July 22, 2008

What kind of sandwich are you serving?

Some of you know I'm a vegetarian. For 19 years, in fact, my husband and I have been vegetarians.

There was a time when there were very few options for us on restaurant menus. Typically, steamed vegetables and brown rice was the vegetarian dish, no matter how epicurean the restaurant. Or, if we were lucky, there was a Gardenburger. Horrifying. I don't know why people think that vegetarians require dishes with no complexity, flavor or seasoning.

These days, things are much better for vegetarians eating out, and we can usually find several options that are on par with the restaurant's other offerings.

But there's still one holdout from the old days: the veggie sandwich.

If there's a veggie sandwich on the menu, I guarantee I can predict what's inside. A mile-high stack of cheddar cheese, or maybe provolone. Lettuce. Tomato. Cucumber. Sprouts. Occasionally, avocado! And when they're feeling really adventurous, a piece of roasted red pepper or two. Some mustard and/or mayo complete the dish.

Luckily for us, there are a couple of places in town that know how to do a sandwich. Just recently I discovered the "hot mushroom combo" at Fresco North. It's a combination of three kinds of sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions over brie cheese and Dijon mustard.

A small local chain called Panino offers nine vegetarian sandwiches including one of my favorites, the "Black and White": Kalamata olive tapenade, fresh mozzarella, greens, roasted red peppers, and basil leaves.

Renaud's, a new bistro and bakery in town, offers a grilled sandwich of Emmental cheese with roasted shallots and sun dried tomatoes.

You're wondering, what's my point?

Just because I'm a vegetarian, that doesn't mean I want the same old veggie sandwich you've been slapping together for 20 years. Make an effort to know me, what I like, what I want, and where I'm coming from.

This sounds like a customer service rant, and it is. It's also a rant about speakers who assume they know their audience because the audience is all women. Or all youth. Or all entrepreneurs. Or all scientists. Or all southerners.

Recently, I wrote about making the assumption that your audience is like you. I think a worse assumption is that, when someone isn't like you, you don't have to treat them as well as people who are like you.

You don't really know them and you don't care to. Maybe it's just a way to make a buck. Maybe you just want to add another gig to your resume. Whatever the rationale, you assume they'll be happy with your half-ass effort and your hastily prepared presentation.

They won't. Your audience notices when you haven't taken the time to think about them. So do it right. Make the effort. You'll be rewarded with repeat business. Just like the sandwich shop.

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