Foodie Friday, finally. If you regularly read this screed on Fridays, you might have picked up that Friday afternoons almost always involved a trip to my favorite local watering hole. In fact, I devoted one Friday rant to the place.
During the pandemic, while we’ve ordered food on a regular basis from the place to support it as best we could through the crisis, last evening was the first time in six months that we actually went to have a beverage. While bars are still closed here in North Carolina, restaurants are open with limited capacity indoors as well as distanced seating outdoors. Our plan was to sit outside and since it was a nice evening we ended up staying for dinner as well since technically our bar qualifies as a restaurant based on how much food it sells.
Of course, we did stick our masked faces inside to check out what was going on and to say hi to some staff members we hadn’t seen in a while. What a difference. The bar area was shut down – it’s usually packed – and several tables had been removed to limit capacity. Many more picnic tables had been added outdoors to make up for the lost seating. But it did get me thinking.
Many changes have already happened in the restaurant business. The biggest one, obviously, is that a significant percentage of them have closed their doors forever. It’s a marginally profitable business in good times and these days are NOT good times. For those that remain, adjusting to limited seating and a lot more take-out has also changed how the restaurant is staffed and operated. The quality that people have come to expect has morphed into wanting that quality at home. Cafeterias have died and drive-through fast food has been reborn to a certain extent. Without the need for a lot of service staff, operating within ghost kitchens has become prevalent. In fact, one franchise – Dickey’s Pit Barbecue – launching a network of ghost kitchens, including virtual restaurants to expand their reach in Chicago, Houston and Orlando, and entering into a new market using only ghost kitchens in Providence, R.I.
None of the changes have been easy, and the disruption points to something that’s applicable to your business as well. That’s leadership. In a crisis, leadership is even more important than in normal times because your team tends to panic and freeze or do silly things. The businesses who have really won in this environment so far are the ones that have a plan, have a good, strong corporate culture, have injected a little bit of entrepreneurialism in it, and stress execution. It starts at the top.
Does that sound like something you’re doing? Shouldn’t it be?
We’re getting to the time of the year when political conversations, which are always lurking, come front and center. It’s not just that nearly every media outlet is covering the elections almost full-time. Social media, at least my feeds, is almost entirely politics (along with dog and cat photos). What strikes me most about all of this is how little of the discourse is a conversation and how much of it is a rant.
Of course, politics isn’t the only place where that pattern holds true. I’ve been in many business situations where people with opposing or different views on a topic don’t really converse and try to resolve their differences. They do a lot of talking and almost no listening. That’s something I always found to be unacceptable when my team did it, and so I’d remind them that being creative and developing ideas, is like playing tennis. You send something out and wait to see what comes back. In order to continue to play, you need to make adjustments since it won’t be coming back to the same place at the same speed every time.
Take note, as you scroll through the comments in social media, or on some blogs or in your next business meeting, about how little factual information is hit over the net at the other side. Note as well how a lot of the “players” don’t really have an interest in the game. They “win” by reciting whatever preconceived notion ad infinitum and either waiting for everyone else to give up or by taking their ball and racquet and going home. That accomplishes nothing but to make each person who participates in this way more dug in, angrier, and frankly, dumber, or at least, less smart.
If you’re having a dialog, remember that the word is rooted in the notion of accomplishing something through speech (dia: through and logos: speech, reason). You need to listen to do so. What do we accomplish via monologue other than to express ourselves? Does it matter if anyone is listening?
Playing tennis against an opponent requires you to adjust and accommodate and change your tactics. Playing against a wall by yourself doesn’t. Tennis anyone?
School is starting this week in many places. Here in North Carolina, counties have a few different options with respect to virtual learning versus in-person learning versus a combination of the two. My county has elected virtual learning to start, as have many other counties around here. Many of the local universities have elected to bring the kids back to campus for in-person education and it’s not going well. So badly, in fact, that they’ve had to curtail classroom work completely while they rethink the situation.
Rethinking is what many educators are doing these days, as are many businesspeople. I find that to be a silver lining in the midst of this horrible pandemic. What strikes me is that much of this same rethinking has been going on for quite some time but it’s taken the pandemic to bring about the changes. Online education isn’t new and it’s been possible to get degrees from accredited schools for years. Shifting public school education to the online environment is new, however. I know there are a lot of reasons why it hasn’t happened until now – teacher unions, the need for working parents to have “daycare” for their kids, food insecurity (kids get fed at school), and many other reasons. The pandemic – a situation in which people are losing their lives – has forced those other reasons to the background. I think education and our communities will come out of this stronger and more accessible as the issues that prevented the evolution of education are handled from a new perspective.
Think about the film industry. There has been a major disruption in the business and I think much of the disruption is permanent. Theaters are closing and the major chains are in deep financial trouble. Major studios’ investments are tied up in films that should have been released months ago. Everyone is still watching movies, but they’re streaming them. Is this new? Of course not, but having the powers that be in the film industry take a look at how they do business is directly attributable to the pandemic.
The most significant change in the entire industry occurred late in July when AMC Theaters and Universal agreed to shorten the theatrical ‘window’ (the length of time that a movie has to play in a theater). Previously, it was 90 days. Obviously, studios will keep their biggest blockbusters in theaters as long as they’re attracting customers. But now, Universal can transfer its less-lucrative films to rental platforms, like iTunes or Amazon, after 17 days. Other studios, like Warner Brothers, are moving some of its titles to digital-only exclusives, while Paramount and Sony are selling off a portion of their movies directly to Netflix and Amazon.
Disney is releasing their live-action “Mulan” via Disney+. You’ll pay $30 to watch it but if you’d have been taken the family to the theater to see it, that’s a bargain, especially since you can re-watch it as often as you like. How much money this generates (“Mulan” was projected to bring in more than $1 billion at the box-office) will be fascinating. There isn’t much doubt in my mind, however, that making films more accessible and less expensive is a silver lining.
Those are just two areas where I find silver linings. You?