This Foodie Friday, let’s talk about foams for a minute. Food foams, that is, and not the thick ones such as whipped cream, marshmallows, or even cake. I mean the foams that have come out of molecular gastronomy and are made out of mushrooms or parmesan cheese or just about anything else. Throw some stabilizing agent (agar, lecithin,etc.) into a liquid, grab the old immersion blender and voila: foam.
Let me give you two prominent cooks takes on them. The first is Gordon Ramsay:
If I want foam I will stick to my bubble bath after the end of a long week. Watching foam sit on a plate and 30 seconds later it starts to disintegrate and it starts to look like toxic scum on a stagnant pool of crap. I don’t want to eat foams. It’s not good.
Then there is Alton Brown‘s take:
Don’t think you can replace cooking technique with throwing a bunch of flavors on top of something. Any more than you can making it into a caviar. Or making it into a foam. If I live the rest of my culinary life without a seeing another foam, I’ll be OK. I’m sick to death of foam. What does foam do? Cover our bad cooking, by and large.
I must admit that I’m not particularly a fan of foams on my plate but I find the above two quotes of interest to us today because each also contains a business point. Chef Ramsay rightfully points out that when customers purchase a product they expect it to perform and endure. If you have kids, you know the experience of toys being destroyed by lunch time on Christmas. It’s almost as if the toy makers never put the thing into the hands of a 4-year-old to test endurance. But many of us have had the same experience with tech toys and other products. We need to build our products and services to last.
The second quote points out that customers aren’t easily distracted. A nicely flavored foam can’t hide a poorly cooked protein underneath it. It’s great that we design digital products and physical products to look nice but consumers value substance over style in the long run. Just as diners order the protein and not the foam, consumers are focused on the main promise the product is making and not on how pretty it is.
Foams add flavor without adding substance. I think we all need a lot more substance in this world. You?
Foodie Friday and we’re heading overseas this morning. To Vienna, specifically, where, as The Boss wrote about San Diego, “there’s a little cafe.” Now I don’t know if they “play guitars all night and all day” but I do know one thing they do. They charge customers who plug in their phones or laptops to recharge them. As the Reuters article on this quoted the owner:
Hundertwasserhaus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Tourists – always electricity, electricity, electricity. Sorry but who is going to pay me for it?” said Pokorny, owner of the Terrassencafe in Hundertwasserhaus – located inside a colorful patchwork of apartments designed by artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Customers who charge up during a 15-minute coffee can still do so for free, she said. An hour, however, is beyond the pale.
On the surface, a reasonable business practice, right? Electricity costs money, and if each of the outlets is in use most of the day incurring costs that aren’t built into the charge for the coffee, it seems reasonable to pass those costs on to the customers who incur them, right? Maybe, except for a couple of things.
First, someone figured out that it costs about $.84 (that’s 84 cents) to charge a smartphone for a year. That’s using an overnight charge but one can assume timewise that’s comparable to an outlet being in use for a full day. This cafe is charging customers 1 Euro (which is about $1.06 at the moment) if they plug in for more than 15 minutes. In other words, this is more of a profit center than the owner is letting on.
Put that aside. It not customer friendly. Cafe culture in Europe is about sitting and enjoying, not about grabbing a coffee to go. This owner knows that – she offers free wifi. Is it not part of the same welcoming, customer-centric mindset to offer free electricity as well? If your customers are sitting and enjoying, is it unreasonable for them to plug in and charge up while using the free wifi you offer?
I wrote earlier this week about misleading statements in marketing materials. Offering free wifi and charging for electricity feels as if it’s the same type of insult to your customer. Unless this cafe’s coffee is a cut above anything else nearby (and there is almost always decent coffee nearby in Europe), they’re being extremely short-sighted. If the coffee is that good, raise the price a few pennies to cover the cost of whatever electricity seems to be used. Don’t insult your customers by sending mixed messages or by nickel and diming them.
It’s the Foodie Friday before the Super Bowl. It’s hard for me to imagine The Big Game without food. If I’m invited to a party there is usually an assortment of chips, dips, and snacks to get us through until halftime, when some sort of “main” is brought out. It could be a six-foot deli sandwich or a pot of chili – no self-respecting fan wants to be hovering over a grill or a stove during the Ultimate Game (which, as Hollywood Henderson once pondered, if it’s really the ultimate game, why will they play it again next year?). Many years I stay home and watch the game with someone else who is there TO WATCH THE DAMN GAME and not make idle conversation.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Of course, I do need sustenance for my fandom. It’s not football without weenies (pigs in a blanket, hot dogs in puff pastry, whatever you call them) or jalapeño poppers (they look like little footballs!). This year I’ll throw a pork shoulder in either the pressure cooker or the slow cooker for some pulled pork at the half. That will be done long before kickoff.
I rarely go to a sports bar to watch the game. The big advantage is that the food is made for me and there are more choices than I’d have at home or at most parties. The noise level, however, is a big minus, not to mention the cost. Still, this is a choice for a lot of fans as well.
But there is one other segment of people that are instructive for us today. Even the most widely-watched Super Bowls aren’t watched by everyone. There are just some people who aren’t sports fans (the horror!). And they are an opportunity. I’m willing to bet it’s a great Sunday evening to get into almost any restaurant you’d like, and therein lies our business thought.
There are almost always opportunities available if you dig deeply enough. The availability of highly-targeted, one to one media has made it possible to identify the niche audiences that can be aggregated into a great business. That restaurant that might otherwise be empty on Super Bowl Sunday? How about calling or emailing your wait-list or the people who left phone numbers in the event of a cancellation? Maybe seat some folks earlier than usual, promising to have them out by the end of the first half so they can hit a bar or a party or home to watch the second half (the first half of these games tend to be dull anyway).
You take my point. This is the biggest event of every year and yet not everyone cares. Find them – there’s a good business opportunity there. Even the big guys in your category have people who aren’t fans. How are you going to seek them out? The rest of you – enjoy the game!
This Foodie Friday we’re going to talk about basic flavors. If you’ve done any cooking, you know that there are five basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and something called “umami,” which is often mentioned as “savoriness.” It’s a Japanese word that means “delicious taste. It’s actually built on three types of amino acids:
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some examples of the amino acids associated with umami are glutamates in kombu or soy sauce; iosinates found in fermented fish, shellfish and meats; and guanylates, which are present in mushrooms like shiitake.These different types of amino acids can be combined to increase the umami taste in your dishes.
Got it? As with all the flavors, the trick is to use umami to balance out and enhance the other flavors present in a dish. If you add soy sauce (umami), for example, you’d want to reduce the salt (salty). If you’re using fish sauce (an umami bomb often found in Asian food) you’d add acid to balance it out (citrus juice, for example.). Got it?
Let’s think about umami in business terms. You have the basic building “flavors” of solving a customer’s problem, the enterprise’s financial goals, customer service, producing the product or service, and supporting your team. What distinguishes great businesses from good businesses is the umami added to the mix of those building blocks. Just as adding a rind of parmesan cheese into a soup or stock boosts umami, teaching everyone in an organization to be customer-centric while pursuing clear goals boosts the coherence and performance of the team. It’s possible to offer decent customer service via email but the umami of a caring human to deal with customer issues makes a lot of difference.
A long time ago, someone told me to add red wine vinegar to the clarified butter into which I was dipping a lobster. I know now that the sour and pungent vinegar was balancing the fat of the butter and took the lobster to another level. Balancing all the elements of either a dish or your business and making sure that balance includes something that boosts umami is the key, both in the kitchen and in the boardroom. You with me?
It’s another Foodie Friday and this week I’ve been thinking about teamwork. If you’ve dined out at any point, and who hasn’t, you’ve been the beneficiary of what should be excellent teamwork. After all, unless you’re dining in a tiny place, the person who takes your order isn’t the one who cooks your food. It’s likely that the person who cooks your food isn’t the one who developed the recipe, and it’s just as likely that there are multiple items on the plate that they were prepared by more than one person. For the end product to be great, every one of those people needs to be operating in sync and on the same page.
The one thing all great restaurants are is consistent. Every plate of the same dish should taste the same, and every time you return, the experience should be exactly the same. That doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because the chef leads the team and gives them the tools they need to perform. The recipes are written down and followed. That includes the recipe for more than the food. It’s how food is plated. It’s the vision of what the business is and how it will operate. It’s a shared sense of mission. It’s not kicking people in the butt and making them do a particular task.
There are very few work environments that are hotter or more stressed than a restaurant kitchen during peak service hours yet the best crews seem to ignore the environment and focus on the mission. Each member of the team understands their role and how it fits into the bigger whole and is committed to performing that role at a high standard.
Everything I’ve written above applies to your business too. OK, maybe not the uncomfortable, hot working conditions, but certainly the need to stop pushing people and to start leading them. If you ask multiple staff members to explain the main goals of your business and get very different answers, you have a problem. If each person can’t explain how their role fits into achieving that mission, you’re on the road to disgruntled employees and to failure. If the standards and recipes – how your business operates and how success and failure are measured – aren’t written down and clear to all, you might as well shut the doors now.
If things go badly, maybe it’s not the fault of the person who screwed up. Maybe they were told to salt the food without any amount stated. Since each palate is different, it’s unlikely two people will salt the dish the same. Maybe you asked for an analysis of some data without explaining what questions you’re trying to answer and how that question ties into the broader goals. Two analysts might answer very different questions, making the analysis terrific or useless. Communication and teamwork; pulling, not pushing. That’s how great kitchens operate. Shouldn’t your business operate that way too?
Foodie Friday! This is the time of year when there are all sorts of articles written about the best and worst of the previous year along with some predictions for the upcoming one. Food writers go along with this, of course, and I was reading a piece on some predictions for food trends in 2017. The predictions range from many foods with breakable crusts (think along the lines of creme brulee) to mixed use restaurants (co-working space by day, eatery by night) to more complex vegan food.
I must admit that I’m not really one who pays attention to food trends. For example, a friend taught me a chopped kale salad (finely chopped kale, arugula, toasted pine nuts, some grated parmesan cheese, EVOO and a squeeze of lemon!). It has become a staple on my dinner table. It’s not there because kale was trendy at one point or even because it’s particularly healthy. It’s there because it’s delicious. Which is, of course, the business point.
Do you buy heirloom tomatoes because they’re en vogue? Will you buy bread made from heirloom wheat because you want to impress your friends? The answer to those questions is a firm “no.” You buy those things because they taste better than many alternatives, even if they might cost a little more. No one repeatedly patronizes our businesses because they want to be a style maven per se. Sure, if you’re selling this month’s fashion there is a segment of the population that needs the ego boost of wearing the latest thing. But as with the puffy shirt episode of Seinfeld, style or trends can be fleeting. Customers want reliability and great value as you solve their problems.
As I’m writing this I’m realizing that many of the things I like in this world – foods, musicians, golf courses – tend to be classics that have endured over time. I’m also realizing that many of the businesses I patronize – even if they’re relatively new – have the characteristics that are eternal in business. They put the customer first, they deliver great value, and I can rely on them to always deliver what they promise and more. That’s a trend that’s always in fashion.
First Foodie Friday of the year! If you read yesterday’s post you know that I’m on the road in Florida wth my folks, moving them into an independent living community. Part of the appeal of where they’ll be living is that their meals are all served in a lovely central dining room. I’ve now eaten there a few times and while the food was nicely cooked, I felt that it was on the bland side. Something is definitely missing. I thought it might be seasoning but I did have a blackened salmon one night which certainly had spice. It took until last evening to put my finger on it.
Their new home is a community where many of the residents suffer from hypertension. As a result, the chef doesn’t use much salt in his cooking. While there is salt (and pepper) available on the table, I guess I’ve become used to most dishes I’m served (and those I cook myself) having an appropriate, although not excessive, amount of salt to enhance the other flavors that are going on in the dish. That’s what was lacking here, and it’s a good reminder about business as well.
No one orders most dishes with salt in mind (ok, salt crusted fish and a few other things are the exceptions) but they will certainly notice if the salt is absent. There are certain things customers expect from a business which are certainly not their primary reason for patronizing a business but which will dimish the experience if they’re not present. Sometimes we forget the most basic, simple ingredients in our businesses or we dimish their importance. That’s a big mistake. Even if other elements are perfect, the lack of a key, basic ingredient can wipe out all of our good work. We need to pay as much attention to the basics as we do to the spectacular stuff that makes us shine.
I don’t fault the chef here. He is serving a community with some specific medical issues that require an adjustment in basic cooking best practices. You probably aren’t in the same situation. Your community expects you to include the key ingredients. Are you doing so?