It’s Foodie Friday, and this week an article on a restaurant trade site caught my eye. It’s all about the things restaurant owners wished they’d known when they decided to open a place. Having spent a lot of time working with startups, what I find interesting is that many of their statements are not unique to the restaurant business. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you will nod your head in agreement with these if you’ve even started a business or worked with one in its early stages. You can read the entire piece by clicking through here.
Photo by Bank Phrom
First and foremost, the time involved. One owner said she wished she’d known “That I was going to spend the first couple months basically living in the store and two years married to the business. 86 my social life!” I’m often amused at the founders who still have side gigs, especially if those gigs are not consulting positions that are very flexible. One startup with which I’m working has two founders who don’t seem to be able to focus enough time on their company, and as a result, their progress is very slow. What should have taken them several months has taken them a couple of years. In part it’s a financial decision – the gigs help fund the startup – but I sometimes feel as if they don’t really get that you need to be married to the business, as this owner says.
Another owner wishes he’d known “To have enough money reserved to be able to wait to open the doors to the public.” There is something to be said for throwing a lot of tests out there and iterating, but I’m a believer in making sure you’re putting your best foot forward. That doesn’t mean every beta has to be perfect but it does mean, to paraphrase the words of the old Paul Masson commercial, not selling any product before its time. The world is too cluttered and I’m not sure any business gets multiple chances after a bad customer experience (think about how many apps you’ve deleted recently or a restaurant at which your first meal was your last).
Then there is the point never underestimate the value of private dining. As the owner put it, people wanted a place where it was quiet and personal. I think that makes it as much about the experience as it does the product. Personalization is key!
Finally, I love another owner’s point: “To build your squad. We always knew that having good people was important, but I’m not sure we realized how important.” As any business grows, the founders can only do so much and your success is in the hands of the people you’ve brought in and trained. Your job as a manager is to help your team to do their jobs, but it’s also to be sure that every person is carrying their load. Nothing will bring a business down faster than a weak link in the chain that causes resentment among the rest of the team. Hire well, don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made a mistake with a hire if you have, and do everything in your power to retain great talent.
Yes, the food service business is different in many ways (you probably don’t have the health department visiting nor do you deal with many cuts and burns), but as the piece demonstrates, every startup faces many of the same challenges, don’t they?
Most of us seek advice of some sort. It can be as simple as reading product reviews before we make a purchase or a restaurant reservation or as complicated as hiring a business advisor or a life coach. It’s information that adds to our own opinions as we make decisions, and one of the most important life skills is figuring out what’s good information and what’s not.
I thought of this while I watched this video from the European Tour. It’s 4 minutes of that tour’s golf professionals giving advice to a series of amateurs. The advice ranges from the nutty to the idiotic and every one of the amateurs follows it to the best of their ability. It’s silly stuff, ranging from stretching your eyeballs as part of your warm-up to piling grass on the ball to swinging blindfolded to throwing the club.
Here is the thing that resonated: the amateurs hung on every word of this bogus advice because it came from credible sources, tour pros. It reminded me of several clients I’ve had who had been given demonstrably wrong information from consultants or companies that positioned themselves as experts. Unlike the golf example, this wasn’t done as a joke and it did have negative consequences for my clients.
So here are a few things to think about. First, do your due diligence. Make sure the person giving you advice is qualified to do so. Not that there aren’t smart young people, but it’s less likely that a person with two or three years of business experience will have the broad perspective of someone with twenty or thirty years.
Next, avoid generic solutions. Good advice is tailored to the recipient. Golf pros who give the same lessons to everyone are generally horrible teachers. Your business is as personal as your golf swing, and any advice you get must be tailored to you.
If your advisor talks a lot more than he or she listens, dump them. In the video, some of the amateurs question the “tip” they’ve been given but the pro keeps chattering away, ignoring the questions.
I think that’s all good advice!
I bought a ticket yesterday to see the Michigan Wolverine basketball team play North Carolina. It’s a chance to see a team that I root for in person, and since I don’t live close to Ann Arbor, those chances don’t come very often without significant travel. It wasn’t cheap – over $100 to sit in a so-so seat – but as I’ve written many times, cost and value aren’t the same.
Yes, the game will be on TV and I could just stay home and watch it, as I do many of their other games. In fact, as a person who made a living in the sports TV business, I often ask myself why people both going to games now at all. After all, it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and the viewing experience is often much better sitting at home. I know from my time at a league that clubs are well-aware of this and they try to make the game-day experience worth the time and money, and many do. But the real reason I and other fans go to the game is something that any of us can bring to our business: authenticity.
I’ve been to hundreds of sporting events. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts. They’re often forgettable – your team getting shellacked or a bad night for a band. But every time the experience is real, and part of that is sharing it with thousands of others. Some bands forget this – they use a lot of recorded sound in their show, often including vocals. Some teams come out tired and slow – maybe it’s their third game in four days. No magic there because in neither case are we seeing the real deal – an organization performing at its full potential. The fans know it too – there’s no electricity in the building (and in sports, there’s often a lot of negative energy expressed as booing). People want experiences, and especially experiences they can share.
This is something any business should remember. Customers want something real. They can tell when we’re “fake nice” or when we’re being unresponsive. They want consistency too. The fan who pays for the “off night” goes away unhappy and is unlikely to return. As our lives get more virtual, I think we all crave genuine things, experiences and businesses among the things for which we hunger. You?
Monday for is a day of some reflection since it inevitably follows a weekend of sports watching. This time of year one can watch just about any sport being contested at the highest levels. College and pro football are in full swing, as is world soccer. Baseball is in the playoffs as is NASCAR. The NHL and NBA seasons are just getting started, as is the new professional golf season. Not a Saturday or Sunday passes without a bunch of winners.
Business has seasons but they’re generally not as cut and dry as those in sports. It’s pretty much a year-round effort, but it does have quite a bit of winning and losing that goes on. Every day can bring about a victory: a new contract won, a great new hire, a new position or job, or an improvement in the bottom line that the entire team worked to bring about. It’s important, however, to think about what winning means to you. What does it mean to win?
That implies a few other questions you should be asking yourself and your organization. Why are you doing what you’re doing? That question gets at your purpose and begins to provide the measuring stick for victory. We succeed by effort and by striving to reach a goal or goals. Defining what they are is an important piece for each individual and for the common goals your team needs to have.
As businesspeople, we need to remember that winning is different for everyone. We need to foster an environment where each person can win by their own definition. How can we help one another to improve? How can we put ourselves and our organizations in the best position? The answers to those sorts of questions are what fills up sports TV pregame shows and the analysis of how well each player and team accomplished what they set out to do is postgame fodder. Maybe we ought to do pre- and post-game interviews in our places of business since it would become fairly obvious if we’ve defined winning and set ourselves up to achieve victory. What do you think?
We’ve arrived at Yom Kippur again and there is a part of the holiday’s traditions that involves food so it’s an appropriate Foodie Friday topic. Beginning this evening, those who observe the holiday will fast for 24 hours. Traditionally, the meal that follows the fast is “dairy”: bagels, cream cheese, smoked fish of some sort, a sweet noodle dish called kugel, and cakes. The thinking is that a relatively bland meal is appropriate following a fast and the dishes can be prepared ahead since one doesn’t do work of any sort on the day. Hey – if Sandy Koufax can skip work and not pitch the World Series (which made a huge impression on me back in 1965), you and your bubbe can stay out of the kitchen.
My family generally had whitefish salad, egg salad, and tuna salad available as well. I know that blintzes are big with some families, although my family was never patient enough to cook them (listen, when you’ve not eaten for 24 hours, even another 10 minutes is an eternity). Everyone would generally grab whatever was available to eat immediately, breaking the fast while their bagel toasted.
Obviously, there is a much more important aspect to the holiday than food. Last year I wrote that:
Most people think of the day in terms of atoning for one’s sins. That’s not quite right in that it’s an incomplete statement. That atonement is only a part of the equation. There is a broader focus on other things as well. One is charity, one is repentance and the other is prayer. Those things can also be interpreted as trying to embody high ideals, returning to those values and ideals if we’ve strayed from them, and self-reflection.
Whether you’re Jewish or not, taking a day to think about that three-legged stool is a valuable thing, both personally and with respect to your business. Since this is a business blog, let me focus on the business aspect. Every business needs to give back somehow. Whether it’s mentoring on a pro bono basis or sponsoring a Little League team, it’s not only smart marketing. It’s the right thing to do.
Atoning in business is simply reflecting on the times over the past year when you missed the mark and determining to do better. It may be a badly handled customer service issue or it may be treating an employee badly. Identifying those instances and improving the future is a fundamental part of being a good businessperson.
And prayer? I’ll leave that to you. I was always taught that prayer is not about you and shouldn’t focus on your wants. I think even atheists can pray since, as Emerson said, “Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view.” Not a bad place for any businessperson to be.
Happy New Year!
If you’ve spent any time reading this drivel, you’ve probably seen my constant nagging to provide value by solving problems. No, I’ve not changed my thinking about that, but I’d like to put one stipulation on the statement: make sure that the problem is real. I’m thinking specifically of those people who have hero syndrome. Not the seriously ill type such as the firefighter who is also an arsonist, lighting fires so they can save the day. I mean the people who are constantly solving problems that don’t exist.
I used to work with someone who would stick their head in my office and report that some client or partner was having an issue. They also told me not to worry – they were on the case and would handle it. Phew! Of course, it was rather odd when I mentioned to one of the “saved” partners that I was happy that my team member was able to solve their issue and the partner had no clue what I meant. Fortunately, the “hero” in question moved on not long afterward.
The other side of the equation is also true. There are people who are the “go-to” people in various areas and who become indispensable, so much so that their mental and physical health can suffer because they don’t want to disappoint anyone. It’s another aspect of hero syndrome. They feel as if they won’t be appreciated if they ask for help. Instead, they often become bitter, burnout, or both.
How do we handle people with hero syndrome? First, make sure the problems they are solving are real and are worth solving. Not everything is a crisis, you know. Second, make sure that they have the resources to solve the problem quickly, efficiently, and completely. Sometimes for those of us who were higher-ups, it means getting your hands dirtier than usual, often doing work for which you’re overqualified. I always felt as if I was paid to be everyone’s safety net, so if it was a job I could do, I did it. I have plenty of paper cut scars from making last-minute copies and assembling binders when I was needed. Finally, pay attention to the folks who are constantly being heroes. Make sure they’re not lighting the fires they’re busy extinguishing. Make sure no one is constantly backlogged with work and everyone knows it’s OK to just say “no” when they’re overwhelmed. Those times are when those of us in management earn our pay.
It’s Foodie Friday, and I want to relate an experience I had the other night while dining out. It got me thinking about some dumb things folks in the food business do and how any of us in business can be smarter than they seem to have been. I went to get a burger at a local bar that serves excellent food.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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.
When the burger came the other night, I asked the server for some mayo to dress the bun. They used to serve a lovely house-made truffle aioli but the menu has changed and now it’s just mayo. What I got was a handful of packets of mayo. You know – the shelf-stable, room temperature stuff you’d get tossed in your bag at a deli for your take-out sandwich. I was shocked and felt like whoever made the decision to serve their condiments as if we were in a concession line someplace was disrespecting the customer, not to mention their own product. They had put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
It got me thinking. How could these people compromise the excellence of their product by doing something so silly? Then again, we see plenty of examples of this. Ever notice a water bottle that claims to contain “gluten-free” or “non-GMO” water? It’s another example of a business showing their customers disrespect. You assume we’re too dumb to know that water couldn’t possibly contain those things. I’m sure you’ve seen ads for “hormone-free” chicken. Well, yeah – the law prohibits the use of hormones. It’s fake transparency or worse because it shows a contempt for the customer’s lack of knowledge.
Do I think the bar serving me a packet of mayo is as bad as misleading labeling? No, but both actions come from the same place, one we all need to avoid in business. We need to honor our products and services but first and foremost, we need to honor our customers. I get that this is probably nothing more than a cost-saving measure, but I’m also sure there is mayo in the walk-in and putting a spoonful into a little cup may cost a few cents but is more in line with both the quality of the product and the customer’s expectations. Make sense?