It’s Foodie Friday and I want to talk about a widespread fraud this week. If you cook Italian food every so often, you might have been a victim of this common deception, and of course, it has implications for your business (or else why would I bring it up here?). I’m talking about the lies told by many companies about what lies within a can of tomatoes labeled as “San Marzano.”
If you’ve been to Italy you’ve tasted the difference in what they have there vs. what we commonly use here, and one of the biggest differences is the true San Marzano tomato. Grown in the volcanic soil that surrounds Mt. Vesuvius, these plum tomatoes are protected by an official designation – DOP – which certifies that they are the real deal. Many other types of products receive this stamp which certifies that they are locally grown and packaged in the specific region according to strict standards – balsamic vinegar and mozzarella di bufala are two of the best known along with these tomatoes.
If you walk through your local supermarket, you will find many cans labeled “San Marzano” and yet there is a high likelihood that they are nothing of the sort. 95% of the tomatoes sold here as San Marzanos are fake, at least according to the person who certifies them. If you see crushed or diced San Marzanos, they’re fake, since true ones are only sold whole. If they are grown in the US, they’re fake. If it doesn’t have the DOP seal and the seal of the consortium that sells them, they’re fake. Some unscrupulous packagers put a DOP-looking seal on their cans; some don’t even bother, knowing that the words “San Marzano” are enough to confuse shoppers.
Why do I raise this? First, it bothers me that so many retailers are complicit in perpetuating this fraud. You wouldn’t see a legitimate store knowingly selling fake Dior bags or knockoff golf clubs with high-end labels. Why do supermarkets allow this? Can I trust that the wild-caught fish you’re selling at the fish counter isn’t farm-raised? Second, some fairly big time packagers engage in this, which calls into question what’s in the cans of other products they produce. Are those really organic peas or are you just charging more for the same stuff that’s in the non-organic cans? Lastly, and most importantly, it reiterates the point we’ve made often here in the screed. The most important thing any business gets from customers is trust. Losing that trust can be fatal, no matter how good your service or pricing might be. Knowingly perpetuating a fraud on your customers is way over the foul line.
I don’t want to make too big a point about a can of tomatoes. Most shoppers don’t look for San Marzano tomatoes – they buy whatever is on sale. It only takes one customer, however (like me?), who figures out that you’re profiting off of the deception to put a crack in your reputation. That’s not the type of sauce you want to be serving, is it?
For our Foodie Friday Fun this week, let’s talk about the grades restaurants receive from the health department. Depending on where you live, you might see an “A” to “F” scale or some number on a 100-point scale. Most jurisdictions require that the establishment display its most recent grade and I, for one, make a point to have a look at it, especially when it’s an unfamiliar place. I don’t know about you, but I won’t eat in a place where the grade drops below 92 or “A”. Better safe than sorry, right?
I looked up the record of a place in which I eat frequently. It’s well-run and I’ve peeked in the kitchen to see if my opinion might change (back of house and front of house are two very different worlds, after all). It too looked well run. Their last 9 inspections confirm this – they run from a low of 96 to a few perfect scores of 100. Does that make the food taste any better? No, but at least I have no qualms about tasting it.
Why do I raise this since most of us aren’t in the restaurant business? Because each of us gets inspected and publicly rated every day. Search for any business and you’ll almost assuredly see several review sites or actual reviews in the search results themselves. I’m not even thinking of influencers here, just normal folk who have some information (if they’ve patronized a business and you haven’t, that’s knowledge) and the ability to share it. I suspect that Amazon’s product reviews are almost as valuable an information source as their purchase data, and Consumer Reports has built a business in doing unbiased reviews for as long as I can remember.
Everyone who interacts with you business is a health inspector of sorts. The National Restaurant Association has some tips on how to prepare for a health inspection and a few just might apply to your business as well:
- Walk into your establishment from the outside to get an outsider’s impression.
- Brief your kitchen staff to review any problems post-inspection.
- Ensure all staff are on the same page.
- Know your priorities.
- Train your managers to ensure they are up-to-date on the latest food-safety techniques.
- Review your local health code.
In other words, approach things from the customer’s perspective, reinforce that need to everyone on the staff, operate as a cohesive unit, listen and respond to customer feedback, stay current and be sure you’re operating under whatever set of rules govern your field of business. Those tips will keep health inspectors of any sort happy, don’t you think?
This Foodie Friday our topic is rudeness. OK, maybe not rudeness per se but whatever it is one would call being brusque with servers in bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and elsewhere. You know what I’m talking about. You probably have a friend who treats the waitstaff as if they are indentured servants rather than food service professionals who work long hours for not a lot of money. Maybe they make ridiculous demands or maybe they manage to find fault with everything that’s sent from the kitchen, causing problems not just for the server but also for the cook who will probably have to refire the dish.
It’s an important business point. When you’re dining out, you’re in a position of power with respect to the servers and, to a lesser extent, the entire kitchen. In an office setting, there are managers who revel in that and they’re the ones whose subordinates can’t wait to find employment elsewhere. No one likes being treated dismissively. The rude manager is probably feeling a need to demonstrate how special (or entitled) they are. To a lesser extent, I think they’re trying to see what they can get away with. Unfortunately, subordinates rarely get the chance to tell the manager’s manager how detrimental this behavior is to the entire team.
I’m not saying we need to be obsequious either to the waitstaff or to our subordinates. I am saying that “please,” “thank you,” and other demonstrations of appreciation (a nice tip to the server, a decent raise if possible to the employee) will get you better results than being demanding and rude. I often wished that I could take every candidate I was thinking of hiring out for a meal, or at least for coffee. You will learn an awful lot about their character, especially if the service really is bad or if their order gets messed up.
One of my bosses told me a long time ago to think about managing as if I were moving a piece of string. If you get behind it and push, it rarely will go where you want. If you get out in front and pull, you can lead it anywhere. Good manners are part of being out in front, whether in a restaurant or an office, don’t you think?
It’s Foodie Friday and the topic this week is brunch. You might not have noticed, but having breakfast late is a thing. In fact, many restaurants are adding a specific brunch menu while all-day breakfast has contributed mightily to McDonald’s improved financial results. Consumer research shows the growth of brunch service in restaurants around the country as customers enjoy breakfast foods all day and night long.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to its 2017 MenuTrends report, Datassential reveals brunch was available at 4.9 percent of all chain and independent restaurants in the United States in 2016, compared to 2.0 percent of restaurants ten years prior. Over the past four years (2012-2016), brunch service in U.S. restaurants increased by 43.5 percent.
In other words, restaurants are catering (pun intended) to the desires of their customers for breakfast foods around the clock. I’m willing to bet your local diner has always served breakfast all day so this isn’t exactly a surprise or huge innovation. What is an interesting development is how many places have responded and added a brunch or all day breakfast menu.
Contrast this with a place I know that opened as a casual lunch business, got great reviews, but not enough business. The owner didn’t want to change his business hours to include early supper to take advantage of the increased foot traffic in the neighborhood after 5. He wasn’t able to make a go of it. The flaw wasn’t the food or the service or even the location. It was in not responding to the realities of the market and the opportunities those realities presented.
Your business might be making similar mistakes. What are your customers telling you? What are market trends showing? It may be overly simplistic, but if customers are enjoying breakfast foods all day long, your job, if you’re in the breakfast business at least part of the day, is to serve them all day as well. You can fight your competitors but you can’t fight your customers’ tastes! Make sense?
Foodie Friday, and the topic is disasters. Like anyone who does a fair amount of cooking, I’ve had my share of disasters in the kitchen over the years. No, I’m not talking about the time I dropped a full pot of soup on the way to the fridge. I mean those times when the best-laid plans of the cook, as Robert Burns said, gang aft agley – often go awry.
In my case, there is a seafood sausage that has become the stuff of legend amongst those who were (un)fortunate enough to have seen it made and attempted to eat it. There was also the time that egg rolls refused to stay rolled and sent the cook (that would have been me) into a utensil throwing rage since I was cooking for my new bride and my parents and was pretty embarrassed.
There is a business point within my true confessions today. First, each of these things was a learning experience. Second, each has become a story that’s been retold over the years. While our main goal in business shouldn’t be to avoid being a bore at cocktail parties, having a few self-effacing tales in your repertoire isn’t a bad thing. The bigger takeaway is the first point.
Disasters are often the result of pushing the envelope. Hopefully, they don’t originate in sloppiness or willful ignorance or haste but rather is boldly going where you’ve never gone before, whether in the office or in the kitchen. When we fail in the latter venue, there is always some take out food we can get to serve. When we fail in the office, we can use the experience to rethink how we plan, how we prepare, and how we execute so that it becomes a teachable moment and not a complete waste. Besides – you just got another great story to tell at the party where you’re celebrating your company’s latest success!
This Foodie Friday, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. OK, so maybe it’s not really that far under the radar, but our topic today is the hidden menu many places have. Some places call it the secret menu, and you’ve probably heard of some of them. In-N-Out Burger‘s is fairly famous in burger-eating circles, so much so that I’m not sure one can call it secret any longer. Arby‘s has one (let’s go climb Meat Mountain!), as does Starbucks, highlighted recently by the Unicorn Frappuccino (yes, but they’re a healthy 56 grams of sugar!). I could list a dozen more chains that have them but the real secret menu is at your local favorite.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I frequent a restaurant that changes the menu seasonally. They’re happy, however, to make me one of my favorite burgers that hasn’t been offered for six months. Its availability is a secret of sorts, and I feel special when they oblige my request for it. That’s really the point of these hidden menus. Putting aside that the more outrageous items become fodder for social media amplification, it’s really about “knowing.” It’s the feeling like you’re a special member of the family and that’s the point for any business.
Turning customers into loyal customers is about care and feeding. It’s about making them feel like Norm from Cheers: everyone knows your name and welcomes you with open arms. Being in the know about the secret menu – getting something about which others know nothing – is something that any business can do. Maybe it’s a simple as a secret sale, maybe it’s a special item of food or clothing or merchandise that’s available only upon requests. No matter what it is, it represents wrapping the customer in your business and fostering community.
I don’t know if you have a special place with a secret menu that you frequent but you might think about making your business that sort of destination for your fans. You with me?
It’s Foodie Friday and it’s also Cinco De Mayo. Contrary to popular belief, what’s celebrated today is not Mexican Independence Day. Rather, it’s a celebration of the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, which came after Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican-American War, and the Mexican Civil War. It centers around Puebla which, coincidentally, is really the heart of Mexico’s food world.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Just as there really isn’t a lot of corned beef and cabbage eaten in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, so too is this not a day of taco and frozen margaritas in Mexico. Not that it stops damn near every “Mexican” restaurant in this country from pushing those things today. Hitting a Taco Bell up to celebrate doesn’t happen in Mexico. In fact, Taco Bell doesn’t exist there (they tried; Mexicans won’t eat there). Instead, the cuisine of Puebla features moles (the sauces, not the critter), chalupas, and Chiles En Nogada, a stuffed poblano pepper with a walnut and pomegranate sauce.
Why do I raise this? Because it raises an issue that applies to any business. Actually, it’s sort of the “fake news” issue. Just as political entities will raise money based on a widely believed, but false, narrative, so too are all of the places serving tacos and margaritas selling a lie of sorts. The question is should we as businesses engage in that?
Some people might say that “ethical marketing” is an oxymoron. A lot of marketers are happy to bend the truth if in their minds what they’re doing is inconsequential. In this case, I suspect that the perpetrators don’t even know they’re misrepresenting the facts and, frankly, I’m not very sure that it matters. But it raises a point that very much does matter. If a business is willing to stretch the truth on things that don’t matter, at what point do they cross the line and do so when it really does?
We’ve all seen ads that lie. Ads for “male enhancers,” cures for the common cold, or even just photoshopped photos are rampant. While promoting a frozen margarita to celebrate something that didn’t happen on this day is far from an outright lie, you take my point. There’s nothing wrong with selling and using the language of sales to promote but we need to remember that we live in a world where information is easily found and lies are rapidly debunked and the truth disseminated. And with that, I’m off to find a torta for lunch!
Filed under Consulting, food