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tony and I

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.


Now is the time for future thinking

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

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