Tag Archives: Food industry

There’s A Little Cafe…

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:

Austria, Vienna, Hundertwasserhaus

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.

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Filed under food, Huh?

Those Who Aren’t Watching

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.

English: American-style pigs in blankets.

(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!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Pushing And Pulling

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?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Tastes And Trends

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.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Time For What?

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic is time. Now, what the heck does time have to do with our usual Friday food rant? As it turns out, quite a bit. I was reading this article from Eater on the year’s advances in food technology. What struck me as I read the piece wasn’t so much any one piece of tech (although I’m not sure how I’ve lived without a bacon emoji until now) but how many of the innovations had to do with time.

There are a few items mentioned that reduce the time a customer needs to wait in person to be seated. There are other that reduce the time a customer needs to wait to receive their food after placing their orders. Still others involved getting take out food delivered in less time (nothing like a speedy drone to beat the traffic!). 80% of the innovations mentioned in the article involve saving time somehow, mostly to benefit the customer but in so doing also increasing service capacity and, in theory, profits. We love those win-win scenarios!

All this time saving does, however, beg the question: what are people going to do with the time savings? It seems these days that the answer involves consuming more content and the marketing messages pushed through the channels containing that content. Let me throw out a different thought.

Since so many people, in the food industry and elsewhere, seem to be wanting each of us to have a little more free time in our day, why don’t we use it to do some of the things we apparently don’t have enough time to do now? You know: read a book or spend a few minutes actually researching an issue that’s meaningful to us so the next time we share a story we’re sure of our facts. Take some of that newly found spare time and go say “hi” to someone in person instead of messaging. Throw a ball to your dog or with your kid.

It’s a season of family and gift-giving. How about we use the gift of time all these innovations afford us wisely?Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyous Festivus, and enjoy whatever you’re celebrating!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Hashing It All Out

This Foodie Friday, the subject is hash. Not the kind you smoke (although there are smokey kinds of hash made from leftover barbecue) but the kind you’d have for a hearty start to your day. The most common kind is hash made from corned beef, potatoes, and onions, but as with most food things, there are endless variations. Ever heard of red-flannel hash? It featured beets along with corned beef. Has your has ever been bound together with a white sauce? It may have been if you live in the mid-west. The aforementioned use of barbecue in southern hashes, the use of meats other than corned beef, and different types or preparations of potatoes can offer up nearly endless varieties of what is a very basic dish.

Corned beef hash at the Creamery (Nina's break...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a fan of crispy corned beef hash made with home fries and caramelized onions. Add a couple of poached eggs which will create an unctuous sauce when pierced and I’m in breakfast heaven. Unfortunately, many of us have been presented with a plate of “corned beef’ in a form that’s unrecognizable and that often prejudices our view of what can be an elevated experience with something quite humble. As it turns out, it happens in business too.

Every culture has a variation on hash. In each of those, the dish emerged from a desire to conserve resources and not waste food. At the same time, we all know it can be boring to eat the same thing over and over again. Hash (from the French word, hacher, to chop) is nothing more than transforming resources that might have been tossed aside into something new and wonderful.

That’s a great goal for any of us in business. Maybe a product or a project has become boring, both to you and to your customers. How can it become hash – something new and wonderful? Maybe a valuable employee has been in the same role for a while and the level of productivity is beginning to drop as boredom sets in. How can you and the employee make hash together out of the ingredients that made the employee great in the first place?

Ultimately, one reason I’m a fan of hash is that it takes things that might be tossed aside and makes them great again. Isn’t that a great goal for any of us in business?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Food And Doing Well By Doing Good

This Foodie Friday I want to chat about a couple of food-related things I read this week and how they might translate into some thinking about your business. The first is an article (seen here) about how Nestle has figured out a way to cut the sugar in its candy. The second is something businesses are doing in Japan to help with a problem on their roads.

Nestle Crunch in most recent packaging

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nestle says its researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently so that it uses 40% less. It claims this can be done without affecting the taste. As a former fatty who misses chocolate A LOT, this is good news. More importantly, it helps to address the epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Nestle is patenting the method which seems like a missed opportunity to open source something that can help a lot of people. Of course, once you file a patent the method is no longer secret so maybe others will find a way to do the same.

In Japan, as in many other countries including our own, the population is aging and the old folks are continuing to drive. My 91-year-old Dad refuses to give up the car keys and it’s something that keeps our whole family up at night. What they’re doing in Japan is to offer the super seniors discounts. In fact, nearly 12,000 seniors living in Aichi had voluntarily given up their licenses in exchange for discounted goods and services, and that was before one of the leading ramen chains (hence the food focus!) offered a discount for life to those who hand over their licenses. Since the proportion of all fatal accidents attributed to drivers over 75 has spiked from 7.4 percent to 12.8 percent, this seems like a pretty good public service.

In both of these cases, the motivation may not have been to do well by doing something good but I think that’s the effect. Who wouldn’t want to eat less sugar and not down a bunch of artificial sweeteners which are just as bad? Nestle ought to sell more candy. In Japan, safer roads help everyone, and the businesses providing the discounts can’t serve younger customers who’ve been hurt by an older driver, not to mention the older drivers themselves. Hopefully, the additional patronage more than makes up for the discount.

This is the sort of thing any business can think about. How can we do some good in our community and does that activity hold the promise of helping the business? As anyone involved in Corporate Socal Responsibility will tell you, the two things are not exclusive to one another, and I’m all for it. You?

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Filed under food, What's Going On