Tag Archives: Food industry

The Dead Of Dining

I came up with today’s Foodie Friday topic this past week as I was dining out. Which of course leads to The Grateful Dead. If any of you are Deadheads, one thing you know is that when the band was on and in full flight they were magnificent. They could take you with them as they soared musically. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening on any given night were not close to 100%.

It’s the thing that frustrates most of us who listened to The Dead. You could go to a show never knowing if you were going to walk away uplifted or disappointed. The experience was inconsistent. They were the musical personification of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

OK, back to food. I took a little mini-vacation this week to an island just off the North Carolina coast. It was lovely but because it is a relatively small island, there are limited dining options. One of these options was a place that serves Mexican food. The first time I dined there I had a lovely skirt steak but what struck me was how good the accompanying rice and black beans were. The beans were perfectly textured with a little smokiness coming from a piece of smoked pork tossed in the pot. The rice was billowy. I made it a point to return on another night.

The second night I dined there, the beans were bland and tough, as was the rice. In fact, the rice had a crunch to it, not like the lovely socarrat that forms in paella but from being undercooked and raw. Everything from the drinks to the entrees seems to have been tossed together with a minimum of care and thought.

It reminded me that one thing we need in business is consistency. Whether we’re serving food or figures, customers need to know that they can count on our product meeting a high standard each and every time. Employees and our team need to know that everyone is treated fairly and using the same standards. Unlike The Dead or this restaurant, we can’t miss the mark as often as we hit it. The only times we miss the standards we set should be those occasions when we move those standards up a notch. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Music

McRib And You

The big news this Foodie Friday is the return of the McRib sandwich. It’s only going to be around for a limited time and only at select McDonald’s stores (which is about 10,000 of them). If you’ve never had one of these babies, it’s a pork patty formed to look like pork ribs (but boneless) on a bun with pickles and onions and a fair amount fo a sweet barbeque sauce.

I’d be very dishonest if I said this concoction appalls me since I’m a fan of the thing, or at least I was before I both quit eating a lot of carbs (45g in this baby) and lived in a place where real BBQ pork sandwiches are easier to find than a decent deli. When it hit the market back in 1981, it was a dud. It’s been released every so often since into a limited number of outlets and it sells out.

There is something any business can learn from the McRib or the pumpkin spice craze at Starbucks or Dunkin’. It’s the smart tactic of giving customers a reason to come back. There is a restaurant here in town that I patronize on a regular basis. The food is quite good but there are rarely any specials. It gets boring, frankly. I’ve tried pretty much everything on the menu. Something special might get me to make a special trip as opposed to the every 10 days or so when I want a really good burger.

There is something else. Here is a quote from a marketing professor at Northwestern:

For fast-food chains in particular, which rely on familiarity, holiday items can offer consumers some variety. “You need consistency because that’s the brand mantra,” said Chernev. “But no matter how much you like something, consuming something different … increases the enjoyment of what you consumed before.” Chernev says it’s a neat marketing ploy: Although a specialty item may be exciting on its own, it can also remind consumers how much they like the basics.
In my mind, it’s like how being on vacation often reminds you of how much you like being home if that makes any sense. In any event, every business needs to think about how a special product promotion (vs. a sale price promotion) can provide an overall lift to the business.  Got it?

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

Variations On A Pimento

Happy Foodie Friday! Years ago I started serving pimento cheese as one of the snacks I had available as guests arrived for Thanksgiving. I can’t recall what started me down this path. As a Yankee, it was not a food that I’d eaten other than hearing about it being offered as a sandwich on-site during the annual Masters Tournament. The guests liked it and I served it thereafter. In fact, it became a household staple of sorts.

Little did I know at the time that I’d end up here in the South where pimento cheese is as common as mosquitos. What I didn’t understand, however, is how its use is as widespread as it is nor the seemingly endless number of variations, both personal and commercial. Everyone’s mama makes THE BEST pimento cheese and you can go from tailgate to tailgate at any pregame and find out just how different a single food can be. Of course, one look in any southern supermarket will tell you the same thing. There are dozens of brands and often several flavors (jalapeno pimento cheese, anyone?) from each brand.

As with many things southern, pimento cheese was born in the north and moved here. This is a terrific history of the stuff from Serious Eats but in a nutshell

The original version started out as something quite different: the marriage of cream cheese and canned pimentos, two popular and newly-available products of the industrial food trade.

It evolved into the basic grated cheese (usually cheddar), mayo (Duke’s, please) and pimentos recipe over time. The variations upon that basic theme are endless. I caused a bit of a stir when I presented my variation on the theme by adding green onions and Worcestershire sauce to mine, using two types of cheese. A friend ridiculed me until the friend’s mama tried it and loved it. So much for my Noo Yawk tinkering!

This is the third time I’m writing about pimento cheese and yet each of the posts has been different. Why I raise this topic here at all in a business blog is that it reminds me that not everything we do in business has to be completely new or innovative. Just taking something that’s basically good as is and making it a little better can be a win. Think about how Apple made the mp3 player better or Amazon transformed online shopping. eBay made a better auction engine and the Japanese saved their economy by taking things that were developed elsewhere and improving them.  It’s not finding the needle in the haystack that transforms your business. It’s often figuring out how to make the haystack itself just a bit better.

I’ve yet to sample any pimento cheese here that is made in a way that’s delicious but incomprehensible. Most of the time, it’s a variation that is smart and understandable and makes you wonder why you didn’t try that. I think a lot of the great things in business are just like that, don’t you?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Unlucky Food

Happy Foodie Friday to all you triskaidekaphobics out there! That’s right – it’s Friday the 13th and those with a fear of the number 13 apparently aren’t the only ones with some fears this day. As it turns out, there is a whole host of fears about food, most of which I knew nothing about until I consulted the Googles. For example, did you know that chicken wings are unlucky to have on New Year’s Eve? It is because wings are believed to make your luck fly away from you and who wants that when you’re just starting a new year?

Who knew that some people consider lobster an unlucky food? I always considered myself pretty lucky when I could afford to get one at a restaurant, but some folks think that because lobsters can swim backward, they too are avoided on the New Year’s menu. The thinking is that swimming backward means you have messed it all up and you need to start over in life.

Cutting bananas, not crushing eggshells, and how you place your chopsticks are all involved in food-related bad luck beliefs. As it turns out, there are some things that we can take away from misplaced beliefs. Many businesses have had their products also suffer from beliefs based on rumors and not on facts. I think you’ve probably heard the one that KFC had to change their name from Kentucky Fried Chicken because what they began serving was not actually chicken. Like an email that circulated when this was a hot rumor said:

KFC does not use real chickens. They actually use genetically manipulated organisms. These so-called ‘chickens’ are kept alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure. They have no beaks, no feathers, and no feet.

Oy. For you Coca-Cola enthusiasts, you’ll be pleased to know that Coke does not contain a bug-based dye nor has anyone ever died from drinking it while eating Mentos, both “facts” that circulated years back.  Neither P&G nor Starbucks are devil worshippers which some folks state as fact based on their logos. Bubble Yum doesn’t contain spider eggs.

You can laugh, but every one of those companies and dozens more has had to spend resources fighting “facts”, most of which wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day in the pre-Internet times.  As a business, it reminds us that monitoring social media is critical to stop things such as these from ever spreading. It also reminds us as citizens that training ourselves (and our kids!) to exercise critical thinking and pursue facts based in truth and not in rumor is paramount.

Friday the 13th? A full moon as well? Shouldn’t it really be Halloween?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Pumpkin Spice

This Foodie Friday, we’re taking a leap ahead into Fall, and if Fall means one thing to most people, it’s pumpkin spice. I know – you were thinking football, but no, my guess is that far more people are affected by the pumpkin spice thing than the pigskin thing. It’s a relatively recent development as spice companies didn’t actually make “pumpkin pie spice” until the 1950s and that became “pumpkin spice” in the 1960s. Some candle company began marketing a pumpkin spice candle in 1995, Starbucks picked up the flavor after many small coffee shops did, and the rest is food history.

Today, I saw what might be the last straw in the craze: Pumpkin Spice Spam. This is not a joke – it will be available only online and there are already cans of it out in the wild. Apparently, it doesn’t taste too bad – kind of like breakfast sausage. While I’m generally a believer in the “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” philosophy, I think we just might have hit our limits here, although one might wonder where that limit lies after pumpkin spice hummus, Four Loko, Pringles, gum, and vodka, to name only a few of the products that are out there.

There is a serious business point to be made here. Pumpkin spice is a flavor and a scent, and of course, you can add either of those things to a product to make it seasonally relevant, at least to some people. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should which is the broader business point. There are often moments in business when we’re confronted with what some might call opportunities while others might see them as dilemmas. A bank might be able to make more money if it charges its own customers a fee to use their own ATMs or to have a debit card. That’s a bad idea.

There was a great piece published years ago called “Companies and the Customers Who Hate Them.” It talked about charging penalties and fees especially in the cell phone, cable, and banking industries. It concluded:

One of the most influential propositions in marketing is that customer satisfaction begets loyalty, and loyalty begets profits. Why, then, do so many companies infuriate their customers by binding them with contracts, bleeding them with fees, confounding them with fine print, and otherwise penalizing them for their business? Because, unfortunately, it pays. Companies have found that confused and ill-informed customers, who often end up making poor purchasing decisions, can be highly profitable indeed.

I don’t think that adding pumpkin spice to an already good product is on a level with some of the outrageous fees we’re charged as consumers but it illustrates the point that just because we can do something in business doesn’t mean that we should. Not only do you run the risk of having seasonal merchandise go unsold (unhappy retailers!) but also of having customers question your sanity. Neither is good business in my book. Yours?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks

A New Food Hall?

This Foodie Friday I’m doing something way out of the ordinary for this space: I’m going to quote heavily from a press release. Yes, that’s right – I finally got one that interests me because I think it makes a point that will be of interest to you. That said, I’m going to edit this to make a point in a second.

The Local Culinary, an all-new innovative (EDIT) restaurant concept led by seasoned European restaurant industry veteran and entrepreneurial visionary Alp Franko, today celebrated its official launch, with the opening of its first location in downtown Miami. With a (EDIT) kitchen located on South Miami Avenue, The Local Culinary operates eight individual concepts where chefs produce a range of creative, inspired menus.  Catering to both evergreen fare and timely dining trends, The Local Culinary is dedicated to serving modern, chef-driven food (EDIT) options inspired by global cuisine. From Mexican, Italian and Asian cuisines to burgers, fried chicken, healthy bowls, gourmet salads and more, the company’s (EDIT) restaurant fare is available to Miami residents (EDIT).

OK, so why would an announcement of what sounds very much like a food hall (8 restaurants under one roof) be particularly interesting? I mean you can’t go more than a few miles in many major cities without finding one, so what’s the big deal? I’ll give you a hint. According to a recent survey on Upserve.com, 60 percent of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout once a week, and 31 percent say they use these third-party delivery services at least twice a week. Orders placed via smartphone and mobile apps are expected to become a $38 billion industry by 2020, with millennials as a driving force.

Did you guess? This is a virtual restaurant or restaurants. Everything I edited out mentioned that fact and that the food is only available via delivery. There is no physical dining room and all 8 operate out of a common kitchen. It’s a food hall without a hall and it caters specifically to the demand for meals delivered. Why I find this interesting, no matter which business you’re in, is that it is a reminder that consumer preferences change constantly and those changes can be devastating if you’re not anticipating them. Think about the landlords who own prime street locations for a restaurant. What happens when “restaurants” can be located in a warehouse with no real parking or storefront? What about the paper companies who haven’t geared up to fulfill orders for a huge takeout market? It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out how many other sectors, from servers to bartenders to furniture to glassware this trend could impact.

Legacy thinking does nothing but gets you left behind. Look at the issues (since it’s Foodie Friday) that Kraft-Heinz is having. Big brands like Oscar Mayer and Maxwell House are out of step with modern consumers’ tastes and even though they were smart enough to buy an early plant-based “burger” company (Boca), they have been left behind by the newer companies such as Beyond Meat.

How far down the road are you looking? What are you doing about what you see?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

False Inferences

This Foodie Friday, let’s give a round of applause to Burger King, A&W, White Castle, and all of the other burger chains who are beginning to serve Impossible Burgers. OK, throw in the donut chains who are serving the Beyond Meat “sausage” products too. Are they indistinguishable from their meat-based versions? I have no idea – I generally don’t go to QSRs when I want a burger although I might have to just to try one out.

The round of applause is not for taste but for trying to expand their customer bases to include vegetarians and vegans. My vegan daughter will (rarely) go to a QSR and get what amounts to lettuce and tomato on a bun (think a chicken sandwich without the chicken) although some of the chains offer truly vegan patties and sandwiches.

Burger King is not one of those – their veggie burger has both milk and eggs in it. However, they are one of the first chains to add the Impossible Burger to their offerings. As it seems with many things business-related, there is a dark lining to the silver cloud. It turns out, unless you specifically ask, the Impossible Burger is cooked with the same broiler as regular burgers and chicken. So much for vegan or even vegetarian. Burger King says that 90% of the people who ordered the Impossible Whopper during a trial run this spring are meat eaters, which means most diners may not care if their faux-meat patties are cooked alongside classic beef ones. In fairness, they don’t label the product as vegan either. Still, it raises a point I want to bring to the surface today.

Humans make inferences. We use our beliefs as assumptions and make inferences based on those assumptions. We do that because we can’t act without them. We have to have some basis for understanding and the only way for us to take action is to use our assumptions to make inferences. An assumption is something we “know” based on our beliefs or previous experience.

When Burger King offers a burger that is a vegan alternative to a meat-based product (something that’s known) you can see how a customer will infer it’s still vegan even when it’s not labeled as such.  If there is room for the customer to draw a faulty inference based on reasonable assumptions, I think we need to go out of our way to correct them. I also think that it’s way out of bounds to create those false inferences knowingly – having the customer see that something is 35% off and a good buy when you marked it up the week before with the intent of marking it back down.

The difference between “relaxing” and “wasting time” is all in the meaning we assign to what we’re doing, the inferences we draw. The difference between “selling” and “dishonesty” or “hyperbole” or even “grifting” is also based on inferences. Not allowing customers to draw a well-constructed line from their assumptions to inferences and meaning is bad business in the long run, don’t you think?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Thinking Aloud