Another Foodie Friday in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve all been affected and no business sector more than restaurants and bars. Many bars are still shut down and the places where bars have reopened have seen COVID cases rise dramatically, prompting some areas to shut them down again. Restaurants are gradually reopening but business is very different. I want to look at how and see if we can learn anything.
When you make a business plan, part of what you do is to project sales. In the restaurant business, you’d look at how many meals (covers) you’re serving each night, how often you’re turning tables, and how full that makes your restaurant. In most cases, any plan that indicated 50% capacity would be marginal and no plan would see 25% capacity as even a remotely feasible option.
If you’ve got a giant dining room (think Cheesecake Factory), 25% of capacity may still be a large enough number to make the business a small profit. Now throw in the need to keep your customers separated by six-feet, which may make the actual capacity below even the 25%. It’s impossible.
Restaurants area putting up plastic barriers to provide separation. My guess is that they’ll need to address their air filtering at some point as both customers and health officials find out more about how the virus spreads. Buffet? Bye-bye. Menus are being reduced, printed, and used once. More expenses, as are the costs of having staffers who do nothing but sanitize tables and everything else after parties have left. It’s a low-margin business to begin with and what we see happening now is just destroying the business completely.
A well-known celebrity chef moved here a year ago and opened a successful restaurant. He closed it the other day. Yes, he was doing takeout but as he said, that wasn’t what diners wanted from a restaurant known for its live experiences. Is the business experience the same in a closed-in booth? I’ve had very good takeout from several places during the last few months but even the best of it isn’t as good as the same food coming right out of the kitchen. Neither is the experience.
So what can we learn? I’m amazed at how the industry is adapting. Ghost kitchens, which I’ve written about, are going to be a part of the future. So is the takeout business, lesser experience or not. Even with restaurants reopening, the takeout business isn’t declining. Are there lessons for non-food businesses? I think so.
First, don’t be afraid to consider the most far-fetched things in your disaster planning (“oh come on – no one is going to shut down the entire economy…”). Second, that plan needs to focus on customers’ needs. The takeout business isn’t something the restaurateurs planned for but customer demand necessitated it. Third, don’t assume that the disaster plan will apply only to a temporary condition. I don’t think we’re ever getting back to anything but a new normal, do you? Think about change being permanent and plan accordingly. Make sense?
So here is something I bet you didn’t know. There is a law against airing false information on TV. OK, so it’s technically not a law – it’s an FCC rule – and it doesn’t apply to cable TV since that’s not an over the air medium like TV or radio. Those latter media are prohibited from broadcasting false information about a crime or a catastrophe if the broadcaster knows the information is false and will cause substantial “public harm” if aired. With respect to other news, The FCC is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press. It is, however, illegal for broadcasters to intentionally distort the news, and the FCC may act
on complaints, if there is documented evidence of such behavior from persons with direct personal knowledge.
That’s one reason why you can generally trust things you hear and see on broadcast outlets rather than cable or streaming outlets. It also makes me wonder why the same sort of standard isn’t governing the plethora of made-up misinformation that surrounds us. What got me thinking about this today is all of the reporting about Facebook’s failures when it comes to fighting misleading posts on their platform. They say it’s in the name of free speech. I think it’s in the name of commerce.
Several advertisers have suspended or ended their spending on Facebook and other social media over this issue as well as the proliferation of hate speech. Is it really a problem? Um, have you been on Facebook or Twitter? The latter at least is attempting to deal with the issue. Facebook isn’t, other than paying lip service to the idea of cleaning up their sewer. But as this article and this one point out, they’re failing because they really don’t seem to be trying.
Is it more than unsavory speech with which we’re dealing? Yes, it is. Say I spend a lot of money targeting voters who I think will vote against me with a very realistic looking ad saying that the election has been delayed a week due to the pandemic in an effort to suppress your vote? Maybe I pay to put up a number of posts saying that the police are strip-searching all voters when they enter the polls? If you’ve paid any attention at all to what happened in the last national election, you know that there were many groups, both American and foreign, who did things along those lines. I’m pretty sure that’s not the kind of free speech the founders had in mind.
So I think there ought to be a law very similar to the rules that broadcasters live by. Knowingly disseminating false information should be penalized, and repeat offenders should do more than pay fines. When I worked in TV, losing a license was always in the back of our minds. Maybe it’s time that we de-platformed the folks who are polluting the political and other discourses even if it means shutting down a huge business like Facebook. After all, in their day, TV stations were pretty big businesses too. What do you think?
When I sang in the chorus in college we performed Brahms’ German Requiem. As you can deduce from the title, it’s in German. I really enjoyed singing it but I really didn’t understand much of what I was singing about since my reading comprehension of German is practically nonexistent. That didn’t stop me from singing the words, quite loudly when necessary, even if their meaning escaped me.
I see the same thing going on all the time, both in business and in life. These days, when science discussion is all around us due to the pandemic I’m fascinated by the folks who suddenly are virologists. Maybe they read a scientific paper about what’s going on or, more probably, read a link on Facebook that pointed them to something with a lot of big words. It’s nice that they read the science papers but when you have a conversation with them about it, it becomes pretty clear that they have no clue about what it means.
You can see that in business. Someone reads an article on something – the efficacy of social media or the importance of influencers in marketing – and suddenly they’re an expert. The truth is that they don’t understand the details of the topic in a way that gives them the ability to discuss them out of context. They’ve done a great job memorizing but a lousy job in grasping meaning.
I used to tell consulting clients the truth about my knowledge base. I was a mile wide but in some areas, I was only an inch deep. It didn’t embarrass me nor should it disturb you. I think a sign of both maturity and intelligence is knowing what you don’t know and not being afraid to admit it. When a client got to the limits of my understanding I would either go broaden my understanding or I’d bring in someone more expert.
You can sing in a language that you don’t understand just as you can pronounce the words on a page if you have a pronunciation guide. That doesn’t mean a thing in business. We say something is “Greek to me” when we don’t understand it. Try and speak Greek without understanding and the minute someone asks you a question, you’re sunk. Don’t try to speak a language you don’t understand, Greek, German, virology, digital media, or otherwise. Make sense?