Important historic events often result in changes to our vocabulary. Recently, Covid made an existing term like lockdown part of our everyday jargon. The word Brexiteer didn’t exist before Brexit and the offensive term basket case originates from sad events during World War I, where soldiers who lost their limbs were carried off the battlefield in baskets. Even longer ago, the metaphor, Crossing the Rubicon, originated from Caesar crossing the Rubicon river leading to the eventual demise of the Roman Republic. Today’s challenge lies in surviving the global economy and headlines use new phrases such as stagflation and skimpflation. Is there a more positive word to counter them?
The economy reacts to what is happening in the world and sometimes new terminology is required to describe such reactions and financial conditions. Currently, still recovering from Covid, the global economy also staggers under the consequences of European conflict. No surprise then, that these conditions influences the words we use. One such term is Stagflation. Although coined in the1970’s, this word implying high inflation combined with stagnant growth and high unemployment, was fortunately out of use for a while. When a group of oil-producing countries cut off exports to countries supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War during the 1970’s, stagflation described the drastic increase in oil prices combined with already expensive commodities and employers cutting work forces. (Read more) Today, again, you’ll find the term in various headlines and news reports.
Skimpflation is another recent term to do with inflation. According to theguardian.com, skimpflation describes a situation where companies are reluctant to raise prices because consumers are experiencing economic pressure, but at the same time they refuse to sacrifice profit. As a result, they cut corners and offer less volume or lower quality – and of course they don’t tell you about it. Remember when a chocolate slab used to be 100 grams? Then suddenly, some of the most popular brands started to produce 80-gram slabs. They look the same, sell at the same price, but now you get 20 grams less. This is true for a variety of offerings and can often be experienced in poorer quality material, craftsmanship and service. Perhaps there are fewer assistants on the floor or on the helpline, you don’t get an extra button for the expensive coat you ordered and even deliveries take longer. (Read more)
Does skimpflation also extend to restaurants? Can that be the reason why South Africans are not supporting restaurants like they used to? According to BusinessTech.co.za, figures for the first quarter of 2022 show that local restaurants were still 35% below pre-pandemic levels. Perhaps there are other reasons. While it is possible that restaurants might employ less staff and cut a few corners, the Bureau for Economic Research says: “Beyond the first quarter, sharply rising menu prices and renewed pressure on local household budgets are also probably dampening the frequency of people’s visits to and spending at restaurants. Load shedding could also be a contributory factor in the reluctance to go out eating in the evening.”
Load shedding is a brilliant application of skimpflation. Not only is Eskom skimping on what it is supposed to be offering paying customers, but internal service delivery also seems to be an issue, seeing that workers are going on unlawful strikes not only over wages but according to the unions for “running roughshod over workers’ rights.” (Read more) Eskom’s issues are too complex for me to address, but with the exceptional levels of shedding delivering such blows to an already struggling economy, unfortunately, there is little love or support left for anything or anyone Eskom related.
With so many obstacles, one can understand businesses adapting their offering. Perhaps the menu is smaller and perhaps there are fewer staff and you have to wait a little longer. Perhaps the décor needs a little bit of an upgrade and more than likely the prices have increased more than the regular annual percentage. These reasons might explain why people prefer to stay home to candlelight, enjoying their new post-lockdown home cooking skills, rather than frequenting their regular restaurants. If these are the reasons, I reckon there should still be enough lovers of food and entertainment to keep restaurants busy. Perhaps less than pre-Covid, but enough. It is, however, when the quality of what you get is affected and when the ratio of lentil to lamb in your lamb with lentil dish seems a bit awry that we start to feel exploited.
Except in the ultra premium market, seemingly unaffected by even the biggest crisis, everyone feels the pinch. Consumers do. Businesses do. There is no pretense. There might be all kinds of new terminology and jargon to describe what we are dealing with now, but let’s call a spade a spade and ensure we all make it through. If businesses don’t take advantage of consumers and consumers manage their expectations and have some sympathy for the plight of (especially small) businesses in today’s economy, we might just be able to add symbiosis to our 2022 dictionary.