This Foodie Friday, the topic is sampuru. No, you probably don’t call anything by that name but you’ve seen it. It’s the fake food you often see in the lobby or window of Japanese restaurants. Great sampuru is incredibly realistic and can negate the need even to look at a menu. Like many seemingly simple things (such as making the rice for sushi), sampuru artists require years of training.
Typically for this space, as I was thinking about sampuru, a business thought came to me. Fake, plastic food has its business counterpart although they’re not called sampuru. I call them empty suits, but I’m not sure we should limit the term to people.
Your typical empty suit, like great fake food, gives the appearance of being real and nourishing. The reality is that they look great but can be toxic if ingested. In fact, I think they’re easier to spot than great sampuru. Ask an empty suit for an opinion and it will either be the same as either the boss’s or of whomever in the room they’re trying to please if they have an opinion at all. You see, empty suits rarely have enough knowledge about a topic to give a well-reasoned opinion about anything. They may rattle off a number of industry buzzwords but if you try to dissect what it is they’re saying it becomes obvious that, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, there’s no there there.
Oddly enough, I think entire businesses can be sampuru. Coincidentally, I ate at a Japanese restaurant the other evening that I would call an empty suit. It looked fine – a sushi bar, teppanyaki tables, etc., but the food was nondescript, the service was lackadaisical, and the teppan chef I saw was just barely going through the motions. It was a sampuru – a plastic model of a business that looked like the real thing but wasn’t even close to being it.
We need to make sure our businesses don’t fall into the trap of being sampuru – of looking like we’re fresh and flourishing when, in fact, we’re dead and toxic. As executives, we need to stay informed and not be afraid to offer our own opinions about things. We’ll be wrong sometimes but by being true to ourselves maybe we’ll also advance the conversation to new, more profitable ground. You with me?
It’s Foodie Friday as well as St. Patrick’s Day! Most people in the U.S. associate the holiday with food (as well as with drink). Corned beef and cabbage is generally the food we think of here, and frankly, that’s a little weird since it isn’t really Irish. As the father of two lovely Irish-Jewish daughters, however, I can feel good about it since in many ways it represents the commingling of the Irish and Jewish immigrant communities.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After all, corned beef, and beef generally, wasn’t something widely available in Ireland, and you can’t go into a Jewish deli without seeing corned beef on the menu. One explanation is this:
Many maintain that the dish is simply not Irish at all. The close proximity of the Irish and Jewish communities at the time is said to be largely responsible for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish immigrants. According to thekitchenproject.com, when the Irish arrived in America, they couldn’t find a bacon joint like they had in Ireland so they gravitated toward the Jewish corned beef, which was very similar in texture.
I was shopping for my brisket to corn as well as a cabbage yesterday. Despite a huge swath of produce department space having been allocated to cabbages, there wasn’t single cabbage in stock due to a great sale price (I ended up paying 3x the price in the organic department!). The briskets were plentiful although they were packed in those cryovac bags that make it difficult to see through the printed graphics in order to assess the quality of the product.
What’s the business point for you today? First, if you’re running a sale or know that demand will be high due to a holiday, it’s imperative that you have product on hand. Nothing gets a consumer angrier than the lack of product availability. In this case, the store hadn’t procured enough stock to replenish the shelves, even though the item is evergreen, meaning it will still have its regular level of sale after the holiday. Next, make it easy for customers to examine the product. How often do you see an open box in a store where someone has tried to investigate the actual product as opposed to what’s displayed on the box? Frankly, I think one reason online shopping hasn’t completely obliterated the in-store experience is exactly that. People want to see, feel, and smell the product before taking it home. We need to help them! Finally, ask yourself how you can create an experience around the brand or product. It’s easy on a holiday such as this, but marketing needs a push the other 364 days too!
To my Irish friends and relatives, enjoy the day. I’m going to get my brisket going shortly, and I’m going to put bacon in the cabbage to make it a bit more Irish. After all, isn’t authenticity a key marketing asset as well?
I want to spend a minute on the most basic food thing this Foodie Friday: taste. After all, no matter how well a dish looks or smells, ultimately it’s how it tastes that matters.
You probably know that we perceive 5 basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, savory, and sour. There are receptors on our tongues for each of those flavors and how those flavors interact along with things such as “mouth-feel” and smell create our overall impression of the dish. To a certain extent, the ability to accurately detect these flavors helps us survive. After all, most things that taste bitter aren’t great for you while most things that taste sweet won’t kill you (ok, too much sugar will, but sweet things generally contain energy and that helps us survive).
What you might not realize is that those sensors aren’t really how we taste. It isn’t until the brain gives meaning to what the sensors are perceiving that we taste. As you can see in the video below, it’s possible to rewire the brain so that bitter foods taste sweet or vice versa. Give it a watch – it’s under a minute:
What does this have to do with your business? We forget sometimes that it’s not until customers assign meaning to what we put out there that messages are delivered. People hear things differently from how we intend. For example, Snapchat put out filters that offended certain ethnicities. That certainly wasn’t their intention but their failure to get out of their own heads and into those of others caused a problem and a very public humiliation. We have to be open to looking at everything we put out there through the eyes of others and be willing to rewire the message just as the scientists rewired the brains in the videos.
A small personal experience with which to close. I went to a local moonshine distillery and sampled some of their product. It was a clear liquid and I thought it would taste like other clear spirits. Instead, it tasted much like Scotch, which makes sense since it was distilled from the same grains, despite the color. People routinely think highly of cheap wines placed in bottles from more expensive wines. We need to make sure that the sensors we stimulate with our messages convey the meanings we intend. Perception is reality and our intention needs to be aligned with our customers’ perception.
Filed under Consulting, food
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.
Our topic this Foodie Friday is buffets. Las Vegas is renowned for the lavish and enormous buffets but they can be found almost anywhere across this great land of ours. There are dedicated buffet restaurants, most hotels offer a buffet option for breakfast and many bbq joints offer something similar so you needn’t choose between the 4 or 5 varieties of meat and the 7 or 8 sides they serve. Grab a plate, pile it high, and it’s on!
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One could make the argument that a traditional dim sum place is a buffet in reverse. Instead of you going to fill your plate from a variety of choices, the variety of choices are wheeled out to you and you choose as they go by. I don’t put salad bars into the buffet category since by definition they have a more limited focus.
My buffet strategy is to skip the “normal” foods (corn, mashed potatoes, cold cuts, etc.) and to focus on the more indigenous specialty items. I don’t want to fill up on food I could get anywhere while missing whatever makes this experience unique. After all, while I have a healthy appetite, I can’t eat everything, right?
That’s business point today. I remind many of my clients that they need to “step away from the buffet.” When you are a growing company and you have a smart, visionary leadership team, there is a tendency to want to try everything on the buffet table. In business, that means chasing down every apparent opportunity in an effort to grow. The reality is that no early- or mid-stage business can afford to do that. Resources are too precious and the time to get to profitability is ticking away. Stepping away from the buffet means having a business plan that’s focused on whatever problem it is that the business is solving for your market segment and sticking to it. Don’t take that to mean that you can’t adjust based on what you’ve discovering on your journey: you must! But you also can’t keep changing direction as you spot another new hot plate being added to the buffet.
Like a large buffet, business can present an overwhelming number of choices. Our job as managers is to find the best of those choices that align with our business goals. It’s one thing to overeat at breakfast. It’s quite another to run out of resources before reaching sustained profitability. Step away from that buffet!