Another Foodie Friday in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve all been affected and no business sector more than restaurants and bars. Many bars are still shut down and the places where bars have reopened have seen COVID cases rise dramatically, prompting some areas to shut them down again. Restaurants are gradually reopening but business is very different. I want to look at how and see if we can learn anything.
When you make a business plan, part of what you do is to project sales. In the restaurant business, you’d look at how many meals (covers) you’re serving each night, how often you’re turning tables, and how full that makes your restaurant. In most cases, any plan that indicated 50% capacity would be marginal and no plan would see 25% capacity as even a remotely feasible option.
If you’ve got a giant dining room (think Cheesecake Factory), 25% of capacity may still be a large enough number to make the business a small profit. Now throw in the need to keep your customers separated by six-feet, which may make the actual capacity below even the 25%. It’s impossible.
Restaurants area putting up plastic barriers to provide separation. My guess is that they’ll need to address their air filtering at some point as both customers and health officials find out more about how the virus spreads. Buffet? Bye-bye. Menus are being reduced, printed, and used once. More expenses, as are the costs of having staffers who do nothing but sanitize tables and everything else after parties have left. It’s a low-margin business to begin with and what we see happening now is just destroying the business completely.
A well-known celebrity chef moved here a year ago and opened a successful restaurant. He closed it the other day. Yes, he was doing takeout but as he said, that wasn’t what diners wanted from a restaurant known for its live experiences. Is the business experience the same in a closed-in booth? I’ve had very good takeout from several places during the last few months but even the best of it isn’t as good as the same food coming right out of the kitchen. Neither is the experience.
So what can we learn? I’m amazed at how the industry is adapting. Ghost kitchens, which I’ve written about, are going to be a part of the future. So is the takeout business, lesser experience or not. Even with restaurants reopening, the takeout business isn’t declining. Are there lessons for non-food businesses? I think so.
First, don’t be afraid to consider the most far-fetched things in your disaster planning (“oh come on – no one is going to shut down the entire economy…”). Second, that plan needs to focus on customers’ needs. The takeout business isn’t something the restaurateurs planned for but customer demand necessitated it. Third, don’t assume that the disaster plan will apply only to a temporary condition. I don’t think we’re ever getting back to anything but a new normal, do you? Think about change being permanent and plan accordingly. Make sense?
I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be leading a team during this chaotic interlude. I mean, I had a small taste of it years ago when my team was forced to work remotely during 9/11 and an NYC blackout. Even though the remote working tools were not nearly as good as they are now, it was hard.
Those were brief periods of disruption. This one has gone on for a quarter and might continue for quite some time. So here are a few thoughts based on some things I learned during those brief disruptive times.
First, those periods reinforced the notion that I work for the team and not the other way around. My job is to make their jobs happen. Even folks who are good at what they do and can handle things when you’re all physically connected in the office often need some special attention when they’re out on the home-office island. You can’t look at their needs as interruptions to your day – they actually are your day.
Next, remember that you need to delegate even more but you also need to be extra careful in choosing what to delegate to whom. Because the level of supervision will be reduced, you need to be choosier about who you give what. Don’t take that to mean that you have to take on more yourself because you don’t. Just choose wisely. This isn’t the time to let a junior person get their feet wet because they won’t have a support team around them.
That last thought goes for you as well. with your support team less available, you’re going to admit to yourself what you don’t know and find some resources that can help you.
Finally, change the routine to incorporate more touchpoints between the team. I had a boss once who loved reminding us that meetings were for people who had nothing else to do. I agree with that to a point, but when the team is scattered, a daily meeting, even if ut’s 10 minutes just for everyone to see how everyone else is doing, isn’t a bad idea.
Those are my thoughts, along with this one: it’s going to be exciting to see what changes come out of this experience. This is an important, formative moment. What do you think?
This Foodie Friday, I want to write about one of my favorite summer dishes, vitello tonnato. When I first had it at some fancy lunch many years ago, I thought it was something thought up by a clever chef. As it turns out, it isn’t a new dish at all. One can find it in the 130-year-old Italian cookbook Science In The Kitchen and the Art Of Eating by Pellegrino Artusi (it’s on page 271 of my edition).
The dish is veal, generally a shoulder or rump portion, that’s been boiled and thinly sliced. It’s topped by a sauce that’s basically a tuna and caper-infused mayonnaise. Trust me – it tastes a lot better than it sounds. The veal is really just a canvas for the sauce in my book.
I was pleasantly surprised when one of my friends emailed my a recipe for a vegetable plate of crudites that was served with a sauce that wasn’t called tonnato sauce but absolutely was the same as what one would put on the veal down to the capers and anchovies in the sauce. The chef described it as a “garlicky aioli bolstered with oil-packed tuna.” Uh, yes, please.
It got me thinking about special sauces since the tonnato sauce is clearly special to me. Every business needs a special sauce if it’s not going to be a commodity. If you’ve not done a competitive set analysis, that’s a great place to start to see how you’re different. Then ask yourself why you exist. What’s the problem you’re solving and why is your solution unique/better? Check your assumptions against what your customers and employees think.
Is your sauce really yours? Can it be duplicated or is it unique and defensible? Back in the day, we used to call something that you marketed around a USP – Unique Selling Proposition but I think your secret sauce is more than that. It gets to the heart of what your business is, including the culture. It’s what makes you you!
You can put tonnato on sliced pork tenderloin, vegetables, and of course veal. I suspect it’s great on grilled foods – veggies and proteins. As I’m thinking about it, it’s not far from a Caesar Salad dressing but with tuna. You see? Once you have a secret sauce, you can’t really tell how far it will take you!
Filed under Consulting, food