Tag Archives: Restaurant

Ghost In The Machine

Foodie Friday and my question for you today is have you ever been to a ghost restaurant? I’d say probably not, because the entire point of a ghost restaurant is that there is no restaurant there. Huh?

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is one explanation I read:

A ghost restaurant is a “restaurant” that people can’t actually physically visit. For us, it involves using our existing space, kitchen equipment, and staffing to execute a menu that’s not served in our normal restaurant. Customers place their orders and we deliver.

The key is the different menu. A normal takeout order from someplace would be the same food. Many of the “takeout” places I’ve patronized have a table or three even if the business is focused on preparing orders to go or for delivery. You probably would think of many Chinese or pizza places. Ghosts, however, don’t have to worry about decor or servers per se. Front of house is non-existent. Imagine a sit-down steakhouse that was also delivering pizza out of the same kitchen but not serving it in the restaurant other than as the odd special. Two restaurants, one of which is virtual operating our of one kitchen.

The beauty of this model is that it can overcome bad weather (which might keep people at home and not dining out) as well as maximizing the use of the kitchen, perhaps with the addition of a few more kitchen staff. You can close one restaurant at 9 while continuing to deliver from the other until midnight. Like on-demand grocery delivery, on-demand food service is a growing business and a ghost restaurant opened in an existing place can tap into that demand by formulating a menu that is delivery-friendly even if it doesn’t align with the base restaurant at all. I would never order eggs or a steak or pretty much anything fried because they generally don’t travel well (soggy fried food is gross).

Why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with your business? It’s a great example of out of the box thinking. How can you expand what you’re doing without major capital expenditures? What’s the worst, least efficient part of your business? In this case, while there is a nice margin in serving customers drinks, they tie up tables and require servers. What happens if you keep the customers but eliminate the need to have them linger or be served? A ghost restaurant eliminates the inefficiencies while retaining the base business and it doesn’t compete with it because it’s a different menu. What about your business can be “ghosted”?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Who Is Minding The Store?

I’ve been away on a little trip (which is why no posts so far this week) but I’ve managed to make my return in time for Foodie Friday. As it turns out, I was in one of the world’s great cities for food, New Orleans, and as I was departing I had an experience which prompted today’s screed.

English: Photographic portrait of Leah Chase t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the city’s oldest and finest restaurants is Dooky Chase. The proprietor is Leah Chase and she is the Queen of Creole Cuisine. She has fed presidents and celebrities by the bucketful and she has been honored in every way possible by the food world, rightfully so. The award of which I’m particularly impressed is the “Best Fried Chicken in New Orleans.” It didn’t look as if I’d have time to sample some this trip until I got to the airport with 90 minutes to my flight. As it turns out, there is a Dooky Chase at the airport – fried chicken, here I come!

The place wasn’t particularly crowded and I got seated right away. 5 minutes went by. Then 10. Then 15. No server appeared until about 20 minutes in, when I was asked for a drink order. I was also told they had no bartender so a mixed drink was out. Wine? After a few minutes, the server reappeared and informed me that no one knew where there was a corkscrew so I’d have to drink whatever was open. Whatever was open cost $18 a glass, by the way, something I wasn’t told until I got the bill (with no time to discuss it!).

I placed my order. Now I know that great food is cooked to order so I wasn’t expecting my plate to come out immediately. It’s not KFC, after all. However, as another half an hour went by I was starting to worry about making my flight. The hot, extremely tasty chicken arrived although I ate it so quickly I really couldn’t savor it very much. As it turns out my experience is far from unique. The reviews on Yelp and elsewhere universally praise the food and curse the lousy service. That leads us to today’s business point.

The restaurant is run by Delaware North, a company that runs restaurants at over 300 airports. They also have a division that services arenas. They know an awful lot about hospitality. Mrs. Chase knows an awful lot about food. Somehow, however, 1+1 equals zero here.

I suspect this was done as a licensing deal. The Chases provided the recipes and kitchen expertise and the Delaware Noth folks provided the rest. The real question is who is minding the store? I used to license out marks and content and always was careful to make sure that how “my stuff” was used put us in the best light. I used to buy actual products in stores and not rely on samples to assess quality. I’d view how our material was presented in context when we licensed out footage and/or marks as well. In this case, I wonder if anyone from the Chase organization has not just sampled the food but sat in the restaurant anonymously? There clearly wasn’t enough staff, and the staff that was there was seriously undertrained.

If you rely on others to present your product to the world, remember that it’s your name and your reputation on the door. I wasn’t aware that Delaware North was involved at all until the credit card receipt showed up with Delaware North, not Dooky Chase, on the top. Hopefully, most customers understand the distinction. You might not be so lucky.

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Filed under food, Huh?

Food Meh. Can’t Wait To Go Back.

This Foodie Friday Fun comes to you via South Florida where I have spent much of this week. It wasn’t exactly a vacation but as with any trip, it did provide the opportunity to try some new restaurants. Turns out it provided some decent business lessons too.

English: Yellow Split Pea Soup Français : Soup...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I went out to eat with my parents at one of their favorite local places. I asked them ahead of time why they liked it so much. As it turns out, they had good reason to be happy with the place but not for the reasons they cited. They thought the food was excellent. I realize I might be jaded (or a food snob), but to be honest, I could replicate any of what our table had and probably do a better job on some of the dishes (how can you serve burned garlic as food pro?). That said, I’d recommend the place without hesitation. Why?

We got there on the early side and so there was a prix fixe menu available. $20 for a starter, an entree, and dessert. My dad ordered two starters – pea soup and the salmon cake appetizer. He’s a light eater. After taking all of the orders, our server said, “Sir – if you order the soup and the salmon cakes ala carte, you’ll save $4 and get a second salmon cake.” I can’t recall another server ever placing the customer’s interest above the restaurant’s revenues like that, and it’s a great example of how any business ought to prioritize.

My folks said that they had been served by this guy before and he always had a little something to say about a dish, a wine, of some food pairing.  My mom has some dietary challenges and he offered her several substitutions to make up for the dishes she couldn’t eat.  When she suggested something else, he said “of course” without hesitation.  This, dear readers, is customer care at its finest.  This is not about “we can’t do that” but about “how can we help you enjoy your meal and your time with us?”

If you’re not thinking along these lines when dealing with your customers, you should be.  This is an example of the deficiencies in one part of the business (above average, but not great, food) being compensated for by the superior service and creating a fantastic customer experience that is worth repeating.  A lesson for us all, no?

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Filed under food, What's Going On

Being There

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week revolves around a question that keeps getting asked in foodie circles: do you care if the chef is in the kitchen? Many of the top chefs in the country have multiple restaurants, and obviously they can’t be in each kitchen every night. Does it make a difference and, moreover, does it say anything to us about how we run our businesses?

Augustin Théodule Ribot: The cook and the cat

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my mind, it’s immaterial. The chef is responsible for the overall menu and for developing the recipes. Once that’s done, the chef needs to hire and train an Executive Chef or Chef de Cuisine, or Sous Chef to execute those recipes to the chef’s standards each and every time. From there, maintaining the standards (and changing the menu once in a while) is the main thing that should be required.

I think people get more upset when they know the namesake isn’t there in the restaurant business than in others. Surely they don’t think that the fashion designer is walking the factory floor as clothes are made. In music, have you ever heard a really good cover band? For example – The Dark Star Orchestra plays set lists from Grateful Dead shows and on many nights they play them better than The Dead did originally. They are executing the recipes to perfection, much as a well-trained brigade does.

What does this have to do with your business? Let’s use an example I hear a lot in consulting. A big time firm comes in to pitch a potential client with a top-tier crew of executives. Generally, there is no chance those people will be working on your business. They key question, then, is what sort of training and tenure do the people who will be handling your business have? Many Sous or Executive Chefs have been with the “name” chef for years. Many of these consultants are fresh out of school.

You see the same thing with ad agencies and in other sectors. My feeling doesn’t change from the kitchen – the “name” being there isn’t critical if, and only if, the staff has been properly trained and is constantly checked on maintaining standards. You’re not going to eat the chef; you’re going to eat his or her food. Your clients, partners, and customers are expecting your business’ “food” to taste the same no matter who prepares it.

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Disparaging Non-disparagement

More silliness from the restaurant world this Foodie Friday.  Today we have the tale of Grill 225 in Charleston, which is a well-reviewed steak and seafood place.  They do many things right.  According to most of what I can find,  the food is delicious and the service is attentive.  They are the #8 restaurant in Charleston, according to Trip Advisor, which is no small feat in a very competitive restaurant town.

In addition to being good at what they do in the restaurant, the management appears to be very good at social and other media.  Many of the Trip Advisor comments have a reply from the restaurant in the thread.  Not only does the writer thank the customer but they manage to turn each of their posts into a subtle commercial for some aspect of the restaurant (our USDA Prime steaks, so glad you enjoyed your famous Nitrotini).  Smart!  Which is why I was surprised to read about them doing something seriously dumb that has blown up and is instructive to the rest of us.

Like many popular places, Grill 225 asks for a credit card when you make a reservation.  If you are making a reservation for a party of 5 or more, they send you a “dining contract” which notifies you that should you cancel all or some of the requested seats within 24 hours of the party’s arrival, they will hit you with a $50 per seat fee.  If someone gets sick and doesn’t show, the same fee applies (so if your party of 8 becomes a party of 7 because your pal got hung up at the office, you’re out $50).  Many restaurants have a similar policy, although most will tell you they never actually charge the fee.

Where Grill 225 failed is what else they added to the agreement.  As the local paper reported it:

The terms set out by Grill 225 aren’t unusual. To curb the costs associated with empty tables, an increasing number of restaurants are threatening to charge miscreants. But Grill 225’s contract includes an additional clause: “By agreeing to these terms and conditions, the guest(s) and their party agree that they may be held legally liable for generating any potential negative, verbal or written defamation against Grill 225.” In other words, if someone in your group kvetches online about the restaurant enforcing its stated rules, a lawsuit may follow.

 

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Caught In The Storm (Part 1)

I know it’s Thursday, but we’re going to begin our Foodie Friday Fun today. This is actually a two-part post about my dinner experience the other night and there are some instructive business points I took away.

I’ve been traveling this week on business. A fellow has to eat, so I had made a reservation via Open Table a week or so ago. It’s a place I had been before and liked a lot. Upon arrival, there was a note on the door that the place was closed for a private party and all non-party seating would be outside. I’m not a huge fan of dining al fresco and given there was a massive storm about 2 minutes away (no exaggeration – thunder, lightning, heavy rain, and extreme winds), outdoors was no option. There was no one from the restaurant at the host stand to provide further detail. I flagged down a waiter, explained that I had a reservation, and asked if there a table someplace away from the party where I could dine? He went to find a manager and came back with a polite but firm “no”.

Under normal circumstances, I might be a little angry and very disappointed. Given that leaving the area was a non-starter (by this time it was a deluge), I was mad. The place is in an indoor complex with other restaurants but most were fast food places that held no appeal. I ended up in a faux Irish Pub and we’ll continue the tale there in a minute.

What could have been done differently? First, if the party was booked prior to last week (I’m willing to bet it was), the times should have been blocked in Open Table. The manager must have been counting on outdoor seating being available and thought he could double-dip – have a big party and serve a bunch of covers as well.  It was not possible due to the weather, but even if it had been, anyone making a reservation (me) should have been informed they must eat outside. Second, they should have reviewed the day’s reservations as they opened up and reached out – my contact information is in the reservation – and said there was a problem. In a perfect world, they’d offer a suggestion of a comparable place and maybe even make the reservation for me. Third, someone should have been greeting the diners they were turning away. There was a table greeting the party goers but it wasn’t staffed by restaurant employees.  In short, this place put their own needs – the party, maximize revenues – ahead of the needs of their customers.  There were a few others who showed up when I did and who seemed equally disappointed.  There actually were a few tables being served outside – I didn’t stick around to see what happened to their food when the storm hit – I don’t imagine they were allowed inside by the invisible management.

As we all know, unhappy customers make a lot more noise than happy ones.  Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about what became a happy ending and more business points learned as two other businesses get it right.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Pretty/Useless

This Foodie Friday I have restaurant marketing on my mind. That’s the result of some close encounters with restaurant websites.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From time to time I’ll check out places to eat in cities where I’m heading. Of course I use the review sites as a first source of recommendations.  Inevitably if a few places seem to be of comparable quality and hold potential I’ll go to the establishment’s website to do a deeper dive on the menu.  This is where things begin to break down in a couple of ways and there are some broader points which come out of the experience.

Many of the sites are beautiful.  Clearly, someone spent many hours creating a multimedia site complete with music that plays while you experience the site, flash movies that auto-play, and dozens of pictures of happy customers.  Unfortunately, most of these sites are painful to use and are a huge waste of money.  I’ll go even further to say that they do more harm than good.  In the case of restaurant sites, no one cares how the site looks.  Visitors want information, not to be entertained.  They’re pretty and useless.

Think about it.  Why do you visit the site?  Probably, first and foremost, to check out the menu.  Many of the sites I visit force a download (it’s easier to update one file than several pages of the site) and some of those downloads are huge.  Next, I may want to make a reservation so I need to know where the place (Google Maps link!) is and some means of doing so – a phone number or a direct link to Open Table or whatever service the place uses.  Finally, the hours they’re serving and maybe a listing of the specials would be good.  That’s it.  Designers need to focus on the business goals and not on “pretty.” The most important factor in the design of a website is that the website makes it easy for users to find what they want.

The problem isn’t restricted to restaurants.  If you’ve built a site and not had a discussion with the design and coding team about business goals for the site, target audiences, analytics you’ll be using to measure activity and success, or how you’ll be marketing (SEO implications), you’ve missed the mark.   Unlike the restaurants with crappy sites, there probably aren’t lots of review sites driving people to your business (most review sites contain a modicum of the critical information).  Maybe now is a good time to take a look at your site through a visitor’s eyes?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, food