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

Restaurant Consulting

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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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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

CAFÉ Talks Podcast

https://cafetalks.libsyn.com/

 

 

IN BUSINESS – BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER

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Painted in Waterlogue

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.

me at dinner

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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Painted in Waterlogue

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.

cooks

[]         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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Painted in Waterlogue

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

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Education is the great equalizer

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

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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.

Painted in Waterlogue

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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