Last summer, my partner and I spent a long weekend in Miami, and we ate at a fantastic Indian restaurant (bad, bad service, awesome food). After wandering around South Beach for hours (including a half-mile trek in the sand), I was super thirsty, and at the restaurant I ordered a water and a Diet Coke. I just had one of those cravings.
Later that night, while talking about the restaurant, my partner mentioned something about “ordering a Diet Coke in a classy restaurant.” That is, he was pointing out the unclassiness of ordering a Diet Coke at an expensive, sit-down, nice establishment.
I hadn’t given his pronouncement much thought until I recently saw a commercial for Diet Coke, in which Tom Colicchio, famous New York chef and judge on Bravo’s Top Chef series, told me it was okay to order a Diet Coke in a classy restaurant.
“When it comes to taste, it’s important to know the difference between being sophisticated and, uh, whatever that is…,” says Colicchio in the opening of the commercial, as he watches a waiter at an upscale restaurant bring a woman an entrée most would call “fancy.”
“You don’t have to overcomplicate it,” Colicchio continues, as he sits down at the bar. The bartender pours a Diet Coke into a glass for him. “No gimmicks, no fads…just keep it simple. Because when you start with good taste, you don’t need anything else. ”
Diet Coke is attempting three major things: 1) to draw in customers from the higher-echelon, foodie segment; 2) to tell current customers Diet Coke isn’t just for those drive-through Styrofoam cups, and 3) to tell men it’s okay for them to drink Diet Coke. (We’ll just focus on the first two.)
The marketing strategy at work here is fantastic. Diet Coke has determined a segment of the population it isn’t currently serving and that their research has shown might be receptive to and perhaps benefit from its product.
In addition, the long-term goals here are lofty and profitable: if people begin craving a Diet Coke with any type of meal, consumer demand might encourage restaurants who don’t sell soft drinks now to do so in the future. And this, of course, increases Diet Coke’s sales in the restaurant segment.
But will any of this advertising work? Except for that one time in Miami (no, really), I normally order a glass of water or wine at a nice restaurant. This isn’t uncommon by any means, and because my curiosity was piqued, I explored the drinking habits of fellow Diet Cokers I found.
*Editor’s note: for the context of these purposes, “fast-food restaurant” is defined as an establishment like McDonalds or Taco Bell; “sit-down restaurant” is defined as an establishment like Applebee’s or O’Charley’s; and “fine-dining restaurant” is defined as, well, none of the major chains, the food is excellent, a bit pricey, and you feel you should dress up when you go.
Sarah* is a self-proclaimed Diet Coke drinker who has one to two cans or glasses a day. When she visits fast-food restaurants and sit-down restaurants, she’s been known to order a Diet Coke. However, she says, “I usually drink wine at fine dining establishments.” Ah, my partner would like her.
Jane, also a Diet Coker, only drinks it from cans or 20-oz bottles (one or two a day). But she only drinks water when eating out, no matter what type of restaurant it is.
A gal who has two to three Diet Cokes a week, Elizabeth orders only Diet Coke at fast-food restaurants, rarely at sit-down restaurants and never at fine-dining restaurants.
Sheila “hardly ever” has a Diet Coke. Hardly ever as in probably once or twice a year.
And when Nicole has a Diet Coke, which is maybe once every two months (and even then, that’s stretching it), it’s just at a fast-food restaurant. “Or at a bar mixed with some rum!”
Ann concurs. She’s been “Diet Coke free for two years,” but admits: “The only way to drink Diet Coke is with rum.”
And finally, we have what Diet Coke might consider its ideal customer: Mary, a Diet Coker, who, though she’s cut back from three to four a day to one a day, has been known to drink Diet Coke at each of the three different types of establishments.
A total of 12 individuals responded to my survey (11 females, 1 male). I know, not exactly scientific, but you have to admit, it has been fun.
Of those 12:
- 2 drink absolutely no soft drinks
- One prefers Diet Pepsi
- Another prefers Diet Dr. Pepper
- One is a former, recovering Diet Coke drinker
- Two rarely drink soft drinks, but when they do, they choose Diet Coke
- One tolerates the taste of Diet Coke for weight-loss reasons
- Four out of 12 people surveyed consider themselves regular-basis Diet Coke drinkers
And now for the final stat of the survey: of those who consider themselves regular-basis Diet Coke drinkers, only one of them admits to drinking the beverage in a fine-dining establishment.
According to my unscientific survey, Diet Coke has definitely pinpointed a market. And whether they can beat out wine and water (among women) to become a favorite option at fine-dining establishments, well, that may be a challenge. I suggest Diet Coke narrow its goals down to one: encouraging current drinkers to drink it anywhere and everywhere. Just don’t bring a Styrofoam take-out cup into a fine-dining establishment.
*names were changed to protect Diet Cokers!