It’s Foodie Friday which means that tomorrow and Sunday are football days. Yes, I’m aware that games are played on damn near every night now, but traditionalist that I am, Saturday is for college and Sunday is for the NFL.
Of course, any serious fan has to watch with a beverage and some sort of snack food. I try to avoid snacks that come premade and prefer to make them myself. Dips are big (I’ve got a bacon cheese dip that’s become the go-to) as are poppers (cheese stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon – are you starting to see a pattern?). It’s not a Michigan game without weenies (pigs in a blanket or whatever you call them) but the real snacking centerpiece is a fresh pile of chicken wings.
I sometimes wonder if chickens had wings before the 1960s. Other than using them in stock, I think cooks mostly discarded them. In the mid-1960s, a bar in Buffalo began selling the first of what we now consider to be the prototypical wing – unbreaded, fried, and dosed in hot sauce, maybe with butter, maybe not. Since then, entire restaurant chains have been founded on chicken wings and it’s hard to find a bar that doesn’t serve them.
My local favorite wing place offers many different types. Their garlic-Parmesan wings are killer. They are but one of a dozen types they serve, ranging from mild to fiery, doused in a sauce to dry-rubbed, and Korean-flavored, teriyaki, and other global flavors. Which of course got me thinking.
The underlying wing is the same (I don’t classify “boneless” wings, which are really strips of breast meat, as wings). Even the preparation is pretty ubiquitous. They must be very dry (use baking soda in the seasoning and air dry them for a bit before cooking). They can be fried in hot oil or baked in a hot oven with either regular heat or convection. Still, the product is basically the same until the final sauce is added.
That should be a reminder to each of us in business. Success in my mind is less dependent on coming up with new, wonderful products than it is on our ability to provide a sauce that’s better than anyone else can provide. Some of it involves customer service but it’s also your unique flavor. If everyone is doing butter and hot sauce, there’s no reason why you can’t as well since your customers probably expect that. But which hot sauce? Sure, you could be lazy and buy the pre-made “wing” sauce from your supplier, but since others are doing that too you’ve now made your wings a commodity – anyone can serve the same flavor.
We try to make the garlic-Parmesan wings here at home. The wings are every bit as crispy as the bar’s but we don’t quite get their flavor. I guess that’s why we keep going back. What are you doing to have people come back for your unique flavor?
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?