Category Archives: Helpful Hints

New Year, New Protein, Same Problems

Happy New Year and Happy Foodie Friday! I hope you all had safe and enjoyable holidays. I did and I used the break to do some experimenting in the kitchen. If you’re like me you probably have a dozen or so stand-bys that you cook a lot of the time. For me, these tend to get repeated with some frequency as I’m planning the menus for the week.

One “resolution” for this year is to try to be less meat-centric in my cooking so I used the holidays to try a few new things, one of which was a tofu recipe. While I do have a daughter who’s a vegan and an expert tofu preparer, I’m certainly not. Because of that, I was more dependent on the recipe I found that I might be with many other proteins. I bought all of the ingredients and followed the directions carefully.

Here is where the problem arose and it gets to the business point I’d like to make today. The ingredient list was very specific about using Sambal Oelek, which the recipe termed a “spicy garlic sauce.” That’s what I bought. I didn’t take the time to scroll through the comments on the recipe (an error I won’t make going forward) or I would have seen this exchange:

Commentor: sambal oelek doesn’t contain garlic. i’m looking at the ingredients and it’s ground chilis, vinegar, salt, and preservatives. is it possible you mean huy fong chili garlic sauce?

Author: AHH omg, you are right!!! That is exactly what I meant. They’re so similar in packaging that I just thought they were interchangeable names 😦

So I bought the wrong stuff. That’s not my issue, however. The date of the post was September of 2018. The author has known for over a year that the recipe is wrong and hasn’t corrected it to reflect the proper sauce. That’s what got me thinking about a number of points this illustrates.

First, we all know to be careful about things we read on the internet but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that we need to delve more deeply into everything we read. Don’t take what you’re reading at face value. Find other sources. Dig more deeply. This reminded me to use my cookbooks as a source more often rather than the internet. I know the cookbooks have been vetted by people who cook everything carefully to assure the recipes are right.

Second, if we create content, I think we have an obligation to make sure what we post is accurate and if we find out that it’s not, we have an obligation to correct it. We should also point out the correction. Legitimate sources do that. If you want to be considered a trustworthy source, you need to do it too.

Third, the young woman who runs this blog (which is very nicely designed) seems to be trying to run it professionally even if it’s a side-gig from her regular job. My issue isn’t that her style is very light and fun. It’s HER style and every business should have their own. The problem is that light and fun can’t mean posting smiley faces when there’s an error. You need to take action. I can almost hear the “whatever” in her response to the above comment and this exchange which comes from the recipe saying to brown all 4 sides of the tofu cubes:

There are 6 sides to a cube, not 4…..

Yes, someone has always pointed that out to me. I haven’t gotten around to changing it in the recipe; it doesn’t affect the recipe in any way that I can’t get my shapes right 😉

A minor point? Sure. Is she right that it doesn’t affect the dish? Probably. But it does affect her audience’s perception of her professionalism and maturity. These two corrections would probably have taken her under a minute to make.

Make a resolution be accurate in everything you post in 2020. More importantly, promise to correct your errors. There is just too much misinformation out there, isn’t there?

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Filed under digital media, food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Most Read Post Of 2019

Happy New Year and a new decade to boot! This post was the most-read screed I published in 2019. It’s fitting both to end and to begin the year with it since the topic involves change. This is the time of the year when many people stop and assess their lives which often leads to change. This piece, originally titled “Taking The Beaten Path” has to do with some issues involved in starting your own business. I published it last February and I hope you’ll give it a read and some thought if you’re thinking about starting fresh in 2020.

One of the questions that has come up often in my newish role as a franchise consultant has been why one should look to invest in a franchise to begin with rather than starting a business from scratch. After all, there are generally fairly substantial franchise fees associated with a franchise along with the other expenses one might expect when starting a business plus you usually have on-going royalties. You’ll still have to pay to incorporate, you still often need insurance, licenses, equipment, space, and people. Why incur the extra fees on top of the ordinary expenses? It’s a good question and I have what I think are some good answers. If you’re thinking of starting a business or maybe changing the nature of the business you’re running, here are my thoughts.

First, the biggest advantage of buying into a franchise is that it’s a business in a box. It’s a proven business model, one that comes with built-in support. Almost every franchise I work with has some form of training and on-going mentoring. I think about that in terms of the businesses that have hired me to consult in the past. Much of what I did would have been covered by that sort of support, negating the need for an outside consultant. The franchise will have research and the business results of all the other franchisees. That’s invaluable and beats the heck out of going it alone.

Another consequence of that is you’ll probably experience much faster growth. You won’t be spending time formulating a business plan. Instead, you’ll be getting trained and executing one that has been time-tested. Something as simple as logo design, which can take time and several iterations, is not really a concern. You’ll generally be presented with operations manuals and marketing materials. Your time to market is greatly decreased.

One thing that is much easier is financing your business. Franchises are less risky in lenders’ minds since they’re known brands and proven businesses. While banks aren’t the best source for franchise ending, there are many lenders who specialize in that (I work with 6 of them) and SBA loans are easier to come by as well. Finally, your potential customers will already know who you are. Most franchises have good brand recognition, and even those that don’t have a current local presence can often benefit from being seen as part of a bigger entity.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that roughly 1 in 5 of all businesses in the U.S. close after the first two years of operation and a little over a third shut their doors after four years. You can beat those odds by taking the beaten path and investing the franchise fee to gain the above benefits. In my mind, and why I added this to my consulting portfolio, that investment yields as good or better returns than blazing your own new trail. What do you think?

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Filed under Franchises, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Eating In The Cafe Car

This will probably be the last original Foodie Friday post of this year (and decade!). I’m writing it whilst barreling north on a train. I’m a fan of train travel. Putting aside the environmental pluses, I think it’s more relaxing and more social than driving or taking the plane.

The train has a cafe car that offers up snacks, drinks, and food. The “food” consists of microwaved stuff – burgers, sausage and egg biscuits, wraps, etc. I think you can probably find most of the items at your local Costco or supermarket. The drinks are generally unhealthy sodas (yes there’s just water) and the snacks consist of candy bars and chips. It’s not the sort of stuff that you would choose if you had a choice, but when you’re on a 9-hour train trip you really don’t have much of one, which explains the line out the door.

Most of the time you would not catch me eating anything that’s offered here. Oh sure, I love me some sausage and egg on an English muffin, but I’ll usually have a multigrain muffin with plenty of fiber, not some white bread masquerading as a muffin. I might put some interesting cheese on mine and not the “cheese product” I’m sure is on this thing. Oh yes, of course, I had one. I’m hungry and they were out of the healthier options

The cafe car got me thinking about what sometimes happens in business. When businesspeople find themselves in an unusual circumstance they often will let their standards slide. I suspect they feel much as I do now – they solved the immediate issue (hunger in my case) but there is guilt and the knowledge that the “solution” they found might have created more problems than it solved.

If I had planned ahead, I’d have packed a decent snack and brought my own beverages. Money isn’t the issue – everything in the cafe car is reasonably priced (except the liquor – $8 for a drink? And I thought the airlines were committing skyway robbery!). The issue is solving my problem without lowering my standards. That takes planning. Is your business doing that?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Pots And Pans

Happy Foodie Friday! Have you recovered from last week’s massive food fest? If you were the host of the festivities, at some point you hauled out some pots and pans. Cookware is the most basic kitchen equipment besides a great chef’s knife (you have one of those, right?) Other than when you’re outdoors cooking on a grill or smoker, you pretty much need a pan or a pot or several of each to get the job done.

This isn’t going to be a “how to equip your kitchen with cookware” screed. The reality is that my favorite sizes and types of cookware may not be at all appropriate for you. I mean, I cook on a gas cooktop which means that I like cookware that can handle high heat and distribute it evenly. You may cook on an induction stove which means your pots and pans need to be a “ferrous” metal – meaning a magnet needs to cling to them to work properly on an induction cooktop or range.

I often will start something on the stove and then move it to the oven. That means I want pans that have handles that can go in the oven without melting as well as pans that won’t warp in the oven heat. In fact, thin, insubstantial pans may be less costly but single-ply cookware does not heat evenly nor does it retain heat well. This means that you are likely to burn things. Thin pans warp easily as well and if you’ve ever tried to maintain a thin layer of oil or butter for sautéing in a warped pan, you know it’s damn near impossible to get it right in that case.

You might insist on everything being non-stick or you might have concerns about the surface leaching into food. You might love ceramic pans while I don’t like how they discolor over time. To each his own, right? But what’s important is that you THINK about what you cook and how you cook before you invest in cookware. Ideally, it’s something you’re only going to do once for each pot or pan you buy.

The same holds true in business. What’s right for my business may be totally wrong for yours and, like a non-ferrous pan on your induction cooktop, might not work at all. You need to do requirements planning with input from all constituencies (all cooks weigh in!). You need to evaluate all the options and costs, while always important, can’t be the primary criterion. I generally buy my stuff at a restaurant supply place that sells to the public – it’s high-quality, will stand up to my home use since it’s made for much heavier use than I give it, and it’s less expensive than the stuff you find in the “consumer” stores. That is a great guideline for anything you’re doing in business as well. Plan, research, evaluate and buy for the long-term. You’d be surprised where the best solutions can be found!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Why This Brand?

When you have over 500 different brands that you represent, the reality is that you can’t know each and every one of them to the same degree. As I’ve been speaking to people interested in changing their lives for the better, I’ve come to have a list of “go-to” brands in each of the major categories. How these brands got on this list is, I think, instructive for every business.

I was actually speaking about this topic to a development director at one of the brands who reached out. Her first question was about the commission structure. We consultants get paid by the franchisors based on people signing franchise agreements and not by the candidates. I gather that for some consultants that how much of a commission they can make influences their choice of which brands to put forward. Point number one: while it’s obvious that the brands are my customers since they pay me, it’s impossible to work in a situation where the candidate’s interests diverge from the brand’s. In my mind, therefore, the commission is a non-factor. I can’t expect to earn anything in a situation where I hand off an unqualified candidate to a brand. My point is that in any sales situation, every stakeholder’s interests must be considered and subordinating what’s right for one party to a potential higher commission isn’t going to work.

One thing that influences my choice of brands a lot is the amount and quality of information the brand provides. You would not believe how little information I have about some of these franchises, several of which are businesses I don’t quite understand. In some cases, all I have is bare-bones information about costs and royalties and a link to the consumer website – not even a “want a franchise?” page which I have to find on my own. Where some brands give us presentations, folders, one-sheets, and research, others give us nothing. You can guess which brands get pitched. Point number two: don’t send your troops into battle without arming them properly.

The next thing I consider is responsiveness. In many cases, getting the candidate engaged enough to want to speak to a franchisor is a time-consuming effort. Once they are ready to go, I want someone at the franchisor who will be as proactive as I have been to get the candidate this far.  Once I’ve made an introduction, I expect the brand to reach out within a day, hopefully within an hour or two. Point number three: if you’re not going to work as hard on making a sale as others engaged in the process, you need to know that there are other businesses out there who will. Be responsive. Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

Finally, I also consider communication. Some brands tell me every time they have an interaction with my candidate. Others have been radio-silent. You can guess which type I prefer. It’s very hard to over-communicate in any business.

Those are things I consider when choosing partners. Anything I’ve missed that you think is critical?

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Filed under Consulting, Franchises, Helpful Hints

Mental Health Is Business Health

Happy Foodie Friday! One thing I’ve learned in my franchise consulting is that people have a fascination with the food business. A significant percentage of the candidates I speak with want to invest in something food and beverage related. I’m generally fairly blunt with them, reminding them that it’s often a business where you’re open for 14 hours a day and are really busy for about 90 minutes. The margins aren’t great, the labor is often unskilled and sketchy, and there are liability issues hanging around everywhere.

Today it’s those 90 minutes I want to talk about. The really busy time. It’s incredibly stressful from what I remember of my days working in foodservice. The stress precipitates everything from accidents caused by rushing to fistfights. It’s not for the faint of heart! That’s why I was happy to read the following this week:

Chipotle Mexican Grill will be providing access to mental healthcare and financial wellness for more than 80,000 employees in 2020 through Employee Assistance Programs and enhanced benefits offerings. This is just one of the many ways that Chipotle continues to enable its workforce by offering world-class benefits.

By simplifying access to mental health benefits and identifying work-related risk factors, Chipotle is trying to minimize the effect of mental health in the workplace.

So many good things here. First, I’ve worked for bosses to whom employees were disposable cogs in the business machine. Someone burns out and isn’t getting it done? Replace them and move on. It’s frustrating as hell when you don’t share their attitude but your hands are tied with respect to offering a solution to the stressed-out team member. Having also worked in places with an Employee Assistance Program I can tell you that they can be literal lifesavers and well worth the cost.

Second, you probably haven’t forgotten that Chipotle had some issues with e.coli a couple of years ago. You know you have a problem on your hands when research showed that 22% of all respondents and 32% of those who don’t currently eat Chipotle said that “nothing” would make them want to visit more often.  The food issues have been fixed but the bad taste lingers. Demonstrating concern for your employees is part of rebuilding the brand. Happy employees don’t make stress-related mistakes that lead to bacterial contamination, right?

You can never go wrong doing right for your staff. As a manager, they are your eyes, ears, hands, and voice. Keeping them happy and healthy is doing the same for your business.

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Filed under food, Franchises, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Who’s Calling?

If you carry a smartphone, and nearly everyone does, you’ve probably had the experience of your caller ID showing a fake number that’s calling, often with a fake name or organization displaying. You might think it would require a great deal of technical knowledge to be able to spoof a number or generate a fake caller ID, but you’d be wrong. There are several apps available in the Android or Apple stores that will do just that for you. They’ll even change your voice and add fake, location-specific background noise. I’m not clear what the legitimate purpose of these apps is but for $8, you can set yourself up to run any number of scams if you’re so inclined.

It dawns on me, though, that many folks do exactly the same thing with their social media posts. Their food is picture-perfect. They’re always smiling and having fun, often in some unusual locale. Their party never stops. They never mention that they’re short on cash, their job is unfulfilling, and they’re slowing sinking into depression. I mean, what’s the point of being happy if you can’t post it? As with the phone apps, everything is not as it seems.

I think businesses can learn from this. I’m not suggesting that they use social media to bum us all out, but I am saying that being authentic and transparent will win the day. People appreciate being made spoof-proof, and that happens when they know the businesses they follow aren’t posting visual checks that their real-world business can’t cash. Are they using “influencers” to say nice things about their business when that person has never been in the place or used the product? Have they generated some FOMO by purchasing fake followers?

Don’t believe every number that pops up on your phone. The IRS isn’t calling you. Neither is the Social Security Administration. I’ve had my bank call me but I’ve never had them ask me for account information over the phone. Don’t believe that everything you see on social media is the whole story. It might have been the only good day in a month. And if you run a business, there are very few people who will patronize you based solely on some pretty Instagram photos. Dozens of review sites will keep you honest. People like to know who is calling for real. So be real.

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints, Reality checks