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?
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.
It’s the Foodie Friday before the Super Bowl. It’s hard for me to imagine The Big Game without food. If I’m invited to a party there is usually an assortment of chips, dips, and snacks to get us through until halftime, when some sort of “main” is brought out. It could be a six-foot deli sandwich or a pot of chili – no self-respecting fan wants to be hovering over a grill or a stove during the Ultimate Game (which, as Hollywood Henderson once pondered, if it’s really the ultimate game, why will they play it again next year?). Many years I stay home and watch the game with someone else who is there TO WATCH THE DAMN GAME and not make idle conversation.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Of course, I do need sustenance for my fandom. It’s not football without weenies (pigs in a blanket, hot dogs in puff pastry, whatever you call them) or jalapeño poppers (they look like little footballs!). This year I’ll throw a pork shoulder in either the pressure cooker or the slow cooker for some pulled pork at the half. That will be done long before kickoff.
I rarely go to a sports bar to watch the game. The big advantage is that the food is made for me and there are more choices than I’d have at home or at most parties. The noise level, however, is a big minus, not to mention the cost. Still, this is a choice for a lot of fans as well.
But there is one other segment of people that are instructive for us today. Even the most widely-watched Super Bowls aren’t watched by everyone. There are just some people who aren’t sports fans (the horror!). And they are an opportunity. I’m willing to bet it’s a great Sunday evening to get into almost any restaurant you’d like, and therein lies our business thought.
There are almost always opportunities available if you dig deeply enough. The availability of highly-targeted, one to one media has made it possible to identify the niche audiences that can be aggregated into a great business. That restaurant that might otherwise be empty on Super Bowl Sunday? How about calling or emailing your wait-list or the people who left phone numbers in the event of a cancellation? Maybe seat some folks earlier than usual, promising to have them out by the end of the first half so they can hit a bar or a party or home to watch the second half (the first half of these games tend to be dull anyway).
You take my point. This is the biggest event of every year and yet not everyone cares. Find them – there’s a good business opportunity there. Even the big guys in your category have people who aren’t fans. How are you going to seek them out? The rest of you – enjoy the game!
It’s another Foodie Friday and this week I’ve been thinking about teamwork. If you’ve dined out at any point, and who hasn’t, you’ve been the beneficiary of what should be excellent teamwork. After all, unless you’re dining in a tiny place, the person who takes your order isn’t the one who cooks your food. It’s likely that the person who cooks your food isn’t the one who developed the recipe, and it’s just as likely that there are multiple items on the plate that they were prepared by more than one person. For the end product to be great, every one of those people needs to be operating in sync and on the same page.
The one thing all great restaurants are is consistent. Every plate of the same dish should taste the same, and every time you return, the experience should be exactly the same. That doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because the chef leads the team and gives them the tools they need to perform. The recipes are written down and followed. That includes the recipe for more than the food. It’s how food is plated. It’s the vision of what the business is and how it will operate. It’s a shared sense of mission. It’s not kicking people in the butt and making them do a particular task.
There are very few work environments that are hotter or more stressed than a restaurant kitchen during peak service hours yet the best crews seem to ignore the environment and focus on the mission. Each member of the team understands their role and how it fits into the bigger whole and is committed to performing that role at a high standard.
Everything I’ve written above applies to your business too. OK, maybe not the uncomfortable, hot working conditions, but certainly the need to stop pushing people and to start leading them. If you ask multiple staff members to explain the main goals of your business and get very different answers, you have a problem. If each person can’t explain how their role fits into achieving that mission, you’re on the road to disgruntled employees and to failure. If the standards and recipes – how your business operates and how success and failure are measured – aren’t written down and clear to all, you might as well shut the doors now.
If things go badly, maybe it’s not the fault of the person who screwed up. Maybe they were told to salt the food without any amount stated. Since each palate is different, it’s unlikely two people will salt the dish the same. Maybe you asked for an analysis of some data without explaining what questions you’re trying to answer and how that question ties into the broader goals. Two analysts might answer very different questions, making the analysis terrific or useless. Communication and teamwork; pulling, not pushing. That’s how great kitchens operate. Shouldn’t your business operate that way too?
Foodie Friday! This is the time of year when there are all sorts of articles written about the best and worst of the previous year along with some predictions for the upcoming one. Food writers go along with this, of course, and I was reading a piece on some predictions for food trends in 2017. The predictions range from many foods with breakable crusts (think along the lines of creme brulee) to mixed use restaurants (co-working space by day, eatery by night) to more complex vegan food.
I must admit that I’m not really one who pays attention to food trends. For example, a friend taught me a chopped kale salad (finely chopped kale, arugula, toasted pine nuts, some grated parmesan cheese, EVOO and a squeeze of lemon!). It has become a staple on my dinner table. It’s not there because kale was trendy at one point or even because it’s particularly healthy. It’s there because it’s delicious. Which is, of course, the business point.
Do you buy heirloom tomatoes because they’re en vogue? Will you buy bread made from heirloom wheat because you want to impress your friends? The answer to those questions is a firm “no.” You buy those things because they taste better than many alternatives, even if they might cost a little more. No one repeatedly patronizes our businesses because they want to be a style maven per se. Sure, if you’re selling this month’s fashion there is a segment of the population that needs the ego boost of wearing the latest thing. But as with the puffy shirt episode of Seinfeld, style or trends can be fleeting. Customers want reliability and great value as you solve their problems.
As I’m writing this I’m realizing that many of the things I like in this world – foods, musicians, golf courses – tend to be classics that have endured over time. I’m also realizing that many of the businesses I patronize – even if they’re relatively new – have the characteristics that are eternal in business. They put the customer first, they deliver great value, and I can rely on them to always deliver what they promise and more. That’s a trend that’s always in fashion.