The Art of the Hassle Map

“But it’s a funny thing about demand: There’s often a huge gap between what people buy and what they truly want and need. That gap is revealed by the Hassle Map…” - The Art of the Hassle Map

The Art of the Hassle Map
Capital Thinking | The Art of the Hassle Map

Capital Thinking • Issue #116 • View online

Imagine being the executive in charge of the Blockbuster movie rental chain in the late 1990’s.

You probably feel pretty good about your business, which is the most successful company in a large and growing industry. People by the millions buy your product, which much mean they like it.

All in all, it seems as if you’ve solved the mystery of demand - perhaps forever.

“But it’s a funny thing about demand: There’s often a huge gap between what people buy and what they truly want and need. That gap is revealed by the Hassle Map…” - The Art of the Hassle Map

For what it’s worth, I think the authors include far too many examples of “new” products - even though this predates AirBnb and Uber, but I do love the idea of the “Hassle Map”.

I totally relate to the Netflix Hassle Map (as compared to Blockbuster). But there are other, more recent examples and one of those took place right down the street from me.

Johnny Carino’s was first developed by serial entrepreneur, Phil Romano, and then sold to a national company. It’s a casual dining establishment (by far, the most crowded segment possible) specializing on Italian food.

For the longest time, it has been one of my favorites. I moved back to my home town just about the same time this unit opened so they’ve been here about 10 years.

As with so many restaurants, it closed suddenly right after Valentine’s Day; which normally is the biggest day of the year for those in the Food Biz.

But Carino’s always struggled here despite being located where folks take their “eating out” seriously.

And we’re talking a place where Mexican Food and Steak joints are packed 24/7 and just the mention of the word “buffet” is enough to draw a crowd that may require a police presence to keep the participants from getting too excited and injuring themselves and others.

So, it’s been an uphill struggle for the chain to get any traction at all. Other than older folks like me who value service and comfort nearly as much as the food itself, it’s been pretty bleak.

Even so, had someone had the presence of mind to think through their version of a Hassle Map, they might have done things differently.

Just a block away is another restaurant which is the local outpost of a Texas chain, Cheddar’s, based in Arlington, Texas.

Cheddar’s has always done things a little differently. For example, they spend no money on advertising at all. Instead, they’ve put their money “on the plate” rather than in ads.

Something, by the way, I tried - without success - to get my partners in the food biz to do so many years ago.

Their other “claim to fame” is that they don’t specialize. In a world that is full of Italian, Mexican, Steak, and even Seafood chains, they don’t specialize at all. They do a little bit of everything. And, for the most part, they do it well.

The result is that even as Johnny Carino’s closes, Cheddar’s just on the “other side” of the Hotel they both flank, is packed. All day. Everyday.

Even when their service - or their food -isn’t as good as their competition.


Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

I think they’ve worked out their own version of the Hassle Map and it looked a lot like the Netflix model.

“Where do you want to go eat today?”

“I don’t know.”

“You decide.”

“Well, I don’t care.”

Sound familiar?

And if you have family or guests in town, where do you take them? What if the grandkids don’t like seafood and grandma can’t stand Italian?

Why not visit a place where everyone can find something they can eat?

At a decent price. Tolerable atmosphere. “So-so” service. But well-prepared food and a lot of it.

At a time when everyone seems to specialize and margins are stretched as thin as paper, Cheddar’s is rockin’ it - both on the plate and on the books.

Good for them.

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash


Here’s a link to the study:

*Featured photo by Gabriel Petry on Unsplash