feeling you are really customizing your burrito. The wall of flame is their signature. Quiznos has a secret spicy sauce right beside a bucket of jalapeno peppers – and it’s one way they stand out from Subway. This is the power of personality. These are what make those restaurants remarkable. Settling for Tabasco is the easy thing to do. It’s mediocre, as Seth Godin would say. Now let’s get rid of all that Tabasco and get more creative.