Tag Archives: Food

By The Numbers

Foodie Friday at last! I went out for breakfast this morning and as I watched my server typing my order into the Point Of Sale system, I wondered what was coming out the other end. No, not if my order had been captured correctly or if the ticket would print out correctly. I wondered if the owners of the place actually used the data that had just been gathered. Restaurants generate a phenomenal amount of data although I’d be willing to wager that a minority of them actually look at, analyze, and employ it to improve their business. Then again, I’d be willing to bet that many non-food businesses suffer from the same omission.

Think about it. A restaurant gets information from their POS system – what’s selling and how much does it cost. They see if something is more popular at lunch than at dinner. They can look at their reservation system to know when they’ll be busy and their seating record to know how many covers they’re selling. Smart ones look at how many parties of which size were kept waiting (maybe we should turn the 6-top into a 4- and a 2?). They know what drinks have been ordered. Their suppliers have data for them – what’s available and what does it cost? Then they have their own internal accounting – labor costs, etc. Each of those things relates to the other. But there’s more.

What’s posted on social media? Whats the most-photographed dish? What’s liked and shared? How many reviews and are they positive? What are they about? There’s a lot of data to collect from a multitude of sources – OpenTable, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Urbanspoon or Instagram. All of the former data is very structured and it tells you “what.” The social stuff, along with any loyalty data you might have is unstructured and it can help you to understand “why”.

Maybe if you overlay the daily weather during service hours you can infer a causal effect on any of the above. You can adjust what’s displaying on your drive-thru board when it’s busy to show the menu items that may be lower-margin but quicker to prepare in order to speed the line. If you collect emails (your reservation system does!), you can use Facebook or some other data provider to build out profiles so you can know your customer and better target your marketing.

My point is that every business has a similar capability these days. We might not have reservation systems but we do have online commerce or websites or apps. We need to be less intimidated by big data and more proactive with respect to learning about our customers and how they interact with our offerings. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Reality checks

It’s Not Fair

This Foodie Friday sees the opening of the North Carolina State Fair. Until I moved here, I had no idea that state fairs were such a big deal. I mean, I knew that we had them up north, but they always seemed to take place in some remote part of the state and I don’t recall ever having attended one.

Image courtesy NC St. Fair/Facebook

That changed when I headed south. This fair is a big deal and it’s right here in the middle of the state. Last year, over a million people attended and the day I went, it was jammed. While some of the folks there are interested in the giant vegetables on display or the prize hogs being shown, many more are there for the food, and that’s our topic today.

The NC fair seems to be a coming out party for many foods that I can only classify as lab experiments. Many of the foods for sale are normal things such as Cuban Sandwiches that have been “enhanced” by deep frying. Deep-fried Key Lime Pie? You bet! Others are the sorts of things one might dream up in college while in altered states of consciousness. Unicorn Bacon, which is Bacon-on-a-Stick dipped in glaze and rolled in Fruity Pebbles cereal. Then there’s Jalapeno Cheetos Bacon: Bacon-on-a-Stick dipped in jalapeno nacho cheese and rolled in Cheetos. You catch my drift.

Here’s my issue. We have an obesity problem in this country along with an epidemic of diabetes. I don’t think people would have a heck of a lot of fun eating salads as they stroll the midway, but there’s also no limit on how much of the nutritionally horrible stuff one can consume. Before you jump on me, let me point out there the fair does limit how much beer or wine you can buy. In fact, they only started selling beer and wine last year, and you can buy 6oz of wine OR 16oz of beer or cider. Period. One time only, and it’s sold in only one place. In part, it’s to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere but it’s also because the powers that be think alcohol isn’t good for you. Is limiting unhealthy food consumption that different?

There’s a lot of education at the fair. There are demonstrations and exhibits of just about everything represented there. There isn’t, however, any education about healthy eating nor about what a burger held between two Krispy Kreme donuts does to your system when it’s consumed after Candied Bacon S’mores and a Shrimp and Cheddar Cheese Grits Eggroll (that sounds pretty good, by the way). Throw in a sugary soda or two and it’s pretty easy to see why there’s an obesity issue. I know people don’t eat this way all the time and every so often, it’s fun to treat yourself. The problem is that many folks really do eat this way much of the time.

None of us in business can afford to kill our customers. In this case, educating the customers about what they’re putting in their bodies might help keep a few of them around a little longer so they can indulge for many years to come. Do I think the vendors are being malicious or deceptive about what they’re selling? Not a bit. I just wish they, like all of us in business, thought about what impact their products have on their customers and the environment before they pushed them on the public. The rides at the fair have signs explaining that some people shouldn’t ride and that the ride is a health risk to others with back conditions, high blood pressure, etc. Maybe the food stalls need something similar?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Your Best Steak Forward

It’s Foodie Friday and we’re back to our regular nonsense here on the screed. Today I want you to think back to that time when you ordered takeout and it was not very good. I’m sure you’ve had such an instance: we all have. Maybe you ordered some fried dumplings that showed up as soggy as your recently washed laundry. Maybe the pasta dish you ordered had aggregated itself into a small object better suited for football than eating. Maybe you ordered a steak frites to go and it didn’t travel well. No one likes soggy fries and a cool steak doused in cooling, congealing butter.

For many restaurants, takeout has become a critical part of their business. Life today often leaves little time for cooking at home, especially during the week. Think about how many places you know that have only a few tables but do a ton of takeout. The growth of delivery services and apps has accelerated the trend while actually decreasing profitability (the services take a cut of the bill and in many cases, it’s close to the entire margin on the order). I’m not sure, however, that many restaurateurs put enough thought into putting their best products out there for takeout. Why sell something that you know won’t travel well?

Putting your best steak forward, so to speak, is something that every business should do. The most customer-friendly takeout situations have a separate counter to speed customer service. They might have a menu that’s priced a little differently since the costs of servicing a customer are different. They pack hot foods apart from cold foods and they take care to make sure that condensation in the hot food doesn’t make it soggy (vent holes, people). As with any customer encounter, how you present your brand matters. I wouldn’t even offer to sell a customer a product that I know won’t travel well. If they’ve enjoyed it before in my place, they’ll be disappointed. If it’s their first time, they won’t be back. We see this in businesses that take on jobs for which they’re ill-suited. I’ve turned down many opportunities over the years to build people websites since my ability to design and to code is not up to my ability to perform other tasks. That’s not my best steak.

Is that something your business is doing? Are you gathering data and keeping records of every customer interaction? Are you constantly looking for feedback so you can adjust your menu? Are you putting your best steak forward each and every time?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Under My Tongue

This Foodie Friday, I want us to think about the thing that really makes food worth eating: our sense of taste. I was at a tequila tasting the other night (don’t judge – you’d be fine if I had said wine tasting) and the fellow conducting the tasting had the participants do something interesting. He asked us to dip our fingers into the tequila we were sampling and to place a dab UNDER our tongues. When we did so, a moment later we had a completely different taste experience than when we placed a drop directly on our tongues. The subtle sweetness of the tequila became evident while many of the more dominant notes for which tequila is often known didn’t immediately appear.

This got me thinking. You probably know that the old myths about our tongues having different “regions” of taste have been disproven (and it’s easy to do that yourself). You might not know, however, that without saliva you can’t taste anything. That’s easy to prove yourself as well. Just dry off your tongue and put some food directly on it. You probably won’t taste anything at all. Have a sip of water and try again. There’s the taste! I’m sure you’ve also had the experience of not being able to taste when you have a cold. 80% of taste is related to smell – the flavor of something happens when the tongue and the nose combine their work in your brain.

What does this have to do with business? Quite a lot, actually, My thinking is that when I put that dab of tequila under my tongue, it merged with my saliva, which comes from under the tongue. It then traveled to my taste buds, diluted by amylase, an enzyme that acts on sugars and other carbohydrates, which is found in saliva. That’s why the sweetness came out without a lot of “heat”. Approaching the tequila from a different place resulted in my understanding of its true nature. It’s actually made from a sugary liquid (you’ve heard of agave nectar, I’m sure). That’s the business point.

What if we approached an old problem from a different place? That’s a far more difficult thing than just placing it under your tongue instead of on top, but it does point out how we often have different experiences and better understanding if we can find a way to do so. Wherever that “under the tongue” place is, we can use it to remove factors that might be blinding us to a problem’s solution or to understanding something.

I left the tasting with a much deeper understanding of tequila. I don’t even have a headache today despite having quite a few tequila tastes over the course of the tasting. Learning doesn’t give me headaches, I guess. You?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Burritos On The Brain

This Foodie Friday, it’s all about the humble burrito and what it can teach us about business and life. I’m sure you’re familiar with the burrito. As we know it here in the USA, it’s a rather large tortilla filled with meat, beans (usually refried), cheese, sometimes rice, sour cream, guacamole and often more. You need to be a “little burro” to carry all of that!

Here’s the thing though. Burritos in Mexico are a totally different matter. They generally contain one thing, usually a protein. Maybe it’s shredded pork that’s been cooked for hours in a mojo. Then a sauce of some sort is added and the meat is placed, with or without refried beans, into a tortilla, usually flour (corn tortillas are generally smaller and better for tacos or flautas). It’s much simpler but this simplicity does a few things.

Each ingredient must be perfect because the flavors of each is a point of focus as you’re eating. You can’t hide bad meat behind a lot of cheese and sour cream. Your seasoning must be aggressive or the dish will be bland. After all, it’s wrapped in a bland tortilla that can tend to deaden its contents. In short, the Mexican burrito mirrors some of the world’s great dishes – simple ingredients but complex flavors. Think cacio e pepe – pasta with cheese and pepper. Like the burrito, it’s not about difficult techniques or hard to find ingredients or even complex timing like a souffle. Instead, it’s about having the patience and skill to bring out the best in your materials and the confidence to present them to stand on their own.

That’s a great lesson for those of us in business. Too often we hide behind buzzwords or present materials in a way that hides the basic thoughts we’re trying to convey. How many powerpoints have you seen with 50 words saying what 5 could have said? We try to make what we’re doing exceptionally complex instead of trying to simplify it. We add the unnecessary toppings – not guac and cheese and sour cream but hard to read contracts and user agreements or black-box systems that add nothing but cost and marginal improvements.

The next time you’re in a meeting, think of the humble Mexican burrito. Keep it simple but make each piece spectacular. The ingredients of your business – the people, the business model, the systems – must all be the best and you’ve got to combine and season them to make them better. Not more complicated and not hidden behind unnecessary glop. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Everyone’s Got A Deal

A very wet Foodie Friday here but that won’t deter me from posting a few thoughts about what I think is a post-value world. What I mean by that is that value seems to be more of a given today that it did a few years ago. I also hope by now you’ve learned the difference between value and cost because your customers certainly have.

In the food business, you see this playing out in spades. Everyone has a deal, whether it’s $1 menu items or $5 foot long subs or free cheeseburgers from using an app to order. I suspect that many of these items are loss leaders. They certainly can’t be maintaining the margins which are already slim in the restaurant business. They’re designed to build traffic and that traffic will buy other, more profitable items.

The problem with this is the restaurant business is one where the supply has outstripped the demand. Chain restaurants are growing faster than the overall population and there aren’t enough hungry folks out there to support them all. Because deals are so prevalent, it actually frees the consumer to decide if they place more value on the price of the meal or if they value higher quality ingredients or better service or just the overall dining experience an establishment offers. More often than not these days, the price is less of a concern. Why? Because everyone’s got a deal!

What does this mean for your business? It means you’ve got to continue to get beyond thinking about cost in terms of how your customer values your product or service. The health of the business depends on more than a lot of customers. Fewer, more profitable customers seem better to me than a lot of slim-margin ones. Ask K-mart, whose profitability peaked in 1992,  if the low-margin, high volume strategy can work over the long term. Someone can always compete on price (Walmart).

The “deal” I try to offer to my potential clients is the highest level of value. That value is defined in THEIR terms, not mine. If all they’re after is a low price, I’m probably not going to be working with them. If what they want is a profitable result that advances them to their goals, well, that’s my deal. What’s yours?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

The Great Customer Gulf

Foodie Friday is here at last and with it comes some great information from Earnest Research. My data tells me that screeds about research don’t score particularly well with many of you but I think what the study I’m highlighting today is an excellent reminder of a basic business fact that pertains to the balance between keeping customers happy and attracting new customers. Read on!

What the study examined was the top 10% of various restaurants’ customers by the frequency of visit and how that compares with the average frequency. As reported by The Franchise Times, the gap can be enormous:

At McDonald’s, that top 10 percent customer went 86.5 times each year on average. That’s 309 percent more than the average customer, who went 21.1 times through the year.  Even the most frequent Starbucks customers don’t reach that. The top 10 percent of customers by frequency went 80.7 times—though they visited 374.5 percent more than the average customer who stopped in 17 times.

Earnest researchers checked in on a handful of brands for this data (see chart, right). In green are national QSR chains, orange is national fast-casual restaurants and blue represents chains that are regional but have a traditionally strong customer base. While the numbers jump around a lot, the highest frequency customers come between three and five times more than an average customer.

Your reaction to that may be a large “duh” since the Pareto Principle is probably burned into your head by now. What impressed me, however, was the size of the gap. If you factor in “average order value”, the amount of money spent by the top 10% is huge even though as it turns out they tend to spend a bit less per trip. In real terms, for example, the difference between a top customer at McDonald’s and an average one means a $708 annual value compared to the average customer’s $187.

Money spent to keep a customer happy is money well-spent. Money spent to get a customer to become a more frequent customer is even better. While there’s no question that we all have to keep adding new customers to our base, once they’re there, we need to shower them with love, great service, and incentives to grow their engagement with you. The data shows it’s true in the franchised restaurant business and I’m pretty sure it’s true of yours too.

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