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

OUR DAILY BREATH: CHEFS & OPERATORS – KEEPING YOUR TEAM TOGETHER

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This is another time when we can rely on what we know about human nature and what keeps people whole: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I once again turn to the wisdom of Abraham Maslow as a guide through this difficult time, a crisis unparalleled in modern times.

Those of us in the restaurant industry are in shock at the speed and severity of destruction to the core of our businesses. Everyone seems to be gasping for breath and starved for direction. While we may not know what is next, how long this will last, or what we will look like in six-months or a year, we can depend on human nature and how we all approach dramatic challenges.   History has shown that Maslow’s understanding of this human approach is always applicable. So whether you are an owner/operator, manager, chef, or hourly employee let’s look at this reality and how we might learn from it moving forward.

[]         SURVIVAL

The first reaction of all who face a crisis situation is to think and act internally. We have an inherent need to protect ourselves and those closest to us. We gather, quickly reflect, and act in the best interest of those parties – this is part of our DNA. Parents protect their children and siblings, children protect their family members, especially those who are most vulnerable, friends protect friends, and so on. Those who are outside of this “family” are far less important in those initial moments of a crisis. We will do whatever we can to protect our own health and wellbeing, and that of those who have earned the family label. As giving as people may be, until this group is safe, nothing else matters.

As owners/operators, managers, and chefs – if we have served the role of leader well then our employees will think of us as part of that family. If we have not, then the safety and staying power of the restaurant is of little importance to the employee aside from the loss of a paycheck. If we hope to keep a core team together through crisis and be able to lean on them through eventual recovery then we must view them as family and treat them in that manner.

Do what family members do: be concerned, communicate, offer to help where possible, be sincere, and reassure them that the restaurant will be there when this crisis passes. A weekly touch base with all employees goes a long way: a call, text, email, card in the mail, FaceTime, or even a Zoom video meeting with your team every so often will keep that family feel in place.

[]         SECURITY

This is where government comes into play. We trust that in lieu of an immediate vaccine and end to quarantine – the government will do all they can through loan deferrals, unemployment benefits, rent controls, and medical assistance to help everyone get through this. When crisis strikes – government organizations need to step up and citizens need to feel as though those in the administration have their backs. We watch everyday as this unfolds and hold our breath until we are comfortable that this will happen. Owners and the organizations that they belong to need to invest their energy in ensuring that our government steps up to the plate.

[]         BELONGINGNESS

Feeling part of something special, something that is larger than the individual, something that people can wrap their arms around and invest their time in is critical to peace of mind and a desire to stay engaged. When we treat our employees like family, then they feel as though they belong as a member of that business. When professional groups rally behind the needs of their members then employees feel as though they belong as a member of that organization, and when government steps up and does everything in its power to help citizens then there exists a deep-seated pride in being an American.

When belongingness exists then hope of recovery and future wellbeing feels certain. This is an essential step in moving forward and building trust.

[]         SELF-ESTEEM

When we isolate from others – self-doubt begins to creep in. “What am I doing with my life?” “Is what I am doing really important?”, “Why did this happen?”, are questions that will seep into a persons feeling of worth. It is critical that communication with employees focus on the importance of the work that cooks, chefs, servers, bartenders, etc. are involved with. What we do IS IMPORTANT! We are responsible for not only nourishing our guests, but also providing comfort, a way to gather and communicate, a place of celebration, and a time to forget our problems and laugh, and a reward when it might not otherwise exist. Your employees will see just how elated guests will be when they are able to return to their neighborhood restaurant and take control of their lives again.

Help your employees feel great about what they do and the role that they will play in the recovery from this crisis.

[]         ACTUALIZATION

This is the time to start conversations with your staff members that go beyond their jobs. What do they want to do with their lives, what are their dreams, what skills and talents do they have beyond food, what inspires them and makes them want to jump out of bed in the morning? Know what the answers are to these questions and make it part of your responsibility to help them reach those dreams. This is what leaders do, this is your assignment while we “shelter in place” and think about what might come tomorrow. This is how you keep a team together.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

TOMORROW WILL COME AND THE SUN WILL SHINE AGAIN

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: A TIME TO BRING BACK TRADITIONS & EMBRACE OPPORTUNITIES

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We have lots of time on our hands. Once we learn to take a breath and put the brakes on typically intense lifestyles, always on the go, always more to do than there is time, constantly putting aside interface time with friends and family, and relying on technology for our entertainment – we might just be able to find solace in life.

Here are some thoughts:

[]         CHALLENGE YOUR PERSONAL COOKING

Whether a professional cook or an amateur – page through those cookbooks on your shelf or on-line and push yourself to try something new. Learn how to make pasta or tortilla, bake bread, save those vegetable scraps and keep a stock going in your kitchen, try your hand at a soufflé, poach fruits for dessert, or pick up some cheese curd and try your hand at pulling fresh mozzarella. Cooking is an adventure – now you have the time.

[]         MAKE ALL OF YOUR MEALS SPECIAL

Take the time to enjoy every aspect of a meal. Set the table, serve your dinner in courses, allow enough time to truly enjoy each meal, talk about food and family traditions that surround it – this is the time to truly embrace all the healing power of a meal.

[]         READ A BOOK

Fiction or non-fiction, enter the world of storytelling and align yourself with the characters (stay away from stories that involve natural disasters, pandemics, and war).

[]         READ A COOKBOOK

They are on your shelf – take the time to dive in and read about the process, the history, the writers passion for food, and earmark those that you intend to try at some time.

[]         LIMIT YOUR TIME WATCHING THE NEWS

There is little news nowadays that will brighten your day. You need to stay apprised of what is going on, but give yourself a break. Catch up in the morning, a few minutes mid-day and an end-of-day wrap-up, but avoid staying glued to the doom and gloom of minute-by-minute horror stories.

[]         FACETIME WITH FAMILY

What a great tool – use it and set aside a time daily or every other day to check in with family. Isolation is tough – seeing those close to us, even via video is comforting.

[]         TEXT AND CALL FRIENDS

Sometimes even that short text: “How are you doing”, or “miss you”, means the world and can bring a smile to a friends face.

[]         WRITE LETTERS

Here’s a novel idea – pull out a pen and piece of paper and write a snail mail note. We have lost touch with this important means of communication. A letter is personal and shows a commitment of time to express your feelings or simply keep someone up to date. A mailbox with a letter is a small thing, yet an important one to look forward to.

[]         GET OUTSIDE

Social distancing does not mean that we can’t get outside and breathe in some fresh air. If you are near a country trail or woods – all the better. Nature is a healing friend and can invigorate you after a day of indoor isolation. Make it a daily habit.

[]         EXERCISE

Go for a run or walk if you are so inclined (just keep your distance from others), or at the very least schedule in some indoor exercise every day: sit-ups, yoga, stretching, walking up and down stairs, lift weights, keep those muscles moving.

[]         MAKE YOUR LIST FOR THE DAY

People need schedules or they become introverted and lethargic. Before you go to bed write down your schedule for the next day. Act as if things are normal and stick to the schedule that includes something educational, exercise, fresh air, chores around the house, reading, music, cooking, communication, etc. Keep the body, mind and spirit moving in the right direction.

[]         BUILD IN A DAILY POWER NAP

A nap is invigorating (30 – 45 minutes is all you need) and is not reserved for those over 60. Any age can benefit from a refresh.

[]         CHECK OUT MASTER CLASSES (www.masterclass.com)

If you have the funds (the cost is very reasonable – classes priced individually, or for $15/month you can access all 80 classes – unlimited) this is an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill, or at the very least inspire you to try something new. Take a series of cooking classes from Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsey or Alice Waters, photography from Annie Liebovitz, writing from James Patterson or Dan Brown, polish your guitar licks with Carlos Santana, or learn about business leadership from Howard Schultz of Starbucks. Amazing stuff.

[]         LEARN SOMETHING NEW THAT WILL HELP YOUR CAREER

Pick up a book of skills, read about food history, work on different knife skills, master writing a business letter, discover QuickBooks, there are countless skills that can be added to your portfolio – now is the time!

[]         FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH ZOOM

Sign up for zoom video conferencing (at an intro level it is free) and schedule times to network with your team from work or friends. This is a great tool that will serve you well even after this immediate crisis is behind us.

Time is all we have, and now it is important to not waste it. We are living through a very challenging time in history – we will get through it and find a way to bring back a new positive normal. This time of isolation can be used to our advantage.

PLAN BETTER – PERSONALLY TRAIN HARDER

Challenges can become Opportunities

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

RESTAURANT SURVIVAL MOVING FORWARD

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We have never seen anything like this. Everyone in the restaurant industry is petrified beyond today – they immediately think about how impossible it might be to dig themselves out of the hole being created. I have communicated with many who are crushed with fear, a sense of loss, and helplessness after telling employees that they can’t keep them on and there is no indication of when things might return to normalcy.

The National Restaurant Association predicts that the industry could lose 5-7 million jobs as a result of the Covid – 19 virus and subsequent required closings.

There is no question that the restaurant industry, one of the largest employers in the country, an industry that is important for the nutrition, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the population, and a business that has become an integral part of the American lifestyle, is in need of help. Here are some thoughts:

[]         Small, privately owned restaurant operators, chefs, and cooks, bartenders and servers are proud people. They are typically under compensated for their work and under-appreciated for their commitment, but they remain proud. These proud people are not looking for a handout – what they want is a fair shot at remaining in business and being successful.

[]         Government intervention through provision of 0% short and long-term loans to help these restaurants survive and rise up when this crisis is over is a fair shot.

[]         Rent forgiveness or timed payment delay for the next few months provides them with a fair shot.

[]         When a portion of a city starts a process of renewal one of the first businesses to get the ball rolling is typically a restaurant. When the restaurant draws a base of customers then other aspects of renewal fall into place. Rent control for these initial business risk takers gives them a fair shot.

[]         A $15/hour minimum wage gives employees a fair shot and as long as restaurateurs are given guidance on how to adapt to increased wages then the operation also has a fair shot.

[]         Extended and expanded unemployment insurance will give employees a chance – they do pay into this.

[]         Why not energize a partnership between the SBA and Culinary, Hospitality and Business Colleges? Keep in mind that everything will change as we eventually claw our way out of this crisis. This change will impact restaurants and all of those businesses that feed into it, including colleges. A federal initiative to mobilize these experts to provide additional guidance, training, and consultation to restaurants as they seek to find ways to survive and come through this – prepared to succeed is a fair shot for restaurants and an opportunity for colleges. This is a perfect time to focus on training.

Additionally, colleges, especially private ones, will likely face a significant drop in applications and enrolled students as America seeks to regain confidence and rebuild their financial stability. This training partnership with the SBA could provide an opportunity for schools to shift their focus and business model – at least for the time being.

[]         As part of any increase in unemployment insurance without the prospect of finding work elsewhere – why not redirect the initiative for free tuition to free on-line training for workers in specific fields. Set aside the need to focus on degrees and push for training in fields that will need a better-prepared workforce in the coming few years.

[]         There are, and there will be even more Americans who are nutritionally disadvantaged. School lunch programs, unemployed workers, senior citizens, and the homeless will face incredible food hardships. Why not engage our country’s food logistics champion and appoint Chef Jose Andres to head up a nationwide and government supported initiative to end hunger in America. Working with restaurants, the millions of cooks from coast to coast, and restaurant organizations this could be one of the most important initiatives to rise up out of the current crisis.

We must, obviously, put our full effort into fighting the threat of Covid-19 and building renewed confidence in our ability to keep the population safe and healthy, but we know that at some point soon, the economic perils that we face will be just as significant. We must plan quickly on how to do more than simply throw money at the problem and avoid being focused on just today. Tomorrow will come much too quickly.

The restaurant industry is only one of many that will face a troubled future, but we do know that real recovery must include emotional and mental health that restaurant experiences play such an important role in addressing. We will know that a new normal has arrived when our restaurants are once again full of people enjoying each other’s company, a great plate of food, and a chance to laugh again.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Restaurants are Essential

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

http://www.harvestamericacues.com

A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

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Mr. President – I will state up front that I am not one of your supporters and never have been, but as history has demonstrated time and again – during a time of significant crisis our country looks to and stands behind our leader as he or she makes decisions of life and death and stands to carry the nation through and beyond the calamity of the moment. We did this with Roosevelt during WWII and the Great Depression, Bush through the first Iraq crisis, George W. Bush through the tragedy of 9/11 and the initial phase of the war on terror, and Obama as we scratched our way through economic collapse. We (myself included) crave to support you in the process of leading us through Covid-19. The country is willing to put aside political and philosophical differences and unify behind you to show us the way through a daunting health crisis.

You have the advantage right now – it is yours to keep or lose. There have been significant stumbles so far, and actually the country will still set those aside as long as you do the right thing in this moment. Put aside the mistakes – we need to know what will happen today because the time to move is in the moment. We do not have the luxury of too many tomorrows or the luxury of ignorance of the challenges. The country needs an all out mobilization of the military, Congress, the medical community, manufacturing, international partners, transportation, public offices and private business, the banking industry, education, and anyone who has the ability to contribute in some way. Everyone is ready for you to lead – the buck does start and stop with you.

We need the federal government to set the tone and establish a clear strategy. In the absence of this – individual states and communities will make their own decisions based on what they know. This is human nature in the absence of a master plan. Independent decisions like this will lead to further isolation of ideas and loyalties and more distancing from the common good. The ball is in your court.

History will tell a story, but the story can be changed right now. How will others remember you and the government’s leadership as a whole? The only focus right now must be an all out, pull out all the stops, mobilization of everyone and everything to stop this virus. We need measurement through testing, limitless medical supplies for caregivers, economic support that ends up in the hands of the average American, a way to help businesses- especially small businesses survive and recover, thousands of temporary hospital beds, and an all out effort to develop, test and approve a vaccine.

Our healthcare workers need to be safe and feel supported. To not have sufficient testing so that benchmarks can be managed, and to not have the supplies necessary to keep these workers safe is beyond comprehension for the wealthiest democratic country in the world. How could this happen?

I am a member of one of the most important industries in the country. I have, for five decades, been a part of the hospitality industry, particularly the restaurant business. This business employs more people than any other except the government, is the portal industry for first jobs for a majority of Americans, and an essential industry that not only feeds our people, but also provides rewards, positive interaction, laughter, and emotional support for guests from coast to coast. There are countless times throughout a typical year when the restaurant industry steps up to support those who are suffering – no one needs to ask – when needed, we are there. We are an industry that like many of its employees lives financially in the moment. Our staff members cannot afford to survive without next weeks’ paycheck and tips and the restaurants where they work are close behind. This shutdown, although necessary and one that all restaurants understand and support, will immediately cripple those associated with the business, and if longer than a few weeks will likely result in business failures. Recovery will be questionable for thousands of restaurants who will find it impossible to find loans from banks, and will struggle to pay rent, re-hire employees, re-invigorate relationships with vendors, and work to bring customers back through their doors. This industry needs help.

The same can be said for retail businesses, private colleges, ground transportation, and a multitude of smaller businesses that have always been the lifeblood of our country. We need immediate leadership to combat the virus TODAY, not next week, and we need a realization that any stimulus for the future must include small business and the average American worker – NOT just big business.

Mr. President – this is your opportunity to do the right thing and mobilize the country, to inspire confidence, to view this as a war that must be won, and to demonstrate to the world that America is as great as we profess to be. I stand ready to support you in this regard, but am losing hope hour by hour. You are the President – BE THE PRESIDENT NOW.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

http://www.harvestamericacues.com  BLOG

 

THINK GLOBALLY – ACT LOCALLY

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We find ourselves in very troubling times. A time when we are asked to socially isolate, to work remotely, to trust the words of those who have been untrustworthy in the past, and to simply wait and see. We are naturally skeptical, inherently frightened, and for the most part void of any real plan moving forward. Our first instinct is to introvert, to protect ourselves and those close to us – yes, to horde supplies and discount the needs of others in lieu of finding some comfort in preparedness. We want our government to step in, or someone to step in and tell us what to do, and when they fail in this regard – panic sets in. All of this, to some degree, is predictable, scary, and sad.

This may very well be a “re-set time”, a time for all of us to take a hard look at what we have become in recent years. We are a society bent on polarization of thought, a society that has all too willingly allowed ourselves to sit in our silos of belief and scorn those who think differently. We all know in our hearts that this is wrong, but have, nonetheless, allowed ourselves to stand in line with those polarized beliefs. Maybe this is a time to take a “time out” and rethink where we are and what we have become.

“Out of an abundance of caution” is a phrase that is used as commonly as “have a good day” and when those around us tell everyone to engage in social isolation – we easily agree knowing that it is, at this time, the right thing to do. As a member of the global community we have an obligation to do whatever is necessary to stop or at least slow down the spread of this virus. This is, without a doubt, essential. Yet, human beings are social animals. We crave social interaction – it is what gives us energy and joy, it is what makes us smile and what stimulates our emotions, it is what gives us life and a real desire to jump out of bed each morning and greet the day. To socially isolate is to give away all of those aspects of life that are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually essential. We do this now, but know in our hearts that this will be the long-term danger that Covid-19 brings.

I am a willing part of an industry whose entire existence is based on the need for social interaction. The hospitality business, one of the most prevalent industries worldwide, is a business of people, by people, and for people. We exist to bring people together, to create environments for enjoyment and laughter, to heal and console, and to give our employees an opportunity to give of their talents and their passion so that others may express their joy for life. It is to me, and millions of others, an essential business.

Painted in Waterlogue

This essential business is, on the other hand, very fragile. What many outside of those who work in hotels, travel industries, restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops, do not realize is just how fragile this business is. You may realize that many hourly employees who work in these industries, especially those who wear the logo of those small mom and pop entrepreneurships, do so for meager wages, without benefits, and as a result live paycheck to paycheck. What you may not know is that the businesses themselves are in the same boat. A day of poor sales makes a restaurant or café cringe with disappointment. A week of poor sales makes that same business cringe in fear, and the thought of a longer period of time with weak or no sales bring about inherent doom and gloom. There are no contingency funds, no stash of money under the mattress, no fat savings accounts to tap into. Banks are reluctant, for good reason, to even build in a line of credit for fear of restaurant failure. So, social isolation and mandated closings strike real fear into the depths of an owner’s soul. They know that business collapse could be imminent and that this will mean that their loyal employees will face a lack of funds to pay rent, or money to put food on their table at home.

These are trying times and we must do what we must do for the health and wellbeing of our communities. There is no question about our responsibility in this regard. But, we must give some thought past our immediate safety to what lies ahead once the virus is under control. It may be a few weeks, but it could be months – no one seems to have a handle on that yet, except to point to our role in bringing this to an end. Yes, we must think globally at this time and do what is necessary to deal with a real crisis.

FOOD IS THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

Typically, when a national or world crisis such as this comes to life – the hospitality industry is one of the first to be impacted. It is also true that once we rise out of crisis mode the hospitality industry is one of the first to try and recover. Social isolation leaves a big hole in our lives and once the imminent danger subsides – we crave opportunities to come back together, re-connect, and bring a smile to our faces once again. It is the hospitality industry that gives people hope, renews friendship, and allows everyone to laugh and enjoy each other’s company. We depend on this and expect that it will happen. To this end, it is important that we act locally even during the peak of this crisis and help to shore up those restaurants, cafes, bed and breakfasts, small privately owned hotels, coffee shops, and deli operations who will struggle and may not have the capacity to survive.

There are things that we can do right now that will help. Here are some thoughts:

  • If you have the financial where-with-all then stop into your neighborhood restaurant, café, or coffee shop and buy a gift certificate for a friend or for your own future use.
  • This need not be significant amounts of money – a $10 gift certificate provides a bit of capital that will help that operation with cash flow over the next period of time.
  • If you are a landlord with a hospitality business in one of your properties then do the right thing and negotiate a way to spread rent out over an extended period of time or even open your heart and excuse one month’s rent to give them a fighting chance.
  • If you see your favorite waiter or waitress think about buying them a gift card that can help to pay their own rent or buy a few groceries to survive. Think about it as paying forward for the great service they will again provide once things settle down.
  • If you don’t have the funds to do any of this then at least take a moment to write and send a thank you card to that business or that employee noting that you understand their situation and fully intend to return as a customer as soon as it is possible. Hope springs eternal. When you do return – bring a friend who may have never experienced that business before.

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This is a time to hit the re-set button, to return to life as usual once this crisis has passed and do so knowing that our differences are what make us unique and that a difference of opinion is just that. We can be friends and not agree on everything. We can take the time to think of others in our community as part of whom we are and celebrate that unity at a local hotel, restaurant, café, coffee shop, or deli. Socially isolate now for the good of the global society we live in, but never lose sight of how important our local community is.

Buy a book at your local bookstore and take that off your amazon list. Buy a cup of coffee at that neighborhood independent coffee shop and thank your barista at the same time. Encourage your visiting friends to reserve a room at the mom and pop bed and breakfast rather than a chain hotel, and by all means be there to support all of those local businesses who make your community special.

THINK GLOBAL –ACT LOCAL

Be part of the return to real greatness

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

CHEFS – THIS VIRUS IS A WAKE-UP CALL

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As I find myself glued to the news that attacks everyone’s central nervous system, I am beginning to envision the chaos that the corona virus pandemic is about to inflict on the restaurant business. This is not the aftermath of 9/11, nor is it the same as the market crash in 2008 – this is likely going to be much, much worse. The other monumental events of the past 20-years were focused on fear and financial distress – this adds the element of critical personal health. In both of the prior events the restaurant business was devastated, but we did recover. With the addition of serious health concerns based on a communicable disease – I’m concerned that recovery may not be so dependable.

That being said, this type of crisis gives us all an opportunity to reflect on how we conduct ourselves and practice the normal precautions that every person must take to heart aThe immediate answers to slowing and stopping the spread of a virus are simply what we should be doing already – wash your hands frequently with soapy water for at least 20 seconds, cover a cough or a sneeze (not with your bare hands), avoid close contact with people who are obviously sick, and for those who are sick – stay home and away from other people. Makes sense – doesn’t it?

Let’s take a look at the behind the doors reality of the restaurant business in this regard:

[]         CHEF’S AND COOK’S VIEW SUFFERING THROUGH AN ILLNESS AS A BADGE OF COURAGE: How many times has it been said that chefs don’t get sick. The implication is that we simply tough it out and work through it as though the only concern is for ourselves. We may use the excuse that the demands of the business are so great that the business would suffer if we weren’t there. How self-centered is this?

[]         COOKS ARE EXPECTED TO WORK EVEN IF THEY ARE SICK: Although the chef may not say it, the hidden rule is that if you are sick you still work. The other side of it is that cooks cannot afford to miss a day.

[]         PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK: When hourly rates of pay in restaurants are below a livable wage then a day lost is a day closer to not paying rent or putting food on an employees table. So – you work regardless of how you feel, whether you cough or have a fever, or your muscles ache.

[]         NO HEALTHCARE/NO PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE: Ask your cooks when was the last time they went to a doctor when they were sick or scheduled an annual preventative physical exam? Ask them if they even have a family doctor. Without healthcare or the ability to pay for it, people will not take adequate care of themselves, which puts others in jeopardy as well.

[]         SANITATION IS PARAMOUNT: In the restaurant business we understand the importance of proper sanitation and food safety – yet rarely apply the same understanding to our own personal health. We post temperature logs, rotate product, sanitize table tops, use color coated cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination, wear gloves, and rapidly chill products before we put them in refrigerated storage. Yet, the basics of caring for our own protective hygiene are too often glazed over. Do we monitor how our employees wash their hands, whether or not they show signs of a fever, if they cough do we watch how they handle the protocol for this? Sanitation and food safety is an all-in process- you can’t follow procedure and not include personal health. One of the essential jobs of the chef is to ensure that his or her staff remain healthy and properly care for their wellbeing.

Our business is a fragile one. When crisis strikes – people eventually act in a conservative manner. They need to visit grocery stores to put food on their table, they need to work (either in person or on-line), and they need to handle banking, and pay their rent, etc. What they don’t need during a time of crisis is to attend events, dine in restaurants, visit the local tavern, go to movie theaters, or shop in retail stores. When necessity dictates people will not think twice about cutting out that dinner reservation.

This health crisis is likely to be devastating. All indications are that we are only seeing the beginning of something that may impact the health of one third of the U.S. population. That means that over 100 million Americans are likely to become sick at some level and the other 250 million will be scared to death about the same result. This is going to be very painful for a period of time – we don’t know how long.

Recovery will likely be very slow and drawn out. During that time restaurants will be cutting hours, in some cases closing, and certainly experiencing dramatic reductions in customer counts. There will be layoffs and some restaurants may not re-open. We can’t underestimate the significance of this time.

Maybe we will be lucky and it won’t be as serious as is projected – if that is so we should be grateful to those who work hard to stop the spread and those of us who heed the warnings, but indications are that we won’t be so lucky.

When we do recover, we must understand our role moving forward:

  1. Be prepared for even more stringent health codes and enforcement. This is inevitable and necessary. It will be even more apparent that our primary job is to protect the health and welfare of the public.
  2. We must address the need for healthcare for all – if not countrywide, at least among our own in the food business.
  3. On-going training and measurement of personal health must become the norm in restaurants.
  4. We must work to build in some level of paid sick leave for our employees.
  5. We must view our local health inspector as an important friend who helps to keep our staff and our customers safe and healthy.
  6. Personal health, sanitation, and food safety training has never been more important. All restaurants must require every kitchen employee to be ServeSafe Certified. It must become the price of admission.

Let’s hunker down and prepare for what is coming, but let’s also use the time to strategize how we will rise up as a newly committed industry as a result.

BE WELL – BE SAFE – WASH YOUR HANDS – AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

COOKS: A CALL TO ARMS – DON’T SETTLE!

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There exists a real dichotomy of enthusiasm towards working in the restaurant business. I realize that this may have always been present at some level, but in today’s kitchens there appears to be a polarization of those who love the business and those who are angry at their state of affairs. In the middle are the proponents of indifference and it is those who I hope to speak to through this article. The cheerleaders know what is before them and have embraced their calling with all of its opportunity and challenge. The angry cook will tend to remain so and for the most part he or she will point fingers at others and seek out blame for their situation. Of course there are reasons that are out of the individual’s control and challenges in the industry that seem to lack adequate attention from the decision-makers, however, some seem to find comfort in pointing this out and ignoring their role in making a change.

My answer to all, but especially those in the middle who appear to be indifferent and accepting of a lackluster fate, is: DON’T SETTLE! Grab on to opportunity, make your own opportunity, and by all means be part of the solution to challenges rather than accepting of a fate that does not inspire. So – this is a call to arms (not weapons), a moment to stand on a soap box and shout: DON’T SETTLE!

The Beatles in the landmark album: Rubber Soul wrote of the Nowhere Man:

“Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don’t know what you’re missing
Nowhere man, the world is at your command”

As a cook the world is at your command. Opportunities are present, but lack meaning if no one grabs and owns them. This is profound and true. No person is held back unless he or she chooses to be held back. This may sound harsh, and there will be those who argue my point with loads of examples of roadblocks that have been laid in their paths, but I stand true to the statement.

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To those who have become complacent in the kitchen, who punch a clock feeling that their primary goal is to get through the day, who have all but given up on moving forward with a career, I say: WAKE UP!

A CALL TO ARMS:

[]         ARM YOURSELF WITH AMBITION:

Elvis Presley once said: “Ambition is a dream with a V-8 engine.” It is drive that carries a person forward with a desire to work through any obstacles that take away his or her passion to reach a goal. This can be positive or negative, but to those who hold ambition as a tool with positive energy – ambition can make all the difference in success. You have to want it – to achieve it.

[]         ARM YOURSELF WITH A STRATEGY:

Ambition without a plan will fizzle out in frustration. What is your goal as a cook – to reach a certain position, to work at a particular restaurant, to make a specific statement with food, to make positive change in an industry, etc.? Define the end goal and build a step-by-step roadmap to reach that goal. Every day that you wake ask yourself: “Is what I am doing today helping me to reach that goal?” Build a plan and work the plan.

[]         ARM YOURSELF WITH VISION:

Reaching the goal is not always sufficient in the hearts and souls of successful people. What are you going to do with the success of reaching that goal? How are you going to leverage your success for personal, community, and even industry betterment?

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[]         ARM YOURSELF WITH SKILLS:

You know right now that to move towards that goal you will need to acquire, and in some cases – master, a new set of skills. Research and define what those skills are and establish a plan that will allow you to build them into your bag of tricks. It may mean volunteering, taking classes, attending workshops, working with other chefs, reading more, experimenting, and certainly lots of practice. Commit to it!

[]         ARM YOURSELF WITH DETERMINATION:

Stay the course. Don’t let small failures and disappointments along the way slow you down and stop your forward motion. YOU CAN GET TO WHERE YOU WANT TO GO – you are in the driver’s seat. If your current work situation makes it too difficult to stay the course – then look for another environment that is more supportive. The food industry today is crying for talented, energetic, committed people – if you have the drive there will be many terrific properties anxious to give you the opportunity.

[]         ARM YOURSELF WITH A NETWORK OF INFLUENCE:

The best opportunities come through those with whom you are associated. Build your network of friends and advocates who know you and trust that your commitment is unwavering. Pick and choose your team of influence with this in mind and be prepared to accept their advice. Be prepared to give back when they ask – receive/give is a win/win.

DON’T SETTLE is the process of never selling yourself short. When you start the day with I CAN, and I WILL instead of I can’t or I won’t, then countless doors will open. You will stumble, and there will be disappointment, but bounce back with two simple words: DON’T SETTLE.

“He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody”

-Beatles

Be a somewhere man, an everywhere man, a man (or woman) who grabs those opportunities and stays the course until they come to fruition. Know this – there are countless opportunities in life and countless opportunities in the food business. Limitations are far too often – self-imposed. Don’t be an advocate for complacency, be an advocate for forward movement and a soldier for the kind of change that will keep those doors open.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Women Chefs

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Today and everyday – women are making a difference in the restaurant world.  A woman’s place is in the kitchen, but they are not women chefs – they are chefs.  The work is not gender based – when you have the skills, when you have the passion, when you make the commitment, and when your food speaks volumes then you are simply “a chef.”

Celebrate chefs and celebrate the contributions that women make to our profession – today and every day.

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Edna Lewiscrenn

childApril

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

http://www.harvestamericacues.com  BLOG