Category Archives: food

A Second Opinion

This Foodie Friday, it was an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that got me thinking:

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

OK, so what does that have to do with food and, of course, with business? These days, much like Rodney’s psychiatrist, everyone’s a critic. There is a huge problem with that since constructive criticism implies that the critic knows something about the subject. Unfortunately, with the internet offering everyone with an opinion a place to express that opinion, the assumption that the critic knows anything about the subject is often proven to be completely wrong.

Think about a professional restaurant critic. They dine out several times a week at a minimum. They are exposed to many different types of cuisine and usually many different chefs cooking each type of those cuisines. They can distinguish between types of pizza or BBQ and write knowledgeably about what makes one execution better than another. Before they write about a place they will usually dine there a few times both so they can sample more of the menu and to make sure that their impressions with respect to service and the dishes are correct.

Now take your typical Yelp reviewer. They may go to a place once. Their experience with many cuisines is limited and the examples that they’ve sampled might not actually be representative of a great execution (think someone who stumbles on to real Chinese food vs. the American Chinese food served nearly everywhere). Maybe they had to wait 10 minutes past their reservation time and got angry so they wrote a bad review. In short, they often criticize based on limited information and out of spite, exactly the opposite of what any constructive criticism should be.

As a reader trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I look for a second opinion. One thing I do is to only look at the 1- or 2-star reviews. Generally, they have very little in common with one another which tells me that they might have been posted out of anger or a single bad experience. Maybe everyone thinks the desserts are awful but since I don’t eat dessert that’s not relevant to me. When things are apparent across the bad reviews, I trust that information. Ignore the false criticism and get a second opinion.

It’s the same in business. You can’t just listen to the praise directed at you, of course. You need to hear the criticism so you can grow. That said, you need a second opinion much of the time. Don’t take it personally, don’t listen to the tone but only to the words, and ask yourself what you can learn. Then go ask someone you trust – someone with enough experience both with you and your work – about the validity of the bad review.

Yes, opinions are like asses in that everyone has one. But they’re not all created equal. Get second opinions before you make changes, just as a smart restaurateur does. Value the informed critics and ignore the trolls. Can you do that?

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Grinding Your Own

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic is ground beef. I try, whenever possible, to grind my own beef and the thinking behind that is also thinking that can be used in business decision-making.

You can walk into any supermarket and purchase ground beef. In fact, you can be very specific about chuck vs. sirloin, the percentage of fat in the mix and often grass-fed vs. non. That’s great in my mind when you are making chili or meatballs or some other dish requiring that the beef cooks for quite a while. For burgers, however, I’m grinding my own. I’ll generally grind a mix of chuck, brisket, and short rib and I’ll usually grind some parboiled bacon into the meat both for fat and for flavor. The biggest reason I take the time to do this, however, isn’t the flavor. It’s food safety. I like to eat my burgers on the rare side and ground beef from a store is generally not safe to eat unless it’s cooked more than I like it to be. I know what’s in my mix and that it’s safe to eat when cooked to less than 165 degrees.

Is it a pain to clean the grinder? Yes. Does it take more time than just opening a package from the store? Of course. But the results are much better and exactly what I want even if it costs a bit more and take more time. That’s exactly the process any business goes through when making a “build vs. buy” decision. Let me run you through the steps.

First, you need to validate that you actually need the technology you’re considering. In burger terms, I’m hungry so I need food. I have a legitimate need. In considering tech, you need to figure out if you’re finding a solution without a problem existing. Next, you need to pull together core business requirements. My burger must be safe to eat when rare, it must hold together on a grill, etc. You need to involve anyone whose business is affected by the proposed tech to be sure all constituents weigh in on requirements.

The technical architecture requirements come next. If you’re looking outside, can the product fit in with your existing infrastructure? Does it meet whatever standards your business has already? It’s only after the above steps have been taken that you can start to evaluate build vs. buy. In my case, I have a need, my requirements are clear, I’ve asked my dinner guests if they like burgers, how they want them cooked, and what they put on them. I figured out I’m building the beef but buying the rolls, mayo, pickles, onions, and tomatoes even though I could also build them.

The final steps in the evaluation concern costs and support but you get the point. Some managers start evaluation solutions before they pull together requirements and the overview of the environment in which the solution will live. While it was an easy decision for me to grind my own beef, few business decisions are as easy and require planning and forethought. Make sense?

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The One True Holiday

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s the eve of the annual national holiday called the Super Bowl. It’s America’s only true national holiday in my book. Oh sure – most Americans celebrate Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Veteran’s Day and even Thanksgiving, but none of those have the vast majority of the country focused on exactly the same thing at the same time. Only the Super Bowl does that.

Along with the game goes the food. Or, rather, THE FOOD, since inevitably there is a lot of it. Even those years in which I’ve watched the game by myself rather than at a party or a bar, I’ve managed to have copious amounts of generally not very healthy food by my side. Try to find a food site without a Super Bowl menu on it. Try to find a bar or a non-fine dining place that isn’t throwing a party.

Here was my take 8 years ago. Nothing has changed off the field (we won’t go into how the on-field experience has changed):

The Super Bowl is unlike any other sporting event from just about any perspective.  It’s watched by more people and is even covered by media people who wouldn’t know an H-back from Preparation H.  Hundreds of marketers, both authorized and unauthorized, try to tie in with “The Big Game” (for you ambushers) whether they’re selling food, TV’s, or anything else along the durable to non-durable scale.

So what do you do as a marketer? Do you try and fight city hall and run your own campaign not related to The Big Game? Do you pay the NFL’s or the broadcaster’s price tag (if your category is available) and use the marks or even just buy TV time in or around the game? Do you just stay quiet and begin your Valentine’s Day promotion after the game?

Tough question. If you’re in the food business, Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most popular takeout days of the year (1 in 7 Americans order takeout food for the game!). A third of Americans consume some sort of dip. Are you staffed properly if you’re a restaurant? Have you ordered extra dip and sour cream if you’re a market? If you’re not a food business, you need to account for this holiday – especially this holiday – in your marketing and content plans. Unlike any other sports championship, people watch The Super Bowl even when they don’t have a favorite team playing. They actually watch the ads. They generally participate in word of mouth and social media conversations. It is America’s holiday and if you market behind the others, maybe you need, as it says on many pizza boxes, to try the best since you’ve tried the rest. Make sense?

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Filed under food, sports business, What's Going On

Something To Talk About

I’m going to return to an old theme this Foodie Friday. I’ve written about how happy customers breed more happy customers but I came across a piece of food-related research that reinforced that message. Since I think it’s one of the most critical tenets in any business – food-related or not – I’m sharing it here today.

A recent survey by reservation platform SevenRooms found that more than half of American diners (54 percent) turn to friends and family for restaurant recommendations. About 30 percent consult review sites like Yelp, and 25 percent were influenced by something they saw on TV, according to the survey. About 35 percent of diners said they have eaten at a restaurant because they saw it on social media. Among those platforms, Facebook had the most influence (23 percent), with Instagram (10 percent), YouTube (9 percent) and Twitter (7 percent) far behind.

So word of mouth isn’t dead, and the way that one generates the best word of mouth is to create a memorably wonderful experience for the customer. I don’t believe that the restaurant industry is any different from any other in this regard. Let’s think for a moment about what that great experience really means. I think it means that the business provides an experience that distracts the customer from whatever else is on their minds. It provides a break and enjoyment. It gives the customer something to talk about afterward – something positive. It makes the customer feel that whatever they paid for the service or product they received they received better than fair value. Their expectations were exceeded. It’s the totality of the customer experience. It’s a combination of items offered but also the service quality in which those items are offered.

That’s the sort of stuff that people talk and write about. Have you ever left a business with the feeling that you couldn’t wait to tell someone about it? I have and those become the businesses with which I gladly spend a good deal of time and money. One small example from going out for breakfast this morning. The server greeted me and said, “coffee and a small container of milk for it, right?” She remembered that I can’t stand the little containers of non-diary creamer or half and half that many places – including hers – put out for coffee. A small thing but among the many reasons I keep going back and tell others to do the same.

What business has given you something positive to talk about? I spent a lot of this week telling you about some businesses that managed to do the opposite. It’s much more fun to write and talk about when businesses get it right don’t you think?

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Fixing The Food

This Foodie Friday, our subject is a bit more somber than usual. It’s a report put out by The Lancet, which is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is among the world’s oldest, most prestigious, and best known general medical journals, according to Wikipedia. The subject of the report is what healthy diets from sustainable food systems should look like. Unfortunately, where the world is at the moment is neither healthy nor sustainable.

If you’re so inclined, you can read the entire report here. It’s eye-opening. As the introduction says:

Civilization is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronization with the planet and nature. This crisis is accelerating, stretching Earth to its limits, and threatening human and other species’ sustained existence.

Not good right? We can discuss the causes (are the excess carbon emissions generated from red meat production inherent in the process or just in having to move the meat such great distances?) but we really do need to acknowledge that there is a problem and something needs to change. And that’s really the business point for anyone engaged in business.

Not only do markets change but circumstances do as well. I’m sure that it didn’t start out this way and there is a lot of cultural history behind it, but the report says people in North America eat more than six times the recommended amount of red meat, while people in South Asia eat half of what they should. Of course, shipping red meat to South Asia causes carbon emissions as well as provides a product that might not be affordable. What’s the solution? That’s for people way smarter than me.

Another example of changing circumstances. We’ve all seen businesses fail or have to move because of a huge increase in rent. That’s not a changed market and the business might be selling every bit as much as it was before. But short of raising prices, thereby possibly killing sales and destroying a customer base, what’s the solution? Usually, it’s to move and hope your customers move with you.

We can’t ignore things beyond the market. People are hungry – nearly 1 billion people are going hungry while 2 billion people are eating too much. There is demand for food. It’s a healthy market. But ignoring the circumstances that the business of creating it is destroying humans’ long-term prospects is short-sighted, something none of us in business can afford to be, right?

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Filed under food, Reality checks, What's Going On

The Right Stuff

It’s Foodie Friday and this week it’s tool time. As I mentioned in some previous posts, I’m in the process of moving, which means that a lot of stuff is packed up and not readily available for cooking. You never think that you’ll use some kitchen-related item (I won’t be ricing potatoes any time soon, will I? Pack the ricer!) right up until you need it. Then comes the internal debate assessing whether to unpack it (assuming you can find it), try to make do with some similar tool, or cook something else altogether.

One of my absolute mantras is that one needs to have the right tool for a job. You might think that throwing a smoothie into a food processor will work (because you packed the blender), but you’re wrong. Not only does it not yield a respectable smoothie but it makes a horrible mess. Then there is trying to make a roux with a fork instead of a whisk because, well you know where the whisk is, and it’s not in the kitchen.

Another non-food example. I just spent a day and a half trying to wire cat5 plugs around the new house. A buddy of mine had most of the tools to do this save for a punch tool to seat the wires properly. We tried to punch them down using everything from a tiny screwdriver to a pen. None of the connections were solid. An hour back and forth to buy the right tool and suddenly we were flying through the job. The right tool makes all the difference. Was $50 expensive to get it? Not in light of what it would have cost to hire someone to do the job.

You should remember that when you’re running your business. The right tools – and I include the right people in that category – makes all the difference. Spend the extra buck on software that works for you and don’t try to shoehorn your business into some freeware that really isn’t right. Sure, there are a lot of very good free tools out there but most of them begin to charge you as you reach the enterprise level. Make sure they’re worth paying for before you get too embedded in their platform.

Finally, spend more on good people that are right for your company and right for the job. Having a fantastic free design tool is great but you need someone that knows how to use it or the results will look amateurish.

Having the right tool makes an excellent finished product much easier to obtain. Using a shoe to drive a nail rarely works, don’t you think?

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Top Foodie Friday Post Of 2018

The most-read Foodie Friday post that I wrote this year was written in October. I can’t recall what prompted the thought behind it although I suspect it had to do with some unappetizing takeout food. As the new year approaches, some of you might be making up lists of thing you will do differently and, hopefully, better. I’d urge you to put your best steak forward, which was the original title of this piece. Enjoy!

It’s Foodie Friday and we’re back to our regular nonsense here on the screed. Today I want you to think back to that time when you ordered takeout and it was not very good. I’m sure you’ve had such an instance: we all have. Maybe you ordered some fried dumplings that showed up as soggy as your recently washed laundry. Maybe the pasta dish you ordered had aggregated itself into a small object better suited for football than eating. Maybe you ordered a steak frites to go and it didn’t travel well. No one likes soggy fries and a cool steak doused in cooling, congealing butter.

For many restaurants, takeout has become a critical part of their business. Life today often leaves little time for cooking at home, especially during the week. Think about how many places you know that have only a few tables but do a ton of takeout. The growth of delivery services and apps has accelerated the trend while actually decreasing profitability (the services take a cut of the bill and in many cases, it’s close to the entire margin on the order). I’m not sure, however, that many restaurateurs put enough thought into putting their best products out there for takeout. Why sell something that you know won’t travel well?

Putting your best steak forward, so to speak, is something that every business should do. The most customer-friendly takeout situations have a separate counter to speed customer service. They might have a menu that’s priced a little differently since the costs of servicing a customer are different. They pack hot foods apart from cold foods and they take care to make sure that condensation in the hot food doesn’t make it soggy (vent holes, people). As with any customer encounter, how you present your brand matters. I wouldn’t even offer to sell a customer a product that I know won’t travel well. If they’ve enjoyed it before in my place, they’ll be disappointed. If it’s their first time, they won’t be back. We see this in businesses that take on jobs for which they’re ill-suited. I’ve turned down many opportunities over the years to build people websites since my ability to design and to code is not up to my ability to perform other tasks. That’s not my best steak.

Is that something your business is doing? Are you gathering data and keeping records of every customer interaction? Are you constantly looking for feedback so you can adjust your menu? Are you putting your best steak forward each and every time?

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