Most people assume (rightfully) that us New Yorkers are highly opinionated. Still, there are some things on which we unanimously agree. The subway is the fastest way around town, and the Yankees are the preeminent American sports franchise (don’t @ me).
A recent tremor in our culinary landscape though threatens to disrupt our peaceful existence: the dramatic announcement by another beloved local chain to end the chopped salad. In this post, we’ll highlight why Just Salad is chopping this policy (see what I did there?). We'll also look at how they're countering the criticism, and why their response is a consummate exercise in understanding your customers.
A brief history, and some context
The idea of a salad for a main course stretches back a century, but the modern craze for chopped salads ties directly to the founding of the first Chop’t store in 2001. To this day, you can still find a line of customers out the door waiting for their finely-cut greens. The high demand stems from what chopping actually achieves – an all-in-one bite where customers can savor every aspect of their garden creation.
But the paragraph above actually hints at one of the issues associated with chopped salads – namely the lines. As generational attitudes shift and three-martini lunches are substituted with mesclun bowls, ensuring wait times don’t deter potential customers is a viable concern for our fair city’s salad purveyors.
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I personally love the chopped salad (yes please to an even distribution of all my ingredients and dressing). However, I can attest that waiting in long lines at peak hours is a legitimate concern. When a salad craving hits, there's no chance I'm grabbing lunch until after 2pm.
In his defense of ending the policy, Just Salad's CEO echoed my sentiments. In particular, he highlighted that the “acoustics” of personally chopping each customer’s salad adds two minutes to prep times. This likely leads to disruption in the overall customer experience, especially as most stores also lack the real estate to deal with growing delivery volumes.
Through this lens, the chopped salad policy was actually limiting the business from achieving its full potential.
The nuance behind the no chop policy
Some level of public criticism was perhaps inevitable. As a result, Just Salad proactively sought to counter these potential complaints both operationally and vocally.
First, CEO Nick Kenner stated that toppings are now pre-cut into smaller pieces than before. This addresses the primary complaint of a lack of proper ingredient distribution, and ensures that no customer will ever face the annoyance of “stabbing a cherry tomato.” Second, despite the perfect meld of flavors that a chopped salad can achieve, a non-chopped salad may actually be superior in flavor; the integrity and original flavor of the leaf remains intact, and the greens lack mezzaluna-induced bruising.
Finally – and most importantly – the numbers speak for themselves. Just Salad states that sales are up 20% at stores that have already ended their chopping policy.
Therein lies the nuance behind the no chop policy. By actually understanding what customers love (both the taste and the texture of the salads), the brand took proactive steps to implement a time-saving, money-making policy without compromising its product (i.e., pre-chopping ingredients into smaller pieces than before). Despite the criticism, the overall execution of the tactic exhibits a deep level of customer understanding.
Still, this move doesn't thrill everyone, despite its success. When asked for comment, a group of Chop’t employees simply responded “Whaaaaaaaat?! That’s crazy.”