What’s in a name?

Names and spellings do matter to most in the industry.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

In Shakespeare’s tragedy "Romeo and Juliet," the fair maiden tells her lover that his name—Montague—is not important; rather, it is the type of person he is that matters.

In the second act, Juliet says to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” For the purposes of the play, the line is a noble and heartfelt sentiment, and it does capture the very essence of the romance.

But in the world of business journalism, names do matter. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should try explaining it a source whose name has been misspelled or who has been given the wrong title in a news article or feature.

In the foodservice industry, people can be very particular about what they call things. With monikers come connotations: “quick-serve” suggests cheap fast food, while “fast casual” carries with it the idea of something a little more upscale. Coming up with just the right word or phrase for a concept can keep ad executives up at night. I’ve seen it even in the way people describe this industry we cover. When I began writing about foodservice, the term most often used was “institutional.” It certainly fit; most cafeterias, except for those in the B&I sector, were found in what are known as institutions. The founders of Restaurants & Institutions felt strongly enough about the nomenclature that they used it in the magazine’s title, even though many people in the industry bristled at the idea behind the name: stark, bland, low-quality, lacking imagination.

To appease those people, the term “non-commercial” was adopted. It is accurate even if it in not “sexy.” In reality, it has been little better than institutional. When I joined Nation’s Restaurant News in 1995, I crafted the term “on-site.” In my mind it was accurate—foodservice operations on the site of facilities whose main function was not serving food—but it still lacked something and has never really taken over. Fifteen years after that term was coined, there are people who still refer to this industry as “institutional.” I don’t know that we’ll ever come up with one term that clearly captures the essence of what our readers do.

A similar situation can occur when one segment of the industry “borrows” a concept from another segment. The name by which the concept is known becomes the default, whether or not it fits in every case. I believe that is what has happened with the idea gaining much traction in healthcare these days: room service.

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