Tag Archives: management

Top Shelf

It’s Foodie Friday, and if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, I’d be heading to my favorite local watering hole late this afternoon to celebrate the end of another work week. Since that’s not possible at the moment with all the bars and restaurants closed, I’ll do my celebrating here. I’m not going to lie either – I generally don’t pour myself an end of day beverage only on Fridays. From what I can glean from many of my friends’ posts on social media, I’m not drinking alone either.

One of the local establishments – a high-end cocktail lounge – has been selling their house-made mixers and syrups to have some income during this time. Of course, we bought some, mostly to support them but also because if ever there was a time to upgrade the cocktail game, this would be it. The other day, we made a beverage using one of the syrups and it was delicious, so much better than our usual drink. It got me thinking about what we did differently and, as I thought about it, there was a business point as well.

First, we used a really good vodka as well as the syrup. There was a top-shelf liqueur called for and we didn’t try to get a less-expensive brand. The lemon juice was fresh too. Unlike many times, we actually measured the ingredients and put them in a shaker with lots of ice to get a proper chill. I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I’m not measuring my drink proportions. Yes, I know that a typical highball (liquor plus mixer) is supposed to be a 3 to 2 mixer to booze ratio. Once in awhile, I’m sure my concoctions achieve that but those times are probably the exception.

The business point? Only the best ingredients, better known as your team. It’s worth spending more on the best you can get. Second, measuring, better known as data. If you’re not measuring how do you know how you’re doing? How do you know what’s working? It’s not enough that the cash register rings (and worse when it doesn’t). What’s causing it to ring? Can it ring louder and more often? Measuring is how we know.

Finally, putting the best ingredients in an environment where they’ll shine – the stainless shaker filled with ice, a chilled glass – made a big difference. You need to do the same with your team. Give them the best chance to be their best. Is it harder now with people working remotely? Of course, but finding a way to build that environment is your job, isn’t it? I’ve always said that a manager’s job is to help his team to do their jobs, first and foremost.

Try this: make your usual beverage next time but get the best ingredients you can afford and measure them carefully. Freshly squeezed juice, ginger beer with real ginger, whatever. Put them in a nice, well-chilled glass. Let me know if it doesn’t taste a whole lot better, ok?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Having An Abundance Of Talent And Failing

Foodie Friday! I’ll caution you that there are some Top Chef spoilers ahead so if you’ve not watched last night’s Restaurant Wars episode, you might want to come back later. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Top Chef and the pinnacle of every season is when the chefs divide into two teams for restaurant wars. Last night’s episode, which resulted in the elimination of one of the more talented chefs (who is also a fan-favorite) reminded me of a great business point.

As the chefs divided up into teams, it was very obvious that one team had four of the best chefs left in the competition. Several were James Beard Award winners, all have opened successful restaurants (several of them have multiple restaurants), and because this season is an All-Star competition, a few had advanced to the Top Chef finals in previous seasons. The other team had talent but if Vegas was setting a betting line on which team would win restaurant wars, there was no question which team would be the favorite.

When the smoke cleared and judgment had been rendered, the favorites lost and it wasn’t really close. The other team’s food was better executed, their service was more organized, and the menu was more inspired. All of that raises the point that talent alone isn’t the determining factor for success, which is our business point today.

What was evident watching the teams prepare their food was that the losing team was disorganized. They each knew what dishes they were making but other than the chef leading the team, none of them seemed to understand why the menu was the way it was nor how the flavors needed to complement one another. Teams that do well depend on an understanding of roles as well as tasks to avoid clashing, overlapping, or conflicting.

Chef Kevin, who was in charge of the team, designed a meal to be served family-style, with many dishes exiting the kitchen at once. While that works when you’re serving your own family, having to serve a full restaurant put an amazing amount of pressure on the kitchen, and not surprisingly, the service was incredibly slow. They needed to turn over tables in an hour but this style of service took longer and patrons were sitting for 90 minutes, which resulted in a backed-up restaurant. It’s nice to have a vision but had Kevin considered the team’s ability to execute his ambitious vision multiple times an hour, he might have altered his plan. That might have been the result of overconfidence, which often is a problem for the very talented. When you believe that you are unbeatable and that your successes will continue, you can get sloppy, lose concentration, or in the worst cases, slip into arrogance. Was there some of that last night? Just maybe.

Bad communication can often lie at the root of why talented teams fail but that seemed OK in the kitchen. However, the front of house staff wasn’t properly briefed because Kevin wasn’t thinking about that task and never told the chef whose job it was to do the briefing to stop what they were doing and get to the front of the house. It’s never enough to have a great plan. Without great execution, you’re lost.

I wouldn’t say the better team won. I’d say the team that executed better won. Their vision was more simple, their product was innovative, and most importantly, they maximized the talent they had. It’s something to think about as you’re working with your team, right?

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Filed under Consulting, food

We’re Trucked

Believe it or not, it’s Foodie Friday again (I know, you can’t keep track of what day it is). Obviously, we’re not dining out here and I’m pretty sure you’re not either. We are, however, bringing in for from some of our regular haunts in an effort to support them during this difficult time. In a couple of cases, the restaurants are moving closer to us by rolling out their food trucks into various places nearby.

Food trucks are one of the businesses I represent along with dozens of other food franchises. I can tell you that the cost to open and operate one of these beasts is significantly less than for almost any other type of food place. I haven’t pulled any of the Franchise Disclosure Documents to check out the operating and earnings claims for trucks vs. brick and mortar but I’m thinking that the trucks probably have better margins.

Margins in the restaurant industry are notoriously small. While you might expect your margin in any other type of business to be north of 25%, in the restaurant world they run 3–9%. Not much room for error and definitely no room for the type of catastrophic business environment in which they’re trying to operate. Having a truck to roll out, either in lieu of or in addition to operating the brick and mortar joint for takeout might just be a lifesaver.

I could spend the rest of today’s screed talking about why the margins are so bad and what can be done about it. The two-word solution is “charge more” but I’ll leave that for another post. What I want us to think about today is how we can “food truck” our businesses. How can we find some other way to operate, maybe even in a more efficient, consumer-friendly manner once we get to whatever the new “normal” will be?  How will you calm your customers’ frayed nerves? How does your business have to change to mirror the changes in society, media consumption, supply-chain and each of the other factors and constituencies that make up your enterprise?

I find I’m spending more time talking to people about businesses that can operate out of the home.  I also remind them that no matter what business they’re evaluating, the process will take time. 2 months for a non-retail business and maybe as long as 5 months if you’re outfitting a store/salon/restaurant etc. The time to be planning and beginning the process is now. Borrowed money is cheap, there will be a glut of real estate, and you want to be ready when the new normal eventuates.

So how are you food-trucking your business?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Franchises

Crisitunity

I think it’s Foodie Friday although it’s fairly easy to lose track when most days are pretty much the same these days as we all ride out the current pandemic crisis. While many businesses have been damaged and many people hurt, the restaurant business has been particularly hard hit. Most places have ordered them not to serve anything other than take-out. Order volume is way down. Many of the staff have been laid off or fired altogether. Couple that with the fact that the food business is generally a low-margin business to begin with and you have a dire situation.

Think for a minute how other industries are affected by the restaurant situation. Suppliers now face uncertainty. Landlords might not get paid. If they own the building that’s one thing but if they owe a lender payments, they’re in trouble as well. But as Lisa points out to Homer, a crisis is also an opportunity.



One thing I’ve noticed is that there is suddenly a much great awareness of the interconnectivity of all the constituencies of every business, restaurant and otherwise. It all starts with customers, of course, but also shows how critical everyone is and how many people touch a business. Need supplies? What if the delivery person can’t work and there aren’t replacements. What if the supply chain is interrupted due to hoarding? I’m sure you’ve seen that as stores began to see hoarding they imposed limits on the numbers of what could be bought, not to limit their sales but to make sure they were serving as many people as possible. I call it equity, you can call it fairness or whatever you like.


I’ve got friends who work in the food business. Some of them have been laid off. Others continue to work, taking the risk each day that they might become ill to help their restaurant survive during the crisis. They can’t work from home. When this is over, think about that as you’re wondering whether to tip the extra 5%.

I’m hopeful that other businesses will think more about equity. Will that mean higher wages, better working conditions, and increased benefits? I don’t know but I know we won’t be going back to the world as it was. I’m sure many great people are rethinking their choice of employer if not their career choices. I’m quite sure that many employers won’t have the same staff back, resulting in the loss of institutional memory, increased hiring and training costs, and even more lost time. What are they doing about that? Using the crisis to put the “new” world in the context of equity is a start. You can’t pretend nothing has changed. How are you going to?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

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

South Bye Bye

These are odd times indeed and it’s when we’re under stress that our true nature often shows. That same is true of organizations and that’s often to their detriment because that true nature is often anti-customer. There is an excellent example of this in what’s going on with the SXSW Festival.

If you’re unfamiliar with the South By Southwest festival, or South By as it’s commonly known, this is how it describes itself:

The event has changed in many surprising and meaningful ways since 1987, but at its core, SXSW remains a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas.

It’s sort of a spring break for the tech, marketing, film, and music communities and it attracts thousands of people who attend for the connections they might make, for the music they’ll hear, and for the learnings they’ll take away. It’s become a huge deal and passes to the event cost about $1,400 per person for mid-priced interactive badges that last the length of the 9-day festival. It’s an investment, obviously, and that doesn’t include all the spending by agencies and sponsors.

Here is the problem. They canceled the festival over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and won’t refund attendees and vendors. They’re offering to defer your ticket to 2021, 2022, or 2023, but they won’t give you back the money. Is this in accordance with their stated policies? Yes, it is, but as we began the piece, these are odd times and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for this business to have another think about alienating their customers.

Many agencies have been cutting back their spending as the festival has become too big and unwieldy. I suspect this might anger those who haven’t been cutting back. Airlines have been refunding tickets and Airbnb recently announced that some coronavirus-related cancellations will qualify for refunds under its “extenuating circumstances” policy.  Many of the attendees are small business people looking to promote themselves or artists they represent. Tying up this money for at least a year can be a big hit, one that just might put them out of business by the next festival.

On top of all this, the festival company fired 30% of its employees. Insurance won’t cover enough to maintain the full-time staff where it was.

Should a cancellation something that should have been in the disaster plan? You would think so. This didn’t happen overnight. Companies and artists began pulling out of the festival weeks ago. Should the decisions that seem to have been taken about how to handle the aftermath of a cancellation been more consumer and business partner-friendly? Based on the extreme negative responses in both sectors, definitely so. Will SXSW ever recover from this? Time will tell, but the lessons we can learn will be the same. Be customer-centric. The short-term pain leads to long-term gain most of the time.

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?, 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