Category Archives: Restaurants

How To Shop

Clothing for entering a blast freezer

This is what I should have been wearing!

Many years ago, when I was in the wholesale food business with my father and brother, we got a new customer who sold to many high-end restaurants. Many would recognize the names of these famous Hollywood eateries, all of which were very successful and (bonus) somewhat recession-proof. This was a very good thing for us, as it provided a substantial boost to our gross income. I became the schlepper; the one who had to drive around every morning and pick up the items our new customer needed to service his clientele. I did not mind. I was young and full of energy and truly enjoyed arising very early in the morning to greet the day.

My job meant driving around every morning, picking up the items that had been ordered and getting them to our customer’s location, where they would be either stored temporarily prior to delivery, or further prepared for later  delivery to their customers. Generally, three days of the week required me to enter as blast freezer that was forty degrees below zero; so cold that it had no solid doors, merely thick plastic curtains as a safety measure, ensuring no one could be accidentally locked in. The freezer was huge and the doors big enough to accommodate a large forklift laden with several palettes of product.

I never had to pick up more than I could carry out by hand, so I wasn’t in there for very long. As a result, I made the decision not to spend the money to purchase the kind of clothing that I would have needed had I been required to spend more than a few minutes in that freezer. I would put on a sweatshirt above my regular shirt, a jacket, and a white butcher’s coat on top of that. Still, I can’t recall a time I was in there more than a minute before I found myself wondering what it would be like to freeze to death. It was painful almost from the instant I pushed aside those curtains and stepped inside!

This meant I would generally stand outside of the freezer for a few minutes and mentally chart the shortest course to pick up what I needed, which would facilitate a quick retrieval and egress. With the exception of stationery stores, which I view as museums of contemporary business practices (and which have those sacred items, paper and writing materials, enshrined within), this is how I have since shopped for everything. I suspect most men do the same, despite never having had to enter a forty below blast freezer. It’s how we roll.


Memories of McDonald’s

McDonald's Hamburger

The Most Basic of Hamburgers

My very first job was at the McDonald’s on Osborne St. in Pacoima, CA. It was 1963 and I’m pretty sure the minimum wage at the time was $1.05. My first two days were spent making shakes; the next day I made fries.

Then they discovered I had experience with a cash register and could make change!! I moved to the window and the rest is history.

A few distinct memories, in no particular order:

  • There were people who ate both lunch and dinner – every day – at McDonald’s (I don’t believe we served breakfast at the time).
  • We had a basement and a machine, similar to the one lapidarists use to polish stones, that we used to peel potatoes. The fries were made fresh back then.
  • The Manager spent the vast majority of his energy tweaking the syrup/water mix for the soft drinks so “he” could save more money.
  • I used to have nightmares where I faced an endless line of people who ate nothing but that crap (and I knew it was crap back then, but I was already inured to its ubiquity) for every meal.
  • There were invariably bugs in the boxes of hamburger buns.

Hope you enjoy your next McMeal. ;)


The McRib’s Ribs . . . Aren’t. Nu?

I was raised to be intimately familiar with lunch meat. All kinds of lunch meat. And sausage. My father worked in the Grand Central Market from my birth until my Bar Mitzvah. Faber’s Ham Shop. They didn’t sell fresh meat, except chicken. Everybody sold fresh chicken because it was small and easily cut into its constituent parts, a feat not possible with a cow or a pig. He mostly sold lunch meat, or what is sometimes referred to as smoked meats. Not all of it was, but that’s of little importance to this story.

I can still recall the scene after my Bar Mitzvah – I mean immediately after; probably in a private room during the reception (it was at a place in North Hollywood, CA, USA that has gone the way of the Dodo bird) – where I endorsed every check I had received as a gift from my family and our friends. I immediately handed the checks over to my father, who was leaving Faber’s Ham Shop and striking out on his own. He was buying a truck and becoming a peddler. A meat peddler. It was an amicable resignation, as Louie Faber became one of my old man’s best customers and the Grand Central Market was always pretty central to my father’s success.

I bring this up merely to demonstrate my familiarity with — perhaps a modicum of expertise in the field of — lunch meat in all it’s numerous incarnations (Oops!) and variety. I have eaten just about every one of those varieties. I didn’t necessarily care for them once I tasted them, however. Head Cheese and Olive & Pimento Loaf come to mind, but I tried them. Some of the varieties I was quite fond of, especially since they were already cooked and I could grab one whenever I was hungry. This was especially true of hot dogs and FARMER JOHN® Hot Louisiana Brand Smoked Sausage, the former of which we sold in very large quantities loosely packed in boxes of about 40lbs.; the latter of which came in cases of 10 5lb. boxes. It was easy to open a case, pick up a box, open it, and remove (and eat) one of the hot links.

How to Make a McRib

Do NOT Attempt This in Your Kitchen

This brings me to the graphic that appeared on my Facebook News Feed yesterday; a graphic which tickled me to no end. As I have said, what we today view primarily as culinary crap; unhealthy, sometimes disgusting pseudo-food, was a long-time staple orof mine. Frankly, I still eat hot dogs, though I now only purchase all-beef (usually from Trader Joe’s) and I deeply appreciate the occasional Nathan’s natural casing weiner <snap!>. This graphic makes it quite clear the author subscribes to the assertion the McRib is constructed of mystery meat. I’m not sure I agree with the assessment (Wikipedia reports the faux ribs are actually formed from pork shoulder meat), but I now avoid this sandwich like the plague .  .  . as I do everything by most all fast food outlets (franchise or not).

Nevertheless, I can empathize with the sentiment expressed in the last box of this flow chart. I wouldn’t hesitate for a New York minute to scarf one of these babies, i.e. if the only objection was that they’re not really made out of rib meat. I can get by that without batting a eyelash. Unfortunately, there are other reasons involving my health I now refuse to eat this stuff. Doesn’t mean I don’t miss the hell out of it.


The Prime Discriminator is Within

Edward Ladd & Sons

Company Jacket created by Cat’s Pyjamas

As an opening aside, I find it an interesting statement about the immediacy of the Internet that I would hesitate to share an article or blog post I encountered because it’s more than a week since it was published. Nevertheless, I did hesitate when I came across this particular article in Fast Company. I ended up sharing it on my Facebook Fan page and I’m going to share it here, with a little bit of personal annotation.

Many years ago, when I was in my family’s wholesale food business, I realized what I found to be a very sobering fact. As long as we weren’t manufacturing or producing anything, the only way to stand out from the crowd was to provide service over and above everyone else. Anyone can buy and sell items that are readily available and this was surely true of food. We could break the ice with price, but that was ultimately a losing proposition as the customers we sold to would inevitably leave us for someone offering a lower price.

However, not everyone could provide exceptional service. As a result, we were constantly thinking of ways in which we could provide value that others didn’t even think of. One way to do this is to just be available. When a restaurant runs out of product for whatever reason – whether it be unexpectedly busy days or flat-out stupidity in anticipating certain inevitably busy days – always being there and coming through was one way to stand out.

But that wasn’t enough. I think the real discriminator was the mind-set that our relationship with our customers was more than just seller-buyer; it was that of partners. Such a mindset had us thinking as though we were in their shoes and, frequently, it made enough of a difference in how we anticipated their needs and even helped them understand their needs in ways they weren’t always capable of. I think it worked pretty well while I was there.

So when I read this article today I was both intrigued and somewhat satisfied. I never thought of what we were doing as anything other than providing good service. I didn’t realize it was providing a special customer experience. Back then, as the article points out, customer experience wasn’t what it is today, but in our little corner of the world – in the kind of business we were engaged in at the time – it was what we were providing.

Now, it seems, it’s what everybody needs to do . . . and I agree. Here’s a quote from the article I’m referencing:

You don’t have to take my word for this. Over the last five years we’ve been running a study in which we ask consumers to rate the customer experience at companies they do business with. What we can now prove is that customer experience correlates to loyalty. Specifically, it correlates highly to willingness to consider for another purchase, willingness to recommend, and reluctance to switch to a different provider. In other words, if you want that next sale, if you want good word of mouth, and if you want to keep your customers, it’s unlikely that anything else you do matters more than delivering a superior experience.

Indeed!

Here’s the link. You can read the whole thing at Fast Company. It’s well worth it, even if it is almost two weeks old.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3000350/why-customer-experience-only-thing-matters

Enjoy


Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.

The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.

As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.

Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.

I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.

For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.


Would You Pass Up Free Advertising?

Foursquare Logo

Attract New and Reward Loyal Customers

I’ve been concentrating on a couple of new clients and have neglected to post for a couple of weeks. During this time I’ve been thinking about some of the subjects I’d like to cover. One of those is the use of Foursquare for small, retail businesses. Actually, it can be used for virtually any type of business, but the usage model it presents is most applicable to businesses with lots of traffic and churn. I see them as being in somewhat of a pyramid. For instance, those businesses that will get the most value from Foursquare are restaurants, bars, and clubs. Next in line are retail outlets and, finally, service businesses with a brick and mortar location.

Other types of businesses can use the service to get some free advertising, but if your business isn’t amenable to friends sharing the location (primarily because they want to enjoy each others’ company), it’s not going to have the same kind of value for you. As an example, there are Dentist’s offices who use it to present teeth cleaning and whitening specials. I am pretty sure people don’t check in to their Dentist’s office because they’re having a bang-up time and want to share it with their friends. However, everyone who uses Foursquare on their phone is going to get an impression of the special the office has created. You never know and, after all, it’s currently free!

Thanks to a heads-up from one of my friends, @mor_trisha, I read an article at ClickZ (authored by )  making essentially the same points I wanted to make. I’d like give you my version of why I think Foursquare is an important channel for small business to use, with a bit of local flavor for examples. I’d also like to expand a bit on how to use the service if you are a business owner considering using it.

First, let me say a few things about Foursquare in case you aren’t aware of what it is and how it’s used. Foursquare is a location-based, check-in application that consumers with smart phones can download and use to find nearby locations their friends frequent, as well as check-in when they are there. In addition, those merchants who have taken the time to “claim” their venue using the website provided for their use can create specials to entice new customers and to reward the loyalty of their ongoing customers. More about that in a bit.

As a user, Foursquare provides you with the ability to “check in” at a restaurant, pub, retail outlet, or service provider’s location whenever you are there. Using your phone’s GPS system you are provided, through the app, with a list of those venues that are close by. You can also see if any of your friends (or anyone else for that matter) is at a particular location so you can join them if you wish. In a rural environment or in a small town with few users, this capability is probably not all that useful. In my hometown, which is relatively small, the usage is now growing to the point where enough people are checking in for it to be useful. I imagine in large, urban areas it’s very useful – and likely lots of fun for some. There is also a couple of gaming aspects (points, earned badges) to using the service, but I’ll save that for another post.

Foursquare Globe

Think Global, Check-in Local

For business owners, Foursquare provides some interesting capabilities that are available for free. You cannot access them, however, until you take a little time to “claim” your venue. This is a relatively painless process that involves creating an account if you don’t already have one, finding your location on their website,  and clicking on the link that appears on the right hand side of your screen. It says “Do you manage this venue? Claim here.” Once you click on the link you will have to answer a few more questions, then agree to receive a phone call where you will be given a four-digit code to enter on another screen. After that, you will have access to some useful tools, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Now, I said relatively painless for a reason. I have had several instances where a business that’s been around for a long time was unable to use their phone number because Foursquare said they couldn’t verify it belonged to them. Since they had the number for quite some time, I’m unclear why this happens. Nevertheless, it isn’t the end of the road. Foursquare will give you the opportunity to have them contact you by snail mail, in which case you’ll receive the code you need as well as a cling to put in your window to advertise your presence on the site.

Once you have claimed your venue you will have access to their “Manager Tools”. These include venue statistics, which will show you number of check-ins, social reach (whether or not the info was sent to Twitter or Facebook), time, gender, and age breakdowns (as available), and the profiles of your visitors. This information can be presented in numerous time slices, e.g. today, last week, last 30, 60, & 90 days, or all. All of this information is useful for understanding the penetration and coverage you’re getting with people who use Foursquare.

However, in my opinion the most useful tool of all (and the one that will really make the stats worthwhile) is the ability to create campaigns and specials. To start a campaign you simply add a special, of which there are five designed to attract new customers and two designed to reward the loyalty of existing customers. These specials (with my suggested ways they might be used) are as follows:

  • Attract new customers
    • Swarm Special (If 10 people check in at the same time you all get 20% off your meal, etc.)
    • Friends Special (Check in with 3 friends and dessert is free for the group)
    • Flash Special (The first 10 check-ins after 8pm get a free beverage)
    • Newbie Special (Get a free appetizer on your first check-in)
    • Check-in Special (Get a half-price beverage every time you check in)
  • Reward existing customers
    • Loyalty Special (Get a free appetizer every fourth time you check in)
    • Mayor Special (The Mayor gets 25% off their entire bill)

Foursquare also provides some nice, printable flyers to hand out to your customers and your employees, so everyone knows how it works and what an “opened” special looks like. Hint – if it’s in black and white, it hasn’t been unlocked. There’s also a lock icon that appears as unlocked when it is.

Ms. Jenning pointed out four good examples of how to (and not to) use Foursquare specials to get the results you’re looking for. I’d like to do the same for four locations in my neighborhood.

Aeropostale

They offer a standard check-in special. Each check-in gets you $10 off a purchase of $50 or more. With a purchase of exactly $50 that works out to a 20% discount; large enough to entice new customers. Frankly, I would have used a straight 20% discount, perhaps with a min (maybe even a max), rather than a minimum purchase. As it stands, if you spend $100 (and who spends only $50 on clothing nowadays?) you’re only getting a 10% discount. Maybe not enough to bring in new business.

Cherry on Top

They also offer a check-in special of 10% off with every check-in. This isn’t a bad deal. Most people are going to go for ice cream or frozen yogurt after a meal, or as a summer-time treat, when they feel like it and, all things being equal, I would go to the place that offers a discount. Most don’t, so I suspect this is at least marginally helping them compete with the other venues in town.

Limon Latin Grill

This one is somewhat similar to the example given by Ms. Jennings of Bangkok Joe’s. It’s a bit puzzling to me why they think this would entice anyone. They actually offer three check-in specials presented as one. Your first check-in is worth $2.00 on a drink, the second is $5.00 off any entree after five check-ins, the third is a free drink after 10 check-ins. This is not an inexpensive restaurant and I believe a normal meal, especially if it includes a drink, will cost at least $20. This makes the second of the specials worth about 5%; not exactly something to write home about. The same goes for the other ones. None of them seem very enticing. I’d be curious to know if they’re getting much action at all. I actually used the first one, but only because I went there to see a friend’s band playing. The waitress was unfamiliar with the entire concept, which leads me to believe they aren’t getting much traction out of the campaign. I’m not surprised.

California Pizza Kitchen

This venue is using a Friends Special, stated so: “Show you phone to a manager and get 20% off when you and 3 friends check-in to the same CPK! Excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity, gift cards. Not valid w/other offers. Valid at participating locations.” What I get from this is the place is probably micromanaged, as I find it a bit mystifying they don’t trust their wait staff to validate the check-ins. It’s also a bit comical to me they feel the need to qualify the offer so carefully. Lighten up! Nevertheless, 20% off isn’t a bad deal for a mid-priced meal with 3 of your BFFs.

There are numerous other examples of specials being offered, many by venues you probably wouldn’t expect to find using them. I want to think about them a little more and maybe drop in to a couple to find out how they’re doing with them. The lesson here – if you’re running a restaurant, bar, nightclub, or a retail store with the potential for lots of foot traffic, your venue has probably already been entered into Foursquare’s database. Now you need to get out there, claim it, and start providing some specials to take advantage of what it has to offer. Remember, IT’S FREE, but that probably won’t last forever. Why not take advantage of it while you can? You’re welcome.


What’s In A Friendship?

I remember the day I realized my Facebook friends consisted of old and new friends, colleagues, and family. My initial reaction was one of horror and despair. The horror was in realizing being myself with one set of “friends” might not be as well understood, or as welcome, by those who were in another set of my “friends.” I was paralyzed, but only momentarily.

Since then I’ve come to accept (or should I say I’ve come to realize my “friends” must accept) the diversity of relationships and viewpoints we all have. Perhaps it is partly because I am not at the beginning of my career, but much closer to the end, and – therefore – I have little need to worry about impressing an HR department. My professional experience is long and varied, running the gamut from very small (2-3 employees) businesses to large (100K plus employees), multi-national corporations. My accomplishments stand on their own and, besides, my main interest is in small business now.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wish to offend anybody, but I really don’t want to worry too much about somebody not agreeing with or liking what I have to say. If you are a friend of mine, it means I find something valuable in what you have to offer. If we all thought alike, how would we learn anything . . . ever?

So, please forgive me if I offend. My political and religious views are far from mainstream, but I’ve arrived at them through many years of thought, study, and introspection. I am probably far more aware of the intricacies of mainstream thought than others are aware of those I adhere to, yet I have lived quite comfortably with them. I hope you’ll do the same for me. Can’t we all just get along? =;^D


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