Can You Believe It’s Thanksgiving?

Happy Foodie Friday. I usually post the Thanksgiving Foodie Friday screed on the Wednesday before the holiday but it’s really the only food topic on my mind today. I’ve also made it a habit to repost an item I wrote a dozen years ago (can you believe I’ve been at this since 2008?) about the three “F”s of this holiday. Given how unusual 2020 has been (I’m being kind) so far, I thought I’d revisit the topic again.

Back then I wrote that “F” number one is Family. It’s the thing for which I am most thankful. That’s still true. If anything, I’m more thankful now because I’ve not seen my family in person for almost a year. We’ve lost folks who used to attend our dinner every year and others have moved far away. It’s an old truism that you can’t choose your family and for that, I’m thankful because I would never have chosen so well. Facetime isn’t face-to-face time and you can’t hug over Zoom. Let’s all hope this is a one-year abnormality.

“F” number two is Feasting. It’s weird not cooking for 25 and honestly, it feels less like a feast than it does a regular dinner. Still, I’m thankful that there is food of any sort on the table when I see pictures of many people struggling. Hunger is a problem here in the 12th richest nation. I’m not going to fry a turkey this year in the spirit of this year being totally different (let’s hope so). Buttermilk brined and spatchcocked, it will roast relatively quickly in the oven and what used to be days of prep and cooking will be greatly condensed.

“F” number three is Football. That won’t change although it’s weird listening to pumped in fan noise when the stands are mostly empty. It’s great that we have sports on this and other days to keep us amused but I worry about the athletes and the virus. I love the annual ritual of gathering to watch the games. I don’t love that the always-present risk of injury athletes live with is compounded by the risk from the virus.

This is how the original post concluded. Hard to believe that a dozen years later and in the midst of a pandemic not much has changed in my thinking.

Our family has been challenged this year by many of the same things that millions of other families face. Illnesses, the economy, wacky weather, and the other day-to-day events that keep it…interesting… Even so, we’re very fortunate and tomorrow will be a day to remember that. If anything, the adversity has pulled us even closer.

I’m very thankful, among other things, for those of you that take the time to read the screed every once in a while. I appreciate your comments when I hit home and even more so when I miss the mark. Have a great holiday!

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Simply Great

It’s Foodie Friday and even though it’s November, it’s also Masters weekend. For any golf fan, The Masters Tournament is one of the highlights of the year and since we had to wait an additional 7 months for it this year, it’s even more special. While it’s always been a harbinger of Spring and the golf season to come, this year it’s wrapping up the year and it’s very different. No azaleas, no patrons (fans, to you), and, I’m told, none of the food that makes the Masters experience so unique.

If you’ve never been, this event is unique for many reasons. The biggest unique thing is that it is exceptionally fan-friendly when it comes to food. You see, the folks who put this tournament on are really not all that interested in making a ton of money off of their patrons. Unlike, say, the US Open Tennis, where a sandwich will set you back close to $20, a sandwich here costs $1.50. Not a typo, and the egg salad and the pimento cheese sandwiches are the stuff of legend. The sausage biscuit you’d pay $4 at Bojangles is also $1.50.

Ask any fan who has attended the tournament and I’m willing to bet you that they’ll mention the food, maybe even before they talk about the golf. A Georgia Peach Ice Cream Sandwich ($2) is so good that folks have been known to smuggle dry ice onto the grounds to take several home with them.

What makes the food so good? Well, first, it’s very simple. No fancy burgers. The most expensive food item is the $4 Bar-B-Que (that’s how it’s listed) sandwich. It’s not great barbecue but it’s still pretty tasty. Egg salad, pimento cheese, turkey clubs, and a chicken sandwich – all very basic. You could make everything they serve at home quite easily. The difference is it’s all really good, and because it doesn’t cost a month’s rent, I think whatever small shortcomings there might be are overlooked. You can buy the entire menu for the price of the fancy burgers sold at many places and several beers here for the price of one at any stadium. It’s simple and it’s great.

It’s a good lesson for any of us in business. Consumers are looking for great value (Walmart’s house brand is called that for a reason!) and when the product is not only a decent price but also is really good, you’ve got a winner. This food solves the “I’m hungry” problem exceptionally well. We all need to identify the problem we’re solving and do so better than anyone else. If we can do it at a great price, it’s game over.

I’ll make pimento cheese to watch the tournament and maybe some egg salad too. It’s won’t be the same as being in Augusta and maybe not as good (food always tastes better at the game, don’t you think?). It will remind me that The Masters is my favorite golf tournament for more reasons than the golf. How can you have your customers thinking that way about you?

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Critiquing The Critic

I’m sure we’re all happy to have arrived at Foodie Friday. What a week! In my local paper this week was a story about the local food critic retiring. He’s 65 and has been writing his reviews for 25 years. There were a number of things in his farewell column that I think are relevant no matter what business you’re in and I’d like to share them with you.

“When I sit down for a meal, I’ve always wanted them to succeed,” Cox said. “If you’re not excited about it, I don’t know why you’d be a restaurant critic.”

Some folks might think that the word “critic” implies someone who is negative. In fact, a critic is a professional who communicates an assessment and an opinion of various forms of creative works, according to Wikipedia. Managers are critics too. We evaluate our team members’ work and job performance as part of our responsibilities. Unfortunately, many of us seem to forget what the above quote says. We need to want them to succeed and to be excited about that success. I’ve worked with managers who hardly ever had a good word to say about their staff, and when they did have something nice to say it was usually a reflection on their excellent management skills and not on their team’s talent.

It’s been fun reading this guy’s reviews. Like many of my North Carolina neighbors, he’s very plain-spoken and without pretense, not exactly the vibe I used to get from the food critics in NYC. He’d invest as much energy in a review of a local mom and pop place as he did in the reviews of James Beard-nominated chefs (yes, we have quite a few here in the Triangle). That’s an important thing too. Not every project is fascinating. In fact, most of the time, we’re doing rather mundane, repetitive work. Was working in TV fascinating? Yes. Was pulling together sales packages and ratings data? Not after the first 10 times it wasn’t. To be successful, we have to treat our pet projects and the drudge work as equals. And lose the attitude, folks. You’re not your job so don’t confuse who you are with what you do. As many folks have found out the hard way of late, the title, salary, perks, and status can be gone in a hurry.

Think about what being a food or other kind of critic entails. It’s not enough to be a subject matter expert. You can know everything there is to know about food or wine or film or art. That’s not enough. You have to be able to formulate coherent opinions based on that knowledge and express them in written form. That’s where I think many business people fail. They’re smart, they have great ideas, but they can’t express them to others clearly and cogently in writing.

I suppose all critics are critical – it’s their job, right? But critical thinking – analyzing facts to form an opinion – doesn’t mean negative thinking. A good thing to keep in mind!

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