Monthly Archives: August 2014


It’s the Foodie Friday before the Labor Day weekend so what better topic than those who labor in the food business? We talk a lot here on the screed about cooks and cooking. Today we’re going front of house to talk about servers.

Waiter in Vienna, Austria.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you think about it, being a server is one of those jobs that many people don’t want. It’s what some people fall in to while they’re trying to do something else – be an actor, finish school, etc. While many high-end restaurants train and keep their wait staff for a long time (I’ve seen some pretty old guys schlepping trays at a few fancy steakhouses), much of the industry is people in transition.  It’s hard work, demanding both physically and  psychologically (you try dealing with a demanding drunk jerk who is showing off for his equally drunk friends).

Some of the challenges restaurant managers face with servers are instructive for other businesses.  Training is the first.  Once a server is trained they become very attractive to other businesses.  Obviously not training the staff isn’t an option since you want customers to have the best experience possible.  How, then, do you retain employees?  Having trained many junior people in my day, that problem applies everywhere.  We can’t usually match the extra money a new job will offer.  Why, then, would they stay?

In any industry, I think that’s done by sharing the vision of where the business is heading along with a value statement you live by and use to make decisions.  Letting the staff in on your goals in a specific fashion (grow revenues 10% without raising prices, turn 5 more tables an extra time each night) gives them ownership of where the business is heading and why.  The next step – execution – is all on the manager’s shoulders. They need to  manage the staff and the business towards the goals.

I know that servers have a reputation for behaving in ways that rarely happen outside of the restaurant world more than once.  Showing up drunk or stoned or calling in sick at the last-minute are symptoms of what I wrote about above.  When your job is just a step to someplace else you tend not to treat it seriously, which is especially dangerous when that job is the primary point of contact with the customer.  Paying well, training well, being demanding but fair, and sharing the goals and visions of the business can help every employee take the business as seriously as you do, whether they’re servers, accountants, marketers, or sales reps.



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Learning From Silliness

A little good news for a change emerging from all of the silliness that is the Ice Bucket Challenge:

As of Wednesday, August 27, The ALS Association has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 27). These donations have come from existing donors and 2.1 million new donors.

Having known people who’ve suffered with this horrible disease (as well as being a lifelong Yankee fan and admirer of the Iron Horse),  working to beat it is a worthy cause.  That said, there are a few things which we can take away from the videos of the last month which might be instructive in our own business endeavors.

First, let’s think about lemmings.  We humans often behave collectively, like lemmings. Once the pack starts in a particular direction, particularly one that seems appealing, many people just go along.  I’m not sure many of the folks who have participated in the meme gave a lot of thought to where the money was going.  I mean, who looked up the ALS Association’s records?  How much are officers paid?  How much do they pay for fundraising?  What are their lobbying expenses?  Most importantly, how much of the money they receive actually goes to grants and research?

As it turns out (yes I looked it up), they’re a very fine organization on all those counts (you can read it here).  The point is that once something reaches a critical mass, many people will participate even if it’s only due to Fear Of Missing Out, without digging too deeply into the thinking.  In this case, everyone from kids (who I doubt understand the disease) all the way to former presidents went along.

That raises point 2.  How to reach that critical mass.  This challenge happened almost entirely via social media, specifically Facebook.  I think it’s a seminal moment and points out how media has changed.  What implications does it have for marketing?  The big one, besides the use of “new” media to activate a consumer base, is that organic growth bests anything we can manufacture.  The ALS Foundation didn’t start this – a consumer did.  How do we get our influencer bases to do the same?

We can enjoy the silliness of the Ice Bucket Challenge in the face of a horrible disease.  We can learn from it too.  That’s my take.  Yours?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

The Only Two Numbers That Matter

Everyone in business has heard talk about “big data.” It Takes 2!There is no question that we know more about our customers, their buying patterns, their media usage – heck, just about anything – than ever before. It’s easy to get trapped into micromanaging all that data which will overwhelm even the best systems and the smartest analysts.  So today I’m going to try to get you to follow some great advice from Thoreau:

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.

He wasn’t exactly talking about big data, but he might have been.  In my mind there are really only two numbers that matter.  While I’m going to speak of them in web terms the reality is that they apply to every business as I will explain.  They are:

That’s it.  Multiply those two and you get a measure of success.  The first is how many opportunities you have to create a successful interaction; the second is the rate at which you do so.  That successful interaction can be a newsletter sign up, a sale, a social share of some content – you will need to define it.  Taking the number of times that successful thing happens and dividing it into the number of people who potentially might have done it (your traffic) gives you a conversion rate.  Simple!

You would be surprised how many of the analytics accounts I’ve looked at over the years haven’t set up goals, and without goals there are no conversions.  It’s not just web-based businesses that can do this.  Retail can count foot traffic and numbers of sales, for example.  Numbers of customer service calls with a successful (in the customer’s eyes) resolution.  Once you’re focused on measuring traffic and conversions, you can place everything else you do in marketing in those contexts.  More traffic without conversions is useless.  More conversions from the same traffic is fantastic.

Big data is great and I use it all the time.  As with all things, however, start with the simple, which often gets overlooked – the necessary and the real, as Thoreau says.  You agree?

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