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Customers have been trained that they can have it their way. The secret weapon to answer their demands? Sauces. By Barney Wolf
Using ketchup to dip or slather french fries is a long-established American tradition. The pairing has not only provided consumers with a distinct flavor, but it has given diners the ability to choose how much of the condiment to use, based on their own tastes.
It turns out that this flavor-control ritual also served as the restaurant industry’s foreshadowing of a much larger concept—individualization—that has been sweeping across the industrial world for the past couple of decades.
Restaurants are increasingly using various sauces and dips to provide customers with the ability to construct their own flavor profiles built around existing menu items. This notion is viewed as one aspect of a process that experts have dubbed “mass customization.”
“The idea is that you can create customized products for a large number of customers without a large incremental increase in cost or delivery time,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president at WD Partners, a Columbus, Ohio–based retail design firm.
Mass customization allows customers to be involved in making decisions regarding the design of an end product, often by using technology or flexible manufacturing processes. “This can translate to restaurants just as easily as a manufacturing plant,” Lombardi says.
Some products created through mass customization have thousands, even millions, of permutations, says B. Joseph Pine II, a Minnesota-based partner at the consulting firm Strategic Horizons and an author who has written extensively about the topic.