Category Archives: food

It’s Your Lucky Day!

It’s Foodie Friday and if you’ve been paying attention to the calendar, you’ve already had a month full of pizza, wine, heavenly hash, tater tots, frozen yogurt, plum pudding, and tortellini. Oh – that list only gets us part way through the month. Today, for example, is National Banana Bread Day as well as National Toast Day. Over the weekend, we can celebrate Tortilla Chip Day, Clam Chowder Day, and Chocolate Covered Nut Day. Finally, we can end the month celebrating pistachios, Kahlua (I assume the drink and not the pork), strawberries, pancakes, and chocolate souffle, each of which has a day.

Got indigestion yet? Maybe it should be National Bicarbonate Of Soda Day? Oh – that already exists (December 30). You can check this handy calendar to find out what days you can celebrate if you’re ever looking for a reason to party. Some of the things on the calendar are just silly and some, like the upcoming Pancake Day or the recently passed Pizza Day, get way more attention than others. That probably has to do with some important businesses getting behind the days (lots of free pizza deals on Pizza Day!), particularly those businesses that really have to stretch to tie into the “normal” days during the month: President’s Day, Groundhog Day, and, in some places, Mardi Gras. Despite some of the silliness, there is a legitimate reminder in all of this.

Think about Festivus. This, as you probably know, is the entirely fictional creation of the Seinfeld writers based on the actual family practices of one of the writers. It’s a way to celebrate the season without participating in the commercialism of the season. In my mind, it is the most prominent made-up day of them all. As Allen Salkin, the author of a book on Festivus wrote, “Festivus is completely flexible. There’s no ruling force telling you what to do. Nobody owns it.”

You need to think about that as you create your own day. Besides being great promotional platforms, these days can inspire lots of social interaction so that the onus is not just on your business to promote your day. While it may take some time to become known and anticipated by your customer base and the public at large, I believe the investment is worth the effort. Find what might be some doldrums in your calendar and make your day a tentpole event. The key thing is to make it fun, make it authentic (even if authentically tongue in cheek), and make it YOURS.

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Filed under food, What's Going On

Mything The Mark

Our Foodie Friday topic this week is myths. Specifically, I want us to consider a conversation I had with someone about one of my favorite topics: barbecue. There are many misconceptions about barbecue and one of them revolves around the topic of my conversation: the smoke ring. If you’ve ever had great ‘cue you’ve encountered the pink ring that lives on the edge of the meat.

Photo by Aziz Acharki

To the uninitiated, there is a concern that the meat is still somehow raw (why would the outside be raw when the inside is cooked?) but of course it’s actually a chemical reaction caused by some of the components in the smoke interacting with the meat (the myoglobin for you scientists out there). The person with whom I was speaking said it’s a great way to judge quality as well as if it’s “true ‘cue” – smoked over wood since you don’t get a ring when the meat is “smoked” over a propane unit. This, of course, is a myth. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve actually cooked some barbecue that looked beautiful – great bark, fabulous smoke ring – that was dry as a bone. Great Instagram material but lousy supper.

In fact, it’s possible to fake the smoke ring. All you need is some curing salt that contains sodium nitrite. Sprinkle it on the meat, cook it in an oven and there is a “smoke ring”. You can read all about it in this lengthy piece. My point is that it’s a food myth that a smoke ring is an indicator of quality in barbecue.

That’s not the only food myth, obviously. Eggs don’t contribute to high cholesterol, MSG doesn’t cause headaches in most of us, you don’t really sleep better after a nightcap before retiring, spicy foods don’t cause ulcers and drinking milk doesn’t increase mucus production when you have a cold. I’ll bet you’ve heard every one of those myths though. You’ve probably heard a bunch of business myths too.

You don’t have to be first to be successful – look at Amazon or eBay, neither of which was the first of their type. You don’t have to be the cheapest option in a category. Ask Lexus, Apple, Nordstroms or many others. Profit isn’t the most important thing (cash flow is!). And of course, my favorite: failing is bad. I’d argue the opposite – failing is almost mandatory on the path to success and is generally a good thing.

Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Sometimes it’s just one of those myths rearing its ugly head. Do your homework – find the facts. After all, we’re lucky to be living in a time when fact-finding has never been easier. Of course, there’s never been so much fake garbage to cull either!

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Filed under food, Reality checks

Back To The Bar

(Only cropped, no other editing.)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I’m inspired by something the folks at Bacardi are doing because it’s something every company ought to be doing in some form. In the case of Bacardi, they’ve called it “Back To The Bar” and the reason for what they’re doing is nicely explained by their CEO and reported by MediaPost:

“Back to the Bar is our version of ‘walking the factory floor,’” said Mahesh Madhavan, CEO of Bacardi Limited. “It puts our people in touch with what’s happening in our business in real life and real time — something you can’t truly understand behind a computer screen, sitting through a presentation, or dissecting a spreadsheet.”

What every employee is being encouraged to do is to go hang around bars. In fact, they’re shutting down the company to allow employees to do so. While they’re in those bars, they’re to connect with customers and encourage them to try cocktails made with Bacardi. I imagine they’ll also get a lot of feedback on the product, consumer approaches to drink selection and other information which, as the CEO says, you can’t get behind a computer screen. It’s a fantastic idea.

Think about your own business. First, I hope you’re eating your own dog food – that you’re a regular user of your own product or service. If not, why not? As an example, over the years I’ve worked in sports with a few people who didn’t really watch sports or know a heck of a lot about it. How they got hired baffled me. I also worked with a TV executive who said he didn’t ever watch some very popular shows because he “wasn’t the demo.” I get that but I think if your job entails marketing to a particular target you need to understand the target and that includes their likes and dislikes even if they don’t mirror your own.

Next, Barcardi is getting first-hand feedback. They’re talking to people who are in a relaxed environment, probably a cocktail or two down the road, and the chances of getting uncensored feedback are excellent. It’s not a written survey or a focus group. It’s way better than those. Most importantly, it’s first hand. I have always loved the old United Airlines commercial from the late 1980’s in which Ben, a senior executive whose company lost a long-term client that morning, is handing out airline tickets to his managers and tells them to go visit clients. Ben himself is going “to visit that old friend who fired us this morning.” It’s a spectacular reminder not to lose touch with people. Don’t rely solely on email and telephone. You probably see this issue even in how your own office works if you still work in one. People don’t visit – they communicate via email or Slack or some other messaging service, even with the person in the next cubicle.

People thrive when they connect with other people. Your business thrives when it really connects with customers. When was the last time you went back to the bar?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Building A Better Filter

I came across something this past week that I knew immediately would have to be our Foodie Friday topic because in a flash my reaction went from “duh” to “brilliant” to “life-changing.” It is a coffee filter. That’s right: the thing into which you put the coffee as you prepare your morning cup. It actually can remind us a lot about business.

I was visiting my sister and went to make the morning coffee. As I opened up a filter to place it into the conical thing that holds the ground coffee, I saw something on the white paper of the filter that I’d never seen before: lines. That’s right – pre-measured markings to delineate the levels of ground coffee, much as you probably have on the coffee pot itself for water. I literally giggled with glee. No measuring spoon to wash nor losing track of how many scoops I’d counted out. Just hit the same line each day with the water in the pot and the coffee in the filter and get the same brew, no matter how sleepy I was as I made the pot.

What does this have to do with business? A few things. First, coffee filters are commodity items. Not much distinguishes one filter from another and anything which can do so will remove price as the only variable. In this case, I don’t see evidence that these filters even cost any more than those without lines.

Second, this is clearly a change made with the consumer in mind. After all, it must cost a little something extra to print the lines on the filters as well as to implement a step in manufacturing that wasn’t there before. Based on the filters without measure lines, I don’t think anything had ever been printed on them, so this might even have involved purchasing new equipment to provide a customer benefit. It would have been very easy to say let’s charge more to maintain our margins or to forget the “new” product altogether but some smart manager didn’t.

Finally, it shows us that even something as simple as a coffee filter – literally a folded piece of paper – can provide room for innovation and a better product. All that’s required is to keep the focus on customer benefit and to think outside of the box (or inside the filter!). Those are things any of can and should do.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

I Love This Bar

Happy Foodie Friday! Actually, it’s more like Boozie Friday since our topic today revolves around a bar. Not just any bar: my bar. No, I don’t own it, but I feel as if a little part of it is mine. Let me explain and why this has a lot to do with your business.

Over a year ago on a Friday afternoon, I wandered into a bar I had passed a number of times. It’s not part of some chain. It’s part of a vanishing species: the local watering hole. Vanishing? Yes. As one trade publication points out:

The number of what the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics calls “drinking places” — a subcategory of restaurants that is focused just on sales of alcohol — have seen a multi-year decline in number. The number of privately-owned locations dropped by nearly 4 percent between 2013 and 2016, from 44,599 to 42,961 establishments. Nielsen data from 2015 paints an even starker picture, stating that one out of every six neighborhood bars closed between 2004 and 2014.

My bar may or may not be a “drinking place” since they do serve food (much of which is quite good), but it seems as though every Friday each person who passes through the door is greeted by name as they approach the bartenders who already seem to know what they’re having. Yes, it’s the epitome of the “Cheers” experience: a place where everybody knows your name.

In many places, particularly outside of big cities, neighborhood bars are being replaced by what I’ll call chain bars although technically they’re probably called casual dining establishments. You know what I mean – Buffalo Wild Wings, TGIFridays, and their other corporately-run brethren. It’s a shame, and it’s not because they don’t have the same drinks and maybe even better food. What they don’t have is the atmosphere. I’m sure they believe they are in the hospitality business but it’s just not the same.

A great neighborhood bar – my bar – feels like an extension of drinking in someone’s home. It has a unique vibe to it. You’re among friends, not just among other customers. That sort of feeling is something that I think any business can and should try to precipitate and instill in everyone who comes in contact with it: customers, staff, vendors, and the community as a whole. That changes a “like” into a “love,” and who can’t always use a little more of that?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Deglazing

This Foodie Friday I want to talk about deglazing. It’s a very basic technique for sauce-making but it’s also a word that scares a lot of people when they see it in a recipe. As it turns out, it also has something to do with business.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, deglazing is nothing more than using some sort of liquid to loosen the bits leftover in a pan (called fond) after you’ve cooked something in that pan. Say, for example, you’ve made a roast and after you pour out the accumulated fat and juices, you see a lot of crispy bits clinging to the pan. You would deglaze the pan by heating it and pouring in a liquid. It can be as basic as water but wine or stock is preferable because you’re going to use the resulting liquid as the foundation for a sauce or gravy. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t deglaze your pans!

I suspect some of you out there just toss the fond – you scrape the remnants into the trash. Well, as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that’s where the business thought comes in. How many businesses have been built around taking what someone has discarded and finding a new or better use for it? The entire recycling industry is built around that notion. While we’ve been recycling things for centuries, especially during shortages of raw materials created by war, the modern industry is just about 50 years old and is a $500 billion enterprise.

The point today is to get you to ask yourself what might be incredibly useful and productive in your business that you might be discarding. It could be a person, it could be a product that’s underperforming because it’s not sexy and no one wants to work on it, or it could be an unexplored portion of the data you gather. These things might just be fond, and with a little deglazing they can be transformed. What do you think?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Looking For The Truffles

This Foodie Friday I’m going to run the risk that I’m going to burst a balloon. If you received some truffle oil as a holiday gift, the odds are overwhelming that there isn’t any truffle in your truffle oil. That’s right: much like true extra virgin olive oil, which is generally often neither “virgin” nor “olive oil,” truffle oil is generally some sort of oil infused with something called 2,4-dithiapentane. Sounds yummy, no? As Tony Bourdain said, truffle oil is “not even food! About as edible as Astroglide and made out of the same material.”

Norcia black truffles.

Norcia black truffles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should not really be the real bearer of bad news here. As far back as 2003, publications were reporting on this and the NY Times did a piece last September on it that was widely read in foodie circles. You might think I’m going to use this as the jumping off point for another rant about deceptive advertising, and as appealing a thought as that is, I’m heading in another direction. Much like the “Where’s The Beef” question, seeing truffle oil on a grocery shelf (heck, even Walmart sells EVOO with “truffle aroma”) makes me wonder where exactly the truffles are. Real truffles in oil don’t last long, you know, so they’re probably not in things that sit on a shelf.

Come to think of it, vanilla extract has the same issue. Much of what you see in the stores isn’t real vanilla and there’s no vanilla in most vanilla things, but vanillin, a chemical compound. Unlike truffles, you probably can buy the real thing at your local store but it’s not 98 cents a bottle, believe me.

What does this have to do with your business, other than making you feel as you did when you found out there isn’t a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny? More than you’d think, actually. When you put up a sign or create a website that announces you as a service provider of some sort, people have an expectation that you can, in fact, provide said service. When you advertise a product, customers expect that the product will do what you say it will. They don’t want to have to look for the truffles nor do they expect that what they’ll find will be fake or something that mimics the real thing. If you’re selling your expertise, have some, even if it’s narrow. I’m surprised sometimes when I speak with people who claim to know something about a piece of this crazy business world how little they actually do know. They might have read a book and can fake their competence, but there really isn’t a truffle there.

A vanilla-flavored extract isn’t the same as vanilla extract. Truffle flavored oil assuredly has no truffles. Make sure there is validity in whatever you’re claiming to be or much like olive oil brands and truffle oil distributors are being sued (there were “four class-action lawsuits filed in New York and California accusing Trader Joe’s, Urbani Truffles, Sabatino and Monini of fraud of ‘false, misleading, and deceptive misbranding’ of its truffle oil products'” you’re heading for big trouble.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?