Middle class brands collapse, 1% brands thrive



It’s a question of financial tributaries.

Without the 99 rivulets running into the 1%-serving companies, they could not function.

Buy local, buy small, keep your money from flowing into stock market coffers, and thence to capital returns and dividends for wealth holders.


I’d like to think this is because the brands that are serving middle class customers aren’t good. I could get a real (healthier) meal for the same price as gutmaker Olive Garden without the compromise and mass-produced food from a neighborhood guy. Evidence? Gonna need more.


As a commenter said on the same-topic thread over at outsidethebeltway.com,
“Olive Garden and Red Lobster are low-information choices”.

So while I find the article generally believable, I think some of the missing customers are now browsing Yelp for reviews, and exploring choices outside the visibility of the uber-Darden.


Chain restaurants suck. That is likely the true key to their demise.


Don’t forget how well McD and co did as the recession hit and during it. Never underestimate the taste of the public.

Considering how long some of these shitty chains have existed, I think we shouldn’t overestimate the taste of the public.


Good point. There are a few diners and little places around where I live that aren’t national brands. I, a solid middle classer, would tend to go to those places rather than something “upscale”. I don’t even like the food at most upscale places.

To the article’s point: I’ve been looking at appliances, and the trend IS toward higher end. A kitchen faucet that’s mostly plastic will cost me $250? C’mahhhhn. But there’s really no alternative if you want a good spray pulldown.

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Go to an industrial kitchen supply store. You can get one out of metal for the same price or less. Think outside the box, to use a horrible corporate-speak expression.


I think that’s part of the point of the article: the upper-tier and lower-tier brands are doing ok. (I would definitely consider McD a lower-tier brand; the article puts the per-person tab at Olive Garden at around $17; that feeds a family of four at McDonalds.)

There were good brands that serve the middle class… No serve everyone for a a reasonable price and make products with enduring value. I’ve been really sad to see some of them go or transmogrify.

Some high end luxury items are glorious things in and of themselves. I love a Bugatti Veyron probably a lot more than I like most of the people who would buy a Bugatti Veyron, way more than I like the endless upscale tactics used in selling a Bugatti Veyron. Most luxury items are not a Bugatti Veyron.

I used to love macintosh computers and their software. They were reasonably predictable, had smart enough defaults, had long working lives, supported a decent enough professional ecosystem, and despite what many people said were readily serviceable. iPhones came along. 2009 happened they became much more of an upscale brand. A status symbol. They started adding “neat features” that didn’t really work. Screwed up Final Cut X. Dumber default settings, shorter working lives, and serviceability of the computers was tossed. I honestly was not into them for the status I was into them as production equipment.

I can’t state how hard the Final Cut X fiasco hurt my professional life and I’m at a loss for what to learn next or recommend to people for video editing.

My personal computer is now a $300 hackintosh - ney a Trashintosh made of discarded PC parts and hacked but reasonably ligit copies of OSX 10.6.8. For now it’s all I want to spend and (bender voice)I’ll hack my own system with reliability, smart defaults and hookers!(/bender voice)

For christmas my daughter got Kindle Fire HDX not an iPad. Amazon has some bullshit of their own and are very responsible for driving down wages for thousands of people but the Kindle Fire HDX is much more of an enduring value than the iPad.

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A random anecdote about Olive Garden: A friend of mine recently went for her yearly check up, and both she and her doctor were surprised that her blood pressure was elevated significantly from her normally healthy levels. Through chance, the fact that she went to Olive Garden the night before came up. The doctor said, “Yeah, never eat there. It’s one of the worst chain restaurants you can go to. Come back in two days and your blood pressure will be back to normal again.” And it was.


while businesses that serve the rich are thriving

A subscription to the New York times costs roughly the same as one Olive Garden meal a month.

Clothing and appliance brands vis a vis stagnant wages - concerning but sadly unsurprising, anyone who didn’t see this coming hasn’t been looking. It’s been 30 years in the making.

Food: Now that Red Lobster sells a boxed mix for there biscuits (admittedly, I have only ever seen it at Walmart) the last reason for me to go there once every few years is now gone. For me, the tough question mid-range chains have to answer is, “Can I make it better at home?” The answer is almost always yes for , and since I really enjoy cooking I find myself going out less. Sometimes for convenience, sometimes for a change of pace, but most often I’ll either be going somewhere with better food, or on special occasions somewhere higher end. I will say that even relatively poor quality chains are, on average, vastly better today than they were 10-20 years ago.

Also, I have found Yelp completely worthless for evaluating restaurants. Star ratings for local places seem to be dominated by some combinations of people who had a bad day, folks who’ve been eating there for 50 years and have forgotten how much better food can be, and astroturfing.

Ah, right.

I ate at Red Lobster once, and after recovering from the shock of the experience, never ate there again.


I think that’s definitely true for some of us. I’d much rather cook dinner at home for $5-10/person1 and have an occasional $50-100/person fine-dining meal than eat anything at Olive Garden or similar places, ever. Based on my relatively limited experience, I would even take low-end fast food (preferably independent not chain) over the sit-down “family restaurants” like Olive Garden, Outback, Applebee’s, etc.

Of course, when eating out or ordering in, it’s best to have options that are delicious, high-quality, prepared by people who care, and don’t cost a bundle. Places that meet all those criteria are relatively scarce but I’ve never had too much trouble finding them in larger cities. I’m sure there are places where that type of thing is very thin on the ground, though.

1 And $10 still goes a long way in home cooking, even with food costs rising as they are.


Premiere doesn’t work out for you?

I’m pretty sure this isn’t happening in the UK. Middle-class chains are opening all over the goddamn place…Carluccio’s, Jamie’s, Bill’s…some of them are pretty nice actually.

If you read the article, it’s stating economic trends that they have measured, not that middle class tastes have changed. Sure, maybe the Red Lobster demographic is aging up and it’s not as popular a chain anymore, but that does not account for why businesses that are successful are moving to a more upscale clientele.

I have worked with businesses that go for the high end and it’s a really tough way to work - people want their boots licked a lot and are not necessarily paying more for all that service.

I don’t think Apple’s transformation really fits the narrative of this story. It has been a premium brand at least since 1984. What has changed since 2001 is that they made a huge and successful play for the mass middle-class market.

The products are actually relatively more affordable than they were before 2001 (that’s when the iPod came out, but you could make a case for other dividing lines), and functionally they’re mainly geared to the consumer. As your story suggests, some of the changes involved in that shift have had negative impacts on some professional users.

As a Mac/iPhone user, I still find the products meet my needs, probably better than ever, but then again I don’t have specialized software requirements.

IMO, this is how Apple fits the whole collapse-of-middle-class-brands story: they’ve successfully cultivated an image as a luxury brand, but an affordable one. They’ve managed to get hundreds of millions of customers on board. And to me, hundreds of millions screams “middle class” – by definition, Apple’s customer base goes far, far beyond the 1% or even the top 20%. It’s not the Rolex of computing, more like the Swatch. So by taking the “affordable luxury” route, they’ve managed to escape the race to the bottom, at least so far.