Tag Archives: Food

A Slice Of Menu Advice

It’s Foodie Friday and our fun this week derives from some things I took away from an article on pizzeria menus. I know – what is a guy whose consulting practice focuses on strategy and media doing reading an article on how to write a best-selling pizza menu? Well, as I’ve often mentioned, one never knows from where a great insight will spring and so it’s incumbent upon us to look under every rock and (pizza) stone, don’t you think?

The article, from Pizza Today, talks about a number of things that can drive more sales from the same menu. I think a number of those things are applicable to most businesses, food-related or not. First, there is such a thing as TMI – too much information. If the menu details every bit of information about each ingredient in the pizza (local mushrooms grown in special caves, organic, non-GMO cheese from a particular type of cow, etc.) it’s likely that the customer‘s eyes will glaze over and they’ll stop reading. I don’t need to tell you about information overload – most of us suffer from it and despite the often-cited false information that our attention spans are now shorter than those of a goldfish, I do believe our tolerance for excessive information has vanished. We’re all too time-challenged, so respect your customer by providing enough detail so that they can make an informed decision (it’s pecorino cheese)  but know that too much and they turn off (it’s pecorino, a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese from Lazio).

The piece also talks about changing the menu a few times a year. One owner mentions that he

changes 25 to 30 percent of the menu about four times a year, “which we need to do as a neighborhood restaurant. It gives us a story to tell customers — why we have changed it up. That keeps customers excited and chefs stimulated and allows us to serve seasonal food.”

That’s a good thought regardless of your business. It’s imperative that you keep in touch with your customers but to do so you really need to have something to say. A new product or service or the fact that something that customers are used to seeing in your offerings will be discontinued is news. Too many businesses post what amounts to spam and make their user bases less like to engage when they really do have something to say.

Finally, the article mentions how the menu should call out information that is important such as gluten-free and dairy-free items along with upcharges. Recognizing that some customers have special needs and that most customers aren’t happy when they get it with fees they weren’t expecting is just common sense for anyone in business. We’ve been over the mess the airlines have made of doing fare-comparisons because almost no airline sells you a ticket without some sort of extra fee. The same is true of concert tickets, hotel rooms (those resort fees!), rental cars, and many other businesses. Are you happy when they pop up on your bill? Neither are your customers.

That’s what I learned from a pizza menu. You?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Taking The Temperature

Foodie Friday! As much as I’d like to write about Pimento Cheese on this Masters’ Friday, I have a business thought that comes from an article I read on whipped cream. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated, about which I’ve written before, have a science page as part of their website. On it, they present the results of their ongoing tests into food preparation and one of the things they investigated was the old saw that you have to start with cold cream if you’re whipping the cream to stiff peaks.

The short answer is that yes, temperature matters and the colder your cream (and bowl and beaters) the better. You get much better results that way – a higher volume and much less whipping time to get the results you want. In fact, cream at room temperature never really got to stiff peaks at all. As I read the piece it occurred to me that the kitchen isn’t the only place where the environment matters.

You don’t have to look very far into the business world to find companies that produce excellent results because the management creates optimal conditions for the team to do so. I’ve worked in places where I’ve seen two similar departments produce very different results based on how the managers treated the staff. I wouldn’t say that one department had very different levels of skill or intelligence but it did have some managers that created the best conditions possible for success. They outlined the group’s goals clearly. They were supportive and encouraging. They didn’t hesitate to praise great work (and publicly!) and they very quietly made sure that the underperformers knew they were not meeting the standards of the group. The people in the group weren’t impersonal names on a page. They had personal relationships with each person and communicated effectively with each person. They led by example and didn’t hold themselves above the group or to a different standard of behavior.

Creating the right conditions for success really is the only job a manager has. Much like making sure the cream, beaters, and bowl are cold, they make it easy for the team to produce the best possible outcomes with the least effort and drama. Doesn’t that sound like a plan?

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Filed under food, Consulting

Dishing On The Holidays

As seems to happen so often after a decade of blogging, I find that a post I wrote some time ago says what I want to say today. Of course, it’s Foodie Friday and it’s also Good Friday, the start of the Easter weekend. This post, originally titled “Tsimmes,” captures the food and business themes. Enjoy the post, enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate, and enjoy the weekend!

This week’s Foodie Friday coincides with the start of Passover. As with most festivals of any religion, certain foods appear for the Seder that rarely show up at other times during the year. One of those is Tsimmis, a combination of sweet potatoes, dried fruit, and carrots. I use a recipe written down by my mother years ago (from her mother) and as with many family recipes it requires some interpretation and local knowledge. It calls for a “large can” of yams (how large exactly?), a box of prunes (which is how many ounces?) and a few other equally vague references. Of course, my inclination as a cook is to use fresh ingredients. Fresh sweet potato instead of canned, fresh carrots in place of the bag of frozen ones called for, etc. I don’t, however, and the reason why I don’t is a good business point too.

If I were to serve the dish made with fresh ingredients my family, who have been eating my mother’s recipe at seders for decades, would notice a difference.  Holidays are built around traditions and those traditions contain expectations.  Would the dish taste better?  Probably.  It would be more healthy as well – canned yams in syrup are not the best thing.  But the folks around that table aren’t looking for healthy or better.  They want the comfort of the familiar.

We often forget that in business as we’re always trying to make or products or services “better.”  History is littered with products that represent good companies making bad decisions by making the very familiar different.  New Coke, the Arch Deluxe burger, and others represent variants on successful products that seemed the same but resulted in an experience that didn’t match consumers’ expectations.  Of course we need to improve but we need to do so in a way that brings our customers along for the ride.  Presenting them with a dish that they expect to be one thing but which is very different probably isn’t going to have a great outcome.

It can be done.  Another Foodie Friday example.  After years of roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving I wanted to switch to frying them (it freed up my ovens, was quicker and they taste better too!).  I didn’t just switch them one year.  I did both and let the family come to their own conclusions.  My mother was able to answer her “darling, won’t they be very greasy?” question by comparing the methods side by side.  Now, we only fry.

As brands, we can cajole, request, and demonstrate.  We can’t impose.  We need to meet expectations with the dishes that live in their memories and for which they keep coming back.

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Who Is Minding The Store?

I’ve been away on a little trip (which is why no posts so far this week) but I’ve managed to make my return in time for Foodie Friday. As it turns out, I was in one of the world’s great cities for food, New Orleans, and as I was departing I had an experience which prompted today’s screed.

English: Photographic portrait of Leah Chase t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the city’s oldest and finest restaurants is Dooky Chase. The proprietor is Leah Chase and she is the Queen of Creole Cuisine. She has fed presidents and celebrities by the bucketful and she has been honored in every way possible by the food world, rightfully so. The award of which I’m particularly impressed is the “Best Fried Chicken in New Orleans.” It didn’t look as if I’d have time to sample some this trip until I got to the airport with 90 minutes to my flight. As it turns out, there is a Dooky Chase at the airport – fried chicken, here I come!

The place wasn’t particularly crowded and I got seated right away. 5 minutes went by. Then 10. Then 15. No server appeared until about 20 minutes in, when I was asked for a drink order. I was also told they had no bartender so a mixed drink was out. Wine? After a few minutes, the server reappeared and informed me that no one knew where there was a corkscrew so I’d have to drink whatever was open. Whatever was open cost $18 a glass, by the way, something I wasn’t told until I got the bill (with no time to discuss it!).

I placed my order. Now I know that great food is cooked to order so I wasn’t expecting my plate to come out immediately. It’s not KFC, after all. However, as another half an hour went by I was starting to worry about making my flight. The hot, extremely tasty chicken arrived although I ate it so quickly I really couldn’t savor it very much. As it turns out my experience is far from unique. The reviews on Yelp and elsewhere universally praise the food and curse the lousy service. That leads us to today’s business point.

The restaurant is run by Delaware North, a company that runs restaurants at over 300 airports. They also have a division that services arenas. They know an awful lot about hospitality. Mrs. Chase knows an awful lot about food. Somehow, however, 1+1 equals zero here.

I suspect this was done as a licensing deal. The Chases provided the recipes and kitchen expertise and the Delaware Noth folks provided the rest. The real question is who is minding the store? I used to license out marks and content and always was careful to make sure that how “my stuff” was used put us in the best light. I used to buy actual products in stores and not rely on samples to assess quality. I’d view how our material was presented in context when we licensed out footage and/or marks as well. In this case, I wonder if anyone from the Chase organization has not just sampled the food but sat in the restaurant anonymously? There clearly wasn’t enough staff, and the staff that was there was seriously undertrained.

If you rely on others to present your product to the world, remember that it’s your name and your reputation on the door. I wasn’t aware that Delaware North was involved at all until the credit card receipt showed up with Delaware North, not Dooky Chase, on the top. Hopefully, most customers understand the distinction. You might not be so lucky.

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Filed under food, Huh?

The Road To Hell

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s end the week with a Foodie Friday screed about the embodiment of the old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” To do so, I’m going to turn to one of our frequent subjects, McDonald’s.

While there are several ways the maxim can be interpreted, I’m focused on the meaning that even good intentions can bring about unintended consequences. That’s what happened when the fast-food king tried to improve things for their customers and, in so doing, made things a lot worse for their employees. As Bloomberg reported, the company is implementing new technology and pushing workers for faster delivery. While the intention is to help customers get in and out of the store quickly, the result is that it is breeding chaos in the stores as well as precipitating higher worker turnover. The unfamiliarity the staff has with the new systems, as well as the higher turnover, means that the food is actually taking longer to get served and drive-through times are increasing.

Another food example. Back in the 1970’s, catfish farmers introduced the Asian Carp into their breeding ponds. The idea was to keep the ponds clear of algae and plankton which would improve the health and quality of the catfish they were breeding. The carp, however, are aggressive and eat voraciously, eating up to 20% of their body weight in a day. They managed to escape the limited areas of the breeding ponds and have found their way to the Great Lakes via the Mississipi and Ohio Rivers where they are decimating native species of fish.

We have to consider even the most remote negative consequences as we put our well-intentioned plans in place. A zero-tolerance policy forbidding teachers from touching students? Great idea until a fight breaks out and teachers can’t step in. Putting a bounty on snakes to eliminate a health hazard? Wonderful, until people begin breeding snakes for the bounty (the Cobra Effect). In McDonald’s case, they had the best of intentions in reducing a friction point for their customers. They didn’t, however, fully consider the other possible consequences and that created a bit of a fail ultimately. Take the time to consider as many outcomes as you can and you’ll increase your chances of staying on the road to places other than hell.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Side Dishes

It’s Foodie Friday and today I’m inspired by a friend of mine who loves side dishes. Anytime a meal is discussed, the only question raised is “what are the sides?” Beef Wellington that took hours to prepare? Meh, but what kind of potatoes? You slaved for five hours over a perfect Bolognese Sauce? Interesting, but what veggies are we having?

I suspect that many of us think in an opposite manner. Side dishes are a throw-in – a starch of some sort, maybe some roasted veggies and a salad. When was the last time you just tossed a steak on the grill but worked for hours over perfect Pommes Dauphine? I suspect the next time will be the first since it’s much easier to put a bag of tater tots in the oven. Even when one goes to many restaurants, while the main proteins often have lengthy descriptions of each dish, the side dishes are generally just a listing of the vegetables and starches available.

I’m starting to pay a bit more attention to the sides. As it turns out, many businesses are too. What do I mean? Take the airlines. Originally, “ancillary revenues” such as baggage fees, change fees, advance boarding fees, and all of those horrible nickel and dime items the flying public hates were just side dishes. The main business was in filling seats. Today, airlines make over $80 Billion on these sidelines, and in many ways, they’re the entire profit center for the business. In other cases, what began as a side dish became the business. Groupon used to be an online fundraising site and only sold stuff as a sideline. Nintendo sold playing cards and making video games was a sideline. Twitter was a side project within a podcasting company called Odeo.

When was the last time you thought about the side dishes contained within your business? Maybe there are folks out there who love the sides more than the main and would be willing to skip the main altogether?

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Why I Had To Buy The Crackers

This Foodie Friday we have a tale from the aisles of my local Harris Teeter. For those of you unfamiliar with the chain, it operates over 230 stores and 14 fuel centers in seven states and the District of Columbia. They’re originally from North Carolina and their southern hospitality is the story I’d like to hold up to you (or y’all) today as a best practice for any of us in business.

I do my weekly shopping at the HT, generally on Thursdays (extra 5% discount for us old folks!). I was wandering around the deli section trying to find some crackers that were on sale. An HT employee, whose sole responsibility seemed to be to walk around and to look for confused customers, asked me if I was having trouble finding something. I told her I was and what the missing item was. She walked over to the department manager to inquire and he immediately stopped what he was doing, came over, and told me that he had some more of the items in the back. He encouraged me to keep shopping and return to the deli later while he would go get the items.

No more than 5 minutes later, as I was wandering down an adjacent aisle, up walks the manager, 4 boxes of crackers in hand, one of each flavor. Now, you might not remember this, but I’m fairly fanatical about not eating non-whole grains or sugar or simple carbs. Without looking, I took 2 boxes of the crackers from him, thanked him profusely, and carried on. After he had left, I read the labels. These were not generally the sort of crackers I’d buy. However, he had gone to such effort to get them for me that I felt an obligation to do so.

That, my friends, is the reciprocation tendency in action. That, as you may recall,  is the tendency to want to return the favor when someone helps us or gives us something. I gladly bought two boxes of crackers I’ll probably only serve to guests just because the customer service was so excellent. As an aside, it’s a cultural thing in the store. Someone is constantly available to help you and they do so willingly and immediately. The store also does ongoing customer service surveys.

I’ve written about it before and will continue to do so. Customer service is, by my reckoning, the single most important distinguishing factor for most businesses today. Customers expect convenience and speed when they interact with your company, along with a smile. In this case, I bought something I probably would not have as a way to reward that service. What can you be doing to get your customers to do the same?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints