Nathan Smith
Insights Newsletter
25 September, 2020

Times are tough, I get it. All this talk of a “new normal” but only Coco’s Cantina in Auckland seems serious about getting us there.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not all opinions are equal. Thankfully, Coco’s opinion about how to reinvigorate New Zealand’s anaemic restaurant sector after Covid-19 is an enormously good idea.

Owner Renee Coulter says the solution to her woes isn’t to cook a better ricotta (which I’m sure is still as wonderful today as the last time I tried it), but to put a cap on the number of restaurants.

Her back-of-the-napkin logic suggests lower competition will boost the revenue of the chosen few outlets that remain – which presumably includes her K Road eatery, of course.

But her maths is backwards.

Restaurants aren’t competing against each other. That’s 20th-century thinking. The main competition for Coco’s Cantina is all the other ways Aucklanders fill their stomachs.

See, if she thought her position through, the correct move would be to advocate all locations serving food must have a licence. That would kill two roast chickens with one stone.

After all, it’s dangerous to cook at home. All the scalding, burns, cuts, and heavy objects dropped on unsuspecting feet. Much better to let the experts whip up a stir-fry.

Hundreds of people could be hired as inquisitors, knocking on front doors at mealtimes to check if the family stove has the proper grade.

Don’t assume the vegans are safe from this new licensing regime. It might look easy to toss a salad, but have you ever seen two that look the same? Where’s the consistency? How can anyone be sure the product is prepared hygienically with such glaring disparities? Disgraceful.

Hopefully movie theatres bounce back after Covid, but they can’t wriggle out of the new rules. I see pimply-faced teenagers chucking popcorn into giant, hot machines all the time. There’s no way they have the proper training for that. They can barely process my online bookings.

Why stop there?

Nervousness is an entirely unfair competition, too. Some people chew their fingernails habitually but that is ring-fencing the enormous market opportunity for Coco’s Cantina to expand into drive-through nail-biting. An entire new industry like this might be exactly the productivity boost New Zealand needs.

If we can’t copy Coulter and think out of the box, our economy is cooked.

Well, not without a licence anyway.

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