Tag Archives: Food industry

Last Night’s Lesson

It’s Foodie Friday. We went out for a bite last night to one of the places that’s in the usual rotation. On most Thursday nights the bar is crowded and there’s often a wait to grab a table. Last night we pretty much had the bar to ourselves and there were tables available without any delay.

My buddy Tina the bartender said that business wasn’t great and I think we all know it’s due to the fear of the coronavirus. It’s hard to keep a safe distance from folks in a crowded bar or when tables are close together. While you expect your servers and cooks to have clean hands, it’s not a great time to find out otherwise. Apparently, my little microcosm isn’t much different from what’s been going on around the country and, I suspect, around the world.

What a number of food businesses (this one included) are doing is a great lesson for those of us in other businesses with respect to how to behave when the proverbial pandemic hits the fan. I’ve seen Facebook posts and received several emails from places I patronize and most of them have the same message. First, they aren’t minimizing the situation with any kind of casual joking (“Hey! Come on out and play! It’s just a little flu!”). Second, they all talk about both their normal cleaning process as well as the enhanced measures they’re taking during the crisis. This includes more frequent cleaning using higher-strength disinfectants and retraining of staff.

It’s the big guys too. Starbucks, which markets itself as a gathering spot (not something we’re being encouraged to do these days) has actually taken to limiting seating, spacing seats further apart, and even closed a store temporarily after a worker fell ill. The message is loud and clear: we place our customers and their health above the short-term profit hit we’ll take. Well, duh, people. Dead customers don’t buy things, so helping to prevent the spread of this virus is smart business no matter the cost.

Some places have amped up their delivery service. I’ve heard of other places that will bring your food to the curb so you don’t have to get out of your car if they don’t deliver. Who knows – maybe those services will become a normal part of their business going forward – we all know how delivery services’ menu of menus has grown over the last year or so. Acknowledging that not everyone is comfortable or able to go out for dinner at this time and not attempting to persuade them otherwise is being supportive and adult. That’s what any of our businesses need to be.

We overtipped last night (50%). Why? These are our friends and they might be hurting for the next month or so. If you get out, do the same. Buy a gift card at your favorite place, restaurant or otherwise, and use it down the road when you go back. We’re all in this together, right?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

One More Chance

Foodie Friday at last! I live in a smallish town. For a town its size, there are actually a lot of dining options and many good examples of different cuisines. Still, it’s always disappointing when one of the places here goes way downhill.

That happened to a place we used to frequent. They arguably had the best burger in town. It was ground in-house and always cooked perfectly (mid-rare, and only because they grind the meat themselves). They had wonderful parmesan truffle fries. When I wrote about this place two years ago I said

They grind the burgers themselves out of a combination of several cuts of beef and they cook it nicely. It’s perfectly seasoned and is served on a bun that absorbs the juices without falling apart. I order mine with bacon and a runny fried egg (why not have breakfast with your burger?) but they offer many other options. It’s a work of art: the Mona Lisa of burgers.

Unfortunately, shortly after I wrote that, things began going downhill. First, our favorite bartender (we always eat at the bar) departed for parts unknown and even texting him didn’t help since he must have got a new phone number (people generally don’t change their numbers just to avoid me). Then something changed in the kitchen. The burger wasn’t the same and it was never cooked right. The fries left the menu. Soon, we left too and haven’t returned.

A few weeks ago, signs went up outside the place that new management was coming. Their Facebook page went into more detail. So the other night, we decided to give it a second chance and went back. We sat at our usual places at the bar and the new owners were sitting there having dinner. We talked about what had changed and they talked a lot about how they were going to make it better. And it was better! The burger was a little different but was ground in house and cooked well. It was back and it was joined by a really good fried chicken sandwich that was new. Woo hoo!

My point today is about second chances. Some people think that there are no second chances in life. As managers, they operate the same way. One employee screw-up and the relationship is never the same. That’s wrong. Giving someone a second chance is giving them the opportunity to improve. Mistakes are learning opportunities.  In general, the only mistakes I wouldn’t tolerate were errors that resulted in destroying trust (you lied to me) or multiple repetitions of the same mistake. That’s either willful or demonstrates that you can’t – or won’t – learn.

Maya Angelou said something that’s always resonated with me on this subject. “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” That’s what I think we all should be after, whether it’s as managers or as people looking for a great burger. Things can change, people can do better. When you see that those changes have happened, I think it’s incumbent on us to give a second chance to see if things have improved. Don’t you?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Eating At The Bar

It’s Foodie Friday! As on most Friday nights, I’ll probably go out to dinner this evening, and since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll go early to make sure I get seated before the love birds on their twice a year dinner out clutter up one of my favorite restaurants.

I usually sit at the bar to eat at this place. Actually, I generally do that at most places since I find the service to be better. It’s also a lot more social and I’ve met some interesting characters who’ve become friends of a sort. At this place, I know the bartenders quite well and they make sure my glass is filled and the food is right. Truth be told, other than the burger, which is terrific, the food in this place is really nothing special. It’s all good but there are rarely specials and it’s sometimes a challenge to find something appealing on a very familiar menu. So why am I there so often? As it turns out, there’s a business point.

It comes down to the discussion between great customer experience vs. great product. I think CX, which you can interpret as service, wins much of the time. When I was in the corporate world, we worked with, among others, two very large tech companies. One provided superior products but their account people were dreadful. The other’s technology was good but not as good. Their account people, on the other hand, were the best. They anticipated our needs and addressed every issue we raised immediately. Do you want to guess which company was our favorite?

We found out that the first company paid their people bonuses based on sales while the second company paid based largely on customer satisfaction. This alignment of customer interests with company interests is exactly where any business needs to be. There is a famous Bain study that says 80% of companies think they provide superior customer experience, yet only 8% of those same companies’ customers think they get a great experience. Getting everyone’s interests aligned can help mitigate that.

I think we’re at the point where price and product mean way less than service and experience. Obviously, I wouldn’t let my love for the bartenders make up for inedible food or prices that were too expensive for the product delivered but the food is as good as any nearby competitor’s food, a meal costs about the same, and that’s good enough for me. Where do you come out on this?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Reality checks

It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Wing

Foodie Friday and one of America’s great food fests comes up on Sunday. Whether you’re watching The Super Bowl at home, at a party, or in a bar, there is probably an abundant amount of food around. One staple of football watching is the Buffalo Wing and they’re our topic today.

There is hardly a bar that doesn’t serve wings. That makes sense since they got their start in either a bar or restaurant (depending on which version of history you believe) in Buffalo, NY. The basic wing is deep-fried and tossed in a peppery sauce, but does anyone just eat basic wings? My buddy Barry owns a joint that sells 7 varieties of wings. Buffalo Wild Wings offers 25. Heck, even my favorite local tavern offers 10 varieties. But what those facts scream to me is that buffalo wings aren’t about wings at all: they’re about the sauce.

Think about it. Most places deep-fry the wings. When I make them at home, I dry-brine and bake them. I suppose you can broil them too. But does anyone really pay that much attention to the wing? Not really, unless it’s undercooked inside or has sat around so that the skin is chewy. Everyplace is after the same crisp product.

Where one wing shines over another is the sauce. The choice, and intensity, of the brand of hot sauce makes a difference. Dry rubs vs. sauce at all is a choice. We often get garlic and parmesan wings that feature nice chunks of garlic and grated cheese. Whatever your choice, there is a business point to be made.

What distinguishes most businesses is the sauce. Customers have expectations that the fundamental stuff such as basic customer service and a product that does what you claim it will are foundational – they’re the wing. It’s how you “sauce” the basics that makes all the difference. Just as with wings, the more ways you can do that the great the likelihood that you’ll allow the customer to find something that they love.

It really doesn’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that wing. The basics of business have to be sound before you worry about the sauce. That said, one thing I always ask consulting clients is what their special sauce is. It’s a question you should ask yourself about your business (and about yourself if you’re going to be job-hunting!). It’s the sauce that matters, after all.

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Tasks And Experiences

Happy Foodie Friday! This article came into my news feed this morning. It’s about Walmart’s store of the future, where robots can fill grocery orders up to 10 times faster than humans. Pretty spiffy and it’s an interesting read, but it also got me thinking about a pretty important distinction about which I think you may want to ruminate.

When I go to the grocery store (every Thursday!), I have a list of things I want to buy. Most of the things on that list are there because I’ve planned out meals for the week and I need things to make those meals possible. It’s a pretty straightforward task. Other things are on the list because I use them in general and they’re on sale. Maybe I have a coupon that for them that is expiring. Maybe they’re on sale AND I have a coupon (can you feel the excitement?). Again, it’s pretty cut and dry – here’s the thing on the list, buy it and bring it home.

That’s really only half the trip, however. Inevitably, I find things to buy that aren’t on the list. I’ve found them as part of the shopping experience. Maybe it’s an unadvertised sale, maybe some local produce came in and looks spectacular. This is experience-oriented shopping versus the aforementioned task-oriented shopping.

Back to the article. It’s lovely that Walmart (and Amazon and others) are extremely efficient in servicing these orders, but they’re only serving the task-oriented shoppers. In-store discovery is impossible when there is no in-store experience. That’s why you always see “people who bought (the thing you’re buying) also bought (another thing).’ I think it’s also why Amazon is moving into physical stores, both through Whole Foods and their own “register-less” stores. Obviously, serving the task-oriented shopper is only half the battle.

I think it’s the same in other businesses.  Almost every business interacts with customers, partners, vendors, and employees in a task-oriented framework. When you stop and think about it, good businesses make sure there is an experience-oriented aspect to the relationship as well. What I mean is an experience that the participants can enjoy for its own sake and not as a means for accomplishing a task or achieving an extrinsic goal. Maybe it’s just drinks after work with no agenda. Maybe it’s a round of golf. All of my best business relationships had both task-oriented and experience-oriented aspects.

Think about how you interact with your customers. Is everything a task where items get ticked off a list or is there an experience that’s part of the relationship? How can you bring that balance?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Foodie Friday Post Of The Year 2019

We are continuing in the yearly review of the most-read posts written this year and today it’s the most-read Foodie Friday post written this past year. In fact, this actually was the most-read post of all, as it turned out. I wrote it last April as a meditation on salty snacks and how they really aren’t a long-term solution to our hunger problem. As usual, it turned out there was a business point lurking. Enjoy!

It’s Foodie Friday! Today I’d like us to contemplate the foods that make us hungry. No, I don’t mean the ones for which we have cravings. I mean food that can actually increase your hunger when you eat them.avoid fast food solutions

Have you ever wondered why bars put out salty snacks like popcorn or peanuts or pretzels? As it turns out, salt makes you thirsty and what better place to be when you’re thirsty than your favorite watering hole? Salt, according to some studies, is addictive, as is sugar and fat. The food industry has become very good at layering those things together to create products (I’m deliberately not saying “foods”) that play to our addictions, light up our dopamine centers, and cause us to engage in self-destructive behaviors. When you hear the old Lay’s slogan about “bet you can’t just eat just one,” you might try to think about what the drug pusher says as they give away their free samples to people: “don’t worry – you’ll be back.”

The screed today isn’t meant to be a lecture on improving our eating habits. Instead, there is a business point here. We don’t eat salty snacks or sugary foods or processed foods or even foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners (they made you hungry too) to get fat. We eat them to solve an immediate need – hunger. But there is any number of other options that can fill that need without triggering the problems that come from really unhealthy foods.

It’s the same in business. We often take the easiest or most available or cheapest solution to solve an immediate need. Unfortunately, those “fast food” solutions only solve the problem in the near term and can often cause long-term damage. Just as with food, we need to be aware of our cravings and think before we eat. We need to consider all of the options, not just the “fast food” ways out. We need to choose more wisely, not just more expeditiously.

Make sense?

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Another One Bites The Dust

You didn’t think that you were going to escape Foodie Friday without a missive from me, did you? This week our story is a little sad (OK, quite sad for those involved) but instructive as well.

You know that I’m a huge fan of sous vide cooking. In fact, I wrote all about those feelings just about 5 years ago after I received my first immersion circulator. To review, you French scholars out there will recognize that the term means “under vacuum.” You place whatever you’re cooking into a plastic bag, extract the air, and seal it. The bag (or bags) is placed in a water bath. The immersion circulator holds the water at a steady temperature which is the desired end temperature of the food.

All those years ago, immersion circulators cost around $1,000 and were not really marketed to the home cook. I remember watching the Top Chef contestants using them but not fully understanding that this was a tool that could be widely marketed to the home market as well if the cost could be brought down.

Enter our subject today. I’ll let TechCrunch take it from here:

Founded in 2012, Nomiku became a plucky Silicon Valley darling by bringing affordable sous vide cooking to home kitchens…The company was able to bring a cost-prohibitive cooking technology down to an affordable price point, only to see the market flooded by competitors.

This is a perfect case study for businesspeople. First, the company was founded to solve a problem the founders had. Importantly, they realized that many others – home cooks who were aware of sous vide but who couldn’t afford a $1,000 kitchen toy – had the same problem. They raised money (on Kickstarter), solved the engineering and production problems, and produced a beautiful product for $300.

Unfortunately, an immersion circulator isn’t really a defensible idea. Sure, you might be able to protect certain elements but as most computer manufacturers found out during the PC boom, there’s kind of a race to the bottom. I actually have two immersion circulators in my home now and neither costs more than $200. The Nomiku is still listed as costing more.

How does Apple manage to market products that cost significantly more than its competitors? Because they differentiate the bulk of their products. The function differently. They’ve got better security. For the most part, an immersion circulator does what it does. Sure, bells and whistles such as Bluetooth and timers can help justify a higher price, but sadly, not in this case.

Could they have foreseen that a lab products company would migrate into making products for cooks? Who knows, but it does remind us that having a great idea and even great execution isn’t necessarily enough. If the idea is great, competitors will be at your door quite soon. You must always be looking at how to stay one step ahead while building up defensibility on your rear. Easier said than done, I know, but the business world is unforgiving as these folks found out.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Reality checks