CHEFS – FINE TUNE THOSE SENSES

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The kitchen sensual army

There are many things that differentiate cooks and chefs, but none more important to the customer experience and the reputation of the restaurant than mastery of the senses.  Whether a fine-dining experience or your local taqueria – the cooks that stand out, the ones that are the reason why customers line up to buy their food, are the ones with well developed senses of taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound as they relate to what takes place in the kitchen.

The essential tool in development of these senses is experience.  Certain individuals may be born with the capacity to taste and smell, with the innate talent to present beautiful food, and with excellent hearing, but it is what those senses are exposed to that makes a cook – a great cook.  Every experience that we have is imbedded in our subconscious mind.  When we are exposed to that memory again, it moves quickly to the conscious realm and we say: “a’ha – I remember that”.  After frequent exposure to that same memory can even allow an experienced cook or chef to envision what that product will smell, look, sound, and taste like – even before that takes place.  This is how experienced chefs are able to plan dishes and menus knowing how ingredients will marry together, what the overall flavor profile will be, and how the final dish will look.  It’s an amazing process.

Without the experience associated with the development of this sensual tool, it is like a beautiful knife that never leaves the roll bag, or fine china that never serves as a canvas for a plate of food.  Thus, the best cooks and chefs are always seeking out those sensual food experiences so that they can develop their flavor memory.

It is common for people to confuse flavor and taste as being the same, but taste is but a portion of the flavor experience.  Flavor is a combination of taste, sight, sound, smell, and texture – all in the right proportions.  Try tasting a familiar ingredient while you hold your nose to see how the flavor changes.  Close your eyes and taste a raw potato next to a fresh apple and see how similar they are.  Think about it: Is a potato chip a potato chip without the sound of the crunch?  Is fresh baked apple pie as appealing if it has no smell?  Why do green and white asparagus taste so different – does it have anything to do with the color?

An interesting exercise to establish the importance of sense experiences is to ask your cooks some basic questions:

[]         WHAT DOES A STRAWBERRY TASTE LIKE?

The majority of time the cook will likely say something like: “It tastes like a strawberry”.  Well, if that cook had never tasted a fresh picked, fully mature strawberry before – how would they know what to expect?  More importantly, how would they know how to differentiate a great strawberry from an inferior one?

[]         DESCRIBE THE FLAVOR OF BAR-B-QUE BRISKET?

Anyone from a southern state will likely win any contest in describing this flavor, and ironically, their response will differ depending on which state they are from.  What will be universal are the smokiness, the moisture, the tenderness, and the subsequent mouth feel that comes from a process that goes beyond taste.  Unless you have tried a brisket that was smoked and cooked over coals for 12-24 hours then it will be impossible to describe the flavor or know when a properly cooked brisket is just right.

[]         WHAT DOES A FRESH TRUFFLE SMELL LIKE?

The truffle is one of the most unique, impossible to describe ingredients unless you have held one up to your nose, shaved it offer soft scrambled eggs or fresh pasta, or buried it in raw Arborio rice to imbed its perfume in a dish of risotto.  It is intoxicating and overwhelming to the senses.  But without the experiences mentioned, it would be impossible to describe.

[]         TELL ME IF THE HOLLANDAISE I JUST PREPARED IS CORRECT?

What is the balance of lemon and heat from Tabasco? What is the right amount of salt? Is the correct balance of egg yolk and clarified butter present?  Is the mouth feel correct?  A sauce with the simplest of ingredients is so hard to make correctly and to achieve proper balance.  Can you imagine being asked to make a hollandaise if you never made one correctly before or had never tasted a perfect example? 

[]         CAN YOU TELL IF A SAUTE DIVER SCALLOP IS BEING COOKED CORRECTLY IF YOU ARE BLINDFOLDED AND 20 FEET AWAY FROM THE RANGE?

That scallop will only reach it’s perfect state if the pan used to sear it is screaming hot and the portion of clarified butter is just right.  The sound of a pan when it sizzles beneath that scallop and the smell of butter before it passes the burn point is a tell- all even if the cook does not see the scallop.

[]         ARE YOU ABLE TO DETERMINE THE DEGREE OF DONENESS ON THAT STEAK BY SIMPLY TOUCHING IT?

Of course a cook can always probe that steak with a thermometer to determine degrees of doneness, but a seasoned broiler cook would never be caught doing that.  This cook knows the give of the muscle at medium or medium rare.  He or she knows the perfect point at which to give the steak a 45 degree turn to imprint those beautiful grill marks, when to flip the steak (just once), and when to pull it from the heat so that it takes advantage of carry over cooking and time to rest so that it doesn’t bleed out when that first cut of the knife opens it up on a plate.

[]         CAN YOU TELL IF THOSE ONIONS ARE CARAMELIZING PROPERLY JUST BY SMELLING THEM FROM THE OPPOSITE END OF THE KITCHEN?

The Maillard reaction (reducing sugars and protein through the application of heat) that is the process of caramelization has its own smell and sound.  If it is taken too far then the item begins to burn giving off a less than pleasant aroma.  When it is done right the sound of the sizzle and the sweet smell of this chemical reaction is one of the most positive of kitchen aromas.

When the chef turns on his sensual radar

A seasoned chef can walk through a kitchen, turn on his or her sensual radar and assess what is going right and what is going wrong.  When the radar is tuned in, he sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the kitchen fill the air and send signals of process and outcome.  These are skills that go way beyond a person’s natural ability; it is a culmination of experiences that have changed how the cook views the world around him or her.  Without these experiences, this capacity will never be realized.

Cooks who have the desire to master their craft are the ones who seek out food experiences, taste and mentally record those experiences, re-introduce those experiences frequently enough to allow them to become a part of their bag of tricks, and relish the opportunity to share this gift with others.  When this happens they are in control of the food that is being prepared, the ingredients that are being purchased, and the success of the team engaged in creating memories for restaurant guests.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Experience is the best educator

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A SOMBER DAY – WE SHOULD NEVER FORGET THE SOUL OF AMERICA

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Never Forget

Nineteen years later – what does 9/11 continue to mean to America and the world?  This is a day that must give us pause, a day of unthinkable horror that will always be remembered by anyone born before 2001.  It is also a day that has and will continue to impact every person worldwide, regardless of his or her age and nationality.  This is the day when the world stopped and gave a collective gasp – The United States was attacked on its own soil, by an outside entity, for the first time since Pearl Harbor signaled a new phase in World War II.  This is a day that changed our lives forever, that set a new uncomfortable course for the world, and a day that changed how others viewed the U.S.  We were suddenly – vulnerable.

First, and foremost, for me and others who were going about their normal business on that day in 2001 – this is a day to remember the fear and uncertainty that rushed through our veins when word of the attack became real; when the twin towers crashed to the streets of New York, when a passenger jet plowed into the Pentagon, and when another was brought to a halt in a Pennsylvania field en route to the White House.  That moment brought about a paralyzing fear of: “What just happened, what is next, who did this, how could this be happening?”  This was also a moment that drove us all to immediately think about our families and what must be done to protect them.

In the days to follow, the real meaning of 9/11 would become clear.  We learned of the friends, family and co-workers who lost their lives in the attack, the first responders who would selflessly give their lives to help others, the extent to which this event would change the character of America, and for the first time leave our citizens with a realization that we were vulnerable.

In the days to follow we would see the world united in condemning what happened and showing solidarity for America and our people.  “My God, someone attacked the United States!  What does this mean for every other free country in the world?”  There was unity among our allies and even those who were on the fence about a relationship with the U.S.  We could, for a period of time, feel comfort in how much support we saw throughout the world. 

In the days to follow, the world focused on a common enemy- terrorism.  It seemed as though this focus could actually bring about a collective effort to stop the growth of hate and violence that brought about this terrorist statement, a statement that pointed to our fragility.  Dozens of countries would send their troops and advisors to help America fight this battle that threatened the free world – it was, if such a statement can be made, a reality that brought about a feeling of completeness and unification.

Then we over-stepped our bounds, other underlying initiatives drove us to make assumptions, and include other deeply seated theories in our approach towards this common battle.  What once was a unified effort would slowly lose its heart and many of our allies drifted away – eventually leaving America to fight a battle that was no longer clear and the countries impacted left with even more fragility and anger at its peak.  The world became even more polarized than it was in the past and nationalism rose up its ugly head in not just America, but in numerous European countries as well.  Tens of thousands of soldiers and innocent bystanders would lose their lives or end up with life long disabilities as a result of wars without end. 

Our country was changed significantly on that day in 2001.  The fear and anger that was justified on 9/11 fueled the fires of mistrust, polarization, isolation, and hate.  The face of America looks quite different than it did in the summer of 2001.  The once unified world that respected the meaning of America and supported the democratic dream that was the model for others to follow was damaged, maybe beyond repair.  The word of Americans and the intent to be a guiding light for human rights and personal freedom was much dimmer than it was in the summer of 2001.

The scabs of previous cuts and bruises in our history were ripped off in the coming years- exposing old wounds that had not been adequately addressed, but rather simply bandaged and ignored.  Worldwide concern over a new American direction was heightened as they watched internal discontent and anger rise up on the streets of our country that had always been the example of justice and righteousness. 

America changed on 9/11 and we are where we are with far more uncertainty, polarization, and fear than at any other time, at least in my life.  World terrorists have taken a back seat to domestic terrorists.  We no longer disagree with others; we hate them if their thoughts and beliefs don’t align with ours.  The world no longer turns to America for direction; in fact they turn away from us so as not to be infected with this spreading negativity and malaise.  America has changed, and not for the better.

On this day we need to remember all of those fine people who lost their lives on 9/11, all of those first responders who gave of themselves in an effort to save and protect others, those soldiers of America and our allies who gave their lives in the fight against terrorism, and the concept of America that has lost so much ground in 19 years.  At the same time we must remember that what made America great is still there under the cloud of uncertainty and isolation.  We can resurrect what has always been great about America and rise up again.  We can unite our country so that our differences are embraced rather than being viewed as irreconcilable and we can win back the respect and support of our allies so they once again view our country as that place that defined freedom.  We should no longer allow what happened on 9/11 to be a moment in time when the definition of America was changed.  We must unite, use our vote to make a difference, look to our left and look to our right and know that the person beside us can have different opinions and beliefs and that is OK.  Doing the right thing has always been what made our country special and doing the right thing now is the best way to remember all of those individuals whose lives were lost or changed as a result of this day, 19 years ago.

As is always the case on this day – I want to pay special tribute to Chris Carstanjen – a former student of mine who lost his life in a plane that crashed into the twin towers.  Chris was a kind soul who boarded that plane en route to a well-deserved vacation.  He had no idea what was to happen minutes later, nor would he ever dream what that day would mean to the world 19 years later.  Pay due respect to Chris on this day – vote, open your arms and hearts to others, and help to bring back the soul of America.  Let November 3, 2020 be the day of a new beginning that Chris and millions of others would want – the America they knew and believed in.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Never Forget

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com  BLOG

Chris Carstanjen

THE BREAKFAST COOK – TOUGH, DEPENDABLE, ORGANIZED, AND FAST

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There are cooks and there are cooks – each has his or her list of responsibilities, required skills, and bag of tricks.  Just because you are listed on a schedule as a cook does not necessarily mean that you are adept at filling every position under that designation.  Grill cooks, sauté, prep, garde manger, bakers and pastry chefs are all very unique.  Then there is the breakfast cook – although some cooks use this position as a stepping stone to the evening line – many are comfortable choosing this as their position of choice.  If you fit the mold – then you possess a special value reserved for just a few, value that – to the chef goes way beyond the ability to prepare breakfast items.

Unlike other line positions where there is a time allowance for preparation, pacing of courses, and the detail work that equates to a meticulously aligned plate presentation – the breakfast cook must be efficient and fast.  When the order is placed the cooking is almost instantaneous. 

Finding that perfect person for the job is one of the more important tasks of the chef in a property.  Comparable to finding a solid sous chef – this position must, at some point, almost become invisible.  The chef wants to know that the cook will be there, will be ready, will be consistent, and will represent the quality that is expected of the operation – without much supervision.   When this person is identified then the chef can rest easy.

There can occasionally be room for a creative dish or two, but when it comes to breakfast – most restaurant guests are looking for well-executed familiarity.  At the same time, the guest is quite specific about how they like their breakfast items prepared – their expectations are clear.  “I want my eggs over-easy but yolks that are not too runny”.  “I want my waffles crunchy”.  “Make sure that the scrambled eggs are dry”.  “I like my bacon well done”.   “A five minute egg  (not shorter and not longer)”.  The list goes on and on.  Add this to an onslaught of orders coming in a breakfast crunch time and you can see how easy it would be for a cook to get frazzled. 

So what are the unique attributes of this individual?

[]         DEPENDABILITY:

The last thing in the world that the chef needs is that 5 a.m. call from the restaurant stating that the breakfast cook called out or didn’t show.  The thought of jumping out of bed and rushing to the restaurant, setting up an unfamiliar station and trying to function while behind the eight ball is un-nerving.  This is not the best moment in a chef’s day.  He or she must be able to depend on the breakfast cook to be there or provide ample warning so that the chef can find a replacement.

[]         INDEPENDENCE:

Oftentimes the breakfast cook is an island.  It is very common to find, unlike the evening shift where there may be three or four line cooks for a meal period, the breakfast cook may be the one and only.  Because of this, his or her planning, prep, organization, and attack are separated from the rest of the kitchen team.  The right candidate must be able to function effectively in this manner.

[]         EFFICIENCY:

Efficiency is the rule of law for all cooks, but even more so for the breakfast cook.  When an order comes in it is immediately cooked, plated, and slid into the pass.  This requires that the cook’s system is tight and foolproof.  Mise en place has never been more important!   The breakfast cook must be able to anticipate business volume, reflect on his or her past experience to assess what items will move, how many eggs to crack, how much batter to make, bacon to cook ahead, and plate garnishes to prepare.  Considering the limited time available between orders placed and orders filled – there is no time to return to prep during service.

[]         ORGANIZATION:

Pan placement, folded side towels, clarified butter placement, temperature of griddle, poaching water, and plate organization are all crucial, especially during crunch time.  All cooks must be organized, but a breakfast cooks station will resemble the cockpit of an airplane – he or she will be able to point to the placement of each ingredient or tool without even thinking.  If you want to see impeccable organization turn to chaos in a few seconds – let the chef jump behind the range to “help” a breakfast cook through the rush.  Most cooks would rather not have the help.  As a chef, whenever I helped I made sure that I stuck to garnishing plates and wiping the edges of china before a plate went into the pass.

Pans lined up waiting for the command.

[]         MULTI-TASKER:

Eight pans of eggs cooking simultaneously (some sunny side, others varying degrees of over-easy), four orders of pancakes on the griddle, eggs benedict poaching, waffles in the iron, and a refresh on the oatmeal.  This is constant, unrelenting as the dining room moves from a few guests at 6:30 a.m. to a full house by 7:15.  Flip the cakes, slide the over easy eggs in a pan, respond to the buzzer on the waffle iron, plate up orders, transfer that rasher of bacon or triple sausage alignment,  bark out: “pick up!”, and start all over again.  Multi-tasking must be second nature.

[]         SPEED:

Guests and in turn – servers have little patience during breakfast.  The average dining room guest for breakfast is likely to spend no more than 30 minutes from the time they are seated.  They have things to do, places to be, and breakfast is simply a means to an end.    A five-minute wait seems like an eternity to a breakfast guest.  The pressure is thus on the cook to be fast – lightning fast.  To watch an efficient breakfast cook is mesmerizing.  This modern version of the short order cook still amazes me. 

I remember my first introduction to the cooking profession was watching a short-order cook through a restaurant window.  At the age of 9 or 10, it was amazing to watch the efficiency and speed, the focus and the calmness of a person who was able to handle so many orders with grace.  It is this experience that years later helped me to decide to become a cook and eventually a chef.

[]         DETAIL ORIENTED:

As traditional and seemingly simple as breakfast may be, there is a detail that is expected, a focus on doing the little things right that makes all the difference in the world.  If that bacon isn’t exactly how the guest likes it – the meal is substandard.  If the oatmeal is not the perfect consistency, then it is pushed aside by a disappointed guest.  If those eggs are too runny or not runny at all, then the expectation of a good start to the day is shattered.  The details are small, but nevertheless important. 

The breakfast cook cannot sacrifice the details for speed, nor speed for the details.  It is a delicate balance.

[]         ECONOMY OF MOTION:

The best cooks work from the standpoint of the pivot step.  Everything must be within that pivot step if the system is to work.  One step to the left or right, forward or back – any more and the game plan is in jeopardy.  The more steps that a cook takes the greater the opportunity for mistakes.  This is why organization and efficiency are so closely tied to how this station is set-up.

Focus, organization, efficiency.

[]         FOCUS:

Watch this cook from the moment he or she arrives until everything is packed away for tomorrow.  There is a focus that tells a story of oneness with the job.  Walking through that back door at 4:30 a.m. – the cook clicks on that focus switch in his or her head and then it takes over.  Flip on the lights and the hood fans, fire up the ovens for bacon and sausage, turn on the griddle to warm up, and the flat top that will accommodate those egg pans in a short period of time.  Fill the steam table and grab a cup of coffee.

Roll out the cart with mise en place that was prepped at the close of yesterdays business, slide those first pans of bacon and sausage in the oven, set the timer, put on butter to clarify, and oil the flat top to welcome pre-cooked, diced potatoes for home fries.  Crack a half case of eggs for scrambled, and finish the pancake and waffle batters that were measured out yesterday.  Check plates for chips and cleanliness and restack in their assigned location.  Pre-assemble garnishes, transfer eggs to cooler pans for easy access, keep those potatoes moving so that they are crisp on the outside and soft and warm inside, transfer cooked bacon and sausage to the steam table, fold side towels, and align spatulas, tongs, and slotted spoons for service.  Pre-heat pans in that lowboy oven, and double-check all of your mise.  Set up that pinch pot of salt and pepper, wash and dry berries of pancakes, remove the solids from that clarified butter, and grab another cup of coffee. 

Only a few minutes till the dining room opens – time to check in with the dining room manager and walk through your checklist one more time.  There will be no rest for the next three hours.  Soon the action begins and if all is organized properly it will run like a well-rehearsed orchestra.  At the end you will prep for tomorrow, clean your station, and pass on the spatula to the next shift.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

All respect for the breakfast cook

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A CHEF’S 2020 LAMENT

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They say that hindsight is 2020 – that being so, there is plenty for us to reflect on and determine how we might have done things differently.  The fact is, we can’t go back, but we can look forward.  At this point we are all hoping that 2020 will just fade from our memories.  In the moment, however, there are loads of things that we miss, things that make us shake our heads in disbelief, things that we long for – a return to a time when our greatest concern as a chef was our reservation list and daily mise en place.

The prudent approach would probably be to put the past behind us and lay a course for the future, but when the future is so uncertain there is some solace in looking backward and reminiscing about those things that had put a smile on our face.  There is always a level of comfort in reflection, even if there is “no turning back”.  It’s history, as they say, but history is important.  History is a great teacher and, if nothing else, we can reflect as a way to learn. 

So, what do chefs miss in this crazy environment where employees and guests float around in masks, keeping their distance, and eyeing each other with concern?  What do chefs long for in a world where restaurants are closing left and right – even the most established ones?  What do chefs crave when protocol becomes far more important that the flavor profile of a dish?  Here are a few things on my list:

[]         ANTICIPATION

That moment in the early morning when a chef steps out of bed with the knot of mixed emotion in his or her stomach is – yes, something that is missed.  There is a bit of fear regarding what might be faced when stepping through that back kitchen door, yet at the same time there is always a twinge of excitement about the same.  The minute a chef’s feet hit the floor from a restless nights sleep – adrenaline is pumping.  After time, this is a highly anticipated feeling.  Chefs miss that in 2020.

[]         POSITIVE ANXIETY

Anxiety in small doses can be that spark that starts the human engine.  Too much anxiety has just the opposite effect, yet if a chef can control it at some level, then anxiety can be used to fuel the energy needed for the day.  Positive anxiety can keep us on our toes, helping us to prepare for the expected and the unexpected.  This positive anxiety gives the chef a bounce in his or her step – the bounce of confidence that the kitchen team depends on.  Chefs miss that in 2020.

[]         THE SPIRIT OF WINNING

It is always more than “how you play the game” – every person ultimately wants to win at whatever they attempt.  Some put the time and effort into helping that happen, while others may simply hope that it occurs without their active involvement.  Chefs tend to put the effort in.    When the chef has the winning spirit then it rubs off on the team, setting the stage for achievement.  To a kitchen team it is all about the basics – efficiency, great tasting and looking food, a clean operation, meeting the timing demands of orders, clearing the board of orders, no re-fires, no injuries, and happy guests sending back empty plates.  This is what the chef and the team work for; this is what brings about fist bumps, high fives, and a smile at the end of service.  Chefs miss that in 2020.

 

[]         APPROPRIATE BANTER

There is certainly no place in today’s kitchen for hurtful or inappropriate banter that demeans or makes people uncomfortable, but that harmless banter that yields a laugh or a re-energized staff is simply a part of the environment that cooks and chefs look forward to.  Chefs miss that in 2020.

[]         INTERACTION WITH STAFF

Walking through that back kitchen door – the chef grabs a cup of coffee and invests the time to walk the kitchen and connect with prep cooks, breakfast line cooks, bakers and pastry chefs, dishwashers, and service staff.  This is the first opportunity to touch base and connect with the people who are at the heart of a restaurants success.  Throughout the day it is the sometimes serious, oftentimes light conversation that pulls chefs and cooks alike into the environment of the kitchen.  People are interesting, they all have stories to tell, they all bring something special to the team, and they validate why a chef chose to do this work for a living.  Chefs miss the level of this interaction in 2020.  Instead of a smile and a resounding “yes chef” response from cooks, 2020 brings a look of uncertainty and a less than enthusiastic “yes chef”, wondering what tomorrow may bring.

 

[]         INTERACTION WITH GUESTS

Many chefs look forward to the opportunity to occasionally “ walk the dining room” and interact with guests, engage in short conversations about food and maybe a suggested wine pairing, check for those smiles of satisfaction from diners, and feel the energy of the front of the house.  Somehow this just doesn’t work when everyone is wearing a mask and looking over their shoulder for a person walking too close.  Chefs miss that in 2020.

[]         BEING FOOD CENTRIC

Of course chefs always worry about food cost, training, labor cost, vendor dependability, and the next health inspection, but what brought a person to this position is a love of food and a desire to learn more and create for the plate.  When menus become utilitarian out of necessity, when a diminished labor pool is the driving force for menu design, and when survival is the focus – that food centric energy is in short supply.  When the focus is not on creative food that is the signature for the restaurant – chefs miss that.

[]         A FULL DINING ROOM

One of the measures of success that is most exciting in restaurants is looking through those swinging doors and seeing every table full of happy guests – eating, raising glasses, and laughing with reckless abandon.  This is what we strive for in restaurants.  When tables are 6 feet apart and capacity is limited due to pandemic protocol – that dining room energy is far less noticeable.  It is really difficult to relax, enjoy a dining experience, celebrate, and laugh when the fear associated with Covid is always present.  Chefs miss those full dining rooms in 2020.

[]         THE ENERGY AND BEING ON THE EDGE

That knot in a chef’s stomach, that nervous energy that a line cook feels just prior to those first orders clicking off the POS, that uneasiness that servers experience just prior to opening the restaurant doors is, when in control, very similar to that anticipation felt before an exciting football game, cross country race, or rush to fill the stands at a rock concert.  Sure it is a nervous energy, but it only feels dangerous until the gates open, the kickoff starts the game, the starting gun is fired, or those first orders signal – let the fun begin.  Chefs miss this in 2020.  It may exist, but at a much more subdued level.

[]         THE SMELLS, SOUNDS, AND TASTES OF A KITCHEN ON A PATH TO SUCCESS

As that chef walks through the back kitchen door and grabs a cup of coffee – it is always the familiar sensual experience that reminds him or her that there is no other job more physically and emotionally rewarding than cooking.  The smell of breakfast bacon, fresh baked bread, Danish pastries, caramelizing onions, and roasted garlic somehow completes the aroma package with the nutty, deep roasted smell from a cup of coffee.  The sounds of sizzling pans, clinking of plates being stacked from the dishwasher, cooks barking out warnings like “behind” or “hot”, and the resounding cadence of the POS printer and expeditor barking “ordering, fire, or pick-up”, are part of the music of the kitchen.  When this is muted or felt to be less indicative of a warm kitchen – then- yes, the chef misses that.

[]         THE FREEDOM TO CREATE

Menus need to be streamlined, costs need to be watched very closely, limited staff must be considered, and efficiency must rule the day.  Creativity takes a back seat during times of crisis and uncertainty.  This is what charges up a chef and when it is lacking then chefs truly miss that.

[]         KNOWING THAT TOMORROW WILL BE BETTER THAN TODAY

Most significantly, when the restaurant business is healthy then there is little energy invested in worrying about your position or that of your team members.  The impact of the pandemic is intense and all consuming.  Tomorrow is always a question.  Whether it be new protocols, or expenses that can’t be met – when tomorrow is uncertain then the chef certainly misses the comfort of knowing that doing things right will take away that fear.

Yesterday is gone, today is challenging, but tomorrow will come and with it will be a restaurant industry that is different, but robust, challenging, and once again – exciting.  Today is tough, but reflection and optimism will help us all to chart a course for success.  Chef’s should remember the past, miss what is lacking today, but think about tomorrow with a smile of optimism.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com  BLOG

CAFÉ Talks Podcast

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SUCCESSFUL CHEFS – WHAT CAREER KILLERS TO AVOID

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Rest assured, at some point restaurants will rise up again, clubs and hotels will measure success based on occupancy and food service activity, and the position of “chef” will be center stage in driving sales and measuring profitability. The opportunities for chefs will be viewed again as instrumental and of significant value to owners, and those who are qualified and prepared will have ample career opportunities in front of them.

This being said, some responsibilities will return to where they were pre-pandemic, yet others will work their way into the chef’s bag of expectations. In all cases, there will be a re-shuffling of priorities driving changes to the profile of the “best candidate” for the leadership position in the kitchen. Some of the previous characteristics of chefs and their role will be viewed as less important and some may even not be tolerated in the “new normal”. Now is the time to self-assess and realign priorities. When those opportunities rise up – you want to be ready. Here is a list of career killers in the new normal – now is the time to make the necessary adjustments.

[]         OVER-CONFIDENCE/EGO

“I am the best” is more likely to turn employers and teams off. You should not confuse being humble with being weak or lacking in confidence. Chefs can be very confident without putting on an air of superiority. When chefs are willing to listen to others, admit that they still can learn something new, that others may have the right answer to a problem and that those individuals should receive credit for their ability to bring about resolution is the sign of a strong leader. This is where you need to be.

[]         POWER vs. LEADERSHIP

“I am the chef” has oftentimes been a statement that points to his or her authority over others. This is arrogant and rarely sets the stage for teamwork and alignment with a common goal. Leaders don’t boast about their authority and never use it for personal gain over another. The power of leadership comes with tremendous responsibility to listen, treat others with respect, study an issue and avoid making rash decisions, and an understanding that his or her role is that of guide, coach, and mentor – not dictator.

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[]         LACK OF EMPATHY

“That’s not my problem” is a statement that demonstrates a callous approach towards other members of the kitchen or restaurant team. This callousness will do very little to create followers, in fact it will contribute to division and angst among those team members. The environment that is a result will surely drive a wedge between management and staff.

[]         POOR COMMUNICATION

“I don’t have time to tell you everything” demonstrates a lack of understanding the importance of taking the time to make employees, vendors, and customers comfortable with your style of management and the decisions you make. Share as much as you possibly can, do it in real-time, and do it because it will build understanding and support. Share your financials, share your challenges with product, share your vision moving forward, share your commitment to excellence, share what you know and share what you don’t – it’s all important. This is what brings a team together and firing on all cylinders.

[]         LACK OF TRAINING

“You should know how to do that” is an attempt to relinquish responsibility for a team members skills and abilities. When you hire a person you own the responsibility to inform, train, teach, and improve their abilities. The best operators seek to find ways to help employees improve even if it means that they eventually move on to find other opportunities as a result. Training will create a business brand that attracts the very best.

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[]         POOR DELEGATION

“I will make those decisions” is a proclamation that only the chef knows how to make the right decision. You are foolish if you think that the hundreds of decisions that are necessary on any given day in the kitchen must rely on your abilities alone. The best chefs train effectively so that others can make solid decisions without the chef’s active involvement. Delegation of responsibility must include the responsibility for decision-making and the authority to make those decisions. This is how a team operates.

[]         INADEQUATE FOCUS ON COST

“My responsibility is to produce great food”! Yes, this is true, but it is even truer that a chef’s responsibility is to make great food that yields a profit. The most talented cooks without a focus on financial acumen will not be enough to sustain their position. Chefs must be number crunchers and advocates for analytics that allow them to make the best financial decisions for the restaurant. This is your job!

[]         LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

“That’s beyond your pay grade” is a statement that hides something that will make an employee question your actions. If labor cost is too high in comparison to sales – share it with your staff. If food cost is too high, then share it with your staff and talk about possible solutions. If ownership is not satisfied with the product that is leaving the kitchen, then share this with your staff. If your job is becoming overwhelming, then share this with your staff and show how they can help to relieve some of this stress. Trust me when I state that your employees will respect and appreciate this, and will rise to the occasion if they feel that you trust them with business information.

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[]         DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO

“I am the chef – just do as I say. My position is different that yours.” This is the most effective way of losing the respect of your employees. You need to set the example for others to follow. Be there, work as hard as they do, demonstrate your passion for excellence, look and act the part of a professional, help others when they need it, and support your staff in the way that you would like to be supported in your role.

[]         AVOIDANCE OF SCENARIO PLANNING

“I can’t predict those things” is an admission that you are not prepared. The chef is expected to have answers and solutions. This goes with the turf. The best way to solve problems that arise is to prepare for them. Yes, experience will certainly help – if you have faced a challenge before then you understand how to react, but scenario planning is a more effective way of avoiding those challenges before they arise. Plan for a power outage, plan for that crippling snow storm, plan for the delivery that doesn’t arrive or that missed event that shows up unexpectedly, plan for new competition, plan for sick employees and plan for that new menu that doesn’t hit the mark. How will you respond if any of these realities knock on your door? Planning is the best antidote to chaos.

Take the time NOW to look at yourself and build a portfolio for success in the future. Be the kind of chef that is in demand, a chef that attracts followers, a chef that helps a restaurant succeed, and a chef prepared for the new normal.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

CAFÉ Talks Podcast

https://cafetalks.libsyn.com/

 

IN CHALLENGING TIMES DON’T MAKE CLASSIC BUSINESS MISTAKES REMEMBER THE TOP ELEVEN

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Difficult times in business can never be addressed with complacency. This is the time to double your efforts rather than allow yourself to get caught up in the malaise. There is always opportunity beyond business survival for those who commit to moving forward. William Channing once wrote:

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”

For the restaurant operator caught up in the current, somewhat bleak reality of the business environment we are living in – there is hope in knowing how resilient the business of food can be. History is only kind to those who put one foot in front of the other and face each day with a “can do” attitude. Giving in to the weight of challenge is never a suit of clothes that looks good on anyone – especially restaurateurs and chefs. Shake off the dust of complacency, press the wrinkles out of that chef coat, polish those shoes and face the challenges straight on. You can do this!

The first step is to open up that time-tested playbook and remind you how important the basics are. These foundations of business success are even more important when facing difficult business cycles – so here is a blueprint for setting a course towards renewal:

  • DEPENDABILITY

Your employees and your guests need to hang on to that business anchor that will keep them feeling safe and secure in the realization that you have a firm footing and will consistently be there to help them feel the same. This means that you are a beacon of strength and dependability. Find your hours of operation, your strength in concept, your commitment to keeping your eye on the details and don’t waver from the standards that you set. Show everyone that you intend to stay the course and be there when they need you.

  • COMMUNICATION

As much as communication is always the number one criticism of those on the receiving end – it will be even more so during times of crisis. This is the time to up your game in this regard. Share everything that you can with your staff – right down to the nitty gritty of business finances – they deserve to know. Communicate profusely with your business guests – use all of the mediums available and make the communication positive and uplifting. Engage in social media even more than before – post positive info daily. Send out information about your current offerings and your future plans through effective email blasts. Ask your guests for advice and ideas that might help the business that they are a part of. Invest the time – this is very critical.

When I see a restaurant with a lackluster website or a Facebook page of sporadic posts with lengthy gaps in activity then I sense that the business has lost its energy. When I fail to see Instagram posts of great looking dishes coming from a restaurant kitchen then I sense that there is a culinary team without that spark that draws people in. Become obsessed with communication!

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  • CREATING A BUZZ

Remember all of those exciting things that you did to draw customers in when business was great? This is not the time to put that effort aside – this is the time to invest even more energy in creating that excitement that demonstrated a business that was alive. Everyone is engaged in take out or delivery – don’t settle for being everybody – make your engagement in this arena really exceptional. Social distancing is un-nerving in restaurant settings – how can you make it fun? Remember that guest chef program that you tried before – do it again with real gusto – hype it up – make it your signature. Don’t just sit there – do something unique and filled with excitement.

  • HOSPITALITY FIRST

It seems that far too many restaurants when faced with the extraordinary challenges of the day are relegating their operations to utilitarian delivery of product and service. Where is the welcoming attitude, the willingness to go the extra mile for the guest, the smiles and laughter, the little touches that made you that preferred operation for guests? I know it’s hard, I know these are uncharted waters, I know it’s tough when you are wearing a mask and gloves – but, everyone is wearing a mask now – this is the common space we are living in. How do you make it come alive with hospitality? Work at it, train for it, stand behind it, and make a difference.

  • FIND WAYS TO MAINTAIN THE EXPERIENCE

Look around you – the restaurants that are open at some level are not focused on creating experiences anymore. This is what the restaurant business has been about for decades now – where is the attempt to find ways of building a new experience that goes beyond providing food for a paying customer? I don’t know what that means for your operation but take an inventory and look for the sensual interaction with guests. What are the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes that you offer and how do they blend together to create something enticing and enjoyable? Is it ambience, music, plate presentations, great smells seeping out from the kitchen, the sound of frothing milk from the espresso machine, quality background music, fresh cut flowers, pots of herbs on the table, attractive logos and uniforms? All of this still counts! Don’t let your edge slip away.

  • BE PRESENT

As owners, managers, and chefs – regardless of the hours that you invested in the job in the past, this is not the time to back off – this is the time to be even more present. In many cases the comfort and support that your guests have aligned with in the past were probably nurtured through the connections they built with you. You have been the rock of the business – the reason it exists – now is the time to renew those connections and be that friendly greeter when they give you a chance during these scary times to be out and about. YOU NEED TO BE PRESENT! Your guests will remember this effort when we move past the pandemic.

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  • KEEP THE SURPRISES COMING

Every few weeks add another twist to what you do – keep it exciting. Hold on to what works, but don’t let uncertain times keep you from being innovative. Whether it’s menu, special events, feature nights, or catchy pricing packages – do something that keeps people guessing and returning to your social media posts for more news.

  • REMEMBER FRIENDS – MAKE NEW ONES

You know how important those return guests have been in the past – guess what, they are even more important now. These are the folks who give you lots of slack, forgive you when you make mistakes, encourage you when you get it right, and tell the world about their special place. Invest heavily in keeping these folks on your side. Offer special pricing for them, create a loyalty program, as them for advice on menu changes, invite them to new menu tastings before they are unveiled to the public, make sure you treat them well when they walk through the door, train your staff how to interact with those VIP’s – these folks work for you without pay – they want to tell the world about the place that treats them well.

  • EMBRACE YOUR EMPLOYEES

Isn’t it ironic that with unemployment higher than it has been in decades – restaurants can’t seem to find employees right now? If you view your staff members as interchangeable parts then they will always look for a better opportunity somewhere else, or feel that unemployment insurance is a better option. Hire well, connect with them, train them exceptionally well, show some empathy for their personal situation, be fair and just, communicate, pay a fair wage, and embrace them as part of your family.

  • QUALITY FIRST

The kiss of death for a restaurant is to cut corners when times are tough. Maintain your standards of excellence, continue to buy the best ingredients, ensure that your kitchen team treats those ingredients with respect, be consistent with your process of cooking and plating, and never, EVER sacrifice quality standards for the sake of a few extra pennies of profit. This is the time to up your game!

  • INVEST IN TRAINING

I understand that money is very tight, in fact many restaurants are just hoping to have cash flow rates exceed outgoing bills until they can be in a position to reach for elusive profits; some, in fact, might be incurring losses during this time of limits to top line sales. This is not the time to cut back on training. Your employees, if well trained will help you through these tough times. They will provide that experience for guests, treat them as friends, provide that hospitality that is so important, watch your costs and help you control them, communicate as loyal ambassadors, and be there to problem solve through these challenging times. Help them to improve – invest in training even when it seems that you can’t afford it. You can’t afford not to train.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

We will get through this together

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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IN BUSINESS – BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER

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There are lessons to be learned that are often overlooked. Growth seems to be one of those markers that define a successful business, yet there is ample evidence that growth can be a deterrent to success. How so? What makes a start-up a rising star is more often than not – a few very simple factors:

[]         It’s all about employees that commit beyond what is required

[]         It’s all about formal and informal communication in an open system

[]         It’s all about understanding what everyone does

[]         It’s all about sharing in success and accepting failure as a team

[]         It’s all about a shared philosophy

[]         It’s all about a simple thank you

[]         It’s all about employee/customer relationships

[]         It’s all about trust

[]         It’s all about empowering great employees

Study and watch – these are the characteristics of businesses that are supported by loyal customers, able to attract great people, viewed as wonderful places to work, and willing to share the responsibilities of leadership. It’s true of great restaurants, great retail stores, great investment firms, exceptional banks, small auto dealerships, and even local government offices. Small, personal and people first always shines above large and business first.

So what happens as businesses grows?

[]         Those committed employees suddenly become disposable pawns

[]         Communication becomes jaded and sporadic with more unknown that           known

[]         Employees are judged against job descriptions rather than what they actually          contribute without seeking recognition

[]         Success is reserved for those in positions of power and failure is passed         down to others

[]         Suddenly staff alignment with that original philosophy that made the             company what it was is less important and negotiable

[]         Thank you are set aside in exchange for the expectation that people will work          without a pat on the back because they are getting paid to do so

[]         Employee’s are no longer given that direct contact with customers – getting to close is a sign of relinquishing power from those at the top

[]         Bigger companies are often far more Machiavellian and make a habit out of not trusting their employees

[]         Empowerment is less of a priority as companies get larger – they simply        create more layers of management to avoid giving their employees the           responsibility and authority to do what’s right.

So why is this so? It’s all about power and fear of losing it. When businesses are small and personal their operation is all about shared opportunity and unity of purpose. The question is” “Does it need to be this way?” There are examples of companies who have retained their integrity and “small business feel”, but they seem to be the exception to the rule. There are ways to structure a larger business with smaller “cohorts” based on product or service, breadth of responsibility, or defined projects but they still require leadership that is willing to work at maintaining this thinking big and acting small.

It is just depressing to see the casualties associated with companies that grow without principles and integrity. It is those great employees who made the company what it is who carry the weight of pain from a loss of faith in what they helped to build.

Support your small businesses – they have product, real service, and most important: heart and soul. Support the neighborhood restaurant with owners and employees who work side by side with a smile on their face. Support your local bookstore where the owner and staff are excited to turn you on to a new book. Support that neighborhood grocery store staffed by individuals who know the farmers and bakers who stock their shelves and make sure you know about those items on sale. Support your local hardware store where staff members know how to help you solve a problem, fix it yourself, and save a little money in the process. Support your local coffee shop – you know, the one that treats their employees like family and their customers like best friends. Maybe those local business prices are a bit higher, but they offer something that adds real value – they offer heart and soul.

I applaud those businesses that maintain the integrity of being small and personal while nurturing a growth strategy and implore those who forgot what they originally believed in, the principles that made them successful early on, to look in a mirror, pause, and take a step back. Bigger isn’t always better.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

CAFÉ Talks podcast

https://cafetalks.libsyn.com/

 

IT’S ONLY FOOD

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You know I have occasionally heard this statement, or at least felt that it was implied: “Don’t get so wrapped up in it – it’s only food.” Well, I am here to state unequivocally that this just isn’t so. Of course, there are restaurants and home cooks who seem to view it as such – sustenance, a way to fill an empty stomach, and there are loads of people – both preparers and recipients who are content to define it that way, but their perception is shallow. “It’s only food” discounts all that goes into the understanding of a dish, a process, an ingredient, and the numerous people and systems that sit behind the steps in bringing that food to a plate.

A plate of food is a culmination of so many factors: the farmer and the soil that nurtured a crop, maybe a crop that originated in a country far from our borders and was brought to America during those early days of exploration and expansion; a crop that had been historically integrated into family pantries as a staple in home food preparation, or maybe appeared in those early European taverns as a comfort food for vagabond travelers and then eventually worked it’s way into a traditional preparation that became a signature item defining a culture. Maybe that signature item found its way to the New World and with the addition of some indigenous ingredients in America it morphed into something different and was adopted by those early settlers as something new, but something familiar. Quite possibly this comfort food found its way onto American restaurant menus as a familiar dish that was prepared well and reminded people of their family heritage. As the profession of cooking was raised to a new level – that same dish evolved into something more refined and elegant, paired with great wine and served on fine china, presented with finesse and revealed as something new and fresh.

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The chef and the cook who prepared that dish is now representing the farmer who grew the crop, the rancher who raised the animal, the fisherman who spent treacherous hours out at sea trying to bring home a reasonable catch, the history and traditions that went back to those early days in a peasant European home and brought to America for a few generations of transition, and the respect that the chef or cook has for all other cooks who took part in the evolution of that dish. It’s not just food – it is all of this and more.

The cook or chef who stands tall in front of a range, proud in a uniform that draws its energy from hundreds of years of hard work and tradition; the cook or chef who has spent years developing those unique skills that allow he or she to wield a knife with precision, multi-task while keeping the five senses tuned in to a variety of preparations and timings, exercises that database of preparation techniques that result in consistently delicious food, and works in a highly stressful environment that relies of teamwork to bring everything together at the right moment – can’t accept that “it’s just food”.

Think about it for a moment: that bowl of pasta that graces your place setting in a restaurant came about from ancient preparations in Asia that date back thousands of years ago and even though many believe that it was Marco Polo during his world travels who brought noodles from China to Italy, that can be disputed through historical references that show the combination of flour, egg, water, and salt to make pasta was present in Italy before Marco Polo undertook his travels. Noodles, in some form, are present in almost every culture and with its preparation promote tradition and loads of stories to support its importance to a population. In Poland we find pierogi, Germany promotes spaetzle, Orzo in Greece, Dumplings in Vietnam, Wontons in China, and pasta in all its forms is by far one of the most important comfort foods in Italy and the U.S. So, that simple plate of pasta that is rolled and mounted on your restaurant plate is quite historical and as simple as the ingredients are, the perfect preparation through technique and understanding can be quite difficult. It takes skill to make great pasta and it takes understanding to build it into a memorable dish. It is, after all, not just food.

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That professional cook or chef is much more than a preparer of food, far more significant than someone who deals with “just food”, he or she is:

  • A HISTORIAN who has an opportunity to protect and promote the background of a dish or an ingredient
  • AN AMBASSADOR for the cultural influences that brought a dish to the public
  • AN ADVOCATE for the farmer, the rancher, the fisherman, and the producer who provides the ingredients that allow a dish to come together
  • AN ARTIST who views the ingredients and the history behind them as paints to create a feeling or portray that history on the plate – the chef’s canvas
  • A PROTECTOR of time tested methods that took a simple dish to a new level of excellence
  • A SCIENTIST who understands the methods used in cooking that extract or change the flavor of an ingredient through the application of chemistry
  • A CONDUCTOR who orchestrates the symphony of collaboration that takes place on a kitchen line as all of the above factors come together to replicate what a dish means – time and again.

It’s not just food to many and as long as this is true there will be restaurants, there will be chefs and cooks bringing a dish to life, there will be a connection between the consumer and all of those stakeholders in the process, and history and tradition will continue to flourish through the hands of those who know just how important food is and how significant the process of cooking can be.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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WHAT RESTAURANTS HAVE LEARNED DURING THE PANDEMIC

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As restaurants rally to try and meet the requirements of the new protocol for operation – distancing tables, reducing customer volume, enforcing mask wearing, deep sanitizing of surfaces, moving to on-line menus or single use documents, removing anything from table tops that could carry the virus, and trying to calm the fear that both customers and employees share – they are even more concerned with the inability to convince employees to return to the job. From coast to coast restaurants that are open at some level are paralyzed by a lack of staff. This might seem counter-intuitive when one considers that unemployment rates have skyrocketed – but it is the reality.

As restaurant owners and chefs scratch their heads trying to figure out what’s going on – it might be helpful to look at the lessons that are before us. Restaurants have been struggling to attract and retain employees for years, but never at this level. Typically, when unemployment is high – people line up to find those open positions, but not now. So here are some thoughts:

TEN LESSONS LEARNED:

[]         PASSION FOR COOKING IS FRAGILE: Those of us who cook because of a love of the craft, the pride in the history of the profession, the joy of creating, and the energy derived from working with a team of like-minded people may not fully understand this – but there are many others who enjoy cooking, but discovered that their enjoyment was dampened by the reality that the work conditions, commitment of hours, and meager wages and benefits are hard to ignore. Passion is not blind forever.

[]         THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS EVEN HARDER THAN WE THOUGHT: The pandemic has demonstrated to owners/operators just how very fragile their business is. Obviously, revenue is critical to any business, but most others have the capacity to ride a storm for a period of time. Restaurants, like the employees who work for them, cannot survive more than a handful of weeks without sufficient revenue. Four months of lockdown is the end of the road for most restaurants, in fact one month was all that it took for the grim reaper to knock on their door.

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[]         WE ARE THE POSTER CHILDREN FOR ECONOMIC DISASTER: Take note of the amount of press that restaurants have received as economists point to the devastation caused by the pandemic economic disaster. According to ABC news – more than 16,000 U.S. restaurants have permanently closed as a result of the pandemic and the numbers are growing – thousands more are hanging on by a thread. Yes, other businesses in numerous sectors have closed, but none at this rate. Low profitability, inconsistent business volume, and the inability to create an emergency nest egg have been at the root of this problem.

[]         THE SUPPLY CHAIN IS TENUOUS: The domino effect became apparent early on as meat processing plants were impacted by Covid outbreaks, farms found it difficult to attract harvesters, transportation systems were cut back as restaurants closed, and consumer hoarding made it difficult for businesses to keep their stock levels where they should have been. Suddenly, those items that were simply a phone call away from supplier to restaurant are faced with inventory shortages. As a result, normal menus have been challenged and restaurant storerooms are looking pretty challenged. All of this happened within a few weeks of a significant bump in the road.

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[]         COMFORT AND SERVICE RULE THE DAY: Restaurants and chefs have long portrayed the quality of food, uniqueness of menus, and signature of the chef as being the key to success. The pandemic has shown that the fear of exposure has directed consumer attention to a much simpler formula: good tasting, comfortable food, prepared and served safely, and packaged in a convenient manner so that the guest can minimize exposure to others. This may put a different spin on what restaurants look like in the future.

[]         TRAINING REALLY IS IMPORTANT: The pandemic has made it acutely obvious that TRUST is at the core of success for restaurants. Trust must be evident to employees and customers and trust during the pandemic is based on training all involved about the necessary protocol to keep people safe. There has never been a more important time for employee (and management) training than right now.

[]         GOVERNMENT DOESN’T UNDERSTAND: It has become abundantly clear that federal, and in some cases, state governments do not fully comprehend what the restaurant industry is facing. They seem to waver on unemployment for employees who typically live paycheck to paycheck, fail to understand that if a restaurant is mandated to be closed – they are unable to pay their landlord, fail to understand that PPP to cover labor cost is great, but if it comes with a mandate to keep everyone employed when protocol limits business capacity to 25 or 50%, there is a disconnect, and seem to believe that throwing money at restaurants is the long-term answer, when what small operators need is expertise on how to weather this storm and prepare for the next.

[]         THE NATIONAL ECONOMY DEPENDS ON RESTAURANTS: We knew this all along, but now it is vividly apparent that the number two employer in the U.S., even though many of those jobs are close to minimum wage, has a significant impact on the economic health of the country. The restaurant industry needs serious assistance right now if it is to continue helping the national economy equalize.

[]         IT IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE TO SOCIALLY DISTANCE IN RESTAURANTS: OK, we can open (at some level), but the common sense protocols of masks and 6-feet of social distancing are quite impossible to maintain in a restaurant setting. Either we simply can’t open, or we need some very creative thought on how we can keep everyone safe and do it economically.

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[]         WE CAN’T IGNORE THE NEED FOR FAIR PAY: Finally, the pandemic has brought home, even more so, that there needs to be a systemic change in the restaurant business, a change that makes us more efficient, more profitable, and able to pay a fair wage to our employees and offer a basic platform of reasonable benefits that any worker should expect. When the federal government offered expanded unemployment benefits and a $600 per week stipend to all workers – two things occurred: first – these employees were, in some cases for the first time, able to pay their bills and enjoy the comfort that comes from keeping creditors at bay; and these same employees realized that they could make more money not returning to work than if they did in the highly stressful activity of being a restaurant employee. This is a challenging combination for restaurant operators to compete with.

Out of every disaster comes a bit of sunshine, or at least clear vision of what is wrong and what the potential solutions might be. Hopefully this will be the case for restaurants and all of the stakeholders who depend on the restaurant experience.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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WHAT IS THE INTENT OF EDUCATION?

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As the country continues to come to grips with the ravages of a pandemic and the trail of chaos and long-term destruction that it leaves behind, we will need to think very clearly about how a country deals with diminishing funds to support our lifestyle and establishing priorities moving forward. Without question there are two areas, short and long-term, that must be at the top of our list: education and healthcare. Of course – there are many other needs, and at some level these other needs are priorities as well, but few things have more substantial impact on generations to follow than the education of our youth and setting a plan in place for the health and wellbeing of a population. For the purpose of this article – let’s just focus on education.

For decades many have debated what a good education entails and where our efforts should lie. When budgets are tightened (education always seems to be in the cross hairs) the first targets appear to be in the arts and technical life skills. Having spent my professional life in that career category of falsely labeled “non-essential” I have been acutely aware of the rising desire to de-emphasize the arts and technical skills and view them as less necessary than the traditional battery of courses that lead to an entrance in a college of choice. What the decision makers oftentimes fail to recognize is that the key to a “great education” is the ability to set the stage for creative thought, dreaming, and application of those courses that seem to dominate a curriculum. This article is not intended to downplay the importance of the classics: reading, writing, and arithmetic, but rather to view them through the lenses of the arts and technology. It is, in my opinion and that of many highly successful people, that application and integration of essential skills is a preferred method of generating real learning.

Keep in mind that the word education is derived, at some level, from the Latin word: “Educo” which can be interpreted as “To draw forth”. In other words, the intent of education is to create an environment where the person who is being educated is allowed to come to an understanding rather than be simply on the receiving end of information. What better way to “come to an understanding” than to think, create, produce, embrace, feel, hear, smell, and touch what it is that is being offered?

Here are a few thoughts/examples:

WRITING: When young people are presented with an opportunity to write – the natural approach is to begin with structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. All of this is critically important, but not natural. Structure and process must be drilled in and this takes time. What comes natural to young people is the desire and ability to tell stories. As soon as a two year old begins to develop a vocabulary – he or she is anxious to tell a story. The most intriguing and engaging part of writing is the ability to express a story that is drawn from experiences and vision. Creative writing is the application while structure is an important part of polishing the story. This is something that becomes real when it is encouraged outside of the traditional “course in English Composition”, when it is something that is part of everything that a student is engaged in.

When writing becomes real, tangible, and part of a student’s normal approach towards life and learning then so many doors are opened. Writers give all of us the opportunity to dream, express, feel, embrace, think, build a vocabulary, open our eyes and minds, question, challenge, connect, and enter a story as if it were part of who we are. Writing and subsequently reading what others have written is one of the most important parts of building creative thought, converting imagination into tangible ideas and results, giving hope, challenging difficulties, and becoming a problem solver. I always feel despondent when a person states, unequivocally, that he or she doesn’t read or can’t write. What a lost opportunity.

MUSIC: To those who love a particular type of music without experiencing the opportunity to broaden learning about different styles – I would state that you are missing so much of the experience that music provides. To those who have never picked up an instrument to play or approached the process of learning to play and building a connection to scales and chords, then I say that you are missing one of the great creative joys that music brings. I would dare to say that an education void of the opportunity to embrace an instrument, attempt to sing a bar or two of music, play a solo or become part of an ensemble or band, is an education that lacks breadth. Music is tactile and deeply rewarding, music is a way of understanding math (yes math), music helps individuals to understand the importance of teamwork, and music is relaxing, encouraging, demanding, structured yet free form. Music can be a friend at times in a person’s life when others seem too distant to understand and help, and most importantly – music is joy.

CARPENTRY: It is human nature to make things. Students inherently respond well to learning foundational skills that will serve them well for a lifetime. Everyone should know how to identify the right tools for the right job, swing a hammer, operate a circular saw, use a hand drill, a level, and a square, sand with the grain, pre-drill holes, and apply a coat of paint. EVERYONE will use these skills for the rest of their lives and will enjoy the results regardless of their age. This is creative expression that is tangible and like others listed is still an art form that applies basic math skills, planning, creative thinking, and various forms of communication.

TECHNOLOGY: technological advances and the products that have been a result surround us. Students are rather adept at using technology – it is almost innate. Exposing them to the positive uses of hardware and software, the thinking process that goes into design, foundational programming, and problem solving using technology is essential in today’s world.

COOKING & HEALTH: There are few things in life more important, more gratifying, and more beneficial than learning how to cook and draw out the natural flavors of the ingredients that we have access to. Cooking is an art form that incorporates all of the human senses – no other art form is this comprehensive.

DRAMA: Isn’t it interesting that many who are gifted as actors are far less gregarious when not in character? Acting allows us to step outside of the person who others perceive us to be and become someone else, sometimes revealing an inner person who has a tough time demonstrating certain traits otherwise. Acting allows us to experiment with that inner person, to see how others react. Sometimes creativity is inhibited because we are cautious about showing others that we are flush with great ideas. Acting frees many people to be expressive.

ART EDUCATION: Painting, drawing, sculpting, design, and architecture are crafts for sure, but more than that – these are visual ways for us to tell those stories that make our lives rich and connect us with a larger audience. Art can be a way to apply the concepts of storytelling, geometry, physics, and those processes that express a connection to oneself and to others (psychology and sociology).

To starve an education by minimizing these forms of expression is to minimize those opportunities to apply the skills and aptitudes that society deems essential. Real learning takes place when the opportunity to apply concepts is present.

Support your local schools and support the arts and technology.

“An arts education helps build academic skills and increase academic performance, while also providing alternative opportunities to reward the skills of children who learn differently.”

-Gavin Newsom

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

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STRENGTH, GRACE, AND DIGNITY

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I am in the process of reading Chef Dominique Crenn’s autobiography: Rebel Chef. I have long been a fan of her style and passion for expressive cooking, but it is these three words that solidified, in my mind, how a chef should run his or her kitchen: Strength, Grace, and Dignity. Those of us who are over the age of 40 – probably worked in a kitchen or two where Strength may have always been at the core of a chef’s style, but Grace and Dignity were not part of the formula. It was the way it was, and few ever questioned the methodology.

The problem is that strength without grace and dignity does not inspire, does not rally support, and will never result in long-term positive action. Let there be no question that strength that also demeans, discounts, segregates, disrespects, and undermines others is actually the definition of underlying weakness. Chefs, by the definition of the role, are leaders of a team, the face of a kitchens integrity, and the role model for others to follow. When strength is practiced without grace and dignity, then leadership is in serious question.

I know, I have been there – there are ample opportunities every day for a chef to sense that the only way to get things done is through promotion of fear of the chef’s wrath – the temptation to move in this direction is always present. Yet, the best chefs ask: “Where does this approach get me?” Employees who are less than dependable, those who fail to understand that sense of urgency that is pervasive in a kitchen, people who are too cavalier with the ingredients they work with, cook’s who are not on top of controlling waste, those who drift away from defined cooking methods, sloppy work stations, failure to take that extra few seconds to make sure a plate presentation meets the standards of the operation, or confrontational disregard for the chain of command will also light the fires of anger in a chef. How the chef approaches these instances has everything to do with whether or not there will be a change in attitude as a result. A demeaning comment, an embarrassing quip, a vile word in view of peers, a violent tirade of expletives along with a few idle threats may have an impact in the moment, but at the same time it creates an environment of discontent, anxiety, and isolation rather than team unity.

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“Dignity is one of the most important things to the human spirit. It means being valued and respected for what you are, what you believe in, and how you live your live. Treating other people with dignity means treating them the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.”

-Family Education

Those who promote the integration of grace and dignity in their style of leadership are also those who understand that many, if not all of those listed examples of operational realities are directly related to how the chef approaches them. The solutions rest on the shoulders of training, setting examples, equitable enforcement of operational standards, provision of the tools for employees to be successful, support of their efforts, honest critique, and all done under the umbrella of strength – a 100 percent commitment to excellence without exception.

“Grace in Business. … The dictionary definition of grace is elegance, and yet to me, in business, it is a combination of many qualities, including valuing people, being gracious and respectful, having gratitude and quiet confidence.”

-Association for Talent Development

Strength in business is a combination of power and trust. The power comes from the position, the title – not always the actions of the person who holds that position. When those around can trust the business leader to be honest, do what is right, represent the best interest of the position, the business, and those who work and support that business – then strength is viewed in a very positive light. When the person “in charge” uses power to demonstrate privilege over someone else, use it as a manipulative tool to push another individual in a direction that is contrary to his or her belief or authority – then strength takes on a whole different, contrary role. Far too many chefs in the past leaned on the power of the title vs. the power drawn from consistency and earned trust.

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Those who exemplify strength, grace, and dignity in appropriate proportions live by these rules:

[]         STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE (strength, dignity)

Everything that the chef and his or her team members engage in: from the simplest tasks (vegetable mise en place, organization of storage, station mise en place, cleaning plates or pots) to the most complex (finishing a delicate sauce, perfect plating of dishes even when it is very busy) is done with a commitment to excellence and constant improvement.

[]         TRAINING TO MEET THOSE STANDARDS (strength)

Chefs should never assume that excellence will take place – it must be accompanied by a commitment to training and teaching. Strong chefs take the time to explain, demonstrate, and follow-up with those standards of excellence that are clearly defined for the restaurant.

[]         CONSISTENCY (strength)

Chefs who are in control know that the importance of excellence lacks strength unless every task, every process, and every plate of food consistently meets those standards. Thus systems and procedures are expressed and solidified throughout the operation.

[]         REAL CRITIQUE (Grace and Dignity)

Strong chefs never criticize – they critique. In critique – the notation is not personal but rather procedural and pointing to what is wrong is viewed as shallow unless it is accompanied by showing the person how to improve and why to improve.

[]         PROMOTION OF A TEAM INITIATIVE (Strength, Grace, Dignity)

Strong chefs know that they are never able to accomplish the lofty goals of excellence unless every person on the team understands, appreciates, and becomes passionately involved in meeting those goals with an uncompromised commitment to excellence. It is a team effort that counts and the leaders responsibility is to promote this environment.

[]         RECOGNITION AND SUPPORT (Grace and Dignity)

Strong chefs give credit where credit is due. Strong chefs applaud (publically) the good work of others and always recognize their focus on meeting and exceeding standards of excellence. One of the chef’s most rewarding moments is when this happens and support is always given so that team members can feel the gratification that comes from a job well done.

[]         ASSESSMENT (Grace, Dignity and Strength)

Strong chefs are always giving feedback to team members as they reinforce those standards, point out where there are needs for improvement and how to achieve that, and celebrate even the smallest win. A simple “thanks for such great work” goes a long way toward building pride and confidence.

[]         PRIDE IN THE PROCESS AND RESULTS (Strength, Grace, Dignity)

To a strong chef – the pride that comes from his or her team members reaching or exceeding a particular goal is far more important than personal accomplishments. That five minute wrap-up at the end of service when the chef says: “Well done team – customers were thrilled and I am so proud of how well everyone did their job to the best of their ability and did so while supporting each other” – will inspire those team members to replicate that same effort again, and again.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Do so with Strength, Grace, and Dignity

*Thank you Chef Crenn for the inspiration.

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COOK FOR ME

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I have seen the following quote from Anthony Bourdain many times before, but today it really resonated. It is a statement so simple, yet so profound; so foundational, yet so deep and meaningful; so intriguing and so beautiful. This statement strikes a chord with every professional cook, every chef, and every entrepreneur who owns that intimate corner bistro that opens its doors to a community. This is a statement that strikes a chord with every grandparent who protects those family recipes, every parent who tries to hang on to family traditions, and every friend who seeks to find the best way to project how much they care for another person. This is a statement that resonates with everyone who seeks to demonstrate who they are and what they care about.

“When someone cooks for you – they are saying something. They are telling you about themselves: where they come from, who they are, what makes them happy.”

-Anthony Bourdain

COOK FOR ME is a request that allows the person who ties on an apron a chance to bare his or her soul, to demonstrate how heritage impacts the plate, to talk about joy and pain, memories and challenges, and the love that they have for those who will share what they present through food. This is a big ask, a personal ask, a request to have the cook reveal everything about him or herself.

Cooks never take this request lightly – it is as if the ask was similar to “tell me everything about yourself”. There are few requests that are more personal, few that are more significant, and few that help to solidify a relationship more than: “cook for me”. To a professional – this is an opportunity to shine, to give his or her all, to stand tall and put everything on the table: “This food is a reflection of me, my history, my skill, what I care about, who has influenced me, and a compilation of those experiences that have brought me to this point”.

I paused this morning when I read Bourdain’s words again because there may have never been more important words to cooks; never more telling of why, deep in their heart, a person decides to become a cook or a chef. Once you peel away the necessary layers of: “I need a career, a paycheck, a marketable skill, a way to support my family, a way to fill up my days, etc.” – underneath all of that is a desire to bare your soul, to define what makes you happy, and a way to express that to others.

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“Why do you want to become a cook”? This is a question that many will pose to you as you contemplate a career in the kitchen. Think about your answer; think seriously about how you will answer this question. If you respond by relating to a career, a paycheck, a marketable skill, a way to support your family without giving due consideration to the deeply personal meaning behind it – then you really should think twice. Yes, all of those factors are important and necessary, but they do not reveal what makes a cook a cook, a chef a chef, a restaurateur a restaurateur.

Those cooks, chefs, or restaurateurs who peer out the front window of that corner bistro – minutes before opening the door, are doing so in anticipation of bearing their heart and soul, representing their history and their experiences on a plate, and welcoming others into their space so that they can share all of this. Cook for me is such a personal request and cooking for you such a form of personal expression.

To prepare a meal for someone else is to share everything, giving the guest a chance to find out what makes you tick – a chance to reveal so much that might be missing in simple conversation.

“You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

-Anthony Bourdain

Think about those early days of building a new personal relationship. Maybe the first few experiences together were relegated to a third party: a dinner or two at your favorite restaurant, a concert, a movie, or a gathering with friends. One of the best ways to solidify whether or not the relationship has staying power is to invite that person to enjoy a meal that you prepare. This is personal, this is revealing, this is significant. Cook for me is significant.

I have had the pleasure to work with some extraordinary chefs, not always ones with names that roll off the tip of your tongue, but extraordinary all the same. I have shared incredible meals with many exceptional individuals, and I have had the opportunity to experience the work of chefs who take their role seriously and restaurateurs who live to make guests feel at home when they walk through that bistro door. Menus are a fascinating window into the character and skill of a chef, but what is most exciting to me is when I simply say to the server: “Ask the chef if he or she would just cook for me.” Make that dish on the menu that is most inspiring to the kitchen, the dish that resonates to them in the moment, the one that he or she is most proud of – or simply cook whatever you want even if it is not on the menu. I want to connect with the cook, to provide the cook with that opportunity to tell a story and open up a dialogue on the plate. This is exciting for me.

At one point as a chef, I actually put an option on the menu called: Cook for Me. Take a chance and put the entire experience in the hands of the cook and the chef. Give them a chance to be who they are through food. At times it was a diversion from the pace of meeting the demands of a full board of orders, and at other times it caused additional stress – but in all cases, cooks and chefs take the opportunity seriously. Cook for me is significant.

Anthony Bourdain hit the nail on the head when he proclaimed that cooking is a way of telling your story and revealing who you are. What a privilege it is to be a cook, a chef, or a restaurateur. What an opportunity cooking provides to tell your story and share yourself with others. That plate of food is your story, it is a painting that reflects so much about the person that you are.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Cooking for others is a privilege

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A COOK WITHOUT A KITCHEN

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They say we’re back. The kitchen lights are back on, deliveries arrive, the battery of ranges is fired up, and cooks (some of us) are welcomed back. Somehow, it just doesn’t feel right. After four months of idle time – time without a schedule, time without a chance to do what cooks normally do – this kitchen just seems vacant.

Walking through the back door there is an uncomfortable feeling of emptiness, of fear and trepidation, and of caution that feels so foreign to anyone who remembers the instant connections that existed in the past. Remembering the mixture of feelings that once were prevalent as a cook stepped through the “staff only” door – you know: that nervous feeling that stemmed from the uncertainty of a new day, minds racing as cooks mentally flip through mise en place lists, wondering about projected customer counts, and that usual knot in the stomach that comes from typical angst before the adrenaline kicks in.

Yep, the kitchen lights are on, and the exhaust fan is whirling, a few other cooks are engaged in prep at their station, but the place is just lacking the charge of electricity that would always greet everyone who walked in with knife kit in hand. It is an uneasy feeling that was pronounced as those cooks who were already at work – looked cautiously at their teammate, nodded, and turned their heads back to the work in front of them. There was no banter, no smiles, no syncopation of knives hitting their fast-paced rhythm, and no active clanging of pots and pans, shouts of “behind”, or clatter of plates being stacked as they conveyed from the dish machine. This is not the kitchen that any cook would recognize and embrace.

There is a different uncertainty that hung in the air; it is thick as fog, and heavy on the soul. This is the uncertainty that only a silent threat can unveil. Sure, there are temperature checks at the back door, masks donned upon arrival, and deep hand cleaning constantly throughout the day, but in reality no one knows if this is enough. Is anyone asymptomatic, have they been exposed in the past few days to someone who is, will the virus hitchhike on some of those boxes coming off the vendors delivery truck, or is someone secretly experiencing slight symptoms without a fever?

A cook adjusts her mask, ties on a clean apron, snaps on a pair of latex gloves, sanitizes a stainless table that is strangely distant from any other worker, dampens a side towel and places a cutting board on top to keep it from slipping, pulls her knives across a wet stone to waken the edge, washes the sharp blades with a bleach solution, takes a deep breath behind a constricting mask, and makes a quick list of work to be done.

Grabbing a 4-inch hotel pan – she walks to the produce cooler to collect items for prep. Noticing that another cook is already inside – she waits until the cooler is free. There will be no more sliding between carts, shelves, and other cooks – one at a time is the rule. The pace is already different, there seems to be little sense of urgency, no panic based on work to be done – the panic is all related to fear of infection.

Sure, the restaurant has been offering take-out options for the past six weeks, but it’s not the same experience for the cook. Meticulous plate presentations do not apply, the basic rules of thumb: “hot food hot, cold food cold” are a stretch when a guests meal is placed in disposable containers for re-heating at home, and the showmanship of service is relegated to passing a bag of food through a car window. Now we are back to in-house dining, yet it is still far from ideal.

Takeout numbers have been ok, but can be handled by two people in the kitchen – in-house is a different story with a skeleton, yet more robust line crew: one person in the back for take-out assembly and two on the line plus an expeditor and a limited dish crew. Reservations are sparse since the restaurant is limited to 50% occupancy, tables 6 feet apart, and wider common isles for people movement. The service staff is even more on edge than the cooks. Who knows where these guests have been, whether or not they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, have they recently been exposed to someone who is positive and they have not shown any sign of impact yet? Was that someone coughing, or was it a sneeze?

The guests are arriving, paced by reservations only, and they walk through the front door with loads of trepidation. They won’t be greeted with a smile today, at least not one that they can see from behind a mask. They are pointed to their table and reminded to wear their mask until fully seated, told that the menu is on line (no more physical menus here), and that the server will take their order shortly. The table is free of any un-necessary frills: no more table cloths (for ease of cleaning table tops), no salt and pepper shakers, flowers are gone, silverware is wrapped in a napkin, and glassware will be brought to the table as needed. The guests sit down, uneasily and look from side to side to make sure that no other guest is within the six-foot margin.

The server approaches the table to determine if guests need any assistance with finding the menu on-line, he explains that there are no specials tonight and that the menu is limited during the pandemic. Drink orders are taken and in short order the server returns with two glasses of Pinot Noir. The guests say thank you and as the server leaves – both guests eye each other, thinking: “How do we know that these glasses were handled correctly?” When the server returns the order is taken (guests opt out of appetizers thinking that the less time spent here, the better) – two orders of salmon – and the order is shot back to the waiting line cooks in the kitchen.

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Ah…at least the cooks are able to do what they do best – prepare delicious, beautiful food. Somehow the cooks are nervous – it has been a while, and they suddenly realize that how they handle this is not only part of the restaurant experience – it can determine whether or not the guest becomes seriously ill. This is a new level of stress that cooks have never experienced before. The steps in cooking are the same: heat the pan, small amount of clarified butter, sear the fish both sides, baste with pan butter, a splash of wine, lightly salt, push to the side. Reheat the blanched vegetables in a separate pan, season, and dust with chopped parsley. “Pick up table 23!” shouts the expeditor – just like old times. Two hot plates are pulled from the pass, salmon is slid into a 500-degree oven for a 2-minute finish, and the plating begins. The cooks walk through the mental assembly – lemon beurre blanc on the plate, creamy polenta in the shape of a quenelle. The salmon is pulled from the oven and transferred to the polenta – slightly mounted on the side and vegetables are neatly arranged – tucked into the gap that the salmon provides in its nested position. A light salad of fresh mixed herbs on top, a grind of coarse pepper and both salmon are returned to the pass. The cooks are happy with this first effort as the server works a crisp white napkin in his hands and proudly carries the entrees to the table. As the server approaches – the guest nervously fumble to put their masks back on- nod when the dinner plates are presented and wait for a moment for the server to leave their safe zone.

The fish is delicious, but all that the guests can think about is how quickly they can finish and leave this anxiety drenched environment. As the server walks by, the guests ask for the check even though they are only half way through their entrees. As the server prints off the check from the POS, he thinks – this is not a dining experience, this is not something to look forward to, it is something to dread.

The board in the kitchen is never full as it once was, three or four tickets at a time so the pace is laid back and that adrenaline rush that every line cook looks forward to, never arrives. Cooks are clicking their tongs in anticipation, bouncing from foot to foot, constantly wiping down their stations, and hydrating for the sake of something to do. This is not the way that cooks want to be, this is starting to feel like a job.

Out front – the guests hand a credit card to the server as he clears their plates. There is no exchange of small talk, no gushing over the flavors or presentation, just a simple “thank you”. The credit card is returned, the check signed, a 15% gratuity added, and the guest places the card in his pocket, noting: “I have to remember to sanitize the card as soon as I get home”.   As the guests walk out the door the service sanitizing crew gets to work. A frantic process of wiping table top and chairs with sanitizing solution as the faint smell of bleach hangs in the air providing a glimmer of hope to the next guest scheduled to arrive in 15-minutes.

Until there is a clear solution, until there is a vaccine and a protocol for administering that vaccine, until there is a way to assure that everyone – employees and guests are immune – this is what the life of a restaurant employee and guest will be like. It is a far cry from where it was and where it will be, but it is a start. The cook will eventually become accustomed to the new normal, as will the server and the guest. When this happens there will be a glimmer of trust and a taste of the experience to come – some day soon.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Have faith – things will get better

Wear a mask to protect yourself and others – It’s not that hard

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THE LINE COOK’S NEW KITCHEN RULES SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE

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As cooks start to, or at least hope to, begin settling into kitchen life again, it seems appropriate to reiterate those standard rules of thumb that everyone must abide by. They may be tweaked a bit – after all, a lot has changed over the past five months, but for the most part – the rules of operation that cooks have always lived by, are still the rules.

Ah..but, here is the thing – creative people often claim that rules are there to be broken, otherwise we never discover, we never move forward. Jeff Beck, the guitarists’ guitarist once stated:

“I don’t care about the rules. In fact, if I don’t break the rules at least 10 times every song, then I am not doing my job.”

Well, if you listen to great musicians then you probably thank Jeff Beck for being radical in that regard. Steve Jobs, the household name for creativity and founder/creative genius behind Apple Computers proclaimed that we should “Think Different” and ignore the rules. Hard to argue with him – isn’t it? Yet, in the kitchen there are things that need to be done a certain way to avoid chaos and to respect each other’s role in getting the job done. Strange – maybe rules are important, or, maybe they aren’t rules at all.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote:

“Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.”

Now we’re getting closer – maybe, just maybe, what we are talking about is not a list of rules or policies, but rather, a list of universal principles. That sounds better – the Principles of Being a Professional Cook.

Your principles, and those of the cooks who proudly wear the uniform of the kitchen, are your stakes in the ground. The very beliefs, actions, and standards that define the kind of person you are, the way that you carry yourself, the way that you want others to perceive you, and the predictable results of your actions.

We should not confuse principles with rules of conduct, or polices and procedures – principles go so much further than that – they are not dictated, they are embraced.

“Policies are many, Principles are few, Policies will change, Principles never do.”

-John C. Maxwell

So, what are those Principles of a Professional Cook – his or her “stakes in the ground”:

[]         RESPECT

The first general principle of the kitchen is to live the attitude of respect for co-workers who may have different skill levels, may be of a different culture or race, different gender, and different education level, they may have beliefs that are contrary to yours, but they are all worthy of your respect. When they tie on an apron they are part of your family.

Respect applies to the established chain of command in the kitchen because it exists for a reason. You can respect the position even when the person holding that position rubs you the wrong way. “Yes chef “is not a blind commitment to the person, but rather to the need for order and organization in the kitchen.

 

Respect applies to the ingredients that a cook uses, the source of those ingredients: farmer, rancher, fisherman, cheese maker, processor, and distributor. It also applies to the equipment and the facilities that every cook uses – it is imperative that every cook treats these resources as if they were his or her own.

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Respect applies to the foundations of cooking – the processes that are time honored and proven and the steps used to build flavors and consistently excellent products.

Finally, respect applies to the history of the proud profession of cooking. This does not infer that cooks should not move forward and create their own history, but when we honor those who came before we establish the same pattern for the future.

[]         OWNERSHIP

The second principle for cooks is to always honor the dynamics of work environments. Professional cooks know how important personal tools are to anyone who stands in front of a range. A cooks tools, the space that he or she has identified as their work parameters, the ingredient mise en place and station set-up are all sacred to the cook and to his or her ability to work efficiently and effectively. Cooks will never violate these parameters.

Cooks must also practice effective cost controls through total utilization of ingredients, minimizing waste, following procedures and where important – recipes, and making sure that perishable goods are rotated and stored properly. The financial success of the restaurant is in everyone’s hands.

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[]         TEAM

The third principle relates to the interaction of all members of the crew as a true team. This means that everyone is in it together. The stronger help those who have limitations and weaknesses, those who are still learning become effective listeners, and each cook has the other cook’s back. Professional cooks avoid pointing fingers and when wrong – they take responsibility. When a team has formed – the group wins as a total unit or loses as a total unit.

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[]        CLEANLINESS

The fourth principle relates to one of the most important tasks of any professional cook – maintaining the highest level of sanitation, cleanliness, and safety in the kitchen. Clean as you go must become second nature to every cook. This applies to their personal work area as well as all common areas. This is what the guest expects; this is what every cook must expect.

[]         TEACH AND SHARE

The fifth principle for cooks relates to the responsibility to “pass it on”. All cooking techniques and procedures are public domain. There can be no secret processes or methods in a team environment. Every cook and chef has the responsibility to share and help others build their proficiency. In a team environment there is no shame in admitting that you “don’t know how” – the only shame is in refusing to admit it. When a cook asks for help in building skills then that help is freely given in a professional kitchen.

[]         PASSION

The sixth principle is something that comes from the heart and soul of a cook. There will always be room for cooks who function effectively at the job of cooking, but to truly excel – a cook must feel that this is what he or she was meant to do. The professional cook has a passion for the ingredients, the process of cooking, and the history behind a dish, the creation of flavor, and the presentation of a dish. When it is part of a cook’s heart and soul, then cooking will produce magical results.

[]         EXCELLENCE

The seventh principle is one that is at the core of everything else. Professional cooks are always seeking out excellence. Perfection may never be reached, but excellence is a commitment to moving in that direction. From the simplest task: cutting perfectly symmetrical vegetables, trimming tenderloins, cutting steaks, filleting whole fish without leaving valuable meat on the bone, respecting the steps in preparing a perfect stock, mincing herbs, clarifying butter, or the exactness of a plate presentation – a professional cook takes each task seriously.   Every step in the cooking process deserves your best effort.

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[]        PROFESSIONALISM

The eighth principle, as basic as it may seem – sets the tone for great work and excellent cooking. When the cook looks sharp (clean, pressed uniform, neat grooming, clean shoes, etc.) then he or she is more inclined to act professional. When a professional cook treats the job and the people who work in the kitchen in a professional manner – then that cook can expect the same in return. This is how professionals reap the benefits of appropriate attitude.

[]         BEING ALL IN

The ninth principle is a focus on commitment. Professional cooks know that the job is never over until it is complete. To some this means investing more time than the schedule shows, while to others it means focusing on ways to improve efficiency so that the job can reach completion in the time allotted. In all cases the job must be done and done correctly.

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[]         HONESTY

Finally, the tenth principle pertains to building an environment of trust where cooks are upfront, honest in their approach to the tasks at hand, willing to take responsibility, able to accept critique and willing to offer that critique as long as it includes a “how to improve” lesson, and careful to respect the standards of operation that allow the restaurant to remain successful.

These ten principles are not rules – rules are demanded of those who work for a business. Principles are those stakes in the ground that each person accepts as part of who they are. When this occurs then cooks follow those principles because it is right, not because it is demanded.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

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GOVERNMENT WHEN WE NEED IT MOST

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Take a breath, exhale and sit down. Let’s face reality – the Coronavirus is going to be with us for some time and simply opening back up and expecting that everything will be fine is misguided. We are in this for the long haul, at least until there is a safe and available vaccine – a vaccine that must be distributed to every human on the planet. Is this six months, a year, or longer? We don’t know, nor do the scientists who are working non-stop to develop the solutions. OK – did that sink in yet? Knowing this frees our minds to compensate and plan ways to effectively adjust, as best we can.

Much of the dialogue today sounds like this: “We recommend that you consider doing this or that, but it is up to the states and local communities to decide how they want to address the plethora of issues that stem from the reality of the virus.” Really?? The last time I looked we are called the UNITED States of America, not the INDEPENDENT States of America. We have a federal government for these reasons more than anything else. When in time of crisis we need a united effort, expert guidance, and creative thinking that must be effectively implemented in ALL states. During these times we expect our government to take the lead.

The first concern with the pandemic continues to be the safety and wellbeing of our population. We can’t even agree on this because every state is able to make its own decisions on how to approach control. If we can, at some point, get ourselves together on the need to have a universal approach towards containment – then we must address all of the systemic challenges that will define who we are as a country for decades to come. These are education, economics, healthcare, innovation, infrastructure, and equality. Let’s just take a look at education since many would agree that it is the most critical component of recovery and growth.

Overnight – teachers were required to transition their classes from on-ground to on-line. This was true from elementary school to college. Let’s applaud teachers for the wartime effort that they rallied behind. Now that one semester of programming is complete, try asking those teachers how effective on-line was, comparatively how well did students perform, how much support did teachers receive as they “figured it out”, and how would they evaluate their own capacity to create meaningful educational experiences?

Now that it’s summer – most of those teachers from elementary school to college are breathing a sigh of relief – they made it through the term and they are able to enjoy a well-deserved break. What is going to happen in the fall? What is the plan, how is the system being adjusted to help teachers be excellent at what they do in the fall when the virus will still be with us? Most schools do not know what direction to take in just two months time. Elementary and secondary teachers have likely been told to prepare for three options: full return, hybrid return, full on-line. Is there guidance on what this will look like and how to prepare for something that is probably foreign to all of them?

We have wrestled with the onset of on-line education for some time now and the vote is still out. There are examples, in some cases, where it works, but there is little research as to what extent and how effective it can be as the only option for all students. There are also many questions from those who teach in fields where hands-on application has long been viewed as essential. Certainly in my field (culinary arts and hospitality), but what about medical studies, nursing, engineering, building trades, and law? How can we prepare individuals for these careers without face-to-face education and ample opportunity to practice skills in a live environment? What will the virus do to the supply of trained doctors, nurses, engineers, tradespeople, etc.? If we are to face the existence of the virus, at some level, for the next year or more – what impact will it have on those skilled workers that are already in short supply?

So, where is the government effort for the UNITED States of America? Where is that critical taskforce (unknown if anything has been planned in this regard) led by the National Department of Education that is researching, planning, and preparing to guide states and those who teach and administer educational programs? If we freely print more money to support the bailout of various private industries – where are the funds to support the absolutely essential education model in the U.S., an education model that despite talk about shifting to private school vouchers – is best served by a public education system that has countrywide guidance and support?

If we simply allow the federal government to turn the decision-making and implementation of educational solutions to states without giving them the resources to do so (not just money, but also guidance and well-researched models) then we will continue to erode our outcomes where the best education is relegated to states that can afford it, cities that are more economically sound, and neighborhoods where affluent residents are able to add an influx of cash to the system. Is this the right approach for a great country?

If we agree that education can be the key to opportunity for our young people, if education can be one of the solutions to issues of inequality, if education is a vehicle for creating hope as well as opportunity for our future leaders, then there has never been a more important time to insist that our government unite the states behind a universal approach towards finding solutions.

If we simply think that this time is just a bump in the road and that there will be no real long-term challenges because “students and parents just need to relax and adjust their lives to the new laid back approach towards learning, then we are driving blind. One semester is significant, more time removed from an effective educational model will be devastating to society, will fuel more discontent and social unrest, and will severely limit opportunities for our children for years to come. THIS IS A HUGE ISSUE and there seems to be very little unified, creative thinking around it.

Everyone is trying to figure this whole thing out as we go along. It is a crisis that we have not faced in 100 years, and we were, for all intents and purposes, caught off-guard. But, we have had four months to settle in to reality and do what we have always done best – problem solve. “We have a problem Houston”, a problem that impacts every aspect of our lives so – let’s insist that government do what they should do: provide us with the tools to solve it.

People will not return to restaurants until this is addressed, people will not return to retail stores until this addressed, people will not travel until this is resolved, and our economy will not recover until we resolve it.

If how we deliver, what we deliver, and when we deliver our educational model is not resolved it will impact the future of our children, parents ability to work and keep their children safe, the economy and our ability to get business back to business, our standing in the world market, and our ability to set the stage to resolve some of the great social and humanitarian issues of our time.

This is not an INDEPENDENT states issue this is a UNITED States issue. This is the opportunity for the greatness that has always defined our country. At the core of any truly great society is the quality of its education model.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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KITCHENS CELEBRATE DIFFERENCE

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It has always been my experience that kitchens are the great equalizer. Sure, I know that the environment of a kitchen can sometimes be tough and abrasive, it’s hot, humid, noisy, stressful, fast paced, and somewhat unforgiving, but…..all that being said – the kitchen is a place where who you are and what you believe in is far less important than what you do and how well you do it. I always found it gratifying to walk into a kitchen and find diversity of color, ethnicity, language, age, gender, sexual orientation, and certainly culinary heritage. It is this melting pot that makes a kitchen buzz, that gives it personality and character – that makes each day an experience.

Personally, I have never understood blatant prejudice that is based on erratic and unfounded perceptions that an entire race, gender, nationality, age group, or for that matter any group of people identified as different can be problematic or not worthy of respect. Where does this come from? Is it based on geography, historic bias, generational bias, or isolationism? Is it based on one groups feeling of superiority over another? Or is it some level of genetic tendency towards hateful action?

My answer is: spend time working in a kitchen. We are all different and that is precisely what makes us interesting and important. In kitchen life is pretty clear – there is loads of quality work to be done, work that requires attention to detail, process, knowledge of ingredients, an educated palate, and a commitment to doing things right. You are either in tune with that, or you are not. If you are then no one cares about how different you may be, they care that you can do the work and do it well. Later on that “difference” can come into play as a real positive. It is that difference that brings history, traditions, cultural nuances, new flavors, and great systems ideas to make a restaurant kitchen function better and continue to exceed customer expectations.

angry chef

Spend a day in the kitchen and learn how those differences won’t separate you, but rather bring you together. To all chefs and operators – know that it is important to promote and support the environment where differences are celebrated and the unifying factor remains: can you do the job, are you willing to do the job, are you willing to learn how to improve, and will you strive for excellence in executing that job. Know that there are limitless opportunities to create a learning organization when we celebrate differences.

[]         HIRE COMPETENCE AND POSITIVE ATTITUDE

I know that this is already your method of operation, but it’s always an important reminder that what matters is their ability to do the job, willingness to learn how to do the job, commitment to excellence, and their all-in positive attitude. Everything else really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if they are black, white, or brown; it doesn’t matter if they are young or old; it doesn’t matter if they are male or female, gay or straight; it doesn’t matter what their ethnic background is; it doesn’t matter if they are Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative; it just doesn’t matter – they are all part of the kitchen team and united they stand, divided they fall.

[]         BUILD A WORK ENVIRONMENT OF RESPECT

As a chef or restaurant operator you set the tone for how the team treats each other. When you show respect for all people, regardless of how they might be different in some people’s eyes, then your team will emulate that approach. If some try to poison that environment of acceptance, inclusion and respect then they really do not belong on your team. There should always be the expectation of excellence, but never tolerance for exclusion or disrespect.

[]         TRAIN TOWARDS, INSIST UPON, AND SUPPORT EFFORTS TOWARDS EXCELLENCE

Some may try to cloud your approach by inferring that your respectful approach towards all is somehow a sign of weakness, but when you show respect while still building an environment of excellence then, and only then will you be able to build a winning team. Be respectful, but never drift from that insistence of excellence, that commitment to training toward excellence, and that support for all who view that as their obligation and motivation.

chuck and mickey

[]         BE FAIR AND EQUITABLE IN YOUR APPROACH

Respect begins with being equitable in your approach towards others. Again, when you focus on – can you do the job, are you willing to learn how to do the job, are you passionate about excellence, and do you view this commitment as your stake in the ground, and when you measure everyone on these attributes – then you will have built a real team.

[]         DO NOT TOLERATE DEMEANING INTERACTIONS IN YOUR KITCHEN

You are in control of the environment that people work in. When you tolerate ANY disrespect towards others, when you turn your eyes away from inappropriate, or hurtful behavior towards others, when you write it off as “that’s kitchen life”, or “you need to toughen up”, then the team will begin to crumble. Stay in control, teach and observe, call out poor behavior, and demonstrate through your own actions what the right approach should be.

[]         LISTEN TO DIFFERENCES AND BE WILLING TO LEARN FROM THEM

When you build an environment where people in your organization feel comfortable talking about their differences in a positive manner, when they are willing to share and you are willing to listen, then so much can be gained. We each bring powerful history, traditions, observations and ideas to the team if the team is open to what is presented. Build that environment and the whole organization can benefit.

changin

You know how this can work, if you have been in a kitchen you will understand the outcomes of both a positive and negative work environment, you know that the responsibility starts at the top, and you know that a person’s attitude and behavior is, to a large degree, a reflection of his or her environment. Set the stage for excellence, inclusion, and opportunity.

For those who struggle with acceptance – I encourage you to work in a kitchen – a place where a melting pot of differences helps to create a perfect dish.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

“This is a moment that will shape us for generations to come”

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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WHY IS A PARTICULAR CHEF’S FOOD SO MUCH BETTER THAN ANOTHER’S?

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Every chef has experienced it and as a result he or she will relate to the content of this article. There are times, possibly many times, when you question your own skill – whether in cooking or presenting food, or even with the operation of a kitchen. You have likely been on the receiving end of a plate of food that is just so damn good that it first gives you pause, then amazes you, makes you angry for a brief moment, and then finally makes you question whether or not you are really worthy of wearing a chef’s toque.

This same reality happens to artists, musicians, writers, designers, architects, woodworkers, and a suitcase full of craftspeople. I remember two specific examples with the late guitarist – Jimi Hendrix.

When asked about playing the blues – Hendrix stated:

“The blues are easy to play but hard to feel.”

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This paid homage to those blues musicians who stood apart from all others: BB King, Albert King, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, Howlin Wolf, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lee Hooker, Billie Holiday, Bonnie Raitt, John Hiatt, and Aretha Franklin to name a few. It is what is felt and experienced deep down inside that made these individuals stand out as accomplished and authentic. They were one with what they played and sang. There are tens of thousands of blues players who would automatically feel inadequate when standing next to these greats.

It was early in his career that Hendrix spent time in England building his chops and forming the Jimi Hendrix Experience when he somehow finagled his way on stage to play alongside Eric Clapton and Cream. During this mind-blowing concert – Hendrix embarrassed Clapton, who up to this point was considered the greatest guitar player in the world. Clapton walked off the stage and said that he suddenly questioned his ability to play guitar next to this man who obviously was his superior as a musician, master of the instrument, and showman. Obviously, Clapton continued on – but it was that moment when he, just like many of us in the kitchen, questioned his or our own abilities.

I consider myself an acceptable chef from the perspective of cooking, respectable at food presentation, and better than average at running a kitchen operation. All in all – I can do the job. I learned very early on that there are thousands upon thousands of chefs who are far more talented as cooks, many who are way more artistic, and a considerable number who run a better, more systematic kitchen than I. I am OK with that and never tried to proclaim that I was any better than that. There were many times when I was humbled by a bite of food that left me in awe of a chef’s talent, many times when a chef’s food was so beautiful that I felt embarrassed to admit that I also was a chef, and numerous times when I recognized a chef who was stellar at running a profitable, well mannered kitchen that made me very jealous. At the same time I always thought, and oftentimes acted on finding out why that food, that presentation, that operation was so much better and how I might learn and grow from the experience. These are some of the things that I learned:

[]         YOU CAN’T REALLY PLAY THE BLUES UNLESS YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED THE BLUES

All of those musicians whom I listed, and hundreds more, are able to amaze us with their talent of expression. Their talent goes well beyond instrumental prowess – it is all about channeling feelings and experiences that connect with that prowess. Hendrix felt it, Ella Fitzgerald felt it, Buddy Guy felt it, and so does Shaun Brock, Stephanie Izard, Dan Barber, Dominique Creen, Rick Bayless, John Folse, David Chang, Keith Taylor, Alain Passard, and many other chefs who hold the key to authenticity in cooking. The common thread is a deep understanding of what they are working with, the history behind ingredients, people, and process, and a sincere love for what they do. Being a chef is never just a job to them – it is an expression of who they are and what they know. You can sense it when you walk into their restaurants, when you sit at their table, when the server proudly presents the menu, when the line cook receives the order and the plate is presented in the pass, and you know it when you take that first bite. It is no different than when Hendrix played that first note of “Little Wing”.

[]         YOU CAN’T ADJUST FLAVOR UNLESS YOU KNOW AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS YOU USE

“What does it need” – is oftentimes the consummate question that a cook asks the chef. How do you know – really? “It needs salt”, or “More heat, more acid, some butter to provide a smooth mouth feel”. What the dish really needs is far more complicated, far more interesting, and far more connected to a real understanding of the dish, the cuisine, the history, and the terroir. What does that Hoppin John need is something that Sean Brock might answer appropriately since he has made the study of southern beans, spices, and culinary culture his life’s work. What does that taco really need is something that Rick Bayless might answer by first asking about the type of corn that was used to make the masa for the tortilla or whether the flavor profile you are looking for is based on Mexican heritage or Latino. And Stephanie Izard might very well ask you to talk about the farm where the goats were raised for that braise, what they were fed, and the way that you butchered the animal and handled the meat before cooking. Somehow: “It needs salt”, just doesn’t cut it.

[]         YOU WILL NEVER PLATE FOOD AS BEAUTIFUL AS NATURE AND YOU WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND NATURE UNLESS YOU APPRECIATE ART

To me, it has always been interesting to have a conversation with highly artistic chefs who make beautiful plate presentations. Some are advocates for simply relying on Mother Nature’s palate to combine foods that grow together, pick them at the peak of maturity, and do very little to change them from how the earth intended them to be. Others invest all of their creativity to use those ingredients to duplicate a vision they had – sometimes inspired by nature, sometimes events, and sometimes a parallel presentation that mirrors some experience from their past. In most every case – the chef is inspired by what they see in nature.

I worked with a chef/educator who during his classes on plate presentation made students forage through the nearby woods for branches, leaves, stones, moss, and natures mushrooms to create plate presentations from Nature’s floor. He wanted this to be their roadmap to working with food – follow what Nature offers you first.

[]         THE OPERATION OF A CHEF’S KITCHEN IS NOT A REFLECTION OF OWNERSHIP, IT IS A REFLECTION OF SHARED PHILOSOPHY

Leadership and management are sometimes a chef’s greatest challenge. Chefs tend to be highly focused individuals who have a need to express what they believe through their food and their operations. They tend to demand that others follow what they see as important and cringe at anything or anyone who steps in the way of this vision. These kitchens tend to be tense, always on edge, highly stressful, ready to burn out at any second, and wrought with mistrust and angst. Things get done, but the price to pay is high. You can feel it when you walk in the kitchen, you might even feel it in the dining room – it is not a good feeling. Others (the ones that I believe are far more successful) are chefs who work hard to identify cooks who are confident, yet cognizant of the chain of command; willing to express themselves, but knowing when it is best to simply say: yes chef; and dedicated to a shared philosophy of food, commitment to excellence, and team dynamics. In this case, the chef can reach the same goals, but do so as a unified body that believes in what they are doing. The difference is: “I wouldn’t dare put out a plate of food that fails to meet the chef’s standards” vs. “Why would I ever put out a plate of food that doesn’t meet our collective standards?”

Eamon

[]         THE OPERATION OF A KITCHEN IS LIKE ADJUSTING A RECIPE

Recipes lack soul and fall short on understanding the need for flexibility. Not every tomato tastes the same, not every fish from the sea is the same, and not every berry that the pastry chef uses is cut from the same cloth in terms of flavor. A chef understands the difference, knows what the ingredient at its peak should look and taste like, understands the history of a dish and how a certain profile must be maintained before he or she is able to complete a recipe with predictable results. The same is true with kitchen dynamics. Not all cooks are the same; in fact they may differ depending on the day of the week or their personal circumstances that will impact performance. The chef must know all the nuances of character, empathy, and leadership to get a consistent result from that kitchen crew. Cooks need to understand before they adjust a recipe and chefs need to understand before they proceed with day-to-day operations.

Why does that chef’s food taste so much better than another’s? It is a complex question with complex answers. When the food is right you know it immediately. When the kitchen is running smoothly, it can be sensed from the moment you step through the door.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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A BAROMETER OF CHANGE FOR AMERICAN COOKS & DINERS

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You can sense it in the air, you can feel it in your bones, and you can hear it in the silence – the energy that had surrounded the career of professional cook is down a few quarts. For nearly four decades the job of cook dominated the media and served as a major point of conversation and entertainment for guests of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. Suddenly, the conversations have drifted away, the excitement is tempered, the media has more important things to cover, and the energy – well the energy is hard to find. Is this a barometer for change? Is the relationship of food and dining much less important to all stakeholders?

As Americans found themselves in lockdown for the last few months they changed their priorities, they became more focused on what they needed vs. what they wanted. After a period of time – that restaurant meal was pushed to the back burner. Dining out was unavailable and we got by, we re-introduced ourselves to cooking at home and dusted off those skills that had been dormant, or added some new ones that had here-to-for not existed. Cooks and chefs drifted out of the limelight and now even those career cooks were likely questioning their choice of jobs. Is this where we are at?

Time will quickly tell as restaurants begin to open and operators try to coax back those cooks, chefs, and servers to an industry that still has a few warts that need to be addressed. In the meantime, what can be done to build back that enthusiasm, the mystery, the excitement and joy of cooking and dining?

What took decades to build up has taken only a few months to deflate. You remember – just a few months ago – dining out was a source of entertainment, chefs were careerists worth admiring, a restaurant meal was a reward, and a chance to clink glasses with friends was something to truly look forward to. You remember as a cook – the job that you did was never boring, filled with adrenaline, creative, and at its core – a dynamic team sport. We need to put loads of energy into bringing that back. This is what restaurants are all about and an industry without the energy that existed a short time ago will be shallow and certainly not the same.

Part of the reason is the isolation reality, part is the negative impact of “pause”, part is a lack of availability, a good part is fear, and an even more significant part is our fault for not keeping those lines of communication open with all stakeholders in the restaurant experience.

Let’s start with a clean slate and lean back on some old marketing tools:

[]         BUILD ANTICIPATION

It has been a while since employees and guests have walked through your restaurant doors. What was it about that previous experience that brought excitement into their lives? What was it like to be part of your restaurant experience before and what will it be like now. Try not to show signs of trepidation or fear, but rather well thought out optimism. This is where you need to make everyone feel comfortable about walking through those doors – this is where you need to show that you will have your act together. Now – start to build on anticipation.

[]         COMMUNICATE FREQUENTLY

Build this anticipation using the tools that are within your grasp. Flood social media with “COMING SOON” type announcements, take loads of quality food and people photos and post them on Instagram, use your network of email addresses to talk about specifics, update your tired website to reflect a “NEW and IMPROVED” restaurant, and connect with your loyal ambassadors for something special – maybe a pre-opening, socially distant event for them to try out the new menu. Do it all and do it often. Be present every day on these platforms.

[]         LIFT UP THE BRAND

Your regular customers were your ambassadors and your raving fans. They remember you, your people, your name, and your image – talk it up. Make sure that your name and what you stand for is prominent in every communication you send out. Order new uniforms with the brand name front and center, print a bunch of T-shirts to give away or sell during those initial re-opening days: “RESTAURANT SO AND SO IS BACK”, “WE SURVIVED FOR YOU”, “THANKS FOR WAITING”, “BE PART OF OUR EXPERIENCE”, etc.

[]         FOCUS ON THE REWARD

People have been out of action for a long time, they crave an opportunity to be served, to eat someone else’s food, to see other people (even if they are socially distant and wearing masks). The restaurant experience has always been more than just filling stomachs – it has always been about tangible and intangible rewards. Remind everyone about this. “You deserve a break today” was always a perfect marketing pitch that focused on reward – don’t underestimate its importance.

[]         PRODUCT, PRODUCT, PRODUCT

Refresh your tired menus with something new. It doesn’t need to be groundbreaking, but it should make people feel good. This might be the perfect time to resurrect those classics that make people comfortable – put your own twist on them. A few years back there was a trend to bring back the grilled cheese sandwich as something with limitless possibilities – look at what you might re-invent and add your signature to.

[]         RE-IMAGINE THE EXPERIENCE

Right now we are scratching our heads trying to rationalize how the Coronavirus restaurant experience might be even remotely enjoyable. Limited seating, at least 6-feet apart, everyone in masks, the smell of bleach as everything is sanitized frequently, limited menus, no group tables, and nerves on edge everywhere you look. Stop thinking about how difficult it will be and start contemplating how you might make lemonade out of lemons. How can you have fun with the limitations? Is there a way to create some level of interaction without violating those protocols that are so important? What rewards can you offer your guests?

[]         VALUE IS AT THE CORE

This is a time to rebuild confidence, to minimize fear, to become part of everyone’s routine again. This is not the time to make too many decisions that are based solely on profit. Yes, every restaurant is faced with the financial challenges brought about by the shutdown, but there has never been a more important time to focus on value. Remember people have figured out that they can get by without restaurants – so why skimp on experience or focus too much on making up for lost financial ground? Build menus and experiences that demonstrate that the experience is important and the price is right.

[]         RE-INVEST IN EMPLOYEES

In some cases – your hourly employees have been able to make more money on enhanced unemployment than they made working for you. Although this is short-lived it is hard to compete with that reality. This is not the time for despair; this is the time to show your employees that they are important and that you intend to invest in them. Financial incentives are important, but so are the non-tangible investments like enhanced training and a new attitude that shows how much you care about them and their life challenges.

[]         CELEBRATE THE CRAFT

Cooking and service are two of the oldest professions know to mankind. The inclination might be to figure out ways to make things easier, use more convenience items to save on labor, cut back on the details of service, or plan menus that are not challenging for cooks who had, in the past, taken their craft seriously. This might backfire. Many in the restaurant business have chosen their career because of the craft, because of the skills, and because of the creativity. Don’t lose sight of this.

[]         LISTEN AND ACT

There has never been a more important time to listen to your employees, listen to your regular guests, and listen to your competition. There is much to be gained from listening, really listening, digesting what is offered and building a positive action into that formula.

[]         START TO FIX THE PROBLEMS

Part of listening is to acknowledge the problems that are systemic in the restaurant business as well as those that are unique to your operation. If you want to regain the ground lost and set a course to thrive as time goes on, then your strategy must include a sincere attempt to correct many of the problems that plague the operation and impact employees and guests.

Let’s bring back the enthusiasm and the energy – this is the lifeblood of a vibrant restaurant business.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericaventures.com

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

COMING SOON:

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FUTURE PERFECT – A RESTAURANTS NEXT CHAPTER

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OK, so here we are: restaurants are beginning to re-open (maybe prematurely, maybe not) and we are all scared to death. We are fearful of a virus that is still out there, still scoping us out, still waiting to strike again, and we are not prepared for that. We are fearful that 25% or 50% capacity in our restaurants will not allow us to survive – so, what’s the point? We are fearful that customers will not return and customers are fearful of what is waiting for them as they venture out with loads of trepidation. And we are fearful that everything will be different and we don’t yet know how to define “different”.

Yep, I get it – we are all in the same boat – fear of the unknown. The natural inclination is to play it safe, to try and bring everything back to where it was pre-pandemic. This is our comfort zone, this is what we know, this is the space that everyone can jump back into and not lose a beat. Let’s bring back the same menu, let’s try and make service like it was, let’s keep the same pricing model, let’s set-up our kitchens as we did just a few months ago with the same staff and the same skill set. Wouldn’t it make sense to not rock the boat any more – to get into our rhythm and put on a familiar face – this is, after all what out customers expect and want – right?

It’s interesting how last month everyone was proclaiming that everything will be different when restaurants open again, that what we knew will not suffice in the near future. So what did we do to prepare for wholesale change over the past three months? Did we invest in ideation sessions, did we look to other industries that were forced to change in recent years, did we seek advice from knowledgeable experts in our and others industries, did we take a hard look at fixing some of the issues that have plagued us for decades? I am not positive, but I have yet to see any real future thinking and strategic planning in this regard outside of how to social distance, how to incorporate more take-out options, and discovering what new sanitation procedures will be in place at least until a vaccine is developed. Where are the exciting future thinkers in the restaurant business – you know, the disruptors, the ones that force us to scratch our heads, the ones who piss us off, and make us wag our fingers saying: “You can’t do that.”

Painted in Waterlogue

Why can’t we just return to “normal”? Well, for one thing – normal really wasn’t that great for restaurants – was it? Rents were getting out of whack, ingredient costs kept inching up, finding employees was increasingly difficult, many skilled workers were underpaid and under appreciated, profits were too low if present at all, failure rates were very high, and banks – well they just don’t want to invest in a very fragile restaurant business. So – why do we want to return to that – especially with the addition of new protocols brought on by the pandemic?

John F. Kennedy wrote:
“For time and the world do not stand still.  Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

Think about that for a minute: “Change is the law of life.” In other words, whether we like it or not change is inevitable and it will occur with us, or without us. To fail to change at a time when the door has been opened for the possibility is a lost opportunity that may never come your way again.

Since the early days of restaurants we have acknowledged and embraced a way of doing business that, for all intents and purposes, has not really changed at all. If we allow ourselves to slip right back into the same model then we must accept the fact that all of the problems that I listed will not only remain, but will intensify. Where are the future thinkers who want to seize the opportunity to re-imagine, to re-invent, and to disrupt what we have accepted as “the right way” for generations?

Where are the Steve Jobs, Elon Musks, Bill Gates, Dan Barbers, Helen Turleys, and Peter Senge prophets who would turn the restaurant business upside down and find a new way of doing business – a way that is innovative while maintaining all of the feel good parts of our business – the hospitality, the gathering, the beautiful food, and celebratory environments that bring people to restaurants for nourishment, entertainment, and cheer? Let’s just pretend that this was just a bump in the road, a moment in time that we can quickly forget and move back into the groves of the highway that we left for a short period of time. Does this make sense to you?

Lincoln gave us clear words of advice:

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

As I walk down the street and see lights begin to shine in those restaurant dining rooms that were vacant for three months, as I watch the dust being removed from table tops and masked employees begin their sanitation routines, as I see cautious vendor drivers and hesitant cooks don their masks and take those first steps into restaurant kitchens, I am just perplexed. What are they stepping back into? Hell – what compelling reasons will bring guests back into those restaurants to dine? Is it convenience, the need to just get out and live again, or an opportunity to re-ignite a love of food and service? Will those guests venture out into the unknown just to find what they had experienced before? Will the benefits outweigh the risk? Really folks – have we thought this through?

Painted in Waterlogue

As Lincoln alluded to: we have a responsibility to tomorrow – this is basic and important. Avoidance will never allow us to move forward as an industry and come out the other end – stronger, better, and happier. This is a time for future thinking, this is only scary if we fail to see the excitement of positive change.

 Buckminster Fuller was a visionary, future thinker, designer, educator and inventor (developed the geodesic dome as an example) who outlined the exact situation we are in right now:

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”

If we (the restaurant industry) fail to embrace the opportunities that the future can bring, then we are likely to be left behind. If not you, then someone will; if not now, then when; if you ask why, try asking why not.

Ask yourself some foundational questions as a starting point:

  • How can we better serve the needs of our customers?
  • How can we build a more conducive work environment for our employees?
  • How can we build a new level of excitement for dining out?
  • How can we build new, compelling experiences that will bring customers back time and again?
  • How can we make restaurants more profitable while allowing them to be cost accessible to a broader population?
  • How can we build a restaurant industry that is friendlier to the environment?
  • How can we enhance our relationships with the source of ingredients and improve the integrity of our food supply?

These and other questions can and likely should be prods to stimulate our train of thought, to excite us about the possibilities, and to engage a spectrum of stakeholders to play a role in making the next generation of restaurant experiences a reality NOW. It can start with you – NOW IS THE TIME!

We know that there are dreamers and there are doers and it is rare to find individuals who possess both abilities. This is why we put teams of people together. Visionaries/futurists are essential individuals who make us “think different” (as Steve Jobs asked us to do) and attack the problems of today to help find the right solutions. Let’s not fall back into our comfort zone – we can’t afford to do that. Build your team, ask the questions, encourage dialogue, and put aside pre-conceived ideas about how it “should be” – think more in terms of how it “could be”.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

Embrace the opportunity to make it better

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

 

 

COOKS – GETTING BACK INTO THE ZONE

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Take a deep breath as you walk through those back doors, back into the kitchen that was so familiar, back to a place that you have missed for the past three months. Somehow you are nervous – why is that? You’re not as nervous about the virus as you are being able to hit the ground running. This is a job that has always required you to be on your game, to be able to zig and zag, solve those little problems that crop up every day, finding your pace, organize your station, and respond with syncopation and confidence when those orders start to roll off the printer. How will you be able to perform – that is the question that is churning in your stomach, that brings beads of sweat to your forehead, and that clouds your vision as you make that first step into the kitchen.

Things are certainly different as you pull on your N-95 mask, nod to your teammates while trying to keep a safe distance, scrub your hands for the first of 25 times today, sanitize your work area and your tool kit, grab your station prep list and start to work. The chef has some background music playing from his iPhone as a way to lighten the tension, and although the conversation is less engaged as it once was, people begin to throw around some of the typical banter. “Hey, I hope your knife skills didn’t get any more pathetic than they use to be”, “ I hope the chef stocked up on extra band aids now that you are back in the kitchen”, and a few other slights that are a bit more graphic. Somehow, the banter makes you feel relaxed, relieves that knot in your stomach, and brings hope to quell those fears that you have about your ability to adapt.

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Soon the cadence of work lightens the mood and that muscle memory kicks in as you charge through vegetable prep and begin to trim tenders and strip loins, cut steaks, peel and devein shrimp, clean Divers scallops, flatten chicken breasts, and fillet various types of fish for your station.

You nick one of your fingers with a boning knife and it bleeds like a bastard. Trying not to let others see your sloppy mistake you wrap it in a side towel and make a stealth move towards the rest room. You wash and dry the cut (damn, it’s on the tip of my index finger where it is impossible to stop the bleeding) wrap it tightly with three band-aids and double up your gloves hoping that the blood won’t give away your misguided knife handling. Back to work – the only thing hurt is your ego.

“Hey Jake – you cuttin steaks or fingers the rest of the day?” Damn – busted. Of course, now you will be the butt of everyone’s jokes for the next couple hours. The chef walks past you and just smiles. Well, at least you broke the ice.

Everyone is trying hard to bring back some semblance of “normal”, but the air is heavy, as each cook knows that nothing is normal anymore. The chef had sent everyone a list of new protocols before they arrived, so routines of old were out the window.

You notice a delivery truck arrive with supplies – even this is part of the change that the virus has brought to the restaurant. The driver is no longer allowed to simply wheel in supplies and unload them in coolers, freezers, and dry goods storage. Items are received at the back entrance where boxes will be opened, cardboard immediately discarded to outside recycling bins, and each item is wiped with bleach cloths before transferred to storage. This is an all hands on deck process that eats away at time that would have normally been spent on prep. No one is happy about this added process, yet everyone feels that sense of responsibility for everyone’s safety and wellbeing.

Back to prep, that is after scrubbing hands again, re-sanitizing your work station, adjusting your mask that has begun to cause a rash on your face, and turning in your apron for one that is fresh and sanitary. Now that sense of urgency returns, the knowledge that there is more work to complete than there is time – you dive into the details for your station. Time to clarify butter, blanch and shock vegetables, reduce stocks for sauce work, mince herbs, refill bottles of wine and olive oil, prepare garnishes, season your pans, fire up the grill and salamander, and fold your side towels as you always had in the past. Thirty minutes more and that POS printer will begin to talk once again.

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Now things begin to seem right. Comfort and confidence overtake angst and doubt as every cook instinctively falls back into his and her pace. This is what they are trained to do, this is their calling, this is that point in time when their skills point the way and cooking becomes part of their reflex. Cooks mark steaks and chops at their chargrill and fall back into a comfort zone of knowing degrees of doneness. Sauté quickly remembers how to multi-task: hot pan, clarified butter, scored skin on the fish fillet hits that screaming hot pan, keep the pan in motion so it doesn’t stick, sear to a golden brown, baste the fish, hit it with a touch of salt and deglaze the pan with white wine – push the pan aside until pick up. Another hot pan – no two, two orders of tournedos on the fly. A quick sear of salted meat – both sides. Deglaze with a touch of Madeira and a splash of demi. A spin of fresh cracked pepper and then remove the meat. Finish reducing the pan sauce, add some chopped parsley and return the meat to coat. Plates up – toast medallions, fillets, sear two cut pieces of foie gras in a dry hot pan (it only takes a few seconds) sear both sides and top off the fillets – mask with sauce madeira and a few shavings of black truffle – four pieces of perfect asparagus and two baby carrots tossed in butter – slide the plates into the pass. “Give me an all day”: the expeditor calls out: one more tournedos – rare, three shrimp, two Dourade fillets, four chicken picatta, and one vegetable tart – all have apps coming up first – fire the first Dourade right now!

The pace continues to quicken and everything seems to slide into that slow motion groove of a cook in control. All he hears is the commands from the expeditor and the ticking cadences of the printer. Everything is under control as his mental state is total focus on the work. This cook is there, he is back, he feels the adrenaline coursing through his veins, and sees things clear again. This is what he missed over the past three months. All his uncertainty is put aside – he is back.

At some point the board is almost clear – he looks to Janis to his left on apps and Greg on the broiler. They both have smiles on their faces. They too overcame their fear and rose to the occasion. No one struck out or lost his or her poise – the night was winding down and the day was won. The expeditor gives them a thumbs-up and the chef simply nods. Good cooks don’t forget, it’s like riding a bike – it only took one push to adjust to the new normal and get their confidence back. A few high fives and then it’s back to cleaning and making notes for what tomorrow will bring.

This time of uncertainty has left everyone shaken. Cooks and chefs in particular rely on protocols and systems and uncertainty never sits well with them. The time will come when restaurants will be back and cooks find their groove once again. The swagger of line cooks will return and the gratification of plating that perfect dish will bring a smile to their faces. It will happen soon enough – be patient.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

We are in this together

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP WHEN IT SEEMS TO BE IN SHORT SUPPLY

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I am a concerned spectator at a time when everything seems to be in question and every one of us lives on the edge. We fear, we adjust, we cope, and then there comes a time when our coping mechanism comes into real question. This is when leadership is most needed.

Leadership is always important, but seems to be in critical need when we are in time of crisis. This is when people turn to either those with the title or those with a history of leadership. Leadership, real leadership comes from four actions:

* What we hear

* What we learn

* What we say

* What we do

The issue of proximity comes into play, because it is difficult, if not impossible to lead in situations or lead people when a person has not walked in those shoes, does not know the people in need of leadership, or has not felt their desperation. It is not possible to truly lead those with whom you can’t relate. This is true of any situation, individual, or group. In situations where this proximity is not possible then a person with the title of leadership must engage people who can relate and then hear, learn, speak, and act in a manner that respects the knowledge of others.

This is true of leaders of companies, organizations, geographic areas, communities, or populations. It is true of mayors, governors, Congressional members, presidents, law enforcement, and judges, just as it is of those in the clergy, and the classroom. Proximity and history are important when it comes to leadership with positive results.

  • WHAT WE HEAR and LISTEN TO:

– Who are “leaders” listening to? Are they listening to people with the background to know, with insight that is based on experience, or with the talent to find solutions? If not, what are leaders basing their decisions on? Doesn’t it make sense to listen (not just hear) to those individuals in a position to understand what is before them?

  • WHAT WE LEARN:

– Effective leaders convert listening to learning and invest the time to build a level of understanding that factors in proximity and relies on experience and facts. When this is done then decision-making will more likely result in effective outcomes.

  • WHAT WE SAY:

– Effective leaders coach their words and base them on what they have learned – backed up with facts and input from those “experts” that they have effectively listened to. WORDS ARE POWERFUL – WORDS MATTER.

  • WHAT WE DO:

–           Finally, effective leaders take actions that are calculated, inclusive of expert understanding, and based on collaboration and strategic thought. There is never a guarantee for success, but this process is far more likely to reach that end result while earning respect and support.

At this critical time in our lifecycle (on the macro scale) we crave effective leadership in all areas. We look for leadership to guide us through this health crisis, we look for leadership to keep our priorities in line, crave leadership to help us build a strategy to work through a deep economic crisis and build confidence in that strategy, seek leadership to help our businesses survive and thrive again, pray for leadership to bring our country through a time of hate, anger, and despair; and seek leadership to bring our communities and nation back to a time of integrity and strength.

On the micro level, let’s look at the restaurant industry, an industry that is truly in a crisis situation. We are all aware, at some level that this is an immensely important industry, and at the same time – a very fragile industry. Unless a leader has “proximity” then he or she cannot truly understand the level of fragility and despair. We hear of major restaurant companies that struggle, but pay far less attention to the small business, the independent restaurant that represents the largest segment of the industry and the most fragile. If these operators are unable to recover from the worst health and economic challenge in our lifetimes, then the future of the restaurant industry is truly in jeopardy. Unless our leaders have proximity or build proximity into their decisions, then it is very likely that those mom and pop operators will fall. It is that simple. That local café or diner that has been part of your quality of life for years is in jeopardy. That local pizzeria that makes the best pie around is in jeopardy. That chef owned fine dining restaurant is in jeopardy. That world-famous bar-b-que joint that has been around for generations is in jeopardy. And that coffee shop where you greet your favorite barista on the way to work or use their tables as a temporary office to support you on-line business is in jeopardy.

Unlike that corporate restaurant firm with dozens or hundreds of outlets offering consistent product and service, your independent operation does not have the advantage of a marketing department, human resource officer, significant lines of credit with a bank, or leverage with vendors to gain better pricing through volume. Those chains are far more likely to gather their collective minds to find a way out of the storm and survive a period of business downturn. That independent operator measures their ability to survive in terms of a few weeks without sufficient business revenue.

Here is the reality: PPP loans that turn into grants don’t work for most independents when the conditions associated with that loan to grant remain inflexible. Allowing those operators to open with a restriction of 25% or 50% capacity does not help a business that depends on filling their seats and turning tables once or twice on a weekend night. It doesn’t help those restaurants if their bar operation is unable to accommodate revelers who seek to mingle with friends and buy a few rounds. It doesn’t help those independents when customers remain fearful of being in an environment where people cluster. It doesn’t help those independents when there are no clear answers to the questions above.

When the President’s Council for economic recovery only includes CEO’s from major restaurant chains and a few very high-end operations and shuns representation from mom and pop restaurants and shops – then any solution found will avoid listening to, learning from, speaking to, and acting upon a base of knowledge that really reflects the restaurant industry in America.

Where are the knowledgeable leaders who share proximity with the operators most clearly impacted by decisions that are supposedly designed to help restaurants recover? Where are the knowledge leaders who understand that this is an industry of diverse individuals who are on the lower end of the pay spectrum, and who try to get by without baseline benefits? Where are the knowledgeable leaders that understand the cliff that these restaurants live on without the benefits of help that exist within those restaurant chains and high-end operations that may be more flush with cash?

The best ideas for these independent operators cannot come from an assumption that throwing a bit of money their way and simply encouraging them to find their own solutions is enough. Leaders need to understand that the majority of these independent operators are good at two things: making consistently good food, and providing real service for guests that they work hard at knowing and caring for. They are not marketing experts, social media aficionados, financial planners, systems analysts, physical plant designers, or strategic planners. They are good at what they do and need real help with everything else. Remember – they are not responsible for this crisis – they are living with the necessary decisions that others made to protect public health.

How about boosting the breadth of assistance that the SBA offers to include building recovery strategies for small restaurants? How about financially supporting the SBA to recruit hundreds or thousands of regional restaurant/business consultants to roll up their sleeves and work on site with independents on recovery plans? Why not invest government spending in aligning small restaurants with culinary and business schools to provide additional training leading to recovery action? Why not subsidize local banks to cover some of their concerns about lending money to community restaurants in need? Most small restaurants know that a meeting with their bank to seek a larger line of credit or low interest loan to make physical changes to their operation in an effort to maximize sales while supporting social distancing will lead to a “sorry we can’t do that” response. This is where these independents need help. These are the type of solutions that can come from leadership that relies on proximity, listening, learning, speaking the truth, and acting accordingly.

Restaurants need real help and they need it now! If these restaurants fail so too will our economy. As the second largest employer of people in the U.S. – the restaurant industry (mostly independent operators) needs real help, not just a handout.   These are proud people who have given everything they have to the businesses that they operate. These restaurants are their dream, their life, their purpose and we should all be conscious of how much they mean to the communities where they hang a sign that reflects this.

Where is the leadership?

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

*PHOTO:  The proud Mirror Lake Inn Culinary Team 2006

OUR DAILY BREATH: OPENING RESTAURANTS – WHERE’S THE PLAN, STAN?

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Let’s assume, for a moment, that we actually are all in this together. Let’s put on our restaurant hat and take responsibility for doing what is right for both the health and wellbeing of our families, staff, and customers, and help in bring our communities out of the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression. Both of these issues are significantly important and even though we should all agree that health and safety is foremost – if we manage to beat the virus into submission and destroy the economy in the process then we are left with a problem that can be devastating for decades to follow. OK – so that doesn’t help much unless we have a plan, a plan that everyone buys into, and a plan that shows hope on both fronts.

So the question is – where is the leadership in building such a plan? The CDC has provided recommendations for re-opening businesses (restaurants), and some states have qualified these recommendations by instituting phases for opening once certain statistical criteria is met, but much of what happens within those phases is up to individual restaurants to interpret and devise methods of delivery. Where is the real leadership from professional organizations and from the communities where those restaurants reside? Where is the collaboration among community restaurants to portray a consistent message and a self-assessment process?

Think about the following:

[]         RESTAURANTS CAN REOPEN WITH 25% CAPACITY: Great – we all know that it is impossible for any restaurant to survive with 25% capacity. Where are the organization experts with thoughts on how this parameter might be approached?

[]         RESTAURANTS THAT OPEN MUST PRACTICE PHYSICAL DISTANCING: Sounds reasonable – how can that truly be accomplished with the ebb and flow of customers, servers approaching tables, taking orders and delivering food?

[]         THE VIRUS CAN LIVE ON SURFACES FOR A PERIOD OF TIME SO ENHANCED SANITATION MUST BE PRACTICED: OK, we get it – what does that mean and how does it apply to plates, glassware, flatware, tablecloths, salt and pepper shakers, chairs, booths, walls, table tops, etc.? How can we really stay on top of this challenge? Who will provide consistent guidance in this regard?

[]         THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE VIRUS CAN BE TRANSMITTED THROUGH FOOD: Well, that seems reassuring, but tell me how is it that the virus can live on non-food surfaces for many hours, but will avoid clinging to that salad, glass of beer, or tonight’s special?

[]         ALL STAFF AND CUSTOMERS SHOULD WEAR MASKS: Totally agree, and we can certainly require our staff to do so, but with the wild west attitude among a few customers that this is an infringement on their rights as American’s – what is our legal support to demand this and what is the best way to manage unreasonable guests?

[]         WE ARE ENCOURAGED TO SANITIZE OUR PERSONAL GROCERIES FROM THE STORE BEFORE THEY ARE BROUGHT INTO HOMES: Fine, if you are like me – it takes an hour to shop every two weeks and two hours to sanitize everything before I move items to storage in the house. Shouldn’t we be doing the same in restaurant kitchens? If so, what it the plan for vendors and restaurants to work together in this regard?

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[]         AT A CERTAIN POINT (before there is a vaccine) CUSTOMERS WILL BE ALLOWED TO RETURN TO RESTAURANT DINING ROOMS: Terrific! When that occurs we will be able to go back to business as usual – right? Oh, but what if customers don’t want to return to dining rooms? What if they (rightfully so) are still nervous about being in public groups while the virus is still flourishing? How do we rebuild trust – not just in returning to our restaurant, but even more importantly – to restaurants as a whole? Where is the leadership coaching on that?

[]         WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: Yep – I have heard that many times before – so why does it feel like we are on our own? Why are there mixed messages from state to state and community to community?   Why are we given guidelines yet no one seems intent are really enforcing them? Why is each restaurant struggling with how to manage the need for safety vs. the need to generate revenue? Why is there no universal strategy that helps restaurants collectively walk through the process of re-opening with confidence and uniformity? If we are all in this together, why are we so far apart?

Re-opening restaurants when there is no resolution to this invisible threat is risky business. It scares restaurant owners to death – as it should.   The last thing in the world that anyone wants is to create a pool of infection that threatens the very customers who have helped a restaurant through tough times before. The answer cannot be: “Every man for himself”. The answer must be collective agreement on the best way to move forward for the safety of all involved and the financial health of the business. We know that the only tools that we have right now are physical distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands and surfaces extremely well – but is that enough to build trust in a return to business?

We should applaud the states that have exacting criteria for reopening businesses in phases and methods in place to assure that the criteria is met, but it is not enough – at least not for restaurants. We (the restaurant industry) need local governments to bring restaurant owners together to build a model that everyone buys into, a model that is reasonable, safe, and verifiable. We need industry organizations like the National Restaurant Association and American Culinary Federation to go beyond printing a list of recommendations and rather become actively involved in communities by walking them through the process of collaboration, ideation, and implementation. Most importantly, we need community restaurant owners, operators, and chefs to come together to build active lines of communication, serious platforms for implementation assistance, and an active commitment to doing the right thing – every restaurant, every chef, every day. If we are in this together than we need to build a strategy for that to be realized.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We SHOULD be in this together – the only way to address the challenges

Restaurant Consulting

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: CHANGE FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

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There is so much angst and uncertainty among the restaurant community right now. Should we reopen when the green light is given? What precautions need to be in place to protect our staff and customers? How will we survive if we are required to live with 25% or 50% of normal capacity? Will customers return, or will they shy away from any contact with groups of people? The common realization is that things will be different and we need to change.

Change is too often implemented based on need or fear of not moving in a different direction. Sometimes change happens just to push the envelope and stand out as being different. In reality – change out of necessity is rarely accompanied by the passion to do so, and being different does not mean that you are good at what you do – sometimes you are just different. Neither one of these reasons seems to make business sense, yet they do fit in with the theory that failure to change is a sure sign of failure.

Right now, the restaurant industry and those who work within it feel the pressure for change. We don’t have a choice – right? Profits are slim, employees may be reluctant to return, the fear of the virus is looming, the food distribution system is heavily bruised, and customers are cautious. We need to change.

According to Bill Buford in his newly released book “Dirt”: The late Chef Michel Richard of Citronelle Restaurant often quoted the French Pastry Chef Gaston Lenotre, who stated: “You can change anything as long as the result is better than the original.” This is a powerful and very important statement that should become a rallying cry in 2020. Change must occur because the crisis before us demands it, but change need not be only reactionary. The question that precedes moving in a new direction must be: “How can we change and make the situation, the experience, and/or the product better than what it was?”

I don’t have the answers because they will always be unique to each property or situation, but you can find the answers. As you contemplate re-opening your restaurant operation in the near future – pull your important stakeholders together (chef, owner, manager, sous chef, cooks, service staff, and loyal customers) and put these questions on the table:

  1. We will need to rearrange our dining room space to adhere to physical distancing – how do we build a dining experience around this to give comfort, warmth, trust, great technical service, and enjoyment? Is there a way to make the overall dining experience BETTER than it was?
  2. If we are required to reduce our capacity to 25 or 50% of what it was, how can we be financially successful and how can our service staff make a respectable living? How can we make the financial results for our restaurant and service staff BETTER than it was before?
  3. If we need to reduce the size and breadth of our menu, how can we keep the product choices exciting and enticing? How can we make our menus smaller, yet BETTER than they were before?
  4. If we need to downsize the number of cooks in our kitchen because of a reduction in restaurant capacity and menu breadth, how can we make the job of cooking attractive and lucrative? How can we make the employee experience BETTER than it was before?
  5. Without a vaccine for the virus and with constant words of caution about engaging in social environments, how can we create a compelling reason for customers to return? How can we make the feeling of trust in customer safety BETTER than it was before?
  6. If we decide to ramp up our business presence as a “to go” or delivery operation, how can we increase volume to make it financially lucrative? How can we make the “to go” experience BETTER than it has been and comparable to our dine-in experience before the pandemic?

The same applies to all facets of the food business – from culinary education to farming, from distribution to catering, and from contract food operations in business complexes to theme parks with thousands of potential visitors every day. Change is required, but change to make things BETTER is the only formula for success.

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Striving for excellence and making decisions based on being the best that you can be will always set your operation apart from the competition. This is an exciting prospect that can convert much of the pressure of change out of necessity to change as an invigorating opportunity to improve in all areas.

One of the ironies of change is that it is never confined to you and your operation. Any change that you make – positive or negative – has implications for all other connected businesses. Your need to create a BETTER, more limited menu for your restaurant will put your vendors in a position to consider positive change. Any decision to change restaurant capacity and make the experience different and BETTER will have an impact on landlords, neighborhood dynamics, advertisers, and those in the business to help create safer environments. And any change in the number of employees in your kitchen and the skill set that they must possess to fit in with your improved work environment will impact the economics of a community and the quality of life for those who choose to work in kitchens.

All this being considered – make sure that your change decisions are well founded in critical thought – thought based on improvement rather than just reaction. Change for the right reason is a roadmap to recovery.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We are in this together

Change to make things better

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com

COMING SOON: Watch for our new collaborative podcast with The Center for Advancement of Foodservice Education (CAFÉ).

DIRT – A novel by: Bill Buford

https://www.amazon.com/Dirt-Adventures-Training-Looking-Cooking-ebook/dp/B081M7TWY5/ref=sr_1_1?crid=T47CPUS0K6LH&dchild=1&keywords=dirt&qid=1589982314&s=books&sprefix=Dirt%2Caps%2C171&sr=1-1

 

A LETTER TO CULINARY SCHOOL GRADUATES

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First and foremost – congratulations on earning your degree or certificate. This is an accomplishment that over the course of your lifetime will reward you tenfold. Know that the degree or certificate is more than an acknowledgement of the skills and knowledge that you have gained – it represents your level commitment and discipline that will serve you well.

This is a very challenging time for graduates of any program – an unprecedented time when the health and wellbeing of world citizens is the number one priority, but also a time when there is much uncertainty in the workforce. The restaurant industry is being hit extraordinarily hard, unlike any other time in recent history. As we continue to fight this pandemic that we still know so little about, and try to gradually open up the economy with a keen eye on public safety – it will be restaurants and other hospitality businesses that suffer the longest. We are an industry that provides so much more than an opportunity to satisfy physical hunger – we are an industry that provides a forum for people to gather, to embrace, to break bread and clink glasses, to tell stories and to laugh with reckless abandon – this is what hospitality is all about. This is also the environment where a virus can find a fertile home. So, we wait, plan, contemplate change, try to find the funds to carry the burden of closure, and hope that science will find a way for us to return sooner rather than later.

Here you are – enthusiastic, informed, confident in your foundational skills, and ready to start a career in food that will last for four decades or more. Today’s jobs for cooks and bakers are in short supply, and they likely will be for a period of time. The restaurant industry will return at some point, historically it always has after crisis, and it will again. The format that we have become accustomed to may change, in fact it certainly will, but restaurants as gathering places are absolutely essential to a civilized world. The communities where you will live depend on restaurants to provide that respite, that environment for celebration and reward that helps us to be one. So, what can be done now with so much uncertainty before you? Here are some words to the wise:

WORDS OF ADVICE:

[]         STAY POSITIVE:

It will be challenging for some time – stay positive! Your attitude and confidence in the ability to rise above the roadblocks placed in your way will define your character.

[]         KEEP WORKING ON THOSE FOUNDATIONAL SKILLS:

A constant focus on improvement is a common trait that all successful people share. It is the foundations, and the mastery there of, that will instill confidence in those who hire you and the seed that defines your self-worth.

[]         KNOW YOUR END GOAL, BUILD A STRATEGY

Whatever your end goal might be: Executive Chef in a fine dining operation, Corporate Chef, Sous Chef, Restaurant Manager, Entrepreneur, Research Chef, or Consultant – where ever you hope to land in the future – put that goal in writing. Research that goal and establish the skill set those successful individuals in that position must possess, and build that into your strategy. “How can I master each of those skills to position myself as a natural candidate for this career goal?”

[]         WORK WHEREVER YOU CAN, JUST MAKE SURE THAT IT CONNECTS WITH FOOD – DO IT WITH EXCELLENCE IN MIND

During this crisis and transition to a solid economy once again, the job opportunities will be far more limited than just a few months ago. This will likely be the case for some time. Make sure that you seek out opportunities that involve food. Know what skill you hope to master as a result of working in that operation and make sure that it fits your career strategy. EVERY POSITION IN THE FOOD BUSINESS WILL HELP WITH YOUR CAREER – IF YOU BUILD IT INTO YOUR PLAN. Here are some examples:

  • QUICK SERVICE: The type of food and ambience of a quick service operation may not be your ultimate goal, but these operations have great systems and controls in place. Every Chef, Manager, or Owner must understand systems and controls. If you work in quick service for an interim period of time – do so with the intent of learning about their controls and systems.
  • FAMILY STYLE: These operations, oftentimes ethnic based, can provide you with an appreciation for the early and late majority of customers who patronize restaurants. This is nearly 70% of all restaurant diners. Dedicate your time to building an appreciation for the taste of the majority.
  • BAR-B-QUE JOINT: Maybe your goal is to work in a white tablecloth restaurant and the thought of investing your time in an operation with paper tabletops and bottles of hot sauce on the table does not sit well with your plan. But you can learn a very important lesson in these operations: It’s all about flavor and flavor takes time and discipline. There are no shortcuts to building flavor that is universally enjoyed.
  • FARM WORK: The back breaking work on a farm may seem to be a far cry from working in starched chef whites in a stainless steel kitchen, but what is most important in cooking is to understand, appreciate, nurture, and admire the work of those who invest in this back-breaking work. A period of time working on a farm will build a greater appreciation for the source of ingredients you work with and the commitment of those people who do the work.
  • SENIOR CARE: Working in senior care facilities can be emotionally draining and too often does not reflect the quality of food that a chef would put his or her signature on. Working in these facilities and approaching the task of cooking with passion and commitment to process is incredibly rewarding. You will learn empathy and how much the “care” that you put into the food you prepare means to others.
  • HEALTHCARE: Typically, working in a hospital is not at the top of many cooks’ career lists. Yet, where else can you develop a real understanding of how important proper nutrition can be to the health and wellbeing of others. This is where you can find definitive evidence of the importance of well-prepared food.
  • CORPORATE DINING: The corporate “cafeteria” has long been replaced with food operations that provide fresh, well-prepared food that is exciting and packed with flavor and nutrition. In corporate environments these operations are essential ingredients in creating positive work attitudes, important conversation, and a chance to break bread and do business at the same time. Learn how food experiences can set the stage for positive action.

All of these operations, when taken in the right context, can add to your skill set to become a chef, manager, or operator. Don’t pass them by because of ego or pride; they can all “fit”.

Painted in Waterlogue

[]         BE THE PROFESSIONAL THAT YOU WERE TRAINED TO BE:

Never lose your commitment to looking, acting, and being the professional that is representative of the best of the position of cook and chef. Make this a part of your character.

[]         KNOW THAT PATIENCE IS A REQUIRED VIRTUE:

Patience has always been a requirement of success, but in these challenging times of crisis, patience is essential. I know you hope and expect to reach your goals quickly. I know that you have financial needs that cannot be met with entry-level wages, and I know that you expect that degree to pay off on day one, but understand that your patience now is an investment in that future. Your success will not happen overnight.

[]         UNDERSTAND THE NEED FOR FLEXIBILITY:

Being able and willing to turn on a dime and change directions is the price of admission in a faltering economy. Be flexible and willing to change.

[]         DEPENDABLE RULES THE DAY:

Be on time, ready to work, and excited about what is in front of you. Be the employee who once given a task – sticks with it until it is done correctly. Trust is earned and dependability is the key to building that trust.

[]         STICK TO YOUR STRATEGY:

You have a strategy, now ask yourself every day: “Is what I am doing right now bringing me any closer to reaching my goals?”

[]         BUILD YOUR NETWORK OF INFLUENCE:

Along the way, no matter how long it takes; your commitment to doing things well and demonstrating dependability will lead to a network of individuals who can help you at various stages of your career. Work on that network and DON’T BURN ANY BRIDGES along the way.

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[]         BE A PROBLEM SOLVER, NOT A FINGER POINTER:

Don’t waste any time pointing a finger at others. Help them to improve, do your job to the best of your ability, ask for help when you need it, and use your data bank of experiences to help resolve issues rather than charge others for their lack of commitment.

Good luck, be the best that you can be. Remember that even during tough times – being a chef is a noble profession with loads of opportunity.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

We are all in this together

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: PROBLEMS WITH THE CENTRALIZED FOOD SYSTEM

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Every day there are lessons to be learned. At this level of crisis there are bound to be ancillary challenges that arise – challenges that were not obvious until the domino theory took hold. The farm to table movement of the past two decades was, on the surface, a return to supporting local growers and producers, but the core of this initiative was far more significant. It became obvious to some that putting all of our eggs in one basket was not a wise decision for our country, a decision that could lead to a breakdown of the food production/distribution system if conditions turned sour. Climate change, depletion of soil nutrients, over-use of chemicals in agriculture, carbon footprint issues driven by the methods of distribution, quality issues driven by farming methods that were controlled by demand rather than seasonality, the threat of agri-terrorism, and/or the inevitable appearance of a public health issue (pandemic) were looming potential problems that could devastate a centralized production/distribution system. To some (not enough) people – the answer was a return to a de-centralized system where end users found their food supplies from local and regional producers – where seasonality and use of indigenous ingredients to an area drove menus in the home and in the restaurant. If we failed to move in this direction then a crisis could bring things to a halt – sooner or later the bottom would fall out. So, in 2020 this is exactly where we are.

The domino effect can be described as follows:

“Domino effect describes a situation in which one event triggers another similar event and then another, until there is a cascade of events that occur, all because of the first, precipitating event.”

-The Grammarist

We are living in a vivid example of the domino theory. The coronavirus is testing the stability of every system that man has created. The question is: “how will our systems fare? Will our systems stand the stress test or will they crumble?” As we focus on food production and distribution it is easy to see how quickly stress caused by the pandemic (the first domino) is threatening the way that we grow, produce, distribute, and use those food ingredients that we depend on.   As an example – centralized meat packing plants are devastated by the spread of the virus – some of those plants are closing down until the spread can be controlled.

There are four companies in the U.S. that control 85% of the meat market. Americans consume over 50 billion pounds of meat each year and these four companies control 42 billion of those pounds. These same phenomena can be applied to almost every aspect of food production and processing in the U.S. The underlying rule of thumb for those who are in the business of food is: “Go big or go home.” Profit comes from volume and control of market segments. This is efficient and well supported on paper as a solid way to manage business, but it creates incredible vulnerabilities.

So, some of the meat processing plants have succumb to the virus and partially closed their operations. Suddenly the meat supply is impacted and consumers feel the pinch in the supermarket. Restaurants are forced to close to slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. As a result, demand for meat is reduced putting additional stress on the packaging system and directly impacting ranchers who now find that the market for their cattle, pigs, and chickens is reduced. Out of necessity they are forced to euthanize some of their animals. Everyone suffers – sick employees, ranchers struggling to make ends meet, distributor sales tank, and end consumers are faced with empty meat shelves in grocery stores leading to hoarding and further panic over availability. Similar problems rise up in agriculture as dairy farmers are faced with a diminished market for their product with the restaurant business in shutdown. Milk is being dumped because of its short shelf life while millions of Americans find it difficult to feed their families as jobs have instantly disappeared. People are in lockdown at home so to help fill time and alleviate some of the problems with food availability begin to bake bread at home putting overnight strains on the market for flour. Without enough regional flour mills – the supply is suddenly tapped out and consumers can’t even find all-purpose flour on grocery shelves. There is plenty of grain, just not enough capacity for milling since centralized mills forced many of those regional operations to shut down decades ago. The dominos are falling and the system is crumbling and struggling to find ways to keep up.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

-Plato

One of mankind’s historic strengths has been adaptation and correction after a crisis occurs. We adapted and corrected after World War II, after the Great Depression, after numerous recessions, following the tragedy of 9/11, and in reaction to the market crash of 2008. We will adapt and correct after Covid-19. Unfortunately, history has shown that it is far less common to find proactive planning to eliminate the inevitability of crisis. It is likely that our food system will adapt at some level and it is also likely that those who drive this change will be in a better position to survive and thrive.

At some point a new version of the restaurant industry will rise up. Those who will be positioned for success will be restaurants that advocate for a redefined distribution model. Call it farm to table if you like, but it will be more than that. It will likely be a return to decentralization – an environment where chefs not only buy local, but where menus are driven by seasonality, not a reliance on buying and serving anything, any time of the year, regardless of origin. This will be an environment where problems in the system can be isolated by region or locale, and managed properly. This will be an environment where market conditions, even during a crisis, are viewed as regional, not global challenges. Everything needs to be reassessed to avoid the domino effect in the future. This is a systemic approach that is based on an understanding that any action will impact another, and some actions can impact everything.

Just an opinion: Food for thought.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

http://www.harvestamericacues.com

OUR DAILY BREATH:  COOKS ARE SALT OF THE EARTH

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There is a world of difference in how we view people whether from the outside looking in or the inside looking out. We walk on dangerous ground when we rely on first impressions or unverified perceptions (outside looking in) to assess others and stand a much better chance of understanding the type of person they are when we stand beside them, experience their daily interactions, inquire about their background and influences, feel their pain and share in their joy.

I have enjoyed the privilege of working with, standing beside, listening to the stories, and building an understanding of the people who work in kitchens. These people, once a baseline level of trust is realized, tend to bare their souls to each other. To build an effective kitchen team is to learn what is in each individuals heart, what has brought them to this point in time, how they feel about their own position in time, and their feeling of self-worth. Once you share this information with another person you are suddenly in a position to appreciate who they are and how you might connect in work and in life. It is a wonderful feeling to reach that point and have that experience, an experience that would be hard to replicate anywhere else but in a kitchen.

This is what I have found once you put aside the thick layers of crust, once you dig past the exterior and move away from any preconceived ideas about who a person is, then the real person rises to the surface. Let’s face it, many cooks have loads of layers of crust that seem impenetrable at times, layers that have taken decades to create and will take time to break through. I have found that the vast majority of cooks, chefs, bakers, and dishwashers are salt of the earth individuals. They may come from different socio-economic backgrounds: some have college degrees, while others never made it through high school; some come from strong family backgrounds while others have non-existent or even tragic relationships with their families; some are well read while others never pick up a book; some have an untarnished relationship with the law while many others have a rap sheet of offenses that will stay with them for life; and some have strong relationships with others while many are loners who find no-one to share their life with outside of work. I have invested time with kitchen workers from Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Poland, Greece, Portugal, France, Germany, the UK, Ireland, China, Japan, Ecuador, Africa, Russia, Jamaica, and Italy; from the poorest communities of the U.S. South, to affluent urban centers on both coasts – in their heart they are almost always the same – they are the salt of the earth.

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I frequently reflect on the lyrics from the Rolling Stones “Salt of the Earth”:

Let’s drink to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his backbreaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

These cooks, chefs, bakers, and dishwashers that I have shared space with in kitchens are all foot soldiers for the craft – members of a community that work physically, mentally, and emotionally hard – every day. They put aside their differences, push away from the outside challenges in their lives, and embrace this common bond – “do the work, do it well, do it with passion, and always support the person working next to you.”

It is the work that helps to bridge all of those differences, it is the work that pulls them in and gives them purpose, it is the work that helps to define them as special.

LINE COOKS ARE THE ENGINE THAT DRIVE A RESTAURANT

As I continue to struggle with the impact that our current crisis has on nearly everything in our lives, I can’t help but wonder how detrimental this time is to these “salt of the earth” foot soldiers. If it is the work that gives them purpose, that unifies their spirit, and that allows them to look past the challenges in their lives – what happens as that work is taken away?

I felt a pain of disappointment the other day when I read articles that chastised some foodservice workers who seemed reluctant to go back to work because they were making more on enhanced unemployment than they would if they were to sweat over a blazing range. The inference was that they must be lazy and that the government was a soft parent for rewarding their laziness. I think that we are missing the point – these are my salt of the earth people, these are the same people who would rather work when they were in pain than disappoint their co-workers, these are the individuals who would consistently spend 10-12 hours a day on their feet in a very challenging, and sometimes dangerous work environment because it was the right thing to do. Maybe, just maybe, it is finally time for us to realize that these employees are worth more and that what they are paid is far too often insufficient for them to survive. Make no mistake – the vast majority would rather work, but for this brief period of time they are able to pay their bills. Let’s start to reflect on value and fair treatment as we transition back into business.

I continue to think about these fantastic people with whom I have spent my entire career and know that as we bring life back to our kitchens we will have a considerable amount of acclimation to deal with. Skills can atrophy when not in use and this period of months when our warrior kitchen staff has been idle, when those bonds that were built among their team members, and when those life stories were shared and accepted, there will be much that has atrophied. They won’t be as trusting when they return, they won’t share as much as they had when their life was entwined with others, and many of those technical skills that were once fine tuned will suffer from idle rust. It will be like a favorite sauté pan that has lost its season – it just won’t work well until is has been fired, rubbed with salt, used and abused until it is slick and polished – that point where it never fails the cook and nothing sticks. All of those “salt of the earth” employees will need some time to polish their skills, to let down their barriers, and to remove a few layers of that crust.

This time of idleness is dangerous for a cook, it is a time when there is too little to do and not enough release for those environmental factors that make them interesting yet vulnerable. Chefs and operators need to keep this in mind as they struggle with the when and how to bring their operations back on line. Communicate with those team members and give them something to chew on so that when the time arrives they will be able to fire up their engines, brush off the dust from their shoulders, and perform their magic once again.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Stay Connected to Your Team

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: WONDERS OF KITCHEN SKILL DEVELOPMENT

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Cooks have a certain swagger that oftentimes hides a sense of pride in skill development from that first day in the kitchen. Maybe it was that entry-level first job at the age of 16 – that part time work as a dishwasher or fast food worker, or a series of progressive positions once cooking seemed to hold that spark of interest that could evolve into a future career – but in all cases under that growing façade of confidence is a sense of pride in those little things that inspire and motivate. Think back to those skills that may seem simple and automatic now, but at the time they were a revelation.

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Cracking an egg is something that we rarely think about nowadays, but remember how gratifying it was the first time you mastered cracking and egg with one hand, separating the top and bottom of the shell to reveal the yolk and white, watching it hit a hot pan and realizing that the yolk would remain intact. From that moment on, this hand memory became part of your skill portfolio, a sign that you had mastered something simple, but important.

Think back to the practice that it took to finally reach that point when you were able to flip vegetables in a pan, watching the product lift briefly into the air and then gingerly lay back down as the pan was drawn back into position. No need for utensils to stir the product, a flip of the wrist is all that it took. Now something we do without thought was at that point a great accomplishment – check it off your skill list.

Learning how to build an edge, properly hold, efficiently guide a French knife and expertly cut vegetables to precise lengths and dimensions, would become a sign of your proficiency and confidence. Now we relish the role that that knife plays in our daily work and enjoy how fluid our knife skills have become. In the beginning it was so gratifying to reach that point where the knife became and extension of our hand.

Learning about caramelization (the Maillard Reaction) when the application of heat to the amino acids and natural sugar in an ingredient helped to bring out and enhance flavors, is life changing for a cook. Discovering that this is what defines that mouthwatering flavor of a grilled steak or chop, that mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery, or the combination of exterior crunch to the soft, mouthwatering internal moisture of a hash brown potato, opens up so many doors to a lifetime of great cooking.

After watching the process numerous times and now holding that fillet knife in our hand, the chef gives us a chance to approach that whole salmon with the intent of removing the fillets. The knife is razor sharp and the trepidation is real as you make that attempt at hugging the bones while removing the fillets and minimizing any signs of valuable salmon behind. Those initial attempts were probably pretty sloppy resulting in less than stellar results, and maybe too much product destined for a salmon mousse. After those initial dozen or so tries you built up confidence, but not speed. After years of wielding that fillet knife you can now zip through that fish without even an ounce of beautiful pink flesh left behind. Check off another skill that sets you apart from the novice.

chuck and mickey

You were struck early on by the intoxicating smells of the kitchen. It was that veal stock simmering in large stainless kettles that wrapped itself around you and gave a sense of comfort to the kitchen. You would take a deep breath when you first walked into the kitchen knowing that that smell led to liquid gold that would eventually become a series of important sauces and foundation for featured restaurant soups. The stock was something even more important than that – the stock represented the chef’s desire to do things right, to respect the foundations of cooking, and to find ways to respect and use all of the ingredients in the kitchen as the magic of cooking turned them into something truly special. This was one of the first deep-seated foundational cooking skills that you were involved with. You discovered that a true stock was more than water, meat trimmings and vegetable peels, it was an exact product that included the caramelization of bones, the right proportion of mirepoix vegetables, a proportionate relationship of water to bones, the right temperature, and time. Once you understood this it became second nature and a treasured relationship that would stick with you throughout your career. Pride in doing it correctly would become a hallmark of your career, a signature of your professionalism.

Do you remember when the science of cooking became part of your repertoire? It might have happened without you realizing it, but it likely occurred the first time you pulled off a perfectly prepared hollandaise, beurre blanc, or mayonnaise. Process, temperature, a steady hand, and using an emulsifier like egg yolks brought science to life for you as a young cook. Now you approach this each time as a fully understood, natural process. Simple ingredients with an understanding of exactness yield a skill to be silently proud of.

Thickening a sauce can be approached in a variety of ways: modified starch, liaison of egg yolks, puree of vegetables or fruit, reduction, or a roux. All of these methods have their place – but that first time you really understood the role and importance of a roux was magical. When you realized that the amount of time dedicated to the cooking of a roux would impact the finished sauces texture and flavor, was a special moment. Not all roux is made equal and now you were in control.

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Reflect back on how you struggled to learn how to pop open an oyster from that pocket in the back of the shell, or approach a littleneck clam with a clam knife after purging it in water, cornmeal and salt. Remember the fear that rushed through you, as the knife slipped into the palm of your hand leaving a cut that would remind you of your lack of skill for the rest of the night. Remember how you cursed and complained as you tried to hide your own doubt of skill as you struggled from bi-value to bi-value – until, you finally got it. Do you remember that moment? Do you remember how that next oyster became a sample of success as you allowed the muscle and the briny liquid inside an oyster to slide down the back of your throat? This was a celebration and a reckoning of why you became a cook. Check another skill off your list.

When the chef told you to attack that case of whole chickens and break them into eight pieces – you groaned in anticipation of a skill that you had yet to master. You took way too long to finish the job, but by the end of that task you were able to find those ball and socket joints in the legs, and swiftly slice the breasts off each side of the carcass without leaving valuable meat behind. The remaining bones would be used in that chicken stock that was ready to simmer in a 30-gallon kettle in the prep kitchen. Now busting out a case of chickens was just another well-developed skill that helped to make you a confident cook.

There would be so many other simple tasks to add to your portfolio along the way: turning a seven-sided potato, watching a popover spring to life with steam as its leavening agent, learning how to control the flames in a pan while deglazing with wine or liquor, slow roasting garlic until its bite sweetened with heat, whisking room temperature egg whites into beautiful peaks of meringue, trimming a tenderloin and hand cutting into perfect filets, folding a perfect omelet while an onslaught of orders click off the POS printer, and walking through the steps of a book fold on croissant dough that would yield hundreds of flaky layers. Each small process built your confidence, and your brand as a cook.

We take these acquired skills for granted now as our careers have progressed and the demands of our job have changed, but it will always be these skills that allow us to proudly hold the title of cook and have the ability to apply magical processes to the ingredients we are privileged to work with. We have come a long way, but every once in a while it is important to reflect back on that bag of tricks that gave us the confidence and the power to do what we do.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Be all that you can be – be a chef

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

Photo #1:  Forty years ago

Photo #2:  Today we are going to learn how to crack and egg

Photo #3:  Chefs Carroll and Beriau

Photo #4:  Tableside sauce work at the CIA – Bocuse Restaurant

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: TRUST

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What is very clear, as restaurants in certain states sense a desire to lift stay at home restrictions and return to business is that guests will remain leery of any interaction with others in public places. A lack of trust will apply to everyone and every place as those once enthusiastic patrons give pause to any thought of dining out. Re-opening businesses when the virus is still clawing towards its peak is very risky, of that we are sure. All reputable predictions point to an upswing in cases and severe cases once the stay at home requirements are eased. Time is not the only answer for pulling the rug out from underneath Covid-19 – the only real answer is a vaccine which is not likely for more than a year from now – if at all. So, we open our businesses to the reality that aligns with these predictions. TRUST will be, and should be, our first order of business.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”

-unknown author

Look at your restaurant reopening through the eyes of the employee and the guest. They will both have trust issues that will determine whether or not you are successful beyond this first phase of transition. There will be mandated restrictions on capacity, physical distancing, sanitation protocols, use of masks, etc., but it will be your commitment to the safety of all involved that is the key to rebuilding a level of trust that will carry your operation through this tenuous time and on to an eventual renewal of prosperity.   Please note: IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE THAT IMPACTS ON THE SAFETY AND WELLBEING OF GUESTS OR EMPLOYEES IT MAY BE IMPOSSIBLE TO RECOVER AS A BUSINESS.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

-Stephen R. Covey

It doesn’t make sense to reopen without a well thought out plan on how to keep all stakeholders safe, how to communicate your commitment to everyone, how to live that commitment, and how to rebuild a level of trust that alleviates fear and anxiety. We see this already in various businesses that have rampant cases of Covid-19, yet are expecting employees and guests to carry on with business as usual. Consider if you were an employee in a senior center, a hospital worker, or a line worker in a meat processing plant. How would you feel about walking through that employee door to a day of uncertainty? How about a patient or visitor to those facilities? What would your level of trust be?

As a restaurant operator, a business person with strong operational skills but very limited understanding of viral infection aside from the mandates from the government and what you decipher from an equally poorly informed media – how prepared will you be to communicate a high level of trust in your ability to keep everyone safe?

When your employees walk through that kitchen back door – how will they know and trust that you have their safety in mind – first and foremost? When your guest walk-through that front door – how will they know and trust that you have their safety in mind – first and foremost? Your plan must include not only the details surrounding safety and sanitation, but an effective communication strategy that will help to alleviate some of the concerns that people will have. Forget the connections that you had with all of those stakeholders in the past – this is new, uncharted territory. You will need to prove yourself all over again, and with stakes that can mean life or death. Scary isn’t it?

If you fail to plan, and as a result make a mistake that leads to serious illness – you may forever violate that trust that will be so important to a thriving business. Think about restaurant chains that had well publicized safety issues in the past and how dramatically those incidents impacted their business. Those incidents pale in comparison to the threat posed from Covid-19. Take the time now, don’t leap at the opportunity to reopen simply because it is allowed – PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.

“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.”

-Zig Ziglar

So, how do you approach the process of planning for reopening when there is so much uncertainty associated with any decisions that you make? Here are some thoughts:

[]         EDUCATE YOURSELF:

You can’t be effective as a crisis manager if you are not well informed. Study information about viruses and how they spread, what can be done to control them, how to properly sanitize and how to keep the potential for transmission down. Before you insist that employees wash their hands frequently with hot soapy water and use sanitizer – make sure understand why 20 seconds is important and how the virus is impacted by proper procedures. Before you insist that all products coming into the restaurant be sanitized before moving items to cooler and storerooms – build an understanding of how the virus is transmitted on cardboard, metal, and plastic. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WHY YOU ARE DOING IT!

[]         TEACH AND TRAIN YOUR STAFF

Make it a requirement for your employees to complete a virus-training program that builds on an understanding of the role that they play in keeping everyone safe and healthy. Include an understanding of signs of infection that should send up a red flag of concern and consider some sick day compensation model so that employees don’t feel compelled to work through early signs that may just be a common cold, but could be worse.

[]         INSTITUTE A REGIMENT OF SAFETY – MAKE IT PART OF YOUR DNA

Institute a “no exception” protocol when it comes to sanitizing surfaces, washing hands, wearing masks, keeping safe distances, and proper handling of food, utensils, pots and pans, dishes, and glassware. Enforce this consistently so that it becomes second nature to all who work in your operation. This applies to EVERYONE.

[]         PARTNER WITH LIKE MINDED VENDORS

Take a look at the vendors that you currently use. Talk with them and discover how seriously they are taking their role in prevention. Are their drivers wearing masks and gloves? Are they sanitizing their trucks? What is their protocol for entering your kitchen? How committed and knowledgeable are their employees who handle product, load trucks, and care for the safety of ingredients on their hand carts as they roll orders across your kitchen floor? Make this one of your most important criteria in deciding from whom to buy the ingredients that you use.

[]         GO BEYOND WHAT IS REQUIRED

State governments will likely mandate certain precautions during the first two or three phases of reopening businesses. This will include limiting capacities, distancing tables, and protective equipment for employees, and even masks for guests who enter your restaurant. First it is essential that you are the enforcer, but in building that level of trust it is even more important to go beyond what is required. Signage, dialogue with service staff, floor markings that point to proper distancing, sanitary packaging of utensils, on-going training sessions with staff, sanitary bags for guests to store their masks during dinner, etc. Everything helps to build trust and protect all involved.

[]         START COMMUNICATING NOW – BEFORE YOU OPEN

Use your website and social media outlets to communicate with your potential guests while you are going through the planning process. Start Today! Let everyone know about your training program, your focus and commitment to safety, how you will be working with certain vendors, and your breadth of knowledge about the virus. Trust begins long before employees or guests walk through the door. Be proactive during this planning phase.

[]         WALK THE TALK

What you say you will do must be what you actually do. Comfort and trust is validated when it is obvious that you walk the talk.

[]         MEASURE YOUR OWN PERFORMANCE

Debrief with your staff on a regular basis. Where are there kinks in the system? What isn’t working and how can it be fixed. What problems need to be solved and what potential problems need addressing before they get out of hand.

[]         DON’T PUT ALL OF YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET

Nobody knows how successful reopening might be. We project that cases of infection will increase as restrictions are loosened, but we don’t know to what extent. To be proactive – it is important that your restaurant look at continuing alternative measures that build new business along with the opportunity to open up our dining rooms. Take out, delivery, mini-markets, on-line cooking classes, etc. Keep the creativity engine working at full steam.

[]         MODIFY AND ADAPT – CREATE A NEW BUSINESS MODEL

Do not assume that what worked in the past will work again. Every restaurateur knows that restrictions on restaurant capacity will make it impossible to survive, yet – this may be the model that we will face for some time. Rather than succumb – think about new models that will help during these transitions.

[]         STAY FLEXIBLE

Most importantly – stay flexible. If cases of the virus increase exponentially as a result of loosening requirements then be prepared for a re-enactment of those requirements. This is nowhere near over – so let’s plan for future scenarios rather than face unplanned change that cripples our industry even more.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

We are in this together

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH – OUR DAILY BREATHE: A CHEF’S RESOLVE

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Breathe in – breathe out. Fill your lungs and then slowly exhale. To breathe is to engage in a process unlike a breath – which is a short moment in time. We breathe to cleanse our soul and to refresh our heart, to take time to reflect and put aside our anxiety, to pause and think more clearly, to contemplate the bigger picture and to start anew as an individual or part of a group. Our daily breath is a moment in time – our daily breathe is a process of being alone/together and take a step in a different direction, to think differently and to become open to the possibility of change.

A breath is a short moment that is in control. A breath happens hopefully on its own – we take a breath to survive, we gulp in air and fill our lungs with oxygen, a gas that is transported through the respiratory and circulatory systems via the lungs and blood vessels – this gives color to our skin, allows our heart to beat in rhythm, gives us the ability to think, to move, to react, to see, to hear, and to sense what we touch. One breath is followed by another- until we are comfortable that it will occur automatically without pause. When we struggle for that breath we open the door for fear to override everything else. All that we can focus on is finding that next breath. When panic strikes around that next breath then nothing else matters.

When we breathe we become at ease for we are in control, to a degree, of all processes. A deep breathe process fills the lungs with hope and strength and a slow exhale allows the trials and tribulations of the moment to pass with it. This is a conscious cleansing process that puts the mind at ease, allows the heart to find a relaxed pace, and clears the system of fear and anxiety.

Our current situation is ripe with fear and anxiety. Fear of the unknown and anxiety that stems from a sense of helplessness. “What will happen next, how will I take that next breath, what can I do to prepare, and what will I do if the virus strikes?” In this situation even a healthy next breath can feel raw and uncertain. This is a time to train yourself to breathe and think more clearly.

Chefs depend on their ability to stay ahead of situations, to be in control, to think clearly and depend on past experience to find the answers. Cooks and other kitchen employees depend on the chef’s ability to plan effectively and problem-solve when need be. When there are too many unknowns for the chef to feel as if he or she is in control, then either chaos or hopelessness ensue. To a degree – this is where we are. There are far too many unknowns, far too much uncertainty, far too many things out of the chef’s control for there to be any semblance of calm and confidence. Chefs and those around them are worried about taking their next breath – they are living in the precise moment-to-moment world where certainty and resolve are replaced with fear and anxiety. So – what can a chef do?

Here are some thoughts:

[]         BREATHE MORE THAN YOU TAKE A BREATH

Remember when you focus on the “breathe” process you will be able to push aside much of the anxiety, think much more clearly, relax, analyze, and shift to an effective action mode rather than a reactive one.

[]         TAKE A STEP BACK AND LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE

The first inclination is to immerse in the crisis of the minute and react to what is thrown at you (and there will be a limitless number of challenges that hit you in the face), but progress will only come from your ability to train others to be decision makers and for you to invest the time in planning for a brighter future – eliminating further problems from occurring rather than simply reacting to them when the take control of your time.

[]         RELY ON YOUR FOUNDATIONAL SKILL SET

Never lose sight of the fact that you have a significant skill set that can be relied on. Your skills are why you are in the position that you currently hold. You are an exceptional cook, a communicator, a planner, a problem solver, a team builder and a business savvy chef with an entrepreneurial spirit. Fall back on those skills and many of the in the moment crisis situations will find their match.

[]         REFLECT ON YOUR EXPERIENCES

Skills are essential, but it will always be your experiences in applying those skills that allow you to be viewed as a leader and a problem solver. Learn from your mistakes, and hold on to your successes – they will continue to serve you well through any crisis.

[]         SHARE WITH OTHERS

You are not alone. Every other restaurant owner, manager, and chef is facing the exact same challenges that you are. Don’t ever assume that you must bear all of the weight of a crisis, nor should you ever assume that you must have all of the answers. Talk with other chefs and operators, share your challenges and ideas, and don’t shy away from asking for help.

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[]         RELY ON YOUR TEAM

Every chef understands that the success of a restaurant is in the hands of the team that he or she is able to put together, train, and support. This team makes it possible for you to hold a position of merit so make sure that you include them in finding solutions to the challenges that this crisis brings.

[]         STRATEGIZE AND SCENARIO PLAN

You cannot afford to live in the moment. Remember – BREATHE rather than simply look for your next breath. Build a series of strategies for the transitions ahead. How will you deal with that initial soft opening with loads of restrictions, how will you transition from that phase to one with more significant customer numbers and greater demands on menu and service, and how should the restaurant be perceived once the world returns to some level of a new normal? None of this should be a surprise – plan for it. Work through a limitless series of “what if this happens” scenarios and design a solutions based approach that can be quickly implemented if necessary. Remember – don’t leave the door open for too many surprises.

[]         KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW AND SEEK HELP

Self-assess while you are taking the time to breathe, identify where your weaknesses are and find ways to either build a skill set to address the weakness or plan on hiring the right people to complement what you offer.

[]         DON’T HOLD THINGS TOO CLOSE TO YOUR VEST

Share your frustrations, concerns, fears, and lack of confidence with others who are good listeners and who have the potential to point you in the right direction. The worst thing to do is to hold these uncertainties inside and try to pretend that you are in control. There is no shame in asking for help, for seeking words of advice and encouragement, or simply talking things through.

[]         ACCEPT THAT MISTAKES WILL BE MADE

Chefs hate to admit that they are not able to approach a certain task, admit that they are wrong, or reveal their weaknesses in decision making that lead to mistakes. EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES – own up to them, find out why things went wrong, seek help and/or corrective action, and move on. Don’t let it eat you up.

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[]         THINK, DECIDE, RECORD, SEEK FEEDBACK, ANALYZE, CORRECT

Know that moving forward this six-prong approach towards managing and leading your team is a surefire way of setting the stage for success. Print these six steps in large font and post them on your door as a reminder. This is what solid managers and great leaders do.

Breathe new life into this challenge and regain control over the situation currently faced – this is the only way that you will find peace.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

We are in this together

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

(over 600 articles that are there for your benefit)

OUR DAILY BREATH: A PHASED IN APPROACH TOWARD RESURRECTING RESTAURANTS

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A cautious approach towards opening is the most prudent rule as we begin to see signs of a virus that might be controlled in the future. There are few certainties at this time except an understanding that this is not over. As some states begin to entertain loosening restrictions and easing out of “stay at home” directives – restaurants will consider their options. Do we open in such uncertain times and potentially endanger our employees and guests? How can we not open with so much financial pressure and the looming threat of permanent closure? Whichever side of the question you find yourself on – there is no denying that the constraints will be significant, customers will be very leery about entering a restaurant, and initial sales will never be enough to keep a restaurant solvent.

Rather than let things unfold without adequate thinking, I offer some ideas on a phased in strategy based on objectives designed as building blocks towards eventual success and that sense of normalcy that we are all hopeful for.

[]         PHASE ONE:

(Cautious opening, social distancing, intense sanitation, masks, screening)

We realize that opening in the next few months will require social distancing of at least 6-feet, use of masks, significant improvements in on-going sanitation, and maybe temperature screening of employees and customers. I would suggest that during this opening phase restaurants should focus on the following:

Comfort:        This is a time to help people put aside their fear and rely on familiarity with food that is well prepared, flavorful, nutritious, and fresh. This is not a time to experiment with changing food perceptions and pushing the envelope with cuisine. Keep it simple, keep it familiar, and do it very well.

Convenience:            Many of you have implemented take out and delivery options during the height of this pandemic – customers have responded well to the convenience of this option and will likely remain most comfortable with this option rather than dining in. Make the process better, work on making sure that the food is hot when it should be, work on how food looks and whether it matches the image that you want for your restaurant – make convenience a positive experience.

Trust: Customers, rightfully so, are very cautious and concerned about your ability to keep them safe. Whatever you do during this early transitional opening phase – make sure you invest the effort in building trust. Have a plan and promote your plan from focused signage, greeters that put people at ease (maybe even check temperatures), well defined distancing in the dining room, all employees wearing masks, required customer masking, and visible sanitation efforts. Any employee that shows sign of sickness will be required to stay home until they can show that they are symptom free. This is absolutely essential if you want your customers to return.

Value: During this phase – value will be based almost entirely on price and whether the guest feels that they are able to justify the expenditure. This can happen through menu design, working with minimal labor, and staying away from any frills of dining.

Efficiency:     It’s simple – restaurants are in financial trouble, many may not be able to reopen after months without sales. The only way that they may be able to stay in operation is to become very efficient in how they buy, prepare, and serve food and beverage. Smaller menus, fewer employees, less steps in production, reasonable portions, and little emphasis on those parts of a restaurant experience that are not tangible. Think about the no-frills environment of Chipotle – a program built on efficiency.

Cash Flow:    Restaurants should not view profit as a goal during Phase One. Making sure that sales are coming in faster than payments are going out should be the realistic objective. Working on creating an acceptable level of volume, minimizing labor, keeping menus small, and investing considerable time in managing the restaurants bank account are all critical initiatives at this point in time.

[]         PHASE TWO:

(Access to treatment, vigilant business model, intense sanitation, social           distancing)

Even though Phase Two may be many months away, this is the time to plan for an effective transition. Caution will still rule the day, but with effective treatments for the virus available – restrictions will begin to evaporate. Restaurants must be ready.

            Service:          Providing treatment(s) are available to those who contract the virus, familiar table service will likely return. This means that service staff will be able to interact with guests, social distancing will be a thing of the past, and masks will no longer be required even though people will still be cautious. Any employee that shows even the slightest sign of a cold will be cautioned to stay home so that environmental fear does not take control of an operation.

Convenience:            Convenience will remain an option that is enticing to customers. There will be indications that take out, counter service, and delivery may become a permanent part of the restaurant experience.

Concept:        It will now be time to look at your concept and how you want to be perceived moving forward. Whether it is built from an ethnic focus, farmer relationships, and style of cooking or level of service – what you do now will set the stage for your restaurants future. Make sure that your concept ideas are well researched and try to involve input from your ambassador customers who have supported you throughout.      

Expanded Menus:    Those simple menus may be able to expand at this point as you bring additional employees on board and enjoy greater numbers of guests. Still keep efficiency in mind.

Trust: Stay true to everything that you have done thus far to earn customer trust. You want to reach a point where those who patronize your operation don’t need to think about your commitment to their safety.

Value:             The value formula will change in Phase Two. Aside from price sensitivity – guests will also consider the level of service, flexibility, speed of service, presentation of food, breadth of menu, and how the operation appeals to all of the human senses. We will have to work much harder at winning the value prize.

Breakeven:    Once restaurants are able to openly accept as many customers as they want – it will be important to stay focused and efficient. Profit will still be elusive, but solid management of expenses can result in breakeven. Stop the bleeding will be an essential part of financial management. Restaurateurs are on the right path as long as they manage to keep their heads above water.

[]         PHASE THREE:

(A vaccine is available to all, intense sanitation, loosening of social        distancing, virus is contained)

This is likely a year to 18-months away, yet your business strategy must include thinking long-term – even beyond this point.

Experience:   As a vaccine becomes universally available and communities are able to breathe with confidence – restaurant customers will be looking for more than food and baseline service. We entered this pandemic as part of the experience economy where restaurants were considered entertainment as well as a source of food. This will be the time that chefs live for, servers are able to perform for exceptional gratuities, and owners are able to see their operations be all that they can be. Operations will need to have a strategy for that experience and what it will take to be competitive again in that environment.

Concept:        There will, once again, be room for restaurant concepts that push the envelope, that excite and inspire, and for creative people to test the waters with ideas that have been waiting for a market.

Mass Customization:          This will also be a time for restaurants to totally re-think what they do and how they do it. As other industries have moved towards the flexibility of mass customization (have it your way), so too will restaurants need to think in those terms.

Convenience:            Time will tell, but once you offer convenience to guests and they develop a level of familiarity with that convenience it will be difficult to take it away. Think about the “experience” of take out and delivery and see how you can own that market.

Membership:            The ultimate goal of every business is to create guest ambassadors who would never think about patronizing anyone else. This sense of membership comes from service, communication, and experiences that cannot be found elsewhere. This will be a focus in Phase Three.

Efficiency:     Be prepared – restaurants have been very inefficient for decades. We are labor intensive creating a cost burden that makes profit difficult to imagine. As we move towards Phase Three – restaurants will need to constantly look for ways to maintain quality while reducing process and cost. This will be the new essential skill for chefs seeking to captain the ship.

Value: Value will be based on the experience, whether your concept is a counter service – quick operation, or a sit down multi-course operation – there must be some level of experience involved for value to exist. “Is it worth it” will be the essential question.

Profitability: Finally, when dining rooms are full, kitchens are operating efficiently, and value experiences are being offered – restaurants can return to profitability. You must dot all the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” for this to occur.

Build a Nest Egg:      Know that at some point in the future there will be another crisis that impacts our lives and businesses. Phase Three should provide a wake-up call that helps restaurateurs to start building a next egg that will allow them to weather the next storm.

Food for thought.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

 

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: CHEFS – REMEMBER THE IMPORTANCE OF “WOW”

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There is so much to think about, so many decisions to make, and so much angst about what the future holds. Building a well thought out strategy for starting up the restaurant engine after we move forward is paramount and will, in the process of thinking it through, give every chef and restaurateur a spark of excitement to lean on. What will our restaurants physically look like with social distancing, how will we be able to interact with guests at service, how will our kitchen teams function as a unit, what changes will be necessary for our menus to be effective, and what role will take out and delivery play in every restaurant concept? The planning process seems overwhelming because there are so many unknowns.

Chefs know that things will be different and as a result they may be lost as to how to approach this planning process. Are there any guidelines on how to approach the process and is there a way to set the stage for a level of profitability that will allow the restaurant to not only survive but also thrive in the future? Here are a dozen thoughts on how to approach planning:

[]         DON’T FORGET THE IMPORTANCE OF “WOW”

It matters not whether you are selling a Wagyu beef tenderloin or a fried chicken sandwich – what is essential is that your product is so good, so well prepared, so special that customers look at it, smell it, and take that first bite followed by a pause of surprise and a response that begins with “WOW”!   White tablecloth restaurants and food trucks will benefit from the exact same end result – you need to make people stand up and pay attention – you want them to stand on a soap box and shout for everyone else to hear: “THIS IS INCREDIBLE”! If customers are not posting Instagram pictures of your food, rushing to Twitter to tell their network of friends, writing exceptional reviews on Trip Advisor or Yelp, and most importantly returning time and again for that special flavor, presentation, unique service, or special sauce – then you are missing the most important opportunity to create raving fans. MAKE SURE THAT YOUR PLANNING INCLUDES AND EVEN FOCUSES ON BUILDING WOW INTO THE MIX.

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[]         USER FRIENDLY IS THE PRICE OF ENTRY

Convenience is the name of the game. If your concept remains “sit down” and you are not connected with an on-line reservation system, then you will miss out on a customer base that is accustomed to 24/7 relationships with providers. If your customers have become accustomed to your take-out or delivery service during the virus, then you must give serious thought to keeping these options and making them exceptional.

[]         BUILD IN EDUCATION AS A VALUE BENEFIT

Some operators have maintained connections with their customer base through on-line cooking classes during the pandemic – keep it going. Promoting your connections with regional farmers and even bringing them into the operation for value added lectures and product tastings is a way to show your commitment to the region and educate your guest. Offering tastings of new wines or beers you intend to add to your list and demonstrate to guests how to identify differences and how to properly pair them with food is a way to create strong connections. Having your chef walk through the dining room and connect with guests is a way to make customers feel special and provides an opportunity for them to ask serious questions about the menu. Everything helps. Think about how your concept – whether quick service, causal or high end dining, can incorporate a level of education in a restaurant concept.

[]         DON’T FORGET WHAT PEOPLE LIKE

This may not be the time to try and show how uniquely creative you can be with your menu. This might very well be more appropriate to rely on the types of food combinations, flavors, and even service that help people feel comfortable and welcome. Pushing too much creativity during the initial stages of re-introduction of the restaurant experience might be better reserved for a time when people are far more relaxed about socializing.

[]         KNOW HOW YOU WANT TO BE PERCEIVED

During this time of planning it will be important to build a better understanding of how your customers perceived you before the pandemic and how you want to be perceived moving forward. Think about those key factors of welcoming, consistency, food quality, speed, flexibility, and price and build a new scenario that more closely matches the needs and desires of a somewhat apprehensive audience dipping their toe in the water of dining out again.

[]         FLEXIBILITY IS CRITICAL

Regardless of what we thought prior to the coronavirus lockdown – when we return we will not be in charge – the customer truly is. Flexibility when it comes to menu offerings, methods of preparation, hours of service, pricing packages, and so on are the cost of admission. Other companies have long ago adopted a flexibility formula – it may be time for restaurants to do the same.

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[]         WHAT IS YOUR SERVICE FORMULA

Is your service formula simply a process of taking orders and delivering product, or is it one where the server is considered a product and content expert with the ability to help guests with decisions of choice? Is your service formula one where whenever you enter a restaurant a server will be assigned to your table or do you build a model where specific servers develop a client base similar to other professions where the customer depends on the relationship with a particular provider? Is your model one that relies on counter pick-up service or will you build off of the curbside delivery formula that is beginning to work for some restaurants during this crisis? Think it through and determine what will work best for you.

“The handshake of the host determines the flavor of the roast.”

-Benjamin Franklin

[]         TRUST AND SAFETY

As I have previously mentioned – restaurant guests will likely return to our businesses once they feel that they can entrust their safety to your staff. Whatever you plan now, it is imperative that it includes the standards and training that will feed into rebuilding trust between you and your guests. Their safety is paramount – let them know how you are approaching it.

[]         THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE WINS THE DAY

People have become accustomed to cooking at home again. Out of necessity they have regained some foundational skills and will, as a result, look to dining out as a luxury far more than they did just a few months ago. Some, with busy work schedules, may return to restaurants out of necessity, while others will need to find new reasons to do so. It will be the overall experience that brings customers back at a level similar to what we knew pre-Covid-19. The experience includes all of the human senses and how they marry well together in a particular operation. What will be your experience? Will it be participative dining, self-serve, cash and carry, fun dining, fine dining, educational dining, etc.? This is the time to make that determination and build it into your planning, marketing and experience.

[]         KEEP IT SIMPLE – DO IT EXTRAORDINARILY WELL

Some chefs believe in complexity and this may have worked for them in the past. Complex ingredients from around the world, complex preparation that requires countless numbers of trained staff in the kitchen, and complex methods that require sophisticated and expensive tools to execute- all well and good, exciting, and challenging, but will it work post Covid-19? In the future this may find a home and attract those innovative customers looking for something new, but for now the rule of thumb might be best to buy high quality, fresh, simpler ingredients and apply those cooking methods and flavor palates that people respond to and do this every day at the highest level of excellence.

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[]         SET THE STAGE FOR LOYALTY

What we (restaurants) have always been so proud of is the number of loyal customers who made reservations every week or multiple times during a week, and who brought friends along for the shared experience. This is where we need to be again. Some may return with great enthusiasm as they did in the past, while others will be apprehensive for a variety of reasons. As you plan for the future – touch base with those loyal customers, engage them, and let them know just how treasured their support has been and will be moving forward. We all need loyalty to thrive.

[]         COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE

Finally, as you plan a strategy for renewal – make sure that you build a package of communication that keeps everyone: return customers, new customers, and staff members, fully in the loop. Make sure that your communication loop includes: website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email blasts, signage, and word-of-mouth initiatives that keep your concept alive and well. It has never been more important to communicate than right now.

These are just a few guidelines that can help you with that planning process. I have been chatting with numerous restaurant operators and chefs over the past few weeks and have found a lack of serious planning to be a common issue. Don’t kid yourself – recovery will be very difficult, survival is not a given, everything will be different, and guests are not likely to return in sufficient numbers to help you to survive UNLESS you have a well thought out, comprehensive plan moving forward. DON’T WASTE THIS TIME – STRATEGIZE YOUR WOW EXPERIENCE.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

“We are in this together.”

www.harvestamericacues.com   BLOG

 

 

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: SO WHY DO CHEFS OWN RESTAURANTS?

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Yesterday, I read an emotional, well-written, soul-crushing article by Gabrielle Hamilton – chef/owner of Prune Restaurant in New York City. She spoke from the heart of her “all-in” commitment to her restaurant and staff over the past 20 years while addressing the countless challenges that face independent restaurateurs across the country. She is wrestling with the big questions: Why am I doing this and is there room for this and other small restaurants after the threat from Covid-19 is behind us? I felt as if I were sitting at a table in Prune with Gabrielle while she told her story. It was an emotional experience reading this article and knowing that thousands of other chefs and restaurateurs across the country could have written a similar one. Why do these people choose to open a restaurant when the daunting amount of work involved is a given, when the challenges of keeping the lights on and stoves operating are constant, and when even the smallest amount of profit is never a given? Here are my unsubstantiated beliefs:

[]         THE ART OF EXPRESSION

There are (although putting people in silos is always shortsighted at some level) three different types of people when it comes to the work aspect of life: Leaders, Followers, and Artists. Leaders can be nurtured into their roles as they build a skill set and experience different aspects of a career until they are comfortable with the responsibility of setting the stage for others to self-motivate and find their strengths through a leader’s example. Followers have a need to feel needed and be successful with their work, but seek to have someone else point the way and support their efforts in the process. Artists have an uncontrollable need to express themselves through whatever medium they choose to focus on. They often have little interest in the traditional measures of success as long as their ability to write, paint, play music, sculpt, act, or prepare beautiful food is present. They certainly feel the weight of critique, but as an artist that will pass – they need to do what they do, regardless of the cost to their personal or financial wellbeing. This is quite often a legitimate description of a chef/restaurateur.

[]         THE NEED TO BE OFF THE JOB GRID

Restaurateurs abhor the process of “selling themselves” to potential employers. “This is why you should hire me” seems to be demeaning and lacking in any self-awareness of ones potential. Thus, even those who happen to land a job with a great company and supportive employer seem to feel as if they copped out to on a desire to own their own. While they enjoy the benefits of a good employer they are always thinking about breaking off on their own.

[]         THE LOVE OF COOKING

Chefs – first and foremost – love to cook. They relish the work, the smells, flavors, textures, process, and challenges of taking raw materials and creating something that is aromatic, delicious and beautiful to look at. This is what draws people to the profession of cooking and keeps them coming back every day to the extended hours, and the physical, intellectual, and emotional demands of the work.

[]         THE DESIRE TO BE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR DECISIONS

Chefs have an overwhelming desire to be the decision maker and have a very difficult time relinquishing that responsibility to others. Even in the most chef-centric kitchen there is typically a level or two of management that can override the decision making of a chef. This, even if the override is appropriate, is frustrating to the chef and his or her need to be solely responsible and accountable to only the person seen in the mirror. The only logical answer is to become an entrepreneur.

[]         THE HOPE OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE’S LIVES

Chefs and restaurateurs enjoy the thought of making a difference in a person’s life through food and warm hospitality. After all – operating a restaurant is akin to inviting people into your home to break bread, share stories, and celebrate the importance of friendship – just on a larger scale. When we invite people into our homes we hope to make them feel special, welcome, safe, and offer a reward through food. Chefs intend to do the same in a restaurant setting. The reward is in giving to others.

[]         AN INNATE DESIRE FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM

We are told from our earliest days on earth that we have the potential to be whatever we want. That with the right effort and commitment we can aspire to a lifestyle that fits our dreams, a job that suits our talent, and even own our own business if that is a path we choose to take. This is the opportunity that has drawn millions of people from around the world to American shores and a spark that becomes the driving force in many: the chance to be our own boss – The American Dream. This desire, if you are the type to dream in this regard, is what keeps many chefs up at night: planning concepts, working through menu ideas, and always being on the lookout for a perfect restaurant location.

[]         A TOUCH OF EGO

Of course – we can’t discount the ego. Chef’s have a tendency to push aside the reality of owning a restaurant that they are perfectly aware of. They know the challenges, the pitfalls, the impossible nature of the work, the failure rates, and the odds that are stacked against them – yet, that ego tends to step in and proclaim that: “I have the idea and the plan that will overcome all of those obstacles. I know that I can beat the odds and succeed where others have failed. I have the magic formula figured out, the one that has alluded so many before me. My success is all but assured.”

And there you have it – another chef who wants to become a restaurant owner. A person who will pour his or her heart and soul into this business for the opportunity to express what is churning inside their being, waiting for an outlet. A person who will pull out all the stops, tap into every penny that they have saved, seek out loyal customers who might want to invest in the chef’s dream, call on family members to contribute what they can, call up those former co-workers to leave their current employer and join the team, plead with vendors and salesmen to give them a credit application, and pour out their hearts to a local bank for an equipment loan and a line of credit. This is that chance the chef has been waiting for – to put his or her signature on a menu, to hang a sign out front with their name, to walk through a dining room holding his or her head high and stopping by tables to hear praise for the kitchens food, and to nervously read the food critics column every week in hopes that they will receive a positive review. This is the chef, like Gabrielle who now, during this mandated shutdown, gets on his or her hands and knees to scrub a floor or polish a stove top while the dining room rests with lights off and inverted chairs stacked on tables – waiting and wondering – is it worth it – is there a need for us to return?

It broke my heart to read her article just as it crushes my soul to see restaurants with the lights out or “for sale” signs in the window. This is someone’s life work, their dream, an extension of who they are – now deflated and unsure. We can only hope that the chef/owner will find that sense of hope, that renewed energy and passion to give it another try and make a difference in the world.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

Gabrielle Hamilton’s article in the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/23/magazine/closing-prune-restaurant-covid.html?smid=fb-share&fbclid=IwAR1Yw_4QmzvNF0auAHeO70Old_PPaMuhP7Gj2gav6bcm8e4GENJOzkOQCs4

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: HOW CHEFS ADAPT TO A SHUT DOWN A touch of levity (or is it) when we need it

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As previously stated – you can take the chef out of the kitchen, but you can’t take the kitchen out of the chef. This time of displacement is tough on everyone. We feel the difficulty financially, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually – it is an all-encompassing challenge of a magnitude that we haven’t felt in this country since the World Wars and Great Depression. Each of us deals, or tries to deal, with this situation in our own unique way. Chefs – are likely dealing with it in the same way that they deal with the challenges of their job – they rely on their routines.

This is a tongue and cheek look at what it might be like to live in a “lockdown home” with a chef, a chef who lives by routine and process to survive and thrive.

[]         STARTING EACH DAY WITH A PREP SHEET

Chefs are obsessively organized and as a result begin and end each day with a list of tasks and their completion. Just because a chef may be home and unable to work in his or her kitchen does not mean that a prep list is put aside. Chefs at home must stay organized – they can’t help themselves.

[]         EVERY MEAL PRESENTED ON A BEO

You might find that a stay at home chef takes this organization to a new extreme and build a banquet/event order (BEO) for each meal and break. You can never be too organized or communicate too frequently. You know you are in trouble if the chef orders seven clip boards – one for each day of the week.

[]         MENU PLANNING

Meals at home are no different than meals in the restaurant. Serious planning always precedes preparation. Chefs at home will likely plan menus before developing detailed shopping lists, and transpose that information to BEO’s and daily prep sheets. No reason to change the rhythm of the work.

[]         FACETIME ARGUMENTS WITH SALESMEN

One of a chef’s favorite hobbies is arguing and testing salespersons who knock on their office door. Since we are in a time of required human distancing, the chef will still have a need to feed his or her passion for this hobby. FaceTime might turn out to be a perfect tool for the chef to connect with sales representatives and interact, push, and challenge them. It is all part of the game.

[]         A NO MODIFICATION RULE ON MENUS

Chefs may subscribe to the “customer is always right”, but in their heart of hearts they know that each dish on a menu was developed with collaborative flavors, aroma, and presentation in mind. Chefs do hate to break the symmetry of a dish when a guest chooses to “substitute”. At home – the chef is able to draw that line in the sand: “NO SUBSTITUTIONS”!

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[]         DON’T TOUCH MY KNIVES

Be aware (I can’t emphasize this enough), be aware – a chef’s knives are his or her most treasured tools – they care for them as if they were family heirlooms and will be stressed into a visible level of anger if anyone touches them, moves them, or God forbid – uses them inappropriately. Put down the knife and back away from the table.

[]         YES CHEF RULES THE DAY

The chef ultimately rules in the kitchen when business is in full swing – this is something that cooks understand. They may not agree with the chef or his or her methods, but in the heat of service there is only one answer that works: “YES CHEF”. You may find that the stay at home chef looks for that same respect (even if they don’t deserve it) at home from anyone who enters the kitchen.

[]         HOT FOOD HOT, COLD FOOD COLD

These are the two Cardinal Rules in a restaurant – assume that this will be required in the home. Now that the chef has lost his or her domain (temporarily) the home kitchen will be expected to follow the rules. Heat those entrée plates until they are almost too hot to handle, chill those salad and dessert plates, and serve them when the temperature is right.

[]         PRE-MEAL MEETINGS

The chef always knows that a server cannot represent a dish well unless he or she understands the ingredients, process of cooking, and flavor profile of that dish. This is why the pre-meal review of menus items is so critical in a restaurant. Expect that the annoying chef at home will want to explain each dish in detail before you are allowed to partake.

[]         SQUIRREL AWAY SIDE TOWELS

Clean, dry towels are essential to every cook in a restaurant. These towels quickly become an endangered commodity as cooks’ horde as many as they can. Be prepared as you walk through the kitchen – you will find towels hidden behind ceiling tiles, in drawers where they don’t belong, behind a stack of books, and maybe even in the freezer. Again, chefs can’t help themselves. Twelve dry towels is a good amount – two-dozen would be better.

[]         LABELING AND DATING EVERYTHING

This is an ingrained habit that all cooks live by. Everything must be labeled and dated, rotated and if past their use by date – discarded. After just a few days you will find a shortage of masking tape and markers and a refrigerator filled with rotated, dated and labeled ingredients and leftovers.

[]         HALF CUPS OF COFFEE EVERYWHERE

Chefs always need a cup of coffee by their side and tend to pour cups, set them down, get distracted, and move on – forgetting that the cup was there. Thus, more cups succumb to this fate. Expect to see a number of half empty, cold cups of coffee spread out through the house.

[]         WEEKLY INVENTORIES

Chefs cannot function unless they know what is in house, what needs to be used, and where there are shortfalls. If you walk into the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon and see your stay at home chef walking around with a clipboard and pencil in hand – don’t be concerned – IT’S INVENTORY TIME!

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[]         DOCUMENT AND SEEK CRITIQUE

Without customers to take pictures of a chef’s food and post them on Instagram, the chef will need to take this job on as well. When dinner is served – please wait before you take that first bite until the chef takes pictures of the food from six different angles. By all means – when you see the item posted on Instagram or Facebook – please press “LIKE” or state how extraordinary the dish looks. Feed the chefs ego – someone must.

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[]         SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

Chefs are accustomed to sleepless nights as they wrestle with what needs to be done, what wasn’t done the day before, and where he or she failed to meet his or her own standards. You can assume that the chef will continue in this vein, even during this time of shutdown. There is always something to worry about.

Rest assured – at some point restaurants will reopen and your stay at home chef will practice those annoying habits outside of the home. For now – smile, nod, and keep those four letter responses to yourself. The next time you see someone who works with the chef – offer your condolences and nod in appreciation for their patience.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

We are in this together

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: THE COOKING PROFESSION WILL SURVIVE

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THIS IS A LONG ONE – BUT IMPORTANT FOR ALL WHO ARE SERIOUS ABOUT PROFESSIONAL COOKING.

Cooking for others is one of the oldest professions in the civilized world. Cooks have been, and will continue to be, a catalyst for progress and change and their work provides a window into the state of society and the changes that mankind does and will face. Those who are furloughed and wondering what their future holds, those who had a burning desire to learn how to cook for a living before the onset of Covid-19, and those who took the leap and opened a restaurant of their own, may be having second thoughts about their career choice. I can assure you that cooking will survive and once again thrive – history has demonstrated its resilience.

Pride in one’s profession is as important as the skills necessary to function as a member of that tribe of professionals. Pride is something that taken in the right way is the fuel that runs the kitchens from coast to coast and allows those who cook to accept the challenges that they face every day. This crisis is one of those challenges – maybe one of the greatest challenges of the last few generations. Pride recognizes the importance of history and uses that history as motivation for problem solving and renewal. So, in that vein – here is some important culinary history, a snapshot of individual cooks who have changed history and who, through their actions, we might all find comfort and inspiration.

[]         TAILLEVENT (Guillaume Tirel)

A chef to nobility during medieval times, Taillevent is considered to be one of the first truly professional chefs and a master of traditions and new process such as the development of forms of preservation since refrigeration would be centuries away from development. He wrote one of the first books on the art of cooking that depicted kitchen life during these times and serves as one of the early foundations of the development of French cuisine.

[]        BARTOLOMEO SCAPPI

A chef during the Renaissance – Scappi became a well-known master of cooking during his time as chef for Popes Pius the IV and V. He wrote a document (cookbook) called Opera that contained more than 1,000 recipes and some of the first defined connections between food and health – an early predecessor to the science of nutrition.

[]         ANTONINE CAREME

A truly remarkable chef who came into prominence following the French Revolution. Careme spent most of his career working for Talleyrand – preparing some of the most elaborate banquets of the era with incredible sculptures of food and pastry serving as centerpieces for the noble and the rich. He is considered the first master of Grand Cuisine or Haute Cuisine (artful cooking).

[]         AUGUSTE ESCOFFIER

It would be impossible to over-state the importance of Escoffier to the profession of cooking. He is often referred to as a king of chefs. He partnered with Cesar Ritz to open many of the grand hotels of the day including the Savoy in London and the Hotel du France in Monte Carlo. His work with Ritz led to the formation of successful hotels under the brand of Ritz Carlton. Escoffier even opened the Ritz in Boston – the first in the U.S. His contributions include: development of the system of kitchen organization called the brigade, development of Service a’la Russe (service in courses), writing of Le Guide Culinaire – still considered the most important book on an Executive Chefs shelf (it contains over 5,000 recipes), and raising the craft of cooking to a level of professionalism that had not been realized up to that point.

[]         FERNAND POINT

Point was one of the most important chefs of all time. He operated and was the chef at the world famous Le’ Pyramide outside of Lyon, France. He is credited with training some of Europe’s most noteworthy chefs including Paul Bocuse.   Point was a tough taskmaster who demanded excellence and realized this through his restaurant that was considered the most important such establishment in the world. One of my favorite Point quotes is:

“As far as cuisine is concerned one must read everything, see everything, hear everything, try everything, and observe everything in order to retain in the end – just a little bit.”

-Fernand Point

[]         FANNIE FARMER

Never an operation chef, per se, Fannie Farmer was, however, one of the most influential cooks of all time. A very accomplished cook – Farmer ran the Boston Cooking School (one of the first in the U.S.) and wrote the incredible Boston Cooking School Cookbook (Fannie Farmer Cookbook) that is the most published reference of all time. She also developed units of measurement that are still used in the U.S. to this day.

[]         JULIA CHILD

Julia’s husband was a member of U.S. Intelligence stationed in Paris. To establish her own purpose – Julia attended the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school there and quickly became obsessed with and in love with French Cooking. She was amazed at how little Americans knew about real cooking and became determined to change that. She spent a decade researching and writing “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” a landmark cookbook that continues to be an international bestseller. Subsequently she became America’s first celebrity television cook with her show: The French Chef which first hit the airways in 1963. Julia brought quality cooking into every American home.

Julia was a true fan of professional cooks and chefs spending many years highlighting their talents and enjoying their technical prowess. She has been revered in museums, Saturday Night Live, and in recent years- the feature movie: Julie and Julia. Two quotes that summarize her style are:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

and

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”

-Julia Child

[]         PAUL BOCUSE

Traditions are important as are classic preparations. Few chefs have bridged these as well with contemporary thought as Paul Bocuse. In collaboration with Chef Roger Verge – Bocuse introduced the world to Nouveau French cooking where heavy sauces and loads of butter were replaced with more natural preparations with freshness and simplicity as the primary ingredients.

[]         ALICE WATERS

As is the case with Julia Child – Alice Waters became infatuated with the French style of cooking and later with the importance of natural ingredients straight from the farm and garden. At her restaurant Chez Panisse – Waters introduced America to the first musings of Farm to Table cooking where her partnerships with farmers and respect for simplicity drove dramatic changes in restaurants across the country.

[]         JEREMIAH TOWER

Some consider Chef Tower to be the driving force behind Alice Waters and the California Farm to Table movement. After serving as chef for Waters during the inception of Chez Panisse – he went on to open Stars Restaurant that was at the center of the celebrity restaurant movement. To many he still remains the chef of chefs in America.

[]         CHARLIE TROTTER

Chef Trotter introduced America to the Tasting Menu in his restaurant “Trotters” in Chicago. For 25 years this destination was the centerpiece of fine dining in America and remained one of the top five restaurants in the States for that entire time. His menu that included 7- 15 courses changed every night for those 25 years.

[]         FERDINAND METZ

Many respect Chef Metz for his skill as a Certified Master Chef, his management of successful U.S. Culinary Olympic Teams, his work with the Heinz Corporation, and his unfaltering commitment to cooking – but his efforts in truly building the Culinary Institute of America into the premier cooking school in the world will surely rise to the top of his resume.

[]         DOMINQUE CRENN

The first woman chef in America to win 3-stars from the Michelin Guide – Her incredibly innovative style at both Atelier Crenn and Petite Crenn have won her international acclaim as one of the top chefs in the world. Combining the innovative style of Ferran Adria and the farm focus of California contemporaries her menus create intrigue and excitement.

[]         MARCO PIERRE WHITE

The accomplished original bad boy of the kitchen. White is a no nonsense ambassador for the sometimes obscene work ethic of professional cooks and chefs, a person who ignores his fame and stays focused on the work. He turns his nose up to the sizzle of the title “chef” and would much rather be known as a hard working cook. He has little patience for anyone who fails to cook with the same passion and total commitment that he has adopted for himself.

[]         JOHN FOLSE

Many think first of Paul Prudhomme when New Orleans cooking comes to mind, but Chef Folse is Prudhomme on steroids. He is not just a superb chef and restaurateur, but a celebrated historian when it comes to Cajun/Creole cooking and the lifestyle of those who call the Bayou their home. He loves Louisiana, its people, and their incredible contributions to America’s most authentic melting pot cuisine.

[]         EDNA LEWIS

Chef Lewis changed America’s view of Southern Cooking and its African American influences. She combined history and tradition with finesse to bring this cuisine to a new level and set the stage for others like Sean Brock who followed in her footsteps. She wrote four cookbooks that truly define what Southern Cooking is all about.

[]         MASSIMO BOTURRA

Italian cooking is steeped in tradition and as such was relegated to those classic preparations to be found in most quality restaurants throughout Italy. Massimo, wanted to break that mold and approach preparations with an innovative eye, while preserving enough of the traditional combinations and flavors to protect the history of this great cuisine. His restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy is considered one of the top five restaurants in the world – respecting his new approach to Italian food.

[]         THOMAS KELLER

If you love food, practice professional cooking, and find that cuisine is essential to American culture then you know who Thomas Keller is. His restaurant The French Laundry was rated the number one restaurant in the world and remains in the top 25 ever since it opened in Yountville, California. Since its popularity grew, so did his breadth of offerings in other restaurants such as Bouchon, Per Se, and Ad Hoc. He is now, by far, the most important ambassador of American cooking – recognized throughout the world.

[]         LIONEL POILANE

Travel around the world and visit bread bakers who have committed their lives to the dough and the oven, have a cup of coffee with incredible chefs in every country, visit baking schools and carry on a conversation with baking faculty, and collect all of the most celebrated bread books that you can find and ask one simple question: “Who was the finest bread baker in the world?” The answer will undoubtedly be: Lionel Poilane. Unfortunately, we lost Poilane to a tragic helicopter crash in 2002, but his daughter carries on the traditions that he established in his destination bakery in the heart of Paris.

[]         ALAIN PASSARD

L’Arpege in Paris is one of the top ten restaurants in the world. Passard has been chef operator for 34-years and established himself as one of the truly extraordinary chefs to be found anywhere. What he is most famous for now is his reinvention into the most noteworthy “plant forward” chef in a field of restaurants that would otherwise find cooking with vegetables – incomplete. He has brought the vegetable to the center of the plate and in the process started a revolution in healthy eating and cooking.

[]         ERIC RIPERT

Simply put – the finest seafood chef in the world – operating the finest seafood restaurant in the world. Ripert is also a chef who has found a way to create balance in his life. He has the highest standards while at the same time maintaining his reputation as a calm chef who supports and teaches his staff exceptionally well. Le Bernadin in New York City is a must visit restaurant that should appear on every serious cooks bucket list.

[]         DAN BARBER

Blue Hill in NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barn are more than great restaurants – they are experiments designed to educate and move America closer to quality ingredients and demonstrate how essential great farming is to great cuisine. The chef works diligently to help diners understand these connections and learn to respect good practice as part of great cooking.

[]         RICK BAYLESS

Having spent seven years living in Mexico engaged in Mexican culture – Chef Bayless and his wife Deann felt compelled to open two restaurants in Chicago: Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (a restaurant within a restaurant) to demonstrate to America what authentic Mexican food was all about. He is a definitive expert in the culture and processes that surround this exciting and very complex style of cooking. His cookbooks and television shows were instrumental in bringing this understanding to America.

[]         JOSE ANDRES

Aside from his prowess as an exceptional chef and restaurateur who brings his passion for Spain to menus – Chef Andres is a true humanitarian who has taken his fame and success to a mission that includes support for restaurant workers and for those who are food deprived throughout the world. Wherever there is a need after natural disasters – Andres World Central Kitchen is there to muster up volunteer support, interact with local governments, find the resources and facilitate the first need in recovery: feed the people. He is the first chef to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

[]         YOU

Time to carry on the tradition, carry the torch for change, and continue to build a dynamic, exciting, innovative, inclusive industry that not only represents what each country is, but what it might become. The profession will survive and those who tie on an apron now or have a desire to do so in the coming months will be the survivors and the face of a business that is so important to society. Stand proud, stand tall as a cook, stand tall as a chef, and be the next contributor to the proud history of a great profession.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Restaurant Consulting

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: HEY AMERICA – THIS IS WHY RESTAURANTS ARE IMPORTANT

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It seems that we have reached a point where acceptable casualties is a consideration in so many decisions. Whether it is the environment, the postal service, senior citizens, global partnerships, healthcare, or restaurants – there is a tendency to set aside or forget just how important these businesses, global responsibilities, and people truly are to our existence. Let’s take restaurants as an example – one might assume that these businesses are a luxury since cooking at home is always a logical alternative. But, what those who hold the decision-making power might overlook is that restaurants are more than a vehicle for preparing food and passing it on to those willing to buy.

Throughout history – restaurants have been integral to civilized communities. This dates back to the Renaissance, through this time of enlightenment, the growth of human intellect, during times of conflict and war, struggling through recession and depression, when the structure of society and its government seems to falter and of course, when times are great and life seems to glow with optimism. Restaurants are more than places where we can fill our stomachs – so much more. Let’s take a look:

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE GROWTH OF SMALL TOWN AMERICA

From the days of prohibition to the opening of America through the Eisenhower initiative to build the highway infrastructure of the U.S. – restaurants were always one of the first signs of community spirit. Restaurants could be found wherever roads intersected and people began to build their homes. The America Diner and the Speakeasy represented the presence of promise and the existence of the institution of neighborhoods. Every town – regardless of size, needs its centerpiece restaurant.

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE CENTERS FOR INTELLECTUAL DISCUSSION

From the early coffee houses of Europe to the Brasseries and Cafes of France, the Trattorias of Italy, the Pubs of England and Ireland, the Cantinas and Taquerias of Mexico, and to the corner American diners, taverns, pizzerias, and hotel dining rooms – mankind has relied on restaurants to serve as a destination where people of all backgrounds and beliefs could gather and discuss or argue their beliefs, strategies, and conclusions. This forum has been essential as people from all over the world developed their philosophy of life and ethical/moral standards.

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[]         RESTAURANTS ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF REWARD AND RECOGNITION

People crave some level of recognition and reward. It may be as simple as allowing friends a chance to say congratulations, an opportunity to recognize the bond between two or more people, the ability to gather and recognize the accomplishments of a group, toasting wins and commiserating a loss, celebrating a departed friends life, or simply a pat on the back for a hard days work – people desire and need those opportunities. Restaurants have always been the logical place where these activities take place and restaurant people are born to provide those opportunities.

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE THE GATEWAY TO CAREERS

Pick a professionally successful individual, or maybe a few who you see as highly successful in their careers – ask them about their background and most importantly – what was their first job. It is highly likely that many would say that their first introduction to work for pay was in a restaurant of some type. It may have been quick service, or probably a position such as dishwasher, counter server, or bus person, but I have a high level of confidence that the first job was in a restaurant. Some stayed with it, but many took the work ethic and entry level skills they learned and created a road map for their own careers moving forward. That restaurant experience set the stage.

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE THE PORTAL FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP

If, in fact, the great American Dream is to own a business and chart ones own path towards success, then it would be impossible to ignore how important the restaurant business is to that dream. People migrated through Ellis Island from countries all over the world in search of this American Dream and many chose the path of restaurants. With their history and traditions in hand they came from Ireland, England, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Russia, China, Japan and dozens of other countries and took their small savings to open that corner ethnic restaurant from New York to San Francisco. The restaurant industry in America was born of this melting pot of ethnic explorers – it continues to be this opportunity that makes our country diverse, unique, and great.

Nearly 70% of all restaurants in the U.S. are private entrepreneurships and 80% of owners started their careers in entry-level foodservice positions.

[]         RESTAURANTS PROVIDE A ROADWAY FOR BUSY LIFESTYLES

Americans work, American families work, and these families need two incomes to thrive and support the lifestyle that inspires them – thus, restaurants are a necessity to support incredibly busy lives. Where dining out just fifty years ago was considered a luxury that was reserved for special occasions, it is now an absolute necessity.

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE ESSENTIAL TO OUR ECONOMY

According to the National Restaurant Association – 2020 projections (before Covid-19 struck) included expected national sales of $899 billion, in more than 1 million freestanding restaurants that would employ 15.6 million workers. This defines the restaurant industry as one of the top employers in the U.S. Of course, all of these projections will now change as a result of the current crisis, but this picture of growth and influence has been evident for decades.

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[]         RESTAURANTS PROVIDE A FORUM FOR EXPRESSION

One of the common traits of restaurant careerists – especially cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs is an inherent need to express their art through work. To the chef – the canvas is their plate and to the restaurateur it is the art of hospitality, making customers feel welcome and special. No other art form allows the craftsperson to approach all five human senses as they develop a connection with each guest who walks through a restaurant’s doors.

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE THE ULTIMATE CONNECTION BETWEEN GROWER AND CONSUMER

When we enjoy a plate of food we are indirectly recognizing the hard work and passion of the farmer, fisherman, rancher, cheese maker, brewer, wine maker, distiller, and distributor. That restaurant plate is their collective chance to showcase their work as much as it is a canvas for the chef.

[]         RESTAURATEURS AND CHEFS ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF EDUCATION

Although some may deliver an education without realizing it – restaurateurs and chefs are providing opportunities each day for consumers to learn about the source of food, the people involved in the distribution chain, the ethnic background of the chef and his or her cultural influences, the styles of service passed down through generations, the warmth of spirit that the restaurant owner lays out every day, and the traditions of an industry that is rich and diverse. Every guest walks away from a restaurant experience with a new piece of knowledge every time he or she invests in the experience.

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE A MAGNET FOR URBAN RE-DEVELOPMENT AND GENTRIFICATION

When neighborhoods are focused on growth, when tired communities are committed to resurrection or transformation, and when people within a neighborhood are ready to create a new level of positive spirit – it is a restaurant that holds the key to that energy. Time and again we find this to be the case. Urban renewal begins with restaurants first, then shops and residences, parks and recreation, and so on.

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[]         RESTAURANTS PROVIDE COMFORT, SUPPORT, AND HOPE

Restaurant people are some of the most generous to be found anywhere. Community leaders and essential organizations look to restaurants for help in supporting their causes, and restaurants always respond. We have come to rely on this generosity and know that those incredible chefs and owners are part of the heart and soul of a community.

[]         RESTAURANTS ARE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT VEHICLES FOR APPRECIATING DIVERSITY

America gives lip service to creating diversity in the workplace and even attempts to formally or informally dictate that this happens. Diversity has been natural in the restaurant business since it’s beginning. Walk into any restaurant in America, even more so in urban centers, and you will find a plethora of ethnicity, race, gender, and belief. It is refreshing and natural.

[]         RESTAURANTS DEFINE THE CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS, TRADITIONS, AND FLAVORS OF A COMMUNITY

People tend to flock to the things that make us alike. City centers, in particular, find a natural gravitation to micro communities of ethnic background and at the center will be restaurants that portray the cultural similarities and traditions of that group. If you want to know something about a neighborhood- look to its restaurant scene.

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[]         RESTAURANTS ARE THE SOUL OF THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY

As the world moves past the Coronavirus at some point – it will be the travel industry that defines how quickly the economy recovers. Whether for business or pleasure, people have a need and desire to travel by plane, train, and automobile. Every travel destination relies on its restaurants to help create its uniqueness and attractiveness. Travel and restaurants are an important partnership for economic growth and the wellbeing of a society.

This is a time to understand and appreciate the significance of the restaurant industry that is devastated right now. Those in the industry understand and support the need for isolation – we must work together to defeat this invisible viral enemy, but we must realize that many of the restaurants in the U.S. and beyond will not survive the impact of mandated closure. This is a wonderful industry with very tight profit margins, and an industry made of small private entrepreneurships without cash reserves – they are hanging on by a thread. When they are able to return, the ones that are able to hold out that long, it is important that we all find ways to support them. In the meantime they turn to the U.S. government – not for a handout, but for assistance and understanding.

SIGN THE LETTER TO HELP SAVE INDEPENDENT RESTAURANTS

www.saverestaurants.com/letter

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

We are in this together

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: POST COVID KITCHENS – GET READY

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Restaurants will get the green light at some point. When the data demonstrates that the virus is somewhat under control – whether that is the end of May or later, we all know in our hearts and minds that things will be different. Guests will not likely flock back to our operations, there will still be a considerable amount of trepidation, especially since pre-vaccine life will still include the threat of virus transmission. We also know that the health and safety regulations for restaurants will change significantly as we make every attempt to keep the public and our staff safe and at ease.

Along with giving serious thought to how restaurant concepts, menus, and methods of delivery will need to change – we must prepare for the regulations to come. Preparation for this inevitable change is the best way to set the stage for post Covid success. Here are some of the likely changes (I don’t have a crystal ball- but I would be willing to bet that these will come to fruition):

[]         VENDORS AND DELIVERIES

There is little guarantee that the product that is received at the backdoor of our restaurants is free from virus. It has already been stated that Covid-19 can live for a period of time on the surface of cardboard and there are numerous opportunities for asymptomatic individuals to come in contact with food before packaging (especially produce and animal protein). Let me be clear that there is NO INDICATION at this time that the virus can be spread through food.

It would surprise me if there were not an effort on the part of the Public Health Service and state Departments of Health to require, or at least strongly urge, restaurants to discard all cardboard packaging and thoroughly wash and sanitize received food products before they enter the production kitchen of restaurants. Lexan containers will be in high demand, as restaurants no longer store food supplies in the boxes they were delivered in.

[]         PRE-STORAGE AREAS REQUIRED IN NEW KITCHENS FOR WASHING AND SANITIZING OF INCOMING PRODUCTS

I would anticipate that new kitchen construction code will eventually require a “pre-clean/sanitize” area in receiving areas with sinks, adequate stainless table space, storage for Lexan containers and dry racks to be used before food items as well as floor and wall surfaces that can be pressure washed and sanitized frequently. This only makes sense to help control future outbreaks.

[]         RECORD THE PROTOCOL

It is very likely that the Public Health Service will contemplate development and implementation of product and people sanitizing before entering production kitchens. This may take some years before fully implemented, but I can envision similar protocols to what is found in industrial food production facilities – think meat processing plant processing along with the record keeping of these standards.

[]         A NO CARBOARD REQUIREMENT FOR KITCHENS

We have become use to recycling our cardboard on a daily basis, but it may soon be required to eliminate that packaging before food and other supplies enter a food production space or storage.

[]         EMPLOYEE ANTIBODY TESTING AND VALIDATION

All indications are that it will be some time (at least until a vaccine is developed in 12-18 months – hopefully) before we can safely move about without the level of concern and preparation that is in place now. The only surefire way to move back to a more normal life is to verify that individuals have the antibodies that will allow them to do so. Dr. Fauci has already stated that an antibody test will likely be available in a week or so and will be ramped up to produce the quantities needed. Is it too much of a stretch to envision a federal, or at least state-by-state requirement for people to have some type of validation that proves they have the antibodies that would deem them relatively safe – especially for healthcare and foodservice workers? In some states it is already a requirement that foodservice employees have a validated test for Tuberculosis before they are allowed to handle food.

[]         PERSONAL TEMPERATURE CHECKS AND LOGS

Just as probable will be a requirement in certain industries for employees to have a validated body temperature check before they enter a place of work and that these records be maintained or even submitted to a higher authority on a regular basis. This only makes sense (already required in most healthcare facilities).

[]         SERVESAFE REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL EMPLOYEES

In some states – ServeSafe or something comparable is required of all foodservice workers. Wouldn’t it make sense that this becomes a requirement of all foodservice workers? How long before this becomes a Public Health Service mandate?

[]         MASKS REQUIRED

It is highly likely that the first requirement once we are allowed to re-open restaurants at some level are that all food handlers (maybe even service staff) wear a protective mask. Of course, we need to have enough masks available to purchase first.

[]         HAND WASHING TRAINING

“Wash your hands” has always been a mantra in restaurants of all types but have we been thorough in our training? Do people know and practice the 20-second aggressive wash protocol every time they wash their hands? Do they use gloves when required and do so properly? Do they feel too confident with gloves to invest enough time washing their hands as well? Hand washing will become an even more critical standard in restaurants.

[]         REQUIRED OUTSIDE LAUNDERING OF UNIFORMS

Many restaurants require uniforms but leave it up to employees to launder their own, many wear their uniforms to work rather than change on premise, and many restaurants fail to have any consistent sanitary uniform policy. Expect that this will eventually change (for the better) and expect that outside laundering and sanitizing services will be expected (except where restaurants have their own laundries). Gone will be that favorite T-shirt as a uniform of choice, unwashed shoes, baseball caps, or cargo pants and shorts.

[]         WORK SURFACE SANITATION PROTOCOL AND TESTING

In kitchens of a certain size it may make sense to develop a new position that focuses on pre-cleaning and processing of food before it enters the production space, strict oversight of hand washing and sanitizing of work services and equipment, employee personal temperature testing and documentation of all of the above, maintaining antibody validation records, etc. Basically, you may want to make future plans for an infection control person on your staff. Is this a stretch? I don’t think so.

[]         VERY STRICT HACCP ENFORCEMENT

HACCP (time temperature tracking) has been creeping up on restaurant operations for a few years and will become the most critical safety/sanitation issue in the future. Those logs and follow-through must become second nature.

[]         NEW PROCEDURES FOR CLEAN DISHES, FLATWARE AND GLASSWARE

How will we ensure that the service ware that restaurants use is free of contamination before menu items are plated and delivered to a guest? Someone will push for stricter controls on this – be prepared to see a plethora of new equipment designed to accomplish this goal.

[]         MORE FREQUENT HEALTH INSPECTIONS

We can all expect an annual, unannounced health inspection (more if there is a registered complaint or previous issue), but in the future there will likely be a push for more interaction with your local health department. It could take a variety of forms – one full inspection, and others to check on critical issues, or required periodic classes that at the very least – chefs and managers will need to attend.

[]         WORKSPACE REQUIREMENTS FOR NEW KITCHENS THAT FOCUS ON SAFE DISTANCES BETWEEN EMPLOYEES

The typical design of a restaurant leads to the smallest amount of kitchen space to accomplish the job – leaving more space for revenue generation out front. It is likely that code requirements in the future will state that a certain amount of space per anticipated kitchen employee is standard. This could allow for future distancing of employees to prevent asymptomatic spread of a virus.

[]         UV LIGHTS IN COOLERS AND STORAGE AREAS

At some level, ultraviolet light does help to control the growth of bacteria. This may become a standard lighting requirement in food storage areas.

[]         A NEW VERSION OF SANITIZERS FOR POT SINKS AND DISHWASHERS

Bleach or iodine solutions are the standards for sanitizing pots, pans, and work surfaces in kitchens. I would anticipate a new family of sanitizing agents that can protect against bacterial transmission as well as current and future viruses.

It would seem likely that some or maybe all of these changes are in our future. It won’t happen overnight, but we all realize that the health and safety of our guests and employees is (should be) our primary concern. So – it makes sense to plan for change in this regard.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: HOW WILL WE RE-CREATE THE CULTURE OF DINING OUT?

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Painted in Waterlogue

There are few things in life that vividly define the culture associated with a group of people more than dining out. Food is connected to nearly every aspect of life, family, and the art of living. A culture is a collection of life essentials including art, drama, literature, religion, music, food preparation and traditions, history, language, politics, etc. and as such – collectively define all levels of civility.   Food, as part of this formula, also interacts with each of those other components of culture – so it might be said that it is a common denominator.

As one of the oldest professions known to mankind – cooking is a noble endeavor that serves as a portal for all that a culture means and restaurants are the vehicle for delivering this to and sharing culture with people of all ethnicities, race, genders, and beliefs. Since the days of early merchant travelers during Medieval and Renaissance days – restaurants have been integral to societal development and the sophistication of people. As Julia Child once stated (and I paraphrase): “Every great transition of the human race has paralleled a remarkable change in the way that we grow, harvest, process, prepare, serve, and consume food.” The restaurant table is the canvas on which every person involved in that process has an opportunity to paint and tell a story.

When we close a restaurant we lose that canvas, when we shutter all of those restaurants we lose a significant piece of humanity. Yes, we will move through this challenging time and there will be a restaurant business on the other end of Covid-19, but how can we re-create that canvas that will allow society to tell the story of a culture?

Think about the important aspects of our lives that have relied on restaurants as a vehicle for people to get together. We celebrate our sporting teams wins and losses over food and drink – without the restaurant there is less opportunity for this to define our tribes of support. We celebrate the union of two people through marriage over a plate of food and as such raise our glasses in love and support of their commitment. We bring intellectual conversation to a larger audience while we break bread around a common table. We discuss and sometimes resolve our political differences with fork and knife in hand. We laugh and revel in our friendships after a hard week’s work by clinking glasses in that neighborhood restaurant that serves and pampers us. We look that life partner in the eyes over a well-prepared plate of food, get on one knee in front of an audience and propose that two lives become one. We even rely on that restaurant to pass along bad news in hope that the environment will temper the emotions that accompany that message. Restaurants are absolutely essential to our way of life and the way that we communicate our feelings and emotions. Life without this common table would certainly be a bit empty.

Will the culture associated with dining out automatically return or will we need to re-learn what it means to break bread in public, raise a glass, and celebrate being alive? What must a restaurant, or the larger restaurant community do to ensure that it, once again, becomes a central part of life?

If we simply view the role of restaurants as a manufacturer of food for consumption, then we will miss the point and lose the café, bistro, trattoria, or diner’s true role in society. It is the experience of dining that is most important and it is this experience that allows a restaurant, or for that matter – the restaurant industry to flourish. As we prepare for the return to a “new normal” we must keep the larger role of restaurants in mind. Here are some thoughts:

FOOD IS THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

[]         NO ONE INDEPENDENT RESTAURANT CAN SOLVE THIS CHALLENGE:

For the culture of restaurants to return – every operation must collaborate with others in their community to build an atmosphere of common purpose. Individual restaurants succeed when all restaurants succeed. When neighboring restaurants understand their importance to the restoration of a positive cultural climate – then the atmosphere of hope and celebration becomes apparent. All for one and one for all should be the standard of operation.

[]         KNOW THE MESSAGE – TELL THE STORY

The restaurant that knows the story behind the business and the community and tells that story in a heartfelt manner is the restaurant that will build relationships around the table. Customers may walk through the door initially because of the food, but will return time and again because of the story that the owners and staff tell.

[]         THINK GLOBAL – ACT LOCAL

We are truly in this together. Every restaurant must think in terms of how do we help the entire industry rise again.   At the same time it is how the operation expresses this goal in their local community that will ensure a steady flow of supporters. Become active in helping the industry rebuild itself, change where necessary, and polish its rough edges while at the same time do everything possible to collaborate with local vendors, organizations, farmers, and complementary businesses to show how essential the restaurant is to the culture of a town or neighborhood.

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[]         IT’S ALL ABOUT SERVICE – IT’S ALL ABOUT FOOD

When restaurants return they must understand that service and food are equal in importance to the guest. Great food without great service is shallow just as great service without great food is never a winning combination. Defining what each means is unique to every operation.

[]         PEOPLE FIRST – RELATIONSHIPS FIRST

When all is said and done it is the people who work in a restaurant that paint the picture of success on that canvas and it is the relationships that are built between those staffers and guests that make all the difference between a successful restaurant and one that is simply biding time.

[]         TREAT EVERYONE THE SAME AND EVERYONE DIFFERENTLY

One of the more challenging aspects of running any business, and particularly restaurants is that every customer walking through that door is unique and expects to be treated as such. We obviously need to have standards of operation, but if we are not prepared to adapt frequently to the needs of each guest then we may never reach a consistent level of success.

[]         REMEMBER THE TDE

Finally, it is essential that every quality restaurant (regardless of the style, type of food, or price point) should learn that the restaurant “experience” is one that appeals to all of the human senses. Great restaurants appeal to the sense of smell by accentuating those positive aromas of the kitchen, the sense of sight through well appointed, clean and attractive restaurants and plate presentations, appropriate and complementary sounds whether they be the sounds of the kitchen or music that complements the experience, knowing that the physical sense of touch applies to the comfort of the chair, the weight of the flatware and glassware as it matches the type of food and price point, and the right textures of quality food on the plate, and finally the sense of taste – food must be consistently prepared in such a manner that causes the guest to pause and truly savor every bite. This is the Total Dining Experience (TDE).

The way to bring back the restaurant industry is to bring back its importance to the culture of a community and society. We can and must play our role in making sure that this is at the heart of our decision making process.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Remember the TDE

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: PROFESSIONAL COOKS – DON’T DISMAY – KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS

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hen

Too much idle time leads to reflection and analysis. “What am I doing” is a question that some will ask: “What am I capable of”, is of equal concern. If you have been cooking at a professional level, if you have always been driven towards doing things right and have shunned mediocrity, and if you have approached your job in the kitchen with passion and commitment, then answering these questions can be straight forward.

“I have spent years in the kitchen and now I am without a job. I know that restaurants will return at some point, but am I stuck? Is there anything else I can do? Am I destined to work in the same career or do I have any real skill sets that can open other doors?” Have you had this conversation with yourself yet? If not, I guarantee that you will.

Allow me to approach these questions in a few different ways. First – we (all of us who have made the restaurant business our life calling) hope that you will bring your skills, passion, and commitment back to the food business and will work diligently to help make us better. We need you, miss your presence, relish the opportunity to work closely with you again, and we desperately need you to become the next leaders of this terrific industry. However, we would never stand in your way if some other career becomes your calling. This has been at the core of the restaurant business forever. To some, we are the professional life choice that defined your purpose, and to many others it was an important steppingstone for other careers.

It is important to know that many of the skills and traits that you developed during your time in kitchens are highly sought after in numerous other careers. If you are a professional you should know that this label signifies that you have embraced certain characteristics and beliefs that are highly marketable. So, as you self-reflect on who you are, what you do, and what you bring to the table – know that whether you continue to contribute to this dynamic, important food industry or move elsewhere – the traits you developed while in the kitchen are now part of your valuable brand. Think about the person that you are as a result of working in kitchens:

[]         DEPENDABILITY

As a professional cook you have learned how important your role is in the process of preparing and presenting food. You have conditioned yourself to be where you need to be – on time, and ready to hit the ground running. You also fully understand that when assigned a task (no matter how large or small) it is your responsibility to do it correctly and on-time. The system depends on you to act in this manner every day. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         ORGANIZATION

As a professional cook you have developed exceptional organizational skills. You refer to it as mise en place and experience has shown you that if you are organized and prepared then you are capable of achieving success in any moment. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         PLANNING

As a professional cook you have learned that mistakes and crisis can be avoided or at least minimized if you take the time to effectively plan ahead. You prepare prep sheets for the next day, take inventory of your supplies, sharpen your knives in advance, prioritize work, and evaluate past performance so that each day your planning improves. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         COMMUNICATION

As a professional cook you know that survival and eventual success depends on succinct, effective communication with your peers, the operations chef, vendors, and guests. You have developed a habit of truthful, important communication with all stakeholders and know how important it is to accept the same from others. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

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[]         TECHNICAL SKILLS

As a professional cook you are aware that complacency with skills is never a winning approach. Every day must be viewed as an opportunity to learn new skills or polished the ones that you already have. A constant state of improvement is reflective of who you are. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         TIMING AND SPEED

As a professional cook you know that after a skill or a process is learned – you must constantly work at quick thinking and building muscle memory that will allow you to improve your speed without ever sacrificing quality. Eventually, your mind began to organize, prioritize, and visualize what needs to be done and develop a timing rhythm that drives your method of operation. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         PROBLEM SOLVING

As a professional cook – experience has allowed to you quickly reflect on what you have previously seen and strategize on how to approach a challenge with unique problem solving skills. Every cook makes decisions throughout a shift that can impact on product quality, restaurant profitability, and customer satisfaction. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         TASK COMPLETION

As a professional cook you have committed yourself to finish any task that you are assigned. Follow-thru is an essential part of who you are. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

Painted in Waterlogue

[]         CONSISTENCY

As a professional cook you have discovered that the quality product that you produce today must be the same each and every time you plate a dish and place it in the pass. The guest’s expectation is consistency and as a result it has become part of your profile. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         SERVICE

Even though they may push your patience at times, as a professional cook you have learned that the customer is right and you are in the service business. If it is possible and as long as it meets the quality standards of the operation, then service means that your response is “yes”. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         PROFESSIONALISM

You know that professionalism means a fair, honest, appropriate and compassionate approach towards others. Professionalism means that you look and act the part of a consummate representative of the industry and the operation that employs you. You are consistent in this regard. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         COST CONSCIOUSNESS

You know that the financial success of the restaurant, a business that counts profits in single digit percentages, depends on you watching waste, following procedures, and controlling portions. This has become second nature. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

[]         TEAMWORK

You pride yourself in the ability to play your role in the team while supporting everyone else in the completion of his or hers. Egos need to be put aside for the benefit of the collective task ahead. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

full team

[]         IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE

You have become your own most thorough critic. Each day you review your own work and ask: “how can I make it better?” You know that excellence is a habit not a goal and that it must be a constant pursuit that involves not just what you do, but how you do it. THIS IS HIGHLY MARKETABLE IN ANY INDUSTRY.

Yes, you will have limitless opportunity to become successful in the food business, and your future is bright. Yes, our industry will recover and your involvement will be critical in this transition to a fresh, important player in the world economy. But, know that even if you choose to seek another career – the skills that you have developed as a professional cook will open many doors and provide a foundation for success in what ever you pursue.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We will get through this together

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: WHAT RESTAURANTS MEAN TO SOCIETY

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Cooking for others is one of the oldest professions known to humanity. Since fire was first discovered – we have enjoyed and developed the skills to cook, eventually season, and finally plate prepared food to please other people. Cooking is one of the most admired and appreciated skill that allows the cook to express his or her history, traditions, ethnicity, and skill while engaging guests in a story. This storytelling through cooking evolved over centuries into restaurants that offered interesting tales to strangers and friends alike.

Dating back to Medieval times when cooking was reserved for nobility and later during the Renaissance when merchant travelers relied on local taverns for respite and a chance to break bread – restaurants and restaurant life has always been present. In the United States – the importance of restaurants only became mainstream after prohibition ended and speakeasy’s transitioned into full-service restaurants, and later after World War II when our country decided to invest heavily in an interstate system of highways that opened the country to an exponential growth of small towns where intersections gave life to gas stations and diners. Today, restaurants serve a multitude of purposes that has brought this industry to a status of importance that is impossible to deny.

Although our current crisis has brought the restaurant industry to a halt, it is important to remember just how integrated the business of selling and serving food is to society as a whole. It is this understanding that will bring the industry back. It will undoubtedly be different, but it will return. Here are a few examples of why this is true:

[]         CONVENIENCE

Once we return to a more robust economic time – the need for restaurants to service dual income family life and urban professionals with little time to shop and cook will once again be evident. These cycles of industry demise followed by a surge of regrowth have happened time and again after difficult times – it will happen after this one. Convenience – especially in highly developed societies is essential.

[]         A REWARD SYSTEM

It’s is human nature to seek reward or at least some form of recognition for work done and an individual’s value to others. Far too often this does not exist in the workplace, or sometimes even in the home – restaurants fill this void through the reward of a sincere smile, special service, preparation of tasty and beautiful food, a pleasant atmosphere and appointed table, and in many cases recognition of return guests. This is a very important part of the restaurant business – hospitality.

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“Having been in the restaurant business, our job is to be responsible for our customers’ happiness. It’s the nature of the hospitality industry. You need to take care of people. You take care of customers above all else. Customers are your lifeblood.”

-Andrew Zimmern

 []         SOCIAL ISOLATION OF A NATURALLY SOCIAL POPULATION

There are some who enjoy being alone, but most humans are inherently social by design. We relish the company of others – the chance to discuss, remember, toast, seek advice, lean on others shoulders, and laugh over life’s joys and quirky mistakes. This social isolation that we are engaged in will leave a tremendous void in people’s lives. It is easy to see that given the opportunity – people will return to their social nature with ease. Restaurants will be there to provide the environment for socialization.

[]         A PRIMARY OUTLET FOR SHARING TRADITIONS

Pride in one’s heritage is most easily expressed through the traditions of food. The use of indigenous ingredients, the protection of recipes passed down through generations, the combinations of food and how they marry with a restaurants atmosphere are built on protection of those traditions. Whether you are aligned with the ethnicity of a restaurant or simply interested in learning more about that ethnic groups traditions – restaurants are perfect vehicles for protecting and promoting a unique history.

[]         A FORUM FOR DISCUSSION, DIALOGUE, AND OPINION

During some of the early days of restaurants and coffee shops in Europe – cafes were the place where individuals would gather to discuss the issues of the day, argue points of view, and build opinions and belief structures that were at the heart of a community. Restaurants and bars have continued in this role ever since. What we believe, how we evolve, and finding a place to share ideas is at the core of a healthy society. Restaurants open their doors to this important role.

[]         I WISH I COULD COOK LIKE THAT

If a restaurant fails to set the stage for the question: “How does the chef bring out those incredible flavors in this dish?” then it has lost its ability to be special – to be necessary. So many restaurant operators are good at this – they create some part of the experience that is so special that guests must make a reservation. When the chef and the restaurateur are in sync, then a restaurant becomes essential.

“When we eat something at a restaurant, however simple it may look, there’s something in it that makes you think: ‘Well, I couldn’t quite do this from home.”

-Alex Guarmaschelli

[]         INFRASTRUCTURE DEMANDS

In densely populated urban settings (Paris, New York, San Francisco, Florence, Rome, Madrid, Chicago, Miami, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and hundreds of other cities around the world) – space is the most valuable commodity. Housing in these areas, out of necessity, is tight leaving far less room for the joys of cooking at home – especially in groups. Restaurants have become physically necessary to support the lifestyle of cities and will once again be needed to fill this role.

[]         A FORUM FOR EXPRESSION

When we look at who owns restaurants and why – we find a desire to reach a level of financial success, but also a deep seeded need for chefs and restaurateurs to express himself or herself as either a culinary artist or social host. This desire will quickly regain traction once we move past this crisis.

[]         TRAVEL WILL RETURN – TRAVEL DEMANDS RESTAURANTS

We have accepted life in a global economy and although we will likely learn some lessons as a result of this world crisis, a return to global business is inevitable. People will need to travel for business and everyone will eventually gravitate back to a desire to explore. When travel returns, so too will a real need for restaurants that can service the physical need, but also create an exciting and unique benefit of travel to other parts of the country and world.

Impatience and concern is most certainly making those who made their living in restaurants reconsider their future involvement in this business. This is natural and will likely take a toll on the number of restaurants that return to operation and individuals who seek to continue working in a business that has truly exposed its fragility. On the other hand, when we consider what restaurants mean to various cultures and communities around the world – there should be little doubt that food businesses will once again thrive. For those who love the excitement, creativity, adrenaline, unpredictability, and importance of restaurant work – there will always be a future.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Restaurants are essential to a full life

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: CHEFS ROUTINES – HOW IMPORTANT ARE THEY

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We never really understand how much we depend on our routines until we are forced to break them. People are creatures of habit and it is those habits that give us comfort, provide us with direction, and help us to function as we are programmed to function. Are routines beneficial? Is there value in breaking those routines? The answer lies in how we respond to involuntary change.

Structure is important to a chef as it aligns with our obsession over mise en place (organization) and how it defines the operation of a successful kitchen. This structure is established over time and is dependent on how an individual was trained and the level of organization that surrounded him or her during this training phase. Once conditioned – a chef has a very difficult time breaking out of a routine. We typically wake at a certain time, follow unconscious steps (coffee, shower, catch up on news, maybe exercise, dress, and off to work) and plan on walking through those kitchen doors at precisely the same time every day. Once there – a secondary routine kicks in with a walk thru of the kitchen, grab another coffee, review daily food events, walk thru coolers and storerooms, touch base with prep and breakfast cooks, and then set-up that list of tasks for the day. Rarely do we break from this pattern, and when we must our day is always a step behind. Routines are important down to how we sharpen our knives, set-up a workstation, fold our side towels, and prioritize our work.   So, it is safe to say that our routines define us to a large degree.

Suddenly, our routines no longer apply and the current crisis has left chefs without that comfort zone that help their approach towards the daily chaos. We are now left with a looming question: “Are routines useful in time of crisis and if not – what is the alternative?” Your restaurant may be closed or maybe it has shifted to take-out and delivery only. In either case business as usual is a thing of the past. Your staff is down to a skeleton crew, or maybe you are left holding the fort alone. The future of your operation and for the matter the future of restaurants overall is in question and your routine, your safe place, your dependable organization has not caught up to this dramatic change. Where do you begin, what direction should you take, what possible objectives can be put in place to move from uncertainty to a driving mission?

One of the realities of a routine is that it can be limiting – leaving individuals without a way to zig and zag and change direction with any level of enthusiasm and energy. Chefs are not unlike any other professional in this regard – athletes, carpenters, musicians, bankers, doctors, nurses, shop owners, and military personnel all function most effectively when they can depend on their routines. They may be able to transition over time to a new routine, but when it changes overnight they can easily find themselves lost and directionless. You may be able to physically prepare for crisis, but mentally and emotionally find yourself like a ship without a rudder.

Routines can, in this manner, paralyze even the best managers and operators. At a time of crisis what you cannot depend on is comfort. Dramatic crisis is un-nerving and damn scary. How leaders act at these times defines how effective they are at their jobs. Everyone else in an organization will seek to lean on leaders when crisis strikes – this is when they are most needed. Others expect that leaders will be ready, willing, and able to carry the torch and set the pace for change that is required. If a leader is so wrapped up in the need for routine that he or she fails to respond quickly and efficiently to an immediate need then the entire organization suffers. This is where we are today.

We have had nearly a month to feel lost and confused over broken routines and expected outcomes. The situation is apparently not going to self-correct and real leadership is still floundering. It is time to start being leaders on the micro scale – “What can you do as an individual owner, operator, or chef?” Our routines will not re-appear for quite some time – if ever, so what’s next?

When Napster began offering music for free in a manner that addressed a changing market some record companies chose to fight this illegal activity and ignore the changing market, while others saw an opportunity to flip the industry in a different direction. When the Netflix model of mailing DVD’s to its subscribers was faltering some change advocates decided to expand their model by creating their own content and focusing strictly on on-line digital subscriptions. When retail industries maintained the comfort of storefronts that required customers to travel to them – amazon recognized that the convenience of on-line shopping was going to upset the routine of shopping – the rest is history and now all other retailers are struggling to catch up. This is the restaurant industry’s amazon moment. Routines will not win this battle to survive – only unencumbered freethinking and immediate action will help us to survive and once again thrive.

Over the past few days I have presented the need for IDEATION and SCENARIO PLANNING – this is not a choice – the restaurant business does not have a choice. THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR LEADERSHIP to inspire others to rise to the occasion and embrace an opportunity for re-invention.

Forget the comfort of routines – we need to take action now. Far too much time is being dedicated to survival without enough discussion about next steps. Yes, we need to help restaurants and displaced restaurant employees who are in need today, but that alone will not leave us in a position to return and be viable businesses in six months or a year from now. We need leadership action, leadership creative thinking, dramatic re-invention, and a vision for the restaurant business after Covid-19.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Now is the time for future thinking

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: IDEATION AND SCENARIO PLANNING

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Painted in Waterlogue

Part of ideation is dealing with the challenges faced today as well as those to come. We may not be able to predict the future, but effective managers are always sifting through the “what if” scenarios and building a strategy for dealing with them. As we are seeing so vividly right now – when we fail to plan for the possibilities we will always wind up chasing the problems rather than moving past them. I have always been a believer in the reality of Murphy’s Law: “If something is left to go wrong – it will.” Assuming that it can’t happen to you is at best naïve, and at worst – tragic.

As you move through IDEATION that will help to define what your restaurant concept, menu, systems, and staffing will look like as we eventually move out of this crisis, it is just as important to discuss and plan for the things that can go wrong. What else can get in the way of our success and how will we navigate around or through them. No football team wants to be in a position where they are down three scores going into the fourth quarter – yet, every football team plans for that inevitability. Every team also has a “pull out all the stops” two minute drill when they face the doom and gloom of an impossible job ahead – yet they NEVER WANT TO SURRENDER TO THIS CHALLENGE WITHOUT A PLAN. So, what are your plans?

Once again – we have the time right now to sift through potential challenges and devise that fourth quarter push. If we have learned anything over the last few weeks it is that everything can change overnight. Some events like this may be out of our control – but how we deal with them lies squarely on our shoulders. Here are some examples of scenarios to plan for:

[]         PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO BE IN A RESTAURANT WITH CROWDS

Possible strategy: More space between tables and controlled limits on customers allowed at one time. How do we balance lower volume with financial needs of the operation?

[]         CUSTOMERS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THE SAFETY OF THE FOOD THEY ORDER

Possible strategy: Be proactive with a well defined, enhanced sanitation and food handling protocol for your restaurant and relay this information to your guests. Make sure that every employee is properly trained and on-board with the importance of this process. Let your customers know that safety and sanitation is your most important job. Invite your local health department in to your operation even when you are not scheduled for an annual inspection. BE PROACTIVE!

[]         WITH SUCH A DRAMATIC RISE IN UNEMPLOYMENT – OUR NORMAL CUSTOMERS WILL NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD A RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE

Possible strategy: As you IDEATE your concept for the future and the menu that will be at the core of it – you must keep PRICE front and center. Historically, when economic times are challenged – people have not stopped patronizing restaurants – they simply look for better prices and avoid the extras that are typically the most profitable for our operations. Your menu will need to change and the ingredients that you work with will need to be selected based on their ability to still contribute profit with a lower check average.

[]         FOR MANY MONTHS AFTER THE PEAK OF THE VIRUS HAS PASSED – STATE GOVERNMENTS ARE STILL RECOMMENDING THAT PEOPLE SHELTER IN PLACE EXCEPT FOR EMERGENCIES

Possible strategy: As restaurants experiment with take-out and delivery options to try and stay afloat – keep in mind that this may very well be your future. How can you develop a brand around these options, how can you excel at these options, how can you create something unique around these options, and how do you inject some type of “experience” to accompany the fairly impersonal nature of take out and delivery?

[]         THE SUPPLY CHAIN IS TOTALLY OUT OF WHACK AND WE ARE UNABLE TO DEPEND ON DELIVERIES OF PRODUCTS ON OUR MENU

Possible strategy: As much as the shutdown has impacted your business – it has also devastated your suppliers and the farmers, ranchers, fisherman, and processors who bring the food to your back door. The whole idea of MENU will likely change and you should prepare for the introduction of fluid menus that change as the availability of product changes. Daily or at least weekly menu changes may become a reality.

[]         OUR EMPLOYEES WHO WERE LAID OFF OR FURLOUGHED ARE HESITANT TO COME BACK TO RESTAURANT WORK

Possible strategy: This may be one of the biggest challenges that we will face. If it is any consolation – numerous other industries will take time to recover to business levels of 2019 – so they will be slow to hire. The pool of potential employees will be substantial and so will be the need for training. You should plan that many of your old employees will not return so effective training will be essential. Additionally, with a new concept designed through IDEATION you may not need as many employees or ones with the same skill set that was critical before. This is the time to take a hard look at what staffing will look like after the recovery.

Additionally, know that rates of pay, benefits, scheduled hours, and other work conditions will need to change if we expect to bring employees back and attract new ones.

[]         WE HAVE BEEN CLOSED FOR SO LONG THAT IT’S LIKE STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN. WE DO NOT HAVE A DEPENDABLE FLOW OF CUSTOMERS

Possible strategy: Although this might be a perfect time to place emphasis on those traditional methods of marketing and advertising – many restaurants will simply not be able to afford them. There has never been a more important time to MASTER SOCIAL MEDIA. You must leverage all of the avenues for bringing information to the public and will likely find a need to bring a new position to your payroll: Social Media Manager.   This form of marketing is only effective if the messaging is accurate, exciting, current, frequent, and managed.

[]         OUR BANK IS VERY HESITANT TO RE-ESTABLISH A LINE OF CREDIT WITH OUR RESTAURANT AFTER SEEING HOW FRAGILE THIS BUSINESS IS

Possible strategy: This has always been a challenge in the past but will likely be more pronounced in the future. Unless your bank fully trusts your reputation through experience then money from the bank will be very slow to come. You will need to seek other forms of financial support: partnerships, informal shares for sale, pay forward programs, etc. Finding money will be very, very difficult.

[]         OUR LOYAL CUSTOMERS HAVE BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO COOKING AT HOME AGAIN AND SEE LESS NEED TO RELY ON RESTAURANTS

Possible strategy: Consider playing into this: offer cooking classes at your restaurant during off hours, become a resource for unusual ingredients that they can purchase, sell cooking club memberships, plan guest cook events where you invite loyal customers to bring their new found skills to the restaurant for a night in the kitchen – BE CREATIVE, BE SUPPORTIVE.

For every problem there are likely solutions. If we think ahead and go through the planning process then problems become challenges to overcome. They will stay a problem if you do nothing and find yourself stuck without an answer.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Don’t waste this time – scenario plan now!

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

ARE YOU A FURLOUGHED FOODSERVICE EMPLOYEE IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE?

Follow this link for the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund that is operated by the National Restaurant Association.

www.rerf.us

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: AFTER COVID-19 RESTAURANT CONCEPT IDEATION

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If you are a chef or restaurant owner I would like you to begin today with a significant question: “If I had to build this restaurant concept all over again, knowing what I know now, what would it look like – how would it be different? You may never have a better chance to ask and answer this question than right now. This is the beginning of IDEATION and the purpose of the process. There have been many days when you have probably said to yourself – “I should have done that differently.” It might have been the purpose of the restaurant, the over-riding theme, the systems used, the menu, the staffing model, the hours of operation, the way that you compensate employees – or for that matter the type of employees that you hired – certainly there is something that you wish that you could do over. NOW IS THE TIME.

If you think about it – this is a very exciting premise. List all of the challenges that you have and re-work everything to address those challenges. Keep in mind that this current crisis will change everything and add significantly to those challenges of the past. DON’T DELAY – and by all means don’t expect to return to business as usual. There is little hope that we can flip on a switch and be back to where we were in the fall of 2019.

So…this is a perfect time to start with the willingness to change something, anything, or maybe EVERYTHING. If you begin with an open mind and an uninhibited willingness to change then the possibilities for the future are limitless. This is the time to schedule IDEATION sessions and engage others in helping you to fill in the blank slate of possibilities.

How do you start? Begin with your stakes in the ground – those philosophies that refine who you are and how you want to be perceived – the things that you have no desire to change no matter what. Give your selected group a few moments to challenge those stakes in the ground and allow those challenges to sink in, but before the ideation moves forward who will need to either stand your ground or express a willingness to put them aside depending on how the session goes.

STATE THE CHALLENGE: Re-open the restaurant making sure that it is prepared to adapt to the newly established needs of guests while addressing the critical challenges that have existed and will exist in the future (Labor, Marketing, Service, Efficiency, Guest Satisfaction, Growth, Profitability).

  1. Make a list of those people (some may be employees, but don’t limit it to them) who will benefit the discussion of your challenges through an open session of ideas and who will speak their mind, offer their thoughts, and approach the process with reckless abandon. DON’T RELY STRICTLY ON YOUR FRIENDS WHO THINK YOU ARE GREAT AND WHO WILL SPEND THE TIME TELLING YOU SO. Find people who are talented, groundbreaking, honest, and who might even make you a bit uncomfortable.
  2. Know that the people you select need not work in restaurants, although a core of experienced operators and chefs are always essential in the process. Pick enough critical thinkers who can make everyone scratch their heads and think: “WHY NOT”.
  3. When you ask them to participate – make it clear that you are open to any and all ideas and critique. There can be no judgment placed on ideas that come to the surface: DO NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO SAY: “We can’t do that”, “We have tried that before and it didn’t work”, “That doesn’t fit our brand”, “That’s too radical or complicated”, etc. YOU MUST OPENLY ACCEPT ALL IDEAS.
  4. Do not VOTE on ideas – even the craziest ones might stimulate thought and lead to something truly exceptional.
  5. Provide opportunities for others to build on each idea that comes to the surface, ask questions, promote a different twist, or ask for elaboration. Remember – NO JUDGEMENT!
  6. Make sure that you (or even better a non-biased facilitator) draw everyone into the conversation. Someone also needs to take copious notes.
  7. Limit the first session to two hours. Take time to sift through and organize all of the thoughts and ideas, categorize them, do not change them, send them to the IDEATION PANEL for review and schedule the follow-up meeting.
  8. The purpose of the follow-up is to narrow ideas down to a manageable number (maybe 5-6 ideas), combine thoughts where possible, and show how those ideas address the challenges as stated in the beginning.
  9. Facilitate the second session making sure that you or someone else assigned to the task, keeps everyone on task.
  10. End by categorizing the collaborative ideas as follows:

*          IMMEDIATE WITH LOTS OF TRACTION

*          THOUGHTS FOR THE NEAR FUTURE BUT WILL TAKE TIME

*          REAL FUTURE THINKING

Thank everyone for their time – provide some type of reward, which can be as simple as a recognition plaque in the restaurant to a celebration re-opening dinner for the group and their guests. These individuals may help to lay the groundwork for your long-term recovery and success.

FINALLY, the end decision on what direction to take is yours. Now you have some valuable tools to work with and you have utilized this down time to really craft your future.

This is also a time to bring your business benchmarks into the thinking process. What companies or individuals do you admire, why do you admire them, and how might you include their methods into your change formula. Think of the possibilities.

In these days of social distancing – you can conduct the ideation sessions via ZOOM MEETING. Zoom is a fantastic vehicle for these discussions and for meetings up to 40 minutes there is no charge. To conduct an adequate IDEATION you will need to subscribe at some level. Check out their site at: https://zoom.us/home?zcid=2478

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Embrace the Opportunity for Change

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: CHEFS AND RESTAURATEURS – DON’T WASTE THIS TIME

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Desperation has sunk in for those of us in the restaurant business. We know that closure is a reality for at least 30 more days and likely longer than that. The only adjustment that can be made is the heartbreaking decision to furlough employees or consider permanent closure of operations. Some try and paint a brighter picture by projecting that as soon as the quarantine is lifted – people will return in droves to their previous lifestyle and fill those empty restaurant seats. We must recognize that this scenario is not that likely. Everyone is beginning to get use to social distancing and understand just how serious this virus is. It is likely that people will continue to be cautious and ease into any semblance of past normalcy. A return to business as usual is not realistic and we should plan accordingly.

After three weeks of our current state of uncertainty it is time to take a deep breath and do what Americans have done in the past: develop a plan moving forward. Our first job is certainly to protect ourselves and our families, to stop the spread of the virus in every way within our individual power, but time wasted now will come back to bite us in the near future. Whenever we are able to return to business it is imperative that we are ready to face new challenges head on. To fail to recognize that EVERYTHING WILL BE DIFFERENT is a formula for real failure.

This is a time to THINK DIFFERENTLY about every aspect of our business. Let’s put aside the projections by those important figures in the food business that talk about the demise of the restaurant industry and begin with a few very important facts:

  1. THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS IMPORTANT TO OUR CULTURE

Dining in restaurants is a vehicle for communication, a respite for those who are looking for solace, a place of celebration, an environment for reward, and a source of entertainment that would be impossible to replace.

  1. THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS ESSENTIAL TO OUR ECONOMY

Nearly 14 million Americans work in restaurants and even more found a restaurant as their first job leading to numerous careers in their lives. As the second largest employer of people, businesses that pay taxes, and central focal points for urban growth – restaurants are a foundation of free enterprise.

  1. THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS HISTORICALLY ONE OF THE FIRST TO RECOVER

Worldwide – when countries, cities, and communities transition out of difficult times it is the restaurant and hotel industry that leads the way back to prosperity. People want and need to gather, to tell stories, to renew friendships, and to take care of business. We can expect that this will be the case in America and elsewhere when Covid-19 becomes a part of history.

  1. THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS IS ESSENTIAL TO THE AMERICAN LIFESTYLE

As we return to some level of prosperity, once people are back at work and businesses turn in the right direction – it will be restaurants that allow families to manage their busy lifestyle.

We also must remember that the challenges that we faced before this outbreak will still be present during recovery – in fact those challenges will be even more significant.

  1. RESTAURANTS DO NOT PROVIDE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR ITS EMPLOYEES

Let’s figure this one out! Just a few months ago – the restaurant industry’s major issue was a lack of competent staff, a faltering retention rate, and millions of employees who felt under-appreciated and poorly compensated. This problem will continue – how will we address it?

  1. RESTAURANTS ARE NOT AS PROFITABLE AS THEY SHOULD BE TO ENCOURAGE ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Restaurants will fail, likely at a rate not seen in our lifetime. How will entrepreneurs be encouraged to take the leap and open an operation when profit (at best) hovers around 5-6%? We must rebuild with a model of operation that allows the entrepreneur to earn a respectable profit and move beyond week-to-week survival. When there are no reserves, when restaurants are so cash strapped and void of savings that a few weeks of closure is the kiss of death – then it is apparent that change is required.

  1. THE FAILURE RATE OF RESTAURANTS IS MUCH HIGHER THAN OTHER BUSINESSES

Various percentages float around – some as high as 2/3 failure rate in the first year and more than 50% of those remaining failing in the first five years – this is a huge issue. Banks will never view loans as a good investment with this level of failure and smart entrepreneurs will shy away until it appears that the rewards are worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Now is the time to figure this out!

  1. CUSTOMER NEEDS AND DESIRES ARE CHANGING AND WE MAY NOT BE READY TO CHANGE WITH THEM

How will we (you) stay in touch with customer needs so that concepts, menus, locations, methods of delivery, and pricing strategies align? Restaurants need measurement, assessment, and most of all – analytic data to help make correct decisions in this regard. Let’s work that into our recovery models.

NOW is the time to address these challenges head on – to research, brainstorm, develop new concepts, reinvent, and plan, plan, plan. Let’s view this break from operations as a positive opportunity to make the needed changes that have been looming for more than two decades.

ESSENTIAL READING FOR ENTREPRENEURS DURING THE LOCKDOWN:

Selling the Invisible, by: Harry Beckwith

https://www.amazon.com/Selling-Invisible-Field-Modern-Marketing/dp/B001C1MT6O/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2BR62X2Z1HY0Z&dchild=1&keywords=selling+the+invisible+by+harry+beckwith&qid=1585748953&s=books&sprefix=Selling+the+Invisible%2Caps%2C167&sr=1-2

Setting the Table, by: Danny Meyer

https://www.amazon.com/Setting-Table-Transforming-Hospitality-Business/dp/0060742763/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=setting+the+table+danny+meyer&qid=1585749025&s=books&sr=1-2

The Underground Culinary Tour, by: Damian Mogavero

https://www.amazon.com/Underground-Culinary-Tour-Restaurants-Transforming/dp/1101903309/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=The+Underground+Culinary+Tour&qid=1585749069&s=books&sr=1-2

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Now is the time!

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: CHEFS AND RESTAURATEURS – IT’S A NEW DAY TOMORROW

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The restaurant industry has been plagued with problems for decades – this international crisis has brought everything to a head. How many times have restaurateurs and chefs proclaimed that they couldn’t simply stop their current model and re-invent themselves? The challenges of today would always put a halt to significant movement towards long-term problem solving. Well, we now have the time.

Labor issues have been at the top of the list for decades: low pay, no benefits, unpredictable schedules, 12-hour shifts, and difficulty finding and retaining good employees when these issues persist. Low profitability, vendor challenges, rising cost of goods,    cumbersome regulations, high rents, expensive marketing, and ebbs and flows of business volume have collectively made this enticing business to enter – nearly impossible to maintain. “We can’t just stop what we are doing and find solutions to these problems – I am most concerned about getting through today.”

If there is a silver lining to the monumental problem that we are facing now, it might be time to think, assess, trouble-shoot, and plan for a brighter tomorrow. It appears that the federal stimulus bill may help small restaurants stay afloat for the next few months, but it will not solve the long-term issues that restaurants have sat on since the beginning of our growth spurt in the 1970’s. Now is the time, we have the time, and we have the ability to re-invent, to prepare for a bright tomorrow.

This virus has demonstrated just how important restaurants are to people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. It has also demonstrated just how fragile that need is. We must learn from this and plan accordingly. We know that the need to network with friends and neighbors is essential to all who live in communities throughout the world. Restaurants’ are a magnet for people to connect, discuss, smile, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. Food is the universal language, a language that everyone speaks and enjoys using. We know that busy lifestyles demand that restaurants fill a physical need to eat when cooking at home is oftentimes too hard to arrange. We know that the restaurant industry is essential to the economic health of countries throughout the world – engaging more people than nearly every other employer outside of government. And, we know that restaurants provide millions of people with the opportunity to become entrepreneurs – a dream that exists in so many of us. Without restaurants – society just seems incomplete.

So..what should be part of our thinking right now? What can we do to prepare for a brighter future in the restaurant business? What can we do NOW to set the stage for future success? Here are some thoughts:

[]         LABOR:

We (restaurants) cannot continue to expect to find and retain competent, dedicated, passionate employees as long as our current labor model is accepted and used. A livable wage is something that talented, hard-working people deserve. Basic benefits of reasonable healthcare, paid vacation, and paid sick time are the standard in nearly every other industry and must become the standard in ours. More reasonable hours (realizing that peaks in business require extra effort) should be a goal. This does not infer that all restaurant work should be necessarily based on a 40-hour workweek, or that 8-hour shifts should always apply, but it should still be a model that we are moving closer to. Two days off per week (with some exceptions) is reasonable and helps employees find some balance in their lives. These are not excessive goals – this is a standard that we have ignored for far too long. To fail to do this will simply perpetuate the labor challenges that plagued us before the virus.

[]         CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT:

In order to address the labor issue above, we may very well need to reconsider our restaurant concept. What restaurant platform will continue to exceed customer expectations, build pride among employees, and establish a reputation for the restaurant that drives financial success, and will provide a reasonable living for our staff members?

[]         EFFECTIVE MENUS:

As the concept evolves there will be exciting opportunities for chefs to reimagine menus that work, menus that require fewer, well-compensated employees who still bring the talent and passion to the kitchen everyday. Let’s start from scratch and build a menu with these critical factors in mind.   Forget the established models that have been at the core of our existence since the days of Escoffier and look at what works in the 21st century.

[]         BRICK AND MORTAR:

The cost of building, renovating, and maintaining a brick and mortar restaurant are excessive and oftentimes stand in the way of profitability. We are learning that people are interested in delivery, enamored by food truck style concepts, and willing to embrace a different style of service. What can we do to minimize the on-going investment in brick and mortar?

[]         RENTS:

Restaurants and landlords need to have serious discussions about rent and its impact on business survival. If the cost of rent exceeds 6% of sales then it is very difficult for the average restaurant to make a go of it. For the landlord – a successful restaurant is a magnet for growth in a community, a magnet that provides many future opportunities for revenue and financial success beyond that restaurant space. Maybe the restaurant is a means to an end for the landlord rather than an individual driver of revenue.

[]         SUPPLY CHAIN:

A marriage of local, regional, and large corporate vendors is a healthy model for restaurant success. Putting all of your eggs in one basket by limiting your purchasing to one vendor is never a good model to use. Building strong “trust” relationships with vendors should be a goal for both parties. Aligning with vendors who are able to work with the restaurant in creating a financially viable operation also works for all involved. Let’s work on this.

[]         SUSTAINABILITY:

This may be a perfect time for conversations between kitchens, vendors, and packagers to find better solutions to waste management, managing ingredient seasonality, protecting supplies of over-used ingredients, and helping the planet survive.

[]         PROFITABILITY:

If a restaurant can only look forward to 5-6% net profit then the business will always face financial challenges. The best restaurants not only prepare and serve great food, they are not only operations that treat their employees fairly – they are businesses that are financially solvent. We need to take the time to define a concept, a menu, and a system that will allow for a more reasonable and manageable profit picture.

[]         CONNECTING WITH THE MARKET:

This is the time to build a greater understanding of the new marketing environment for businesses. Those traditional methods of old either no longer work, or they are priced out of reach for the average small business. Learning how to leverage social media and word-of-mouth is critical for long-term success. Being able to collect analytical data that demonstrates, what, how, and why certain methods of marketing work will become even more important to the small business. Take the time to investigate ways that data collection can help you manage your marketing strategy moving forward.

Yes, we are fearful of what is before us, and of course there is real uncertainty of how to deal with todays challenges. Let’s put aside the fear and relish the opportunity of time to work on what tomorrow can bring.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

 

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: A CHEF’S WINDOW TO THE WORLD

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It’s day 14 of a Covid-19 voluntary lockdown. Aside from a trip to the grocery store and an isolated morning walk now and again, I have been a prisoner of my home. The same is true for my family in different parts of the Northeast. We communicate daily either by text or FaceTime – once per week via Zoom Meeting. The rest of the time is spent finding things to fill in the gaps. All of my consulting client work is on hold since they are closed and also on lockdown. It is starting to sink in – this is going to be a long road – hang on.

I stare out the front window on occasion and watch the sporadic cars go by on a once fairly busy road through town. I wonder – “Where are they going?” Do these drivers have a destination, are they healthcare essential workers, police on the way to a shift, firefighters, grocery store employees, pharmacists, government officials, or are they simply claustrophobic residents driving around town just to see something different? What are they missing most, where would they be today if not required to shelter in place? My how the world has changed over these past two weeks. How long will this last – will we return to normalcy or is this what we can expect for a season or more?

I miss the kitchen. I haven’t worked there in some time, but the four decades that I did have burned lasting memories into my subconscious. I remember the routine – I relish it now. I remember the crazy, dedicated, passionate people – I miss them always. I remember the organized chaos, the adrenaline, the stress, the uncertainty, the dinner rush, and the arguments with vendors – I miss all of that too.

The sounds of a morning kitchen coming to life – the buzz of compressors, the clank and whir of the exhaust fans, the driving staccato of knives hitting cutting boards, the sizzle of steaks on a char-grill, and the sound of fish searing in a sauté pan – these are sounds that stimulate all of the senses at once. I miss the bark of the expeditor, the demands of the service staff, the rough and tumble language of the line cooks, the sound of an occasional wine glass hitting the quarry tile floor and smashing into hundreds of pieces, and I even miss the ticking of the POS printer as order, after order adds to the anxiety of the cooks. What I truly miss is the smells of the kitchen: the smell of fresh brewed coffee, a veal stock simmering in the prep kitchen, bacon pulled from the oven, fresh baked artisan bread, the intoxicating aroma of steaks on a grill, and the constant background smell of onions and garlic – this can’t be replaced.

It’s funny how the intensity of the kitchen would allow every cook to forget, at least temporarily, all of the outside life challenges that they face. The kitchen was (is) a safe zone from life’s problems. At least when you are in the heat of it, you are able to concentrate on what is in front of you – this is comforting, and even with the pace of the kitchen, it feels safe.

Only those who live it will understand what I say. Only those individuals who find that the people of the kitchen are brothers and sisters will know that this place of “work” is really a safe place for them, a place where they find purpose, find like-minded individuals, and find the strength that is sometimes hidden behind those life challenges faced otherwise. This is where cooks and chefs belong and they know it. This is their home away from home, a place filled with craziness and confidence, a place where they can be comfortable in their own skin and proud of what they are able to do. I miss this.

Staring out the window – I wonder what other cooks and chefs across the country are doing right now. Without the pressure of absurd timelines, without the need to perform magic on a grill, in a pan, or plating on the line; and without the demands of a full dining room – what are these cooks and chefs doing right now?

The missing paycheck is looking over their shoulders, the empty refrigerator and pantry is gnawing at their conscience, and the uncertainty of tomorrow is very frightening – but, what they are likely most concerned with is the separation of team and missing a kitchen space that can no longer be their safe haven. I look out the window and wonder.

My time in the kitchen as a chef is long gone although my work continues as an active consultant, but when my business slows to a halt I turn my thoughts to cooks and chefs who depend on those kitchens to make them complete.

We all feel that this will end, we don’t know when, but we bide our time by thinking about a return to life as we knew it, life in our kitchen safe havens. If only we had an understanding of when. Looking out the window can be depressing, but hope springs eternal as they say, and that feeling that it will end and we will return keeps us going. When I see those cars driving by I wonder how many are filled with cooks and chefs coasting through town and waiting for the day to come when they can walk through those kitchen doors and hear, see, smell, touch and taste the life that they relish once again.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

The Day Will Come – Keep the Faith

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP

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There has never been a more important time for leadership – not the job title – the act of leadership and the positive actions of those who rise to the occasion. It is human nature for the vast majority of people to look to a person or persons to show the way, to set the tone, to be honest and to give hope through action. Each day brings more grave predictions for what is to come and in the midst of this we receive mixed messages from those who either hold the title of leader or exhibit leadership qualities through their actions. Whom do we trust – whom should we listen to and follow?

There are people who selflessly step up and do what they believe is right, even in the absence of real leadership. Those doctors, nurses, healthcare staff members, first responders, firefighters and police, utility workers, and yes – grocery store employees who respond to their designation as “essential workers” – and put themselves in harms way to help others. At the same time – they crave leadership direction. A few governors are doing the right thing and filling the leadership void with frank, honest, organized, and consistent messages and we clamor to listen to them as we do those epidemiologists and virologists who have the historical credibility to tell it like it is, but we still feel a bit lost and confused as overall consistent leadership lags behind the curve.

Restaurant workers are typically people who rise to the occasion and respond to a need. Whenever there is a crisis – food service workers and restaurant owners start the conversation with: “What can we do?” This willingness is our nature, this is hospitality during crisis – it happens with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, and floods – we can count on it. When people in crisis need to be fed – the restaurant industry responds without giving thought to the cost or even the danger – this is what we do.

We are in a crisis situation that could never have been imagined. It is a crisis that impacts everyone throughout the world. Everything else has disappeared from the world dialogue. We no longer talk about differences between world leaders, oil prices, pockets of terrorism, the pending presidential election, or other “breaking news” scenarios that filled the news cycle just a few weeks ago. Today we are unified in our common fear of an invisible enemy that threatens human survival, world economies, and the stability of governments. This is our common mission – to survive and defeat this invisible enemy.

When we see giants of leadership rise up, we breathe deeper, and even foster a smile knowing that someone is showing us the way. Who would predict that a chef, a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, a computer geek and philanthropist, and even average Americans with sewing machines would become the leaders that we need. Each one of us, especially those who have positions of authority can step up and fill the leadership void. This is a call to arms – a call to those who can take on the role that they should. Business owners, chefs, social media managers, writers, musicians, and others with a voice can be the strength that America and the world need right now.

Tell the truth; help people to understand their role, give opportunities for the average person to make a difference, unify, communicate effectively, and set the example for others to follow. Sometimes leaders rise out of necessity – they may not be appointed, elected, or hired to take on this role – they just know that it is what is required.

Here are a few that give me hope:

andres

Jose Andres – chef extraordinaire and exemplary humanitarian:

https://time.com/collection/apart-not-alone/5809169/jose-andres-coronavirus-food/

dyson

James Dyson – inventor and vacuum cleaner designer:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/26/tech/dyson-ventilators-coronavirus/index.html

gates

Bill and Melinda Gates – one of the original computer geeks/entrepreneurs and incredible humanitarian:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracywang/2020/02/05/billionaire-philanthropist-bill-gates-announces-100-million-commitment-to-fight-coronavirus-global-health-crisis/#4a6977a020be

Certainly we need sufficient personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers, more hospital beds, additional doctors and nurses, ventilators, and a population willing to isolate themselves to reduce the spread, but at the top of the list is a dire need for real leadership in all areas to coordinate and drive this effort, to set the example and tell the truth, to bring us all together and make it clear what we can all do to help. It might very well be that the most important thing we can do is to stay put and flatten the curve of infection.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Look to those in leadership roles- step up if you can -do your part

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: AS OUR KITCHENS SLEEP

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There is no one to turn on the lights, fire up the ovens, start the groan of hood exhausts, and no one to fill the dish machine tank and three bay sink. Vendor deliveries have ceased, floors remain clean and untouched, and the clock on the wall suddenly sounds off with the ticking of time. The POS printer hasn’t come to life for a week or so; there is no smell of coffee brewing, bacon fresh from the oven, sauté onions and garlic, stock, or 109 ribs being pulled from the slow cooker. Kitchens across America are asleep and waiting to be awoken.

Kitchens without cooks to bring them to life are wastelands of stainless steel. The coolers may be empty, but it won’t take much to fill the void with meats, fish, fresh produce and dairy and charge forward. Every kitchen awaits the opportunity to play their part.

As cooks we can all close our eyes and envision the smells, sounds, heat, and organized chaos that define a busy kitchen. We crave the banging of pots and pans, the staccato of knives as they strike a cutting board, the sizzle of ingredients as they hit a scorching hot pan, the clink of glasses and china, the bark of the expeditor, the banter of cooks and the spiciness of their language, and the “yes chef” response when a directive is given. A quiet kitchen just does not seem right. We miss the cases of ingredients waiting to be rotated and stored, filleting fish, kneading dough, trimming tenderloins, peeling onions, garlic and shallots, and the whir of a VitaPrep blender and Robot Coupe. These sounds and their associated smells represent our lives, our culture, and the world where we are most comfortable.

Sure we complain about the hours, the intensity of the work, the stress, the heat, and even the slow work of those who are less committed – but we miss it. A cook’s life is a sensual experience – each human sense is poked and prodded throughout the day and now that it has been taken away, we feel less whole.

Pulling a strap pan from the oven with two 109 ribs weights over 50-pounds – we miss that. Lifting a 5-gallon pot of stock from the stove, sixty or more pounds of scorching hot broth and vegetables is a dangerous act – we miss that. Flipping sauté vegetables in an 18-inch pan is an acrobatic process as the ingredients climb into the air and then gracefully tumble back in place – we miss that. The tedious process of peeling and deveining a case of U-15 shrimp is something we also miss. Peeling onions and potatoes, pulling the skins off of garlic, mincing parsley, shucking clams and oysters, portioning steaks and marking them on a cherry red grill, caramelizing Diver scallops, or salmon fillets, and plating up a few hundred covers on a Friday night – we miss all of that.

Joni Mitchell, the magical songwriter of the 60’s and 70’s once wrote: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” That statement sure sums things up today – doesn’t it?

We have too much time to think about what we are missing, too much uncertainty about what may come, there is too much anxiety over our own health, and far too much sadness about what is missed. We miss the camaraderie of our teammates, the stress of a sometimes-impossible job, the pressure of a full dining room and the impatience of servers waiting for their order, and the stare that could kill from the chef when we screw up an order and need to re-fire.

The first couple of days in isolation were a nice pause from the pace of everyday in the kitchen – after that, the silence and the lack of focus was, and still is, painful. Cooks need to cook, cooks need the pace of the kitchen, cooks thrive on the stress, and cooks need their kitchen back.

Know that if we act the way we need to act to stop the spread of this virus, if we remain aware that others are feeling the anxiety of being complacent and bored, and if we do whatever we can to be there for our co-workers, family, and friends – this will end and we will return to those kitchens that lie in waiting. It won’t be the same at first, but once we step through that back door, turn on the lights, fire up the ovens, and flip the switch on the exhaust fans – it will begin anew.

Patience is a virtue that Type A cooks have little of – this is something that we will need to learn. Patience and diligence will win this battle. First things first – defeat this invisible enemy, remain diligent with our new normal, learn from the experience, and return to our kitchens with a new sense of understanding.

Restaurants are important to our society, to the lifestyle that Americans have become accustomed to, and to our national economy, but know that restaurants and the life associated with working in them is important to cooks, chefs, servers, bartenders, dishwashers, vendors, farmers, fisherman, and ranchers as well. We are all feeling the darkness of a kitchen that is currently asleep.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Be patient – Be diligent

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

Joni Mitchell – from Big Yellow Taxi

OUR DAILY BREATH: IS THE AMERICAN DREAM IN JEOPARDY?

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To me, there is nothing more soul crushing than to see a restaurant closed and for sale. Behind the sign on the front window is a story of a person’s dream, an all out life change to become an entrepreneur, an investment of every personal penny, financial support from family members and likely loans to supplement. Behind that sign are years of blood, sweat and tears, and a team of employees: cooks, chefs, servers, bartenders and dishwashers who show up every day to work and who depend on those meager paychecks and tips to pay their bills and support their families. Behind that window sign is a bank that reluctantly gave that risky start-up loan, a cadre of vendors who will likely have to wait for a portion of the money that the restaurant owes, a landlord with an empty building and back rent that may never come, and many loyal customers who have lost their favorite place to meet and dine. The sign tells a story that is deep and troubling – a sign that represents the end of a dream, an indication of failed ideas, and the fear of uncertainty moving forward. That sign truly is soul crushing.

The American Dream has built this country, a country of immigrants who saw this as a land of opportunity where anyone with an idea and a few dollars in his or her pocket could find a space, raise the capital, and open their doors to a bright future. This is a country where the majority of jobs are affiliated with small business, where every city is filled with storefronts that represent those dreams and people who buy into them.

“Over 99 percent of America’s 28.7 million firms are small businesses. The vast majority (88 percent) of employer firms have fewer than 20 employees, and nearly 40 percent of all enterprises have under $100k in revenue. 20 percent of small businesses are employer businesses and 80 percent are non-employer businesses.”

-J.P. Morgan Chase

According to the National Restaurant Association – 70% of American restaurants are single-unit operations (privately owned small businesses) and 90% have fewer than 50 employees. This is the life-blood of the American economy and this is the heart of the American Dream.

Why restaurants? Restaurants, although banks are hesitant to invest in them, are still one of the easiest businesses to start (yet some of the most difficult to operate). Most people, even those without any professional restaurant experience, have a food concept idea that they toss around constantly – so it is ever-present. People rely on restaurants – so to many, it only makes sense that a restaurant has the potential to be great. Unfortunately, it just isn’t that easy, in fact it is damn hard to convert that idea into something that can age, grow, and be successful. So, when a restaurant leaps over the obstacles and reaches a level of success and then needs to close its doors – the pain is palpable. This is where we are.

Successful restaurants, all restaurants, are faced with a lockdown and an inability to pay their bills, keep their valuable employees on the payroll, and see light at the end of the tunnel. One week of closure can be navigated, two weeks are a challenge, and a month is the kiss of death.

As I walk down the street for my daily exercise (without contact with people) and stare into restaurant windows – chairs inverted on tables, lights out, a light layer of dust starting to collect and windows not as clear and clean as they once were – I feel that hollowness that comes from loss. I grieve for these folks – the people that I spent my professional life working beside, learning from, focused on serving the public, building skills, perfecting plate presentations and flavors, and laughing about our mistakes – I grieve for them.

The American Dream will survive, but many of these restaurants will not. Chef/Operator Tom Colicchio believes that 75% will not survive – I don’t know if we can accurately project that, but there is no doubt that many will never reopen and their dreams will come to an end. I do know that restaurants are essential to our way of life, they are there to service our physical, emotional, and mental needs and will once again become those neighborhood gathering places once we are able to do so. I do know that although some dreams will be shattered, there will be others to take their place. Restaurants are like that – they open, they grow, they close, and others are there in waiting to take their place.

It will take time, but dreams never die, they simply get put on the shelf until opportunity knocks. Opportunity will knock again and people will return to the comfort of those small privately owned restaurants – it will happen. In the meantime we must try to keep those dreams alive and help your favorite restaurant where you can, encourage them and if they fail – lift them up. These operators are the heart and soul of America and their staff members are the centerpieces of our economy. When the next generation of dreamers comes along – encourage them, help them, direct them, and counsel them. When they open – support them and hail the beauty of the American Dream.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We will get through this together

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: TAKING THE KITCHEN OUT OF THE COOK IS PROBLEMATIC

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We have all heard the phrase: “You can take the cook out of the kitchen, but you can’t take the kitchen out of the cook.” While there is certainly some merit to this statement, the current isolation is pushing the envelope in that regard. Why is it so hard to take the kitchen out of the cook?

I am sure that this reality applies to other fields and trades, but I do believe that it is much more pronounced with cooks. Here is why:

Kitchen work is a way of life, similar to career military. To meet the needs of the consistently inconsistent environment of the kitchen – chefs need to apply a level of discipline and organization that rivals that of a military platoon. Because of the level of multi-tasking required and the speed with which cooks need to act and react – organization must be as structured as the checklist that a pilot walks through every time he or she enters the cockpit. And – due to the level of split second communication that takes place throughout a kitchen day – these operations develop their own language that is a cross between French, Italian, and street-smart urban English. We (cooks) look a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way, and interact a certain way – all for the good of the tasks at hand. Without this structure the kitchen would surely go astray.

Cooks and chefs learn to plan effectively, run through various scenarios so that planning takes all potential curve balls into consideration; they need to walk through their production check list and prioritize items based on their timing and complexity; they need to remember a thousand different steps that distinguish one product preparation from another; they must have a photographic memory of how each plate is assembled; they must be able to multi-task and make split second decisions regarding the sequence of cooking and plating; and they must do all of this with minimal steps and an acute level of concentration.

When everything gets intense during a meal rush – the cook’s adrenaline is pumping at breakneck speed while each step, in the cook’s mind, seems to slow down and become crystal clear. This is when the cook is in the zone – a special place that is driven by adequate preparation, loads of experience, and heightened awareness.

When the shift is over – a cook’s heart is still beating hard, that adrenaline is still coursing through his or her veins, the cook’s mind is still racing, and thoughts of tomorrow are already creating a package of anticipation and high anxiety. At the end of a shift – the cook cannot turn this off, this feeling of accomplishment, exhilaration, pride, and a sense for the exhaustion that is about to set in.

So, now the cook’s restaurant is closed. There are no longer any prep sheets, the requisite uniform is no longer required, no need for those knives to be sharp, no impending doom if his or her mise is not in order, no tickets ringing off the printer, no unison chants of “yes chef”, no plates to artistically assemble, and no delicious food to see, smell, and taste. There is a serious vacuum in a cook’s life, a sense of being incomplete, an absence of adrenaline highs, and a serious absence of the interplay between team members that brings that cook back to work, seeking more enjoyable punishment and impossible tasks once again. This is not a joke – this is a physical, mental, emotional, and even at some level – a spiritual letdown.

While we wrestle with all of the issues surrounding the fear of Covid-19 and the potential impact on personal health and financial stability – let’s not forget how deflated those cooks from your operation are. How lonely and despondent they probably are – lost without the discipline and logic behind the work that they normally do. Cooks need to work – they need a purpose, a purpose that the kitchen oftentimes fills.

Chefs and restaurateurs need to stay in touch with those cooks and where possible, engage them in some level of work with a deadline. This is important for the cook’s wellbeing. Is there a need to produce free meals for a local soup kitchen, an opportunity to work on recipe development in their homes, is their some long-overdue maintenance or painting work to be done in your restaurant while still practicing social distancing? At least they can feel at home in the kitchen even if there aren’t any orders to fill. This is important for a cook’s mental and emotional health.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We’re in this together – Don’t 86 us

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: FOOD, SHELTER, CLOTHING, HEALTH, FAMILY, COMMUNICATION, and TRUST

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This is where we are today. If we push aside much of the chatter and get down to the necessities in life that are food, shelter, clothing, health, family, communication and trust that rise to the top of the priority list.   We tend to look at job and money as the root of concern, and reflect on how we miss social interaction and the trappings of consumerism, but that is a cover for the results of the absence of those components of our existence.

Let’s face it – restaurants, like almost every other type of business, are in deep, deep trouble. In the immediate – they are, for all intents and purposes – closed, leaving hundreds of thousands of employees without work, and without a paycheck. This equates to a level of fear that has not been part of our culture since the Great Depression. What people fear is a lack of food, loss of shelter, concerns about their health and the safety of their families, insufficient communication and communication that is not honest and complete. What can we do (we referring to those whom others depend on for solutions)?

FOOD:

There will be an increasing need for sources of emergency food to support a growing number of individuals and families that find their refrigerators and cupboards empty. If you have it – share it. Check in with your neighbors (by phone or email) and share your excess if they are in need. Contact those furloughed employees who live from paycheck to paycheck and do the same. Drop off dry goods to your local food pantry if you have more than you need. Food is an immediate need in times of crisis.

SHELTER:

Let’s trust that landlords and banks will show empathy and defer or even forgive some payments in the immediate future. If not, we have an even bigger crisis on our hands. Help where you can while remembering that social distancing must still apply.

CLOTHING:

With time on your hands – take a look at your closet and if there are items of clothing that no longer fit, or have not been worn for quite some time – donate them! Someone can put them to good use.

HEALTH:

With millions of Americans still without healthcare or poorly covered – there will be those who ignore the symptoms of Covid-19 and fail to take necessary precautions or even avoid emergency care if needed. If you are an employer who has recently told employees that their job is on hold – at least try to maintain their healthcare for a period of time. Others, who still may be working, may shy away from staying home to self-quarantine for fear of losing a paycheck – employers need to do what they can. And, by all means – call out those healthy individuals who ignore the shelter in place directives and in doing so endanger all of us in the process.

FAMILY:

One of the hardest things to do during a biological crisis is to stay physically removed from family members. Since most households do have a computer or at least a smartphone – there are answers. FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom are available to help family members to stay in touch and do so with the aid of a visual connection. Separation is a very difficult think to accept and if not addressed can lead to depression and heightened anxiety. Employers should invest the time to guide their furloughed employees through the process of using these tools.

COMMUNICATION:

Ironically it is not the content of a message that is driving anxiety as much as it is the frequency and accuracy of the communication being offered. In the absence of trustworthy, accurate, and complete information from our government – there is an opportunity for operation owners and leadership to fill in the gaps. Develop a vehicle for relaying the RIGHT INFORMATION to your employees, friends, and neighbors. Talk with them honestly about what you know, how it impacts them, and how it impacts your company. Be frank, but be compassionate as well. If you haven’t watched the attached message from the CEO of Marriott Hotels, then I encourage you to click on the following. This is how the truth can be passed on to people with clarity, honesty, and empathy.

Marriott CEO:

https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/marriotts-ceo-shared-a-video-with-his-team-its-a-powerful-lesson-in-leading-during-a-crisis.html?fbclid=IwAR1w_85_W_2FYER4p1Pn_ZLW8Zo_9PxF0xoCcmGkaaCV2SbEtfYlsW5-2y8

Remember – we are all in this together. Do what you need to do and understand what we are all going through. Help each other out as much as you can. This is the right thing to do.

“That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection; that common creed. We don’t fear the future; we shape it. We embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own.”

Barack Obama

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We are all in this together

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

DON’T JUST RE-ARRANGE – CHANGE THAT RESTAURANT

Painted in Waterlogue

Take a breath, hold on and think it through, turn on a dime, change or be changed, now is the time, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t forget what got you to this point, the past is the past – move on, the conflicting words of advice are swirling around us and restaurateurs and chefs are caught in the middle like a ship without a rudder. It’s impossible to ignore the doom and gloom, the restaurant closures, the eroded sales figures, the dwindling pool of qualified workers, and the customers who are nervous as hell – yet look around you and try to find a restaurant that is ready for and excited about real change.

I find it very challenging to continue writing about this without sounding those alarm bells, yet there is a need to do so. Damn it hurts to see great restaurants, talented chefs, formally well-run operations, and loads of mom and pop operations that did a consistently good job for decades face what seems like insurmountable obstacles. When I see those closure signs, for sale, space for rent, tables and chairs collecting dust, kitchens without life, and cobwebs in windows that once framed in groups of happy, laughing, satisfied customers now dark and empty – it is difficult to avoid the emotion of the times.

I feel for those operators who moved to “to go” models, and those attempting to serve a socially distanced dining room filled to less than 50% with masked servers and guests looking with trepidation at each other during the course of a rushed meal. I know, as do they, that this is just a way to deny the inevitable: “This can’t continue, it is impossible to sustain, at some point they will need to give in to fate”, unless….real change takes place.

Buckminster Fuller – the designer of geodesic structures spoke of change:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

If we begin with an understanding that the restaurant business will not likely return to the way that it was – then, at least, we place ourselves in a position of avoiding the conflict that comes from denial. So, with this reality check we can either hold on to what was and cross our fingers in hope for a miracle, or we can say: “what next”. What can, or even should the restaurant business look like during and after the pandemic?

Yes, there must be a significant effort placed on immediate survival (we don’t know how long “immediate” will last), but even more importantly – we must think, study, inquire, assess, innovate, and strategize on what “restaurants” will become in 6 months, a year, or longer.

When you free yourself of trying to protect what is un-protectable then we are able to think without self-imposed constraints. This is a perfect time to outline a course of action by establishing what you know in your heart must change, defining the opportunities and unmet needs that are before us, and establishing a desire to not let roadblocks get in the way of change. Here are some thoughts:

[]         NEEDS TO CHANGE:
*          Dependence on reasonable rent and realistic landlords

-Maybe a restaurant owner’s desire to lock into a brick and mortar     establishment is no longer appropriate.

-Maybe a landlord’s separation from the business of running a restaurant is             no longer the type of relationship that restaurateurs should seek.

-Maybe landlords and restaurant owners need to have stronger partner        relationships.

-Maybe the idea of the pop-up restaurant with very short-term leases makes            more sense – the restaurateur finds the most appropriate location in the moment.

  • Dependence on many hands to get the job done

-Should restaurant chefs re-think the menu model that has survived for        generations?

-Do we need that much choice, should there be more reliance on simple         process with exceptional, seasonal ingredients and far less mise en place             requiring many hands?

-Should menus be fixed or should they evolve weekly or even daily?

-Should more emphasis be placed on pre-preparation and point of service be           reserved for those who are fast and efficient rather than the guardians of           taste?

-Is there a stronger market for very high quality convenience ingredients that          minimize labor while maintaining the quality standards of an operation?

  • Substandard profitability

-Restaurants cannot continue as viable businesses (put aside the important emotion of wanting to cook and make people happy) with profit margins in       the single digits. Something has to give.

-Shouldn’t menus reflect the use of less expensive, high quality ingredients   that are geared towards profit (chicken legs vs. Kobe beef)?

-Vendor relationships with restaurants must become more of a profit             partnership. If the restaurant succeeds –so too will the vendor. The vendor             must establish the means of helping the restaurant reach their financial        goals.

  • Substandard compensation packages for employees

-As difficult as it is to attract quality restaurant employees now – it will           become impossible in the future. We must look at employee compensation            as a priority.

-Should restaurants investigate hybrid compensation that include       performance bonuses or even profit sharing at some level?

-If we become more efficient is it possible to accomplish restaurant goals       with fewer, well-trained, talented employees who are paid well for these             skills and aptitudes?

  • A need to market when marketing is not your forte

-Restaurants can no longer operate in a marketing vacuum and buying ads   while they cross fingers and hope that work – s is no a strategy.

-Restaurants inherently know that social media is an important medium        right now, but very few understand how to use it.

-Should an internal social media manager become as essential as an assistant           manager or sous chef?

  • The unpredictability of business volume

-This, of course, ties in with marketing, but never knowing what to truly         expect from day-to-day leads to miscalculations on staffing, ordering, and             production. Predictability comes from a more aggressive reservation model.

-Building a program of dependable analytics is essential for restaurant          volume management. The math is important!

-Finding, and using a POS system that provides this data is one of the wisest             decisions that an owner and chef can make.

  • A supply chain that is in control

-Restaurants are often times at the mercy of the supply chain. When we       allow ourselves to fall into a dependence scenario with vendors then we       relinquish our control.

-Find vendors that are service oriented, demand that your vendor      relationships be service oriented, and valuing those relationships will go a          long way.

-Plan your menus with vendors so that quality, quantity, and service are a     given up front.

It’s a brave new world for restaurateurs – think about those challenges, but keep your eye on the opportunities. Forward thinking and a willingness to change are door openers – enthusiasm for change is a game changer.

“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

—Warren Buffett

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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