Tag Archives: Foodie

The $2 Difference

This Foodie Friday sees us trying to answer the all-important question about whether to tip on the pre- or post-tax amount of the check. I suppose in some ways this falls into the category of “is a hot dog a sandwich?” but it has practical implications for the people on the receiving end of those tips, your waitstaff.

The thought for this was put in my head by an ongoing column on The Takeout, called Ask The Salty Waitress. Rather than getting caught up in the philosophical arguments for and against tipping off the taxed amount, she does something that I have often urged people in business to do: look at the practical and not at the hypothetical. She takes us through the math of the financial implications of tipping each way. In the end, it amount s to a $2 difference in a high tax area on a $100 check. Her feeling – and mine – is that the $2 probably means a lot more to the tippee that to the person eating out in a nice place.

This happens in business all the time. I’ve seen dozens of times when a meeting devolves into a heated argument over something in a contract. Everyone is standing on their principles but neglecting the real world. Often, when you can get the meeting to focus on the actual differences of conceding a point and getting something done vs. standing on principle and prolonging the discussion, the actual differences are actually pretty insubstantial, like the $2 tip.

Call me a pragmatist or call me someone who prefers to spend his time on things that warrant it, but my first instinct is always to figure out what the real outcomes are. If the result of taking either path is to have you end up in pretty much the same place then I’m taking the path of least resistance. You?

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Learning To Make What You Can’t Eat

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic this week is allergies, specifically food allergies.  Milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean account for 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States. Think for a minute about how many people are employed making food in the restaurant business. As with any large population, there is a percentage of those people with food allergies. Now, look at the previous list of the top things that cause those allergies. It’s pretty clear that if you have a food allergy and want to cook professionally that you’re going have to have a plan for dealing with it since the thing that causes it is probably going to be nearby quite a bit.

There is an article on Eater that discusses this topic. Called How Chefs With Food Allergies Make It Work, it’s an interesting look at how gluten intolerance affects a pasta chef and how other chefs deal with an inability to taste – or in some cases even to touch – an ingredient that sets off a bad reaction. I’d go beyond allergies, actually. Say you’re a vegetarian and you’re assigned to the meat station. How do you taste? What about a vegan who is assigned to make a stew or chili, where seasoning is paramount and tasting required? If you can’t touch fish, how can you tell when it’s properly cooked?

There’s a lesson in there for any of us in business. I used to supervise technical people and I’m not a highly technical person myself. I couldn’t see if lines of code were messed up nor could I grasp the intricacies of a network beyond a certain point. I was like a chef with an allergy – I couldn’t personally taste and instead I had to rely on others. What I could do – and what you can do when you find yourself in a similar situation – is to learn to ask the right questions. A chef that can’t taste a dish can ask if there is a balance between salt and acid. He can ask what flavors are dominant and if the ingredient that’s being highlighted is predominant enough. You may not be able to “taste” your accounting but you can ask the right questions about how things are being done. You’re not a lawyer (no allergic jokes please) so you can’t “taste” the various indemnifications and liabilities, but you can ask the lawyer the right questions about specific concerns you might have.

Learning to ask the right questions and learning how to listen carefully to answers is part of being a great businessperson. You may be unable to taste or touch a particular area of the business but you can always use others to fill in your understanding just as a chef with allergies uses others to help them. In fact, that “liability” is actually an asset in a time when more customers suffer from the same issues. As one chef is quoted, “Someone with allergies is going to be a lot more cognizant and proactive in the kitchen space.” I take that to mean someone who has learned to work with others toward a common goal that’s customer-focused. Isn’t that why we’re all in business?

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Country Omelets

It’s Foodie Friday and for some reason, I’ve got omelets on the brain. I’m not talking about the egg concoctions they’d serve you at the local greasy spoon although as you’ll see I’m a fan of those. No, I’m thinking about the French Omelet and as it turns out, there is a business point that comes along with it.

If you’re not familiar, a classic French omelet (or omelette) has, as Serious Eats put it,  a smooth, silky exterior with little to no browning that cradles a tender, moist, soft-scrambled interior. It is a dish that relies almost exclusively on technique. As with any dish, you want the best ingredients, but unlike many of the foods about which I’ve written over the years in this space, this dish is a fussy little thing and without knowing the proper technique, producing the unblemished golden-yellow eggs with an ultra-creamy texture is almost impossible.

There is no person better equipped to explain the proper technique than the great Jacques Pepin. Here is a video in which he makes a country omelet (what you or I would make at home) and the classic French omelet:

With the first one, a competent 6 year old could handle the technique (or lack thereof). I’m pretty sure that the second technique would involve a fairly large mess.  So what does this have to do with business?

I’m not going to deny that there are “techniques” in business. Where we see them most often is in the sales area. I recall going through various sales training sessions years ago where I was taught closing techniques, questioning techniques, objection handling techniques, and so on. The problem is that many of these techniques are used without an ethical overlay. Salespeople often look at them as ways to trick people. Obviously, if you have the right customer, you’re selling them something that will solve a problem they’re having. Why would tricking them be necessary?

I’m more of a country omelet businessperson. Sure, there are skills involved in what I do and you need to understand how to use the tools at your disposal. I’m far less concerned, however, with technique and more concerned with putting out a product that satisfies the basic need: someone is hungry! Is the ability to turn out a perfect French omelet impressive? It is, but it’s also way more fraught with risk. Minimizing risk while producing a great solution to a customer’s problem works for me every time. You?

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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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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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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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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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