This got me thinking--what defines a plate lunch, why does an otherwise nutritionally-conscious, ex-pat Hawaii girl make a beeline for it as soon as her feet touch Hawaiian soil, and why on earth are there no vegetables? Heck, even President Obama has Rainbow's when he goes home to Hawaii! I've made a living doing market research, so I Googled away. Then I asked my Dad.
Here is the anecdotal history. For the entree part, Hawaiian Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese and Korean plantation workers all shared their various lunches, with not a sandwich to be found. A recent New York Times article concurs.
The macaroni salad kicked in later, with refrigeration I suppose. It also incorporates the concept of using the left-over dinner food. I've had mac salads with carrots, peas, leftover shrimp, crab, chicken, cucumbers, tsukemono, and of course, gobs of mayonnaise. And let's face it, it just tastes good with gravy or teriyaki.
So in marketing-speak, what is the plate lunch's value proposition?
1) It offers ridiculous, best-of-breed variety. You can choose from kal-bi, tonkatsu, garlic ahi, lau-lau, pork adobo, hamburger steak, oxtail soup...the list goes on. Even more, Zippy's has daily *and* weekly specials. And at the Korean plate lunch places, you can actually pick vegetable sides, along with your macaroni salad and chop chae (see above).
3) It's accessible to everyone. Served with plastic utensils on a flimsy paper plate, plate lunches are not pretentious, and you can always find whatever you're in the mood to eat. There's no right way to eat one and everyone has their favorite place to get one. Lawyers, surfers, and lawyers who surf all eat plate lunches.
Really, it's just a brilliant product--an awesome food value, consumable to ensure repeat business, marketed virally, and with a target customer base of anyone who eats. Now I'm hungry!