Tag Archives: management

A Slice Of Menu Advice

It’s Foodie Friday and our fun this week derives from some things I took away from an article on pizzeria menus. I know – what is a guy whose consulting practice focuses on strategy and media doing reading an article on how to write a best-selling pizza menu? Well, as I’ve often mentioned, one never knows from where a great insight will spring and so it’s incumbent upon us to look under every rock and (pizza) stone, don’t you think?

The article, from Pizza Today, talks about a number of things that can drive more sales from the same menu. I think a number of those things are applicable to most businesses, food-related or not. First, there is such a thing as TMI – too much information. If the menu details every bit of information about each ingredient in the pizza (local mushrooms grown in special caves, organic, non-GMO cheese from a particular type of cow, etc.) it’s likely that the customer‘s eyes will glaze over and they’ll stop reading. I don’t need to tell you about information overload – most of us suffer from it and despite the often-cited false information that our attention spans are now shorter than those of a goldfish, I do believe our tolerance for excessive information has vanished. We’re all too time-challenged, so respect your customer by providing enough detail so that they can make an informed decision (it’s pecorino cheese)  but know that too much and they turn off (it’s pecorino, a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese from Lazio).

The piece also talks about changing the menu a few times a year. One owner mentions that he

changes 25 to 30 percent of the menu about four times a year, “which we need to do as a neighborhood restaurant. It gives us a story to tell customers — why we have changed it up. That keeps customers excited and chefs stimulated and allows us to serve seasonal food.”

That’s a good thought regardless of your business. It’s imperative that you keep in touch with your customers but to do so you really need to have something to say. A new product or service or the fact that something that customers are used to seeing in your offerings will be discontinued is news. Too many businesses post what amounts to spam and make their user bases less like to engage when they really do have something to say.

Finally, the article mentions how the menu should call out information that is important such as gluten-free and dairy-free items along with upcharges. Recognizing that some customers have special needs and that most customers aren’t happy when they get it with fees they weren’t expecting is just common sense for anyone in business. We’ve been over the mess the airlines have made of doing fare-comparisons because almost no airline sells you a ticket without some sort of extra fee. The same is true of concert tickets, hotel rooms (those resort fees!), rental cars, and many other businesses. Are you happy when they pop up on your bill? Neither are your customers.

That’s what I learned from a pizza menu. You?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Taking The Temperature

Foodie Friday! As much as I’d like to write about Pimento Cheese on this Masters’ Friday, I have a business thought that comes from an article I read on whipped cream. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated, about which I’ve written before, have a science page as part of their website. On it, they present the results of their ongoing tests into food preparation and one of the things they investigated was the old saw that you have to start with cold cream if you’re whipping the cream to stiff peaks.

The short answer is that yes, temperature matters and the colder your cream (and bowl and beaters) the better. You get much better results that way – a higher volume and much less whipping time to get the results you want. In fact, cream at room temperature never really got to stiff peaks at all. As I read the piece it occurred to me that the kitchen isn’t the only place where the environment matters.

You don’t have to look very far into the business world to find companies that produce excellent results because the management creates optimal conditions for the team to do so. I’ve worked in places where I’ve seen two similar departments produce very different results based on how the managers treated the staff. I wouldn’t say that one department had very different levels of skill or intelligence but it did have some managers that created the best conditions possible for success. They outlined the group’s goals clearly. They were supportive and encouraging. They didn’t hesitate to praise great work (and publicly!) and they very quietly made sure that the underperformers knew they were not meeting the standards of the group. The people in the group weren’t impersonal names on a page. They had personal relationships with each person and communicated effectively with each person. They led by example and didn’t hold themselves above the group or to a different standard of behavior.

Creating the right conditions for success really is the only job a manager has. Much like making sure the cream, beaters, and bowl are cold, they make it easy for the team to produce the best possible outcomes with the least effort and drama. Doesn’t that sound like a plan?

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Filed under Consulting, food

You’re Naked

One of the things that can kill you in business is believing your own BS. As a former salesperson (we are really ever NOT salespeople?), that’s hard to admit, but let me explain what I mean. Let’s look at our products and services first and then let’s take a look at ourselves.

I know what I’m good at and what services I can provide. I also know my limitations. When I speak with potential clients, I’m very upfront about both of those things. It’s about setting expectations and not overpromising. If someone needs help, for example, with art, I’m not your guy. If they want help understanding UX, however, I can help. Need basic SEO work? I can do it. Need a lot of backend coding? Not from me, you don’t.

If you sell anything, it has limitations. Failing to acknowledge them leads to underdelivery and that leads to failure. If you can’t recognize and admit where the boundaries are, you’ve got a problem.

The same principle holds for us as managers. The higher up we go, the more we have people around us who are unwilling to criticize or challenge us. While our responsibility gets larger, our circles get smaller. In some cases, a leader makes it a point to eliminate anyone who contradicts their own view of themselves. I always felt this was inversely proportionate to the executive’s strength as a leader. I’ve worked for bosses who welcomed challenges to their opinions and for some who wouldn’t tolerate and dissent. Needless to say, the staff would kill for the former and abandoned the latter as soon as they got a chance.

I read this about former President Obama and his interactions with an unnamed musical artist on the basketball court:

When asked what he could learn about someone from playing basketball with him, Obama talked about self-awareness—singling out “a singer, a musical artist” whom he once played a pick-up game with, someone who was “ballin’” and came “with an entourage,” but utterly sucked on the court. “His shot was broke… he had no self-awareness and thought he was good,” Obama said. “He surrounded himself with people who told him he was good, even though he’s terrible.”

That’s my point exactly. We need people to tell us our shot stinks and that we’re naked, just like the little girl in The Emporer’s New Clothes. It makes us better managers and if we accept the feedback about our products or services, better salespeople. Who doesn’t want that?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Why I Had To Buy The Crackers

This Foodie Friday we have a tale from the aisles of my local Harris Teeter. For those of you unfamiliar with the chain, it operates over 230 stores and 14 fuel centers in seven states and the District of Columbia. They’re originally from North Carolina and their southern hospitality is the story I’d like to hold up to you (or y’all) today as a best practice for any of us in business.

I do my weekly shopping at the HT, generally on Thursdays (extra 5% discount for us old folks!). I was wandering around the deli section trying to find some crackers that were on sale. An HT employee, whose sole responsibility seemed to be to walk around and to look for confused customers, asked me if I was having trouble finding something. I told her I was and what the missing item was. She walked over to the department manager to inquire and he immediately stopped what he was doing, came over, and told me that he had some more of the items in the back. He encouraged me to keep shopping and return to the deli later while he would go get the items.

No more than 5 minutes later, as I was wandering down an adjacent aisle, up walks the manager, 4 boxes of crackers in hand, one of each flavor. Now, you might not remember this, but I’m fairly fanatical about not eating non-whole grains or sugar or simple carbs. Without looking, I took 2 boxes of the crackers from him, thanked him profusely, and carried on. After he had left, I read the labels. These were not generally the sort of crackers I’d buy. However, he had gone to such effort to get them for me that I felt an obligation to do so.

That, my friends, is the reciprocation tendency in action. That, as you may recall,  is the tendency to want to return the favor when someone helps us or gives us something. I gladly bought two boxes of crackers I’ll probably only serve to guests just because the customer service was so excellent. As an aside, it’s a cultural thing in the store. Someone is constantly available to help you and they do so willingly and immediately. The store also does ongoing customer service surveys.

I’ve written about it before and will continue to do so. Customer service is, by my reckoning, the single most important distinguishing factor for most businesses today. Customers expect convenience and speed when they interact with your company, along with a smile. In this case, I bought something I probably would not have as a way to reward that service. What can you be doing to get your customers to do the same?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Engineers And Lawyers

Techcrunch published a piece yesterday that caught my attention because I think it hits a proverbial nail right on the head. It dealt with the topic of fake news but I think it has important things to say to any of us in business as well. To quote the piece, “The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on that search for truth.” It’s a topic we’ve touched on here many times but I really like how the author – Jon Evans – explains to two different mentalities under which many of us operate these days.

I still tend to come at the world with what he calls an engineer’s mentality. I look at the information in front of me, seek out as much new information as I can, and adjust my thinking even if what I find contradicts what I believed previously. Whether you think of that as an engineer or a scientist or just being an adult, it seemed as if most of the people I knew operated under a similar paradigm.

He goes on to make the point that most people today operate instead with a lawyer’s mentality. You pick a side (generally based upon who is your client!), and then sort through all the available information, picking and choosing that which supports your side while discarding (at best) or belittling (at worst) that which doesn’t. In other words, many of us approach the world with what can be a fatal case of confirmation bias.

Many of my closest friends in the world are lawyers. In their personal lives, most of them actually tend not to bring their professional mentality to their personal thinking. That said, what’s wrong with the lawyer’s point of view? Simple. That one-sided analysis of the “facts” will be offset in front of a decision-maker – a judge and/or jury – by the other, equally biased set of facts presented by the opposing counsel. In business (and life), we generally have to weigh ALL the information ourselves and do the best we can with respect to sorting out the truth or the best course of action. We need to be our own opposing counsel if you will.

We need to think like scientists. It’s fine to have a point of view or an initial hypothesis, but we really need to apply the scientific method in our business laboratories and validate our thinking. Not all data are meaningful or even truthful. Neither are all the things we hear from coworkers. Do your research, form your own opinions. Given where we are as a country, it might not hurt each of us to think about our thinking and how we go about forming our non-business opinions too, don’t you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Back To The Bar

(Only cropped, no other editing.)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I’m inspired by something the folks at Bacardi are doing because it’s something every company ought to be doing in some form. In the case of Bacardi, they’ve called it “Back To The Bar” and the reason for what they’re doing is nicely explained by their CEO and reported by MediaPost:

“Back to the Bar is our version of ‘walking the factory floor,’” said Mahesh Madhavan, CEO of Bacardi Limited. “It puts our people in touch with what’s happening in our business in real life and real time — something you can’t truly understand behind a computer screen, sitting through a presentation, or dissecting a spreadsheet.”

What every employee is being encouraged to do is to go hang around bars. In fact, they’re shutting down the company to allow employees to do so. While they’re in those bars, they’re to connect with customers and encourage them to try cocktails made with Bacardi. I imagine they’ll also get a lot of feedback on the product, consumer approaches to drink selection and other information which, as the CEO says, you can’t get behind a computer screen. It’s a fantastic idea.

Think about your own business. First, I hope you’re eating your own dog food – that you’re a regular user of your own product or service. If not, why not? As an example, over the years I’ve worked in sports with a few people who didn’t really watch sports or know a heck of a lot about it. How they got hired baffled me. I also worked with a TV executive who said he didn’t ever watch some very popular shows because he “wasn’t the demo.” I get that but I think if your job entails marketing to a particular target you need to understand the target and that includes their likes and dislikes even if they don’t mirror your own.

Next, Barcardi is getting first-hand feedback. They’re talking to people who are in a relaxed environment, probably a cocktail or two down the road, and the chances of getting uncensored feedback are excellent. It’s not a written survey or a focus group. It’s way better than those. Most importantly, it’s first hand. I have always loved the old United Airlines commercial from the late 1980’s in which Ben, a senior executive whose company lost a long-term client that morning, is handing out airline tickets to his managers and tells them to go visit clients. Ben himself is going “to visit that old friend who fired us this morning.” It’s a spectacular reminder not to lose touch with people. Don’t rely solely on email and telephone. You probably see this issue even in how your own office works if you still work in one. People don’t visit – they communicate via email or Slack or some other messaging service, even with the person in the next cubicle.

People thrive when they connect with other people. Your business thrives when it really connects with customers. When was the last time you went back to the bar?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Building A Better Filter

I came across something this past week that I knew immediately would have to be our Foodie Friday topic because in a flash my reaction went from “duh” to “brilliant” to “life-changing.” It is a coffee filter. That’s right: the thing into which you put the coffee as you prepare your morning cup. It actually can remind us a lot about business.

I was visiting my sister and went to make the morning coffee. As I opened up a filter to place it into the conical thing that holds the ground coffee, I saw something on the white paper of the filter that I’d never seen before: lines. That’s right – pre-measured markings to delineate the levels of ground coffee, much as you probably have on the coffee pot itself for water. I literally giggled with glee. No measuring spoon to wash nor losing track of how many scoops I’d counted out. Just hit the same line each day with the water in the pot and the coffee in the filter and get the same brew, no matter how sleepy I was as I made the pot.

What does this have to do with business? A few things. First, coffee filters are commodity items. Not much distinguishes one filter from another and anything which can do so will remove price as the only variable. In this case, I don’t see evidence that these filters even cost any more than those without lines.

Second, this is clearly a change made with the consumer in mind. After all, it must cost a little something extra to print the lines on the filters as well as to implement a step in manufacturing that wasn’t there before. Based on the filters without measure lines, I don’t think anything had ever been printed on them, so this might even have involved purchasing new equipment to provide a customer benefit. It would have been very easy to say let’s charge more to maintain our margins or to forget the “new” product altogether but some smart manager didn’t.

Finally, it shows us that even something as simple as a coffee filter – literally a folded piece of paper – can provide room for innovation and a better product. All that’s required is to keep the focus on customer benefit and to think outside of the box (or inside the filter!). Those are things any of can and should do.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints