Category Archives: food

Fried Chicken

It’s Fried Chicken this Foodie Friday. What comes to mind when I mention that dish? Is it the stuff you get from The Colonel or Bojo’s or Popeyes? Maybe it’s a plate of true “southern fried chicken” which is generally on offer at most of the classic BBQ joints here in the South. Whatever you’re thinking, let’s see if we can get you to think a little differently about it today as well as about your business.

At its core, fried chicken is juicy meat surrounded by a crispy coating. From that point, all roads seem to diverge. Is the bird marinated in buttermilk or some other seasoning? Is the coating full of herbs and spices or relatively plain? Is it thick or thin? Are we deep-frying or shallow-frying and in what oil or fat? I vaguely recall my mom making some sort of cornflake encrusted “fried” chicken and I’ll admit we had Shake-N-Bake on many a night. Does that count as fried chicken?

Decisions, decisions, right? But the choices we make can result in a completely different product even if it’s still “fried chicken”. Not many people would mistake Japanese karaage for traditional southern chicken nor Korean Fried Chicken for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even within the south, Maryland Fried Chicken, which is breaded in just seasoned flour, shallow-fried and served with a cream gravy is very different from what’s generally served throughout the South – marinated bird, deep-fried, coated in flour and often cornstarch and/or baking powder.

All of this is a way to get you to think about your business. First, how is your product different? If you’re promoting “fried chicken,” is there a gap between what the common perception of that product is and what you’re actually marketing? Second, given that your fried chicken is different from most, why is it better than any types that are similar? KFC, Bojangles’, and Popeyes all sell the same product on the surface but it isn’t hard to tell the three of them apart when you try them side by side (I’m a Popeyes guy myself). I’m not sure, however, that you should need to do that comparison if each of their marketing clearly differentiates why their product is different (and better).

Many products fall under broad umbrellas even though there may be substantial differences, just as there are with the types of fried chicken. Our job is to stand out and to make consumers aware of how we’re different and why we’re better. How are you doing that with your fried chicken?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Eating At The Bar

It’s Foodie Friday! As on most Friday nights, I’ll probably go out to dinner this evening, and since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll go early to make sure I get seated before the love birds on their twice a year dinner out clutter up one of my favorite restaurants.

I usually sit at the bar to eat at this place. Actually, I generally do that at most places since I find the service to be better. It’s also a lot more social and I’ve met some interesting characters who’ve become friends of a sort. At this place, I know the bartenders quite well and they make sure my glass is filled and the food is right. Truth be told, other than the burger, which is terrific, the food in this place is really nothing special. It’s all good but there are rarely specials and it’s sometimes a challenge to find something appealing on a very familiar menu. So why am I there so often? As it turns out, there’s a business point.

It comes down to the discussion between great customer experience vs. great product. I think CX, which you can interpret as service, wins much of the time. When I was in the corporate world, we worked with, among others, two very large tech companies. One provided superior products but their account people were dreadful. The other’s technology was good but not as good. Their account people, on the other hand, were the best. They anticipated our needs and addressed every issue we raised immediately. Do you want to guess which company was our favorite?

We found out that the first company paid their people bonuses based on sales while the second company paid based largely on customer satisfaction. This alignment of customer interests with company interests is exactly where any business needs to be. There is a famous Bain study that says 80% of companies think they provide superior customer experience, yet only 8% of those same companies’ customers think they get a great experience. Getting everyone’s interests aligned can help mitigate that.

I think we’re at the point where price and product mean way less than service and experience. Obviously, I wouldn’t let my love for the bartenders make up for inedible food or prices that were too expensive for the product delivered but the food is as good as any nearby competitor’s food, a meal costs about the same, and that’s good enough for me. Where do you come out on this?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Reality checks

Tajine

This Foodie Friday, let’s investigate tajine. Those of you with some knowledge of middle eastern or northern African food and cooking will recognize that a tajine is both a dish and a cooking vessel. You probably aren’t aware that it makes a great business point as well.

The dish, as one might expect, varies quite a bit depending on the location and culture. Generally speaking, a tajine is a stew that’s cooked slowly. Depending on the culture, it can have meats, fish, regional spices and broth. Some cultures add fruit and nuts. In Tunisia, eggs and cheese are common additions, making the stew more like a frittata.

What most of the cultures have in common is that the dish is cooked in a pot with a pyramid-shaped lid that does most of the work for you and produces consistently moist results, condensing and redirecting steam back into the food. Technically you don’t need a tajine to cook a tajine (see what I did there?) but because the pot is made from porous terra cotta, it gets seasoned and infused with flavors over time. Yes, very much like a great cast-iron skillet. Yes, you could use a slow-cooker which develops a similar cooking environment and yes, some tajine pots are enameled so they don’t really absorb flavor, but no matter which way you go, the business point remains the same.

A tajine is very much a product of a specific environment. The flavors reflect the culture and what the pot does so well is to create a condition that keeps the product inside in an optimal state. I think that’s what great corporate cultures do as well. First, they select “ingredients” – people and processes – that reflect who they are as an organization. Next, they create an environment that allows those ingredients to combine while protecting them from burning or overcooking. It’s a slow, gentle braise.

Think about the best places in which you worked. I’ll bet it was a “braise” environment and not “broiling”. I’ve worked in the latter and the staff tended to be overcooked quite quickly.  It’s like one lovely description of tajine cooking says:

Fill the pot with your layered ingredients before it has fully heated, either at room temperature or when barely warm. This helps to mediate overall temperature and prevent any scorching. There’s no sautéing necessary—simply layer ingredients and add liquid all in one go. A moist and saucy tagine comes from the trapped steam, not pre-cooking.

As you’re creating your corporate tajine, think about both the dish and the pot. Keep the staff from scorching and the environment so it creates optimal conditions for success. It’s probably simpler than you think if you have the right tools!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Wing

Foodie Friday and one of America’s great food fests comes up on Sunday. Whether you’re watching The Super Bowl at home, at a party, or in a bar, there is probably an abundant amount of food around. One staple of football watching is the Buffalo Wing and they’re our topic today.

There is hardly a bar that doesn’t serve wings. That makes sense since they got their start in either a bar or restaurant (depending on which version of history you believe) in Buffalo, NY. The basic wing is deep-fried and tossed in a peppery sauce, but does anyone just eat basic wings? My buddy Barry owns a joint that sells 7 varieties of wings. Buffalo Wild Wings offers 25. Heck, even my favorite local tavern offers 10 varieties. But what those facts scream to me is that buffalo wings aren’t about wings at all: they’re about the sauce.

Think about it. Most places deep-fry the wings. When I make them at home, I dry-brine and bake them. I suppose you can broil them too. But does anyone really pay that much attention to the wing? Not really, unless it’s undercooked inside or has sat around so that the skin is chewy. Everyplace is after the same crisp product.

Where one wing shines over another is the sauce. The choice, and intensity, of the brand of hot sauce makes a difference. Dry rubs vs. sauce at all is a choice. We often get garlic and parmesan wings that feature nice chunks of garlic and grated cheese. Whatever your choice, there is a business point to be made.

What distinguishes most businesses is the sauce. Customers have expectations that the fundamental stuff such as basic customer service and a product that does what you claim it will are foundational – they’re the wing. It’s how you “sauce” the basics that makes all the difference. Just as with wings, the more ways you can do that the great the likelihood that you’ll allow the customer to find something that they love.

It really doesn’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that wing. The basics of business have to be sound before you worry about the sauce. That said, one thing I always ask consulting clients is what their special sauce is. It’s a question you should ask yourself about your business (and about yourself if you’re going to be job-hunting!). It’s the sauce that matters, after all.

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Filed under Consulting, food

Dumplings

This Foodie Friday, ask yourself why it is that every culture has a dumpling of some sort. When I say the word, your mind might initially flash to Chinese dumplings. After all, nearly every Chinese menu offers a dumpling or two (and often many more). You can usually get mandu at a Korean place. Italian ravioli, Spanish empanadas, Polish pierogi, Puerto Rican pasteles, Indian guija – heck, even Jewish Kreplach – are all members of the dumpling club along with dozens of others.

At the most basic level, dumplings are a wrapper filled with something. Generally, it’s meat or vegetables (or both) but it can be soup or it can be something sweet. They almost always can be eaten with one or two bites. I think they’re an apt metaphor for your business or your brand.

There is a core element. That’s your “why.” It’s not a “why” based on how you see yourself but on how your customers see you. What problem are you solving for them? How do you interact with them? It’s the messages you send and the reality that you provide (and those things had better be aligned and consistent!).

Dumplings have wrappers. I suspect many of us don’t pay much attention to the wrapper but let’s remember that the wrapper holds the whole thing together. The wrapper makes the dumpling possible. Your business has a wrapper. It’s your staff, your partners, and your suppliers. A great dumpling’s wrapper complements the filling. It’s of appropriate thickness and texture. It can be fancy or plain, but in every case, it is complete – without holes so the filling stays intact. Your team needs to be that way – without holes, appropriate to the essence. If the dumpling is broken, the odds are that the product that lies within is not optimal either.

I think every dumpling began with the filling, just as your business should. I am unaware, however, of any dishes that are just “dumpling filling”, despite having a child who would remove the wrappers and only consume the filling every time we had Chinese food.  The dish isn’t complete without the wrapper, the filling, and often the broth within that brings everything together. You need to pay attention to all the parts of your business as well – the entire experience – and not just focus on the filling. It’s just one part of the dumpling!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Do You Really Want The Real Deal?

Happy Foodie Friday! I was asked to give some restaurant recommendations to a friend who will be traveling in a month or two. They’re going to a couple of cities I know pretty well and wanted me to tell them where they could get “authentic” cuisine. That got me thinking about the whole authenticity thing and I realized that maybe what many of us say we want isn’t really exactly what we mean.

They wanted to see NYC’s Chinatown and I told them about one of my favorite places there. It’s been there forever (always a good sign) and serves authentic Chinese food. Oh sure, you can get the American/Chinese stuff that’s available elsewhere but you can find things here like snails that you won’t find at P.F. Chang’s. They serve 24 different soups – I’m pretty sure your local place might serve 5 or 6. A lot of the “good” stuff isn’t even on the menu.

Of course, to try some of these “authentic” dishes, you have to put aside your preconceptions. Even some of the standards – Kung Pao Chicken, for example (known as Gung Bo Gai Ding here) – are different from what you’re used to. Authentic, yes, but is that really what you’re after?

They also asked for some recommendations in Rome. I am pulling together a list of places I like there but cautioned them to stay away from places that offer a tourist menu. They inevitably dumb down the food and in some cases, Olive Garden would be an upgrade. Of course, one place I love has no English menu and the last time I was there my friend ordered a plate of what I told him translated to “guts”. That was exactly what it was – liver, kidneys, etc. It was delicious and very authentic but is that really what most people want? Sanguinaccio isn’t exactly on the tourist menu (it’s a blood sausage).

InterContinental Hotels did a survey asking travelers in major destinations to select the sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and scents from a selection that provide the best experience for a traveler visiting their city. The answer for New York was fresh bagels from a West Village shop and summer rays while sunbathing in Central Park on a Sunday. I can tell you that while that may be true, most visitors would have a hard time dealing with Central Park on a Sunday and there are endless arguments in my hometown about where the best bagel can be found. Personally, I’d opt for a bodega bacon egg and cheese as being authentic, along with the lesser-known chop cheese. Good luck finding tourists who are wanting those authentic gut bombs (they’re SO good!).

Authenticity may not always be what we want. Honesty, yes. Transparency, of course. But authenticity can be something altogether disturbing. It can precipitate a massive attack of cognitive dissonance (I want the real thing but the real thing is not what I want!). Careful what you wish for!

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Tasks And Experiences

Happy Foodie Friday! This article came into my news feed this morning. It’s about Walmart’s store of the future, where robots can fill grocery orders up to 10 times faster than humans. Pretty spiffy and it’s an interesting read, but it also got me thinking about a pretty important distinction about which I think you may want to ruminate.

When I go to the grocery store (every Thursday!), I have a list of things I want to buy. Most of the things on that list are there because I’ve planned out meals for the week and I need things to make those meals possible. It’s a pretty straightforward task. Other things are on the list because I use them in general and they’re on sale. Maybe I have a coupon that for them that is expiring. Maybe they’re on sale AND I have a coupon (can you feel the excitement?). Again, it’s pretty cut and dry – here’s the thing on the list, buy it and bring it home.

That’s really only half the trip, however. Inevitably, I find things to buy that aren’t on the list. I’ve found them as part of the shopping experience. Maybe it’s an unadvertised sale, maybe some local produce came in and looks spectacular. This is experience-oriented shopping versus the aforementioned task-oriented shopping.

Back to the article. It’s lovely that Walmart (and Amazon and others) are extremely efficient in servicing these orders, but they’re only serving the task-oriented shoppers. In-store discovery is impossible when there is no in-store experience. That’s why you always see “people who bought (the thing you’re buying) also bought (another thing).’ I think it’s also why Amazon is moving into physical stores, both through Whole Foods and their own “register-less” stores. Obviously, serving the task-oriented shopper is only half the battle.

I think it’s the same in other businesses.  Almost every business interacts with customers, partners, vendors, and employees in a task-oriented framework. When you stop and think about it, good businesses make sure there is an experience-oriented aspect to the relationship as well. What I mean is an experience that the participants can enjoy for its own sake and not as a means for accomplishing a task or achieving an extrinsic goal. Maybe it’s just drinks after work with no agenda. Maybe it’s a round of golf. All of my best business relationships had both task-oriented and experience-oriented aspects.

Think about how you interact with your customers. Is everything a task where items get ticked off a list or is there an experience that’s part of the relationship? How can you bring that balance?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud