E.g., 03/30/2020
E.g., 03/30/2020

Half-Priced Wine

Last night, a friend and I ate at Anselmo’s, an Italian restaurant here in Louisville that I had tried before and discovered to be less than mediocre. Since I cook, my rule of thumb for dining out is that the food has to be as good or better than what I could make at home for me to eat there again. This means I do a lot of fine dining when my budget allows it, and a lot of complaining about mediocre dining when it doesn’t. Anselmo’s was one of those places full of complaining -- the lasagna tasted like Stouffer’s (a frozen food company in the US) -- so after a couple tries, it fell off the list.

Here’s the thing, though. My yoga studio is next door to Anselmo’s. And every night for at least a month now, when I come out after class, Anselmo’s has been hopping. So last night, after speculating with my friend about whether they’d gotten a new chef or changed their menu, we decided to try it.  After all, I went there when they were new, and any company can improve over time.

I had the lasagna.  And yes, it still tasted like Stouffer’s.

Being the business owner that I am, I spent a large part of the meal trying to figure out why this place was bustling. You see, I’m a quality diner.  Like I said, if it’s not as good as or better than what I can make at home, I don’t go back. You have lost me if you can not deliver on that very fine point.  After quality, I’m a price shopper.  You may cook a great steak, but is it really a $40 steak? Or is it a $20 steak you overcharged me on? How much I’m willing to spend often harkens back to quality – in other words, it’s a reflection of value. If the steak is as good as the one I broil at home then you should be toward the lower end on price. But if it’s better than what I can make—I use an old recipe of Monet’s, complete with a shallot, red wine sauce—I’ll pay almost any price.

Louisville itself is a foodie town. From Nigerian to French, you can find any type of cuisine here, most of it even prepared farm-to-table. But many better restaurants are often empty on a Wednesday. So why was Anselmo’s bustling? Why would a medium-quality spot outsell its higher quality peers? While my friend suggested that it might be because our waiter reminded him of Bradley Cooper, I think it was for another reason: Half-Price Wine.

A quick look around the restaurant confirmed it. And it was bad wine, too -- the kind of wine the restaurant probably picked up for $3 a bottle from its distributor, marketed for $10 a bottle, and sold for $5. But it drew people in.  Coming out of yoga, I had noticed every day that the people at Anselmo’s just seemed so happy.  Well, they weren’t happy; they were drunk.

As I think about our industry, I have to wonder what our half-price wine is. What do translation clients  get so drunk on that they don’t notice when the food is bad? Poor translation providers remain and, financially, it must be because someone is buying from them.  By competing on quality, can higher-level companies like GALA members actually isolate themselves away from the market? This was a Wednesday. We were sweaty and in our yoga clothes. A fine dining restaurant wouldn’t have even let us in, but we needed to eat somewhere. In that sense, the world needs mediocre providers.  Not every project will allow translators and project managers to act creatively. By removing the hum-drum from those of us who are progressively moving forward, aren’t we freeing ourselves to work on the projects that really matter?

But still, as a business owner, it is hard for me to see mediocrity thrive.  Not only am I competitive by nature, but I have a crystal clear sense of right and wrong and someone who’s worse at something achieving more than someone who is better—well, that’s just wrong to me.  So while I say there is nothing wrong with the mediocre LSPs picking up the work that keeps us from advancing, the high importance of translation can make it actually dangerous for certain clients and end users if that translation is not completed at the highest level of quality.  There are simply repercussions when certain documents aren’t done right. To go back to my restaurant analogy, if a man keeps taking his wife to McDonald’s for their anniversary, he may not remain married for long. Just like yoga clothes don’t go with fine dining, other situations are a poor match for casual.

The difference, though, is that the restaurant analogy is common sense on a more fundamental level. When we were in high school, my cousin’s date took her to Wendy’s on prom night, where he chewed with his mouth open.  She was only 15 at the time, but even she knew that was wrong. Everyone gets food. Not everyone gets translation.

With translation, many clients don’t know what’s wrong. We talk about the need for client education at GALA and other conferences, but we’re preaching to the proverbial choir. If you as a client know enough about translation to know about GALA and to come to our event, then you know better than to be dazzled by the advertisement of half-priced wine. So how can those of us on the LSP side help move our (usually prospective) clients to the fine dining side of the line? All the client education in the world isn’t going to help if the restaurant across the street has discount liquor.  So what’s really keeping clients back? Why do quality LSPs lose out to lesser ones on important projects? What is our industry’s half-priced wine?

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of GALA.