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EATALY – A BUSINESS THAT “GETS IT”

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EATALY – A BUSINESS THAT “GETS IT”

OK, so I like, no I love to write. I am far from a perfect technical writer and any teacher of English would probably cringe at the number of grammatical and structural issues in any one of my posts, but to me, writing is all about expressing “feeling”. It is rare that I find a topic that I am so pumped about that I can’t wait to get to my computer to “weave a yarn”, so to speak. I am in Chicago, a food city that I truly love and one that was part of my yearly itinerary for over 20 years. It has been six years since my last visit and I was ready. The nice thing about Chicago in comparison to New York is that the restaurant scene is just as robust with a little less pretention (don’t get me wrong, I love New York as well).

It is Saturday night and although I am in town for a conference, I find myself pleasantly alone on the town. I don’t have a reservation for a restaurant (unusual for me); I am just fishing for a place to go. I can’t bring myself to just fill my stomach; now that I am here I need an experience. I was walking down Ohio street when I ran into the Chicago version of “Eataly”; the brainchild of Joe and Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali. I was in the New York version two years ago and although I was very impressed, it was so crowded that I couldn’t truly enjoy this combination restaurant mecca and incredible gourmet Italian Market. So, I walked into “ Eataly Chicago” with high expectations.

Now, dining anywhere by yourself is always difficult. Time by yourself at a table moves painfully slow, but here I could get lost in the crowd. It was very, very busy, although not as crazy as New York. What first struck me was the first impression of an operation that had it together. The product displays, layout, colors, smells, architectural features and food presence were spot on.

I just had talked at a conference about the creation of VALUE in an effort to define a customer experience and take the focus away from price, and this place was textbook. It was fresh, exciting, dynamic, interesting, consistently focused on quality and reminiscent of the first walk into a Disney property. My first reaction was to stop and think: “WOW”. I pulled out my iPhone and started taking pictures.

There was a concierge station (kind of unique in a food market) with support materials and a map of the operation. The first floor had displays of market foods, kitchenwares, books, and last impression food outlets (gelato, Italian desserts, espresso, etc.). All the traffic was headed for the escalator to the second floor where the multiple restaurant concepts were prominent. Restaurants featured crudo, salumi, cheeses, pizza, pasta, wine tastings, and a pesce (fish) restaurant that were supported by a craft brewery with flights of in-house beers, a superb bread bakery, wine shop, butchery and Italian cheese market. Every restaurant was cranking. I chose the fish restaurant after watching the plates served to guests at tables and food bars. The wait would have been 20 minutes (they took my cell phone number so that I could walk around) but I managed to get a food bar seat within five minutes with a bird’s eye view of food preparation. I ordered a glass of Barolo, grilled octopus, and featured sea bass with cauliflower puree. It was spectacular! The service was not formal, but warm and efficient, the server was knowledgeable, the line team of cooks was well orchestrated, the food was served with perfect timing, and the flavors were enticing. I talked with the cooks while they worked their magic and noted that EVERYONE was having fun!! It wasn’t cheap. But every aspect of the EXPERIENCE oozed value. I walked around and came upon a classic Italian coffee kiosk and ordered an Italian Caffe Macchiato. The woman who was the barista was an accomplished coffee artist who smiled constantly despite the volume of business. I told her the coffee was spectacular and she blushed with pride. Continuing to walk around, despite the fact that I was full, I had a need to experience more. I stood in a short line to have a classic tiramisu and another coffee at the Lavazza stand – both exceptional, when I notice that I had left my very expensive topcoat at the fish restaurant. As I wormed my way back to the restaurant, my server saw me and walked up to say that he had taken the coat to the customer service desk and to let me know if there were any problems. I didn’t have to ask, they were on the alert for me. My coat was there and it was passed on with a smile.

As I began to leave the operation I was struck with a sense of regret. I didn’t want to leave. I really wanted to find a shirt or something with the Eataly logo on it to say that I was a fan. I didn’t see anything but was committed to go back tomorrow to find something that would allow me to be reminded of a company that got it right.

Great food operations create experiences and Eataly understood that. The packaging was memorable, the layout was memorable, the food was memorable, the staff was excited to serve and every inch of the operation was focused on promoting the brand. I was in awe.

Chicago is a great restaurant town, but Eataly will help to redefine what it means to be in the hospitality business. The attention to detail was incredible and like others in this fantastic town like Richard Melman and his “Lettuce Entertain You Group” and Levy Restaurants, it was apparent that they truly understand the importance of brand. My only parting comment is WOW, WOW, WOW. Like Disney, Apple Computers, Harley Davidson, Mercedes, Ritz Carlton Hotels, Anthropologie, and Nike, they “get it”.

Beware all who are content to be acceptable, the game changers are in town and you had better step back and look and learn.

PREPARE BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Training and Consulting
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

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THE MAGIC OF THE SHORT ORDER COOK

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THE MAGIC OF THE SHORT ORDER COOK

It must have been around 1958 in Buffalo, New York. I was eight years old and downtown shopping with my mother. We were somewhere around Broadway and Main where a storefront diner was in our path. The large picture window didn’t highlight their simple dining room, but rather framed in a view of their short order cook. We stopped to watch and I was immediately mesmerized as I watched the fluid motion of this magician while he cracked eggs, flipped pancakes, grilled bacon and sausage, assembled sandwiches and lifted French fries from deep fat. It was, poetry in motion. The cook didn’t miss a single beat. Every step was orchestrated for efficiency from reading dupes, cooking, managing timing and plating dishes. He was the ONLY ONE cooking that day, yet the dining room appeared to be full. At one point I vividly remember that be looked out the window at me and gave a salute.

I am not sure if that was my “ah ha moment” that pushed me in the direction of food, but it sure planted a seed. The magic of the short order cook is that they are able to become one with the tasks at hand. Unlike other line cooks in restaurants these masters of the grill are focused on relatively simple preparations, but prepared under an unusual amount of timing stress. Every motion must become as natural as breathing, if they drift, even for a moment, the entire system can fall apart. Looking back I believe that short order cooking could be a viable Olympic sport. Just like a skater, short track runner, bobsledder, or slalom skier, each movement, turn and burst of speed must be practiced and relegated to “body memory”.

My first job in a kitchen at the age of 16 started as a dishwasher and quickly evolved into another pair of hands for the breakfast cook; grilling Danish pastries and hard rolls, assembling egg sandwiches and cracking eggs for omelets. From this point on my mind was set – I would put aside my desire to become a rock star and pursue a life as a cook.

Over the years I have watched and marveled at the technique and focus of great short order cooks whether they are responsible for breakfast or busy lunch, they are in a league all their own. As a chef, the two most critical positions in my kitchen were always the breakfast cook and the dishwashing crew. Without them, my life became pretty miserable. I have filled in and tried to be as efficient when a short order cook called out sick, didn’t show, or left suddenly. This time in the frying pan was painful at best. My life would become exponentially better the moment a new person arrived to fill the role.

Breakfast cooks, in particular, set the tone for the restaurant and the cohesiveness of the other staff. They arrive typically before 5 a.m. (usually the first person to turn on the lights), unlock the coolers, turn on the range, crack the eggs and pan the bacon, brew the first pot of coffee and breathe life into the kitchen. When others arrive to the enticing smell of pork products and strong coffee they also come to life and start to shake the dust from their brains. Chef’s can rest assured that breakfast will run smoothly in the hands of an accomplished short order cook and aside from an occasional back-up in “the pass”, everyone can focus on other prep and planning that occurs in the kitchen throughout the day. Breakfast takes care of itself – at least until that person doesn’t arrive for one reason or another.

The worst feeling that a chef faces is that call between 5 and 6 a.m. as a server says: “chef I just arrived and there is no one in the kitchen.” Damn… the chef now has to get dressed and rush to the restaurant. His or her biggest concern is not the fact that he or she might need to cook breakfast, it is how well he or she will function during the breakfast crunch and how the entire kitchen will start off on the wrong foot. Broken egg yolks, charred bacon, missed orders and angry service staff will all be in the chef’s immediate future. The thing is that a great short order cook is a master of his or her universe. They are unique in their skill set and their mental approach to the job.

There are no schools for short order cooks, they learn through the school of hard knocks. More often than not they are born from your dishwasher crew and grow into the position, building their skills by shadowing their predecessor. There is an innate talent that is present in the great ones, that unique ability to remain organized, never miss a step and actually become excited the busier they become. Their first concern at the end of a shift is typically “how many people did we serve”? This number is their badge of honor, one that they hang on to with pride.

Breakfast cooks in any town know other breakfast cooks. It is a network of like individuals who share numbers and boast of how many they served in the shortest amount of time. It behooves every chef to know who is in this network and stay connected. When there is a need, this informal organization is far more effective than craigslist.com or local help wanted ads when there is a need for replacement breakfast cooks.

These warriors of the griddle are truly magical, invaluable and proud. Respect your short order brigade or know that you might be saddled with a breakfast shift that chefs are ill prepared to handle effectively.

PREPARE BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

http://www.harvestamericaventures.com
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training

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THE CONFUSION OVER RESTAURANT VALUE

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THE CONFUSION OVER RESTAURANT VALUE

There is a difference between the following two statements: “that was an expensive meal” and “that meal wasn’t worth the money I spent”. The difference lies in the true definition of the term: value. The amount of money that a person spends for a meal becomes most relevant when value is not present. This also is a separate issue from the economic profile of the consumer because within every socio-economic group there is a disparity of restaurant value. Restaurateurs must be cognizant of the socio-economic group that they are focusing on as potential customers and the definition of value that is appropriate to that group.

Value takes into consideration so many different variables that make the whole process of building a successful restaurant. These variables include atmosphere, location, table top appointments, service, wine and food education offered, the talent in the kitchen, the detail of presentations, the source and quality of ingredients used, various forms of entertainment, the reputation of the restaurant, restaurant accolades, and even the other guests who patronize the operation. The amount of money spent by guests must equate to the package of variables offered and the perception that those guests have about the experience.

Quick service restaurants define value in terms of price and speed of service. Most would agree that the meals served here are “worth the money spent” even if many would still say that they are not fond of the experience. It would be rare to hear a person say that a meal in a quick service restaurant was too expensive. It becomes far more complicated when one looks at full-service and especially fine dining restaurant operations. In these situations the restaurateur must spend a considerable amount of time and effort in creating a “dining experience” that warrants the price charged. This is the process of creating a different sense of value.

The process of building value experiences must focus on all of the details that build up to the presentation of the check; this applies to many businesses outside of the restaurant business as well. What is most interesting is that “the experience” includes components within and outside of the provider’s immediate control. The value experience of a vacation at Disney World begins way before the guest actually arrives in Orlando. The Disney experience begins when the guest makes a decision to travel to Florida, the process of booking a flight, drawing money from their account at the bank, booking a hotel room, watching the weather channel for the forecast during their stay, the rental of a car in Orlando, traffic on the highway to the park, parking of the car, etc. Notice that many of these “points of experience” are beyond the control of Disney, yet they impact on the overall guest perception of value. Once the guest arrives at Disney World, he or she is in the hands of the provider and the experience can be controlled, but what about all of those events leading up to the day of contact? This is why companies like Disney look for ways to control those points either through partnerships or acquisitions. It is the same with restaurants that charge a higher tariff for their experience. The restaurant “event” begins with the reservation on the phone or on-line and continues to evolve from that point. Value perception has been well established before the guest even walks up to the host-stand for their table.

At this point the restaurateur must constantly work on ways to maintain or change the perception of value. It is never enough to charge high prices because the operator buys the best raw materials. Somehow the restaurant must relay that information and demonstrate “why” this is important to the experience. It is not enough to charge high prices because the restaurant hires the most talented staff unless the operator demonstrates “why” this has value to the guest. It is not enough to charge more for your wine simply because the operator uses only Riedl glassware unless the reason why this is important is apparent to the guest. Value must always be apparent if it is to have a positive impact on the perceptions of the guest.

If a guest emphasizes how expensive a restaurant experience is or was without qualifying “but it was worth it”, the restaurateur or chef has failed at their job. Guests within a socio-economic group will return time and time again and pay the price that you deem essential, if they perceive that value exists. Value trumps price more often than not. A Mercedes may not be affordable to every socio-economic group, but most would agree that the quality of the automobile is exceptional and after driving or even riding in one, the value experience is apparent. For those who are in the socio-economic group that could afford a Mercedes, the expense is easily justified. This would not be the case if they felt that perceived value was not there. The same rule applies within any and every socio-economic group and the goods that they intend to purchase.

Here lies the kicker: value is universal and the relative quality of a product or service today is the price of admission regardless of the socio-economic group that a business is approaching. Consumers have a much higher expectation of relative value than ever before. Restaurants cannot simply use the age-old adage: “you get what you pay for”. No, everyone wants and expects value whether it is $3.00 for a quick service “value meal” or $100 for a price fix menu at a fine dining establishment.

Define who your targeted socio-economic group is, research their ceiling for pricing, determine how you will create a value experience for that group and then ensure that you can consistently provide it. Price will be well received if you work from this premise.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

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DISCIPLINE AND PROFESSIONALISM IN THE KITCHEN

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DISCIPLINE AND PROFESSIONALISM IN THE KITCHEN

It drives me crazy to see the lack of discipline and respect for the profession of cooking that exists in so many kitchens today. How we maintain our kitchens, care for our uniforms, attend to basic grooming, treat the ingredients that we work with and interact with others defines how others perceive our industry. To some, this may be unimportant, however there are thousands of cooks, chefs and restaurateurs who have dedicated their lives to building up a profession who would disagree.

Let’s begin with the uniform. The cook’s uniform represents so much that may be unknown to most.

“It’s all about pride. If you have it in your profession, you will have it in your uniform, no matter what your walk of life. With the Chef’s uniform, there is more at stake than just keeping the uniform clean and white. A dignified look helps generate a feeling of professionalism. When you don the toque, jacket, checkered pants (black), necktie, apron and side towel, you are continuing centuries old traditions.”

http://www.prueleith.co.za/news/proud-history-of-the-chef%E2%80%99s-uniform/#.Uv4MImRdWgQ

The chef’s hat or toque evolved over time until Chef Escoffier defined how it helped to establish rank in the kitchen. The taller the toque, the higher the position in the kitchen with the executive chef donning the hat with the greatest height. This made it easy for anyone to find those in a position of responsibility. Additionally, the number of pleats on the hat represents a chef’s level of expertise. A classic chefs toque was purported to have 100 pleats representing his or her ability to prepare an egg 100 different ways. The chefs coat with its double breasted flaps has a purpose of adding another layer of protection against burns, a second chance at maintaining cleanliness (reversing the flaps if one side becomes stained during work), and represents the importance of cleanliness in the kitchen. The side towel is not to be used for cleaning, but rather a dry cloth to be used on hot pan handles and removing items from the oven while protecting a cooks hands. Proper shoes are used for support of the most important part of a chef’s body (his or her feet) and are structured to protect against pans that might be dropped on feet during busy service. This long history of the uniform pays respect for all of the chefs who came before. Those who do not understand this might find it justified wearing baseball caps or sweat bands, jackets that seem to emphasize style vs. function, pants that are less about protecting the image of cleanliness and professionalism than something that portrays the desire of a cook to stand out in a crowd and shoes that are best suited for the track or basketball court and less about protection from accidents and 10-12 hours of work on your feet. Every time that a cook ignores the traditions associated with the pride behind a uniform he or she diminishes the perception that the world has about the profession of cooking.

How we treat the equipment in our kitchens, the physical plant, and the ingredients that we work with sets the tone for the respect that others have for what we do. Cleanliness of facilities and proper maintenance of equipment is critical to the function of a kitchen team. A clean kitchen is a proud kitchen and a proud kitchen produces better food. The farmer invests his or her life to grow the crops that wind up in restaurant coolers. If a cook spent even one full day working on a farm he or she would likely approach those carrots, onions and potatoes in a much different way. Proper storage, handling, cleaning, cutting and cooking demonstrate respect for the farmer as well as the ingredient. It is appalling to see how little respect many cooks have for those precious ingredients that we are privileged to handle.

Finally, if a cook wants to receive respect for what he or she does, if they want to be able to hold their head high when someone asks what they do for a living, if they want opportunities to grow within their profession and reach a level of earning that allows them to provide adequately for their families then they must learn how to show respect for the people they work with and serve. How a person treats co-workers and guests is paramount to establishing how others will view them and what they do for a living. There is a harmless banter that occurs in kitchens that has a long history of acceptance, however, that banter sometimes is tasteless and hurtful to others. Cooks need to learn how to differentiate dialogue and behavior that all can find fun and conversations, passing remarks or looks that cause pain and define what is known as a “hostile work environment”. Harmless banter to one might be considered harassment to others and it is the responsibility of chefs and cooks to understand the difference and establish an environment of support rather than dissention in the kitchen.

Working in restaurants is a wonderful career choice – one that can provide incredible pride, moments of significant accomplishment, a level of camaraderie that is hard to find elsewhere, and potential for professional growth for those who are serious and committed. Creating an environment of professionalism through standards and consistently enforced positive discipline is essential if we are to continue to improve on the respect that those inside and outside of our industry have for individuals who choose to cook.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

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NO ONE SHOULD EVER BE HUNGRY IN AMERICA

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NO ONE SHOULD EVER BE HUNGRY IN AMERICA

We live in the most affluent nation in the world. A country that coast-to-coast still produces more food than any other, a country with the natural resource gift that allows our farmers to grow crops from apples to zucchini, corn to wheat, and avocados to yucca. The breadth of our climate and the quality of our soil is such that tropical fruits can flourish in Florida and grapes for wine can be grown in nearly every state. The restaurant industry is a $500 billion dollar a year business with almost 1 million freestanding operations from coast to coast. The distribution systems that has been designed in the United States can deliver any good to the back door of a restaurant in Chicago or the smallest desert town in New Mexico and most of the largest food manufacturing companies in the world call the United States their home. Yet there are millions of people in this great nation who wake up hungry every morning.

If we can put aside all of the political debate about who pays for this, the apparent abuses that inevitably crop up when you create a program to help, the pundits who say that some are just lazy and even the argument about ignorance to good nutrition, I can’t, for the life of me, come up with any argument that would allow a person living in this country of affluence to be hungry.

I know of many chefs who have taken this cause to heart and are doing their part to help. There are answers that make sense – some that involve government, but many that do not. The answer cannot be one quick fix; there is no magic pill to solve hunger in America. It will be a collaborative effort using many avenues to address a reality that should not be a problem. There are many other issues that could easily fall under the category of “challenging without any apparent solution”, but not hunger in the United States.

Some examples of creative ideas that come to mind: when cities plan their urban landscaping, instead of planting decorative trees – plant fruit bearing ones that anyone can access; instead of landscaping – why not gardenscaping for homes and apartment complexes; instead of throwing out student’s lunches because their account is empty why not redirect some funds in local towns for frivolous expenses that are cosmetic – feed our children first! Let’s support our local food pantries every day rather than wait for those semi-annual food drives around the holidays. The amount of food that grocery stores and restaurants discard because they have gone past their prime is almost obscene. I know that many operations do re-direct their “still good” aging food, but many do not. Teach a neighbor how to cook if you want to really do something worthwhile. Some of the hungry in America are those who are not aware of the importance of a well-prepared healthy diet. Even more important – teach a neighbor how to shop so that they can take those cooking skills and apply them to fresh healthy foods rather than relying on convenience items that do more harm than good. Volunteer at a soup kitchen every now and then, it does the soul good to help.

Food is one of the essential things in life than supports the body and mind, gives pleasure, creates a baseline of dialogue and brings people together. If there is anything that truly falls under the category of an America “right”, it is a full stomach and healthy body. We cannot, as a country, grow and prosper unless our citizens are physically prepared to thrive. Our children cannot assimilate knowledge and contribute in the classroom without proper nourishment, and we cannot condemn other nations with regard to how they do or do not care for their people if we do not care for our own. Hunger leads to despair and despair leads to desperate acts (violence and other criminal acts).

Hunger in America should not happen. This is not a political issue that should be a topic of debate. This is something that can be fixed and should be fixed – something that will take all of us to solve, not just government programs – people programs. If you want to do something meaningful this year, something that will truly make a difference then do what you can to feed a hungry neighbor.

The following information provided by: http://www.dosomething.org points to the extent of the problem in our country.

• One in six people in America face hunger every day
• 20.6% of U.S. homes with children suffer from “food insecurity” (fear that they will not be able to provide sufficient nutrition for their family)
• 50 million Americans struggle to put enough food on their family table
• Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites.
• 40 percent of food is thrown out in the U.S. every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.
To those who dedicate their time, effort, money and/or food to help others with important nutrition – I offer a tip of the chef’s toque. To those who have yet to take on this cause, I would ask – what could be more important?

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WHY I DON’T OWN A MICROWAVE

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WHY I DON’T OWN A MICROWAVE

Let’s put aside the method by which microwaves work. Exciting molecules in a product and creating internal friction that drives moisture out of food does not sit well with my training. I guess, to some degree, I am just a bit old fashion. Anyway, I might be one of the diminishing 10% of the American population that does not own a microwave. They have been around for 33 years now and have become as commonplace in our homes as a telephone (oops, telephones are almost gone), correction: cellphone.

Here are the reasons that I am opposed to these units in the home or even in a professional kitchen:

1. There is no real substitute for the contact that food has with a flame. Again, this is maybe a personal opinion, but I know that most chefs would agree that the Maillard Reaction (the browning of sugars present in proteins that accentuate color, intensify wonderful flavors and create each products unique cooking aroma) is an essential part of making food enjoyable to look at, smell and taste. Now I know that some will argue that this is a process of molecular change just as microwave cooking is a molecular change process: but, it is different.
2. What is most significant to me is the change in family culture that microwaves brought about. These marvels of technology have had a dramatic impact on how families treat each other, the activity of bonding around cooking that was always the norm in American homes, and how we view our priorities.

Microwaves are too easy. Thus, in a very short period of time (33 years) our homes have been transformed from wonderful places where the family worked on meals together, spent time selecting the freshest ingredients at their local store, studied cookbooks and passed down traditional recipes from generations past, experienced the wonderful aromas of food being prepared, sat down together and enjoyed not only the meal, but each other’s company – to a place where individuals pass through on their way to something deemed more important.

The “family table” was where we learned about each other’s day, the great experiences and challenges that we faced, laughed and cried and truly enjoyed the whole concept of being together. We broke bread together that was made by someone who cared about how it looked and tasted and how you perceived it.

Microwaves have encouraged independence and a life on the run. The hour-long dinner with family quickly became the grab and go individual meal that each person “warmed up” when they felt the urge. Having taught culinary students for decades I was always amazed to discover how many NEVER ate together as a family. When asked what was the best thing that their parents or single parent made, it was likely to be “a reservation” or a frozen convenience item that was never touched by a human being before it was transferred to a plate.

I have long theorized that many of our problems result from a lack of time spent together in the kitchen or at the dinner table. Being “family” means sharing and the dinner table is the best opportunity for this to happen.

I do not, never have and never will own a microwave oven. If any one ever bought one for me I would give it away instantly. To me it is a device that is a root cause of many of our societal issues. I may be stubborn, or old fashion, maybe in this case I will admit that I have a closed mind, but it is one of those stakes in the ground that is part of my belief structure.

Ironically, the most significant health issues that we have in our country are related to what and how we eat. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers relate back to food. Convenience is a slippery slope when it comes to health and family. If you want to take a fresh, New Year’s resolution step in the right direction then package up your microwave, store it in the basement, open up a cookbook, shop in the fresh food isle and start cooking for your family again. It will make a difference.

Food is the universal language, make it speak well of you.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

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RESTAURANT BUSINESS ACUMEN OR CREATIVITY – WHICH COMES FIRST?

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RESTAURANT BUSINESS ACUMEN OR CREATIVITY – WHICH COMES FIRST?

Some would promote one vs. the other when in reality you can’t have one without the other. With the Superbowl behind us (a rather painful one to watch) you could easily compare Creativity to a solid offense and Business Acumen to a dominating defense. This year’s game seemed to be an example of the old adage that “defense wins the big games”. There was no question that Seattle exhibited an extremely powerful defense, but in the end they still had to score points (43 of them to be exact).

In restaurants, like any business, an operator must understand the financial implications of their decisions and know how to control their costs. Even with all of these crucial efforts in place the restaurant must still build an exciting menu, attract customers through effective and creative marketing and execute great tasting and looking food. The creative process can never be absent from the formula for success. The opposite is also true. There are thousands of examples of creative restaurants with full dining rooms that can never seem to turn a profit. With a lack of controls including ordering, inventory, production, costing and selling price determination, waste and theft control, the busiest restaurants will eventually fail.

This reality is true in every business, every industry. Sometimes one or the other is not as apparent, but success cannot happen without a balance of creativity and control. Most would agree that Apple Computer is one of the most creative companies around and when asked, Tim Cook would repeat Steve Jobs statement that Apple is not about making money; they are about making insanely great products. This is certainly true, but underneath all of that creative process is a company with extremely tight controls leading to the biggest cash reserves of any company, anywhere. They can ride any storm from the competition because they are able to balance creativity and control.

Restaurants live in one of the most competitive environments you could imagine. Every source of prepared food is competition for every restaurant. To this end, successful restaurant operators need to make a real commitment to the creative process around product, service, brand building and marketing. Those same operators can never lose sight of the sensitive nature of restaurant profitability.

Just as in football or computers, it is rare if not impossible to find one person who can effectively be in charge of creativity and control in restaurants. It is not human nature to be insanely great at both, yet this is what a business requires. Chefs are, by nature, creative people; or should I say the position of chef attracts creative people. Most chefs are passionate about the process of ideation around menus, applying their talent to the preparation of food, building flavors, using the plate as their canvas, and connecting on an artistic level with their guests. Not dissimilar to how a painter or sculptor is passionate about applying talent to a canvas or stone. Chefs need that counterpart who is just as passionate about the control process.
The most effective restaurants are able to build partnerships with business managers and chefs. A perfect example is Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali or historically: Escoffier and Cesar Ritz. Business Acumen is equally significant if the restaurant is to reach its goals. The two make one and in the end, just like in football, computers or any other business, bring a level of success that you can go to the bank with.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

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RESTAURANT PROFIT IS IN THE PEELS AND SHELLS

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RESTAURANT PROFIT IS IN THE PEELS AND SHELLS

I believe that there are very few businesses more challenging when it comes to profit, than restaurants. As I have previously pointed out, there are numerous reasons for this; however, one of the most significant is the management of perishable supplies. There is inherently, an unusually large amount of waste in the process of taking raw food and converting it to finished goods. This “waste” is rarely defined past the literal translation that infers that there is no other use for it. In reality, this “waste” is where the profit in food often lies.

The equivalent to re-defining food waste would be the age-old statement: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. I have never been one to attend flea markets or even spend much time in antique stores, however I do recognize that some people are masters at seeing the potential in something that I would quickly discard. It is the same in restaurants. You must begin by first changing your vocabulary and looking at food as food, valuable and useable in the right hands with the right mindset.

I have often times used the translated discussion with Chef Marc Meneau from L’Esperance Restaurant in Vezelay, France when he told me: “American’s do not know how to make money in restaurants. They don’t realize that profit comes from the peels of the onion and the shells of the lobster and how chefs define – useable”. It really all begins with the time and effort put into menu planning and recipe development, understanding how food works during the process of cooking, and how to use an understanding of “methods” to properly extract flavor and build consistent results.

Another friend of mine, years ago stated that the best control device in kitchens is smaller garbage cans. His theory was that for some reason cooks feel obligated to fill garbage cans regardless of their size and the amount of business at hand. Once he replaced his large 30-gallon cans with 5-gallon receptacles he immediately noticed a positive impact on his cost of goods. We have become conditioned to the word waste and especially in busy restaurants, have become accustomed to discard before finding the time to utilize some parts of the raw materials that could be used effectively with enough thought.

If we stop to think about some basic realities the mental light bulb tends to shine a bit brighter. When you buy whole ingredients whether they be tenderloins of beef, whole salmon, or cases of produce what must first come to mind is that the cost per pound or cost per piece is the same for the trim as it is for the “typically useable” portion of the material. We commonly build our restaurant pricing on “yield”, vs. “at purchase” weight or price. This results in a selling price that will yield (hopefully) some level of profit. That “unused trimmed” is a potential source for additional profit – in fact it now becomes pure profit if we are able to plan effectively for it’s use.

Here are some simple examples: even though a proper stock will be drawn from precise proportions of mirepoix to bone, to water and vegetables are typically peeled, cut and prepared a certain way to yield a consistent product; the peels of onions, tops of celery, peels of carrots can all serve as a base for vegetable broth and foundation for your daily soups. The fat cap trim from your pork loins can serve as a component in your pate, the chain and boot trim from the beef tenderloin is a perfect addition to your ground beef for burgers, the shells from your shrimp for a fumet or reduced with butter as a cooking fat for sautéed scallops and so on. In all cases these “waste” products can help to stretch your profit margins or at least add flavor value to your cooking. Render your own duck fat from legs that you cook rather than purchasing it for $18 a pound, use your limp, but still flavorful herbs to make a pesto for canapés, cut your potatoes for pommes frites with the skin on to increase yield and add a rustic appearance to your fries, and have your baker save week old cakes for crumbs that can garnish the exterior of your finished desserts or even a partial substitute for some of the flour in cookies.

It is so easy to discard what is not easy to use, but it is the attentive and creative chef who sees this as the real opportunity to create a viable restaurant business. If all else fails, at least work on building a composting program that can utilize edible waste to serve as animal feed for local farmers or soil composting to support the next growth of crops.

I will admit that I have often found myself, as a chef, ignoring this reality and sometimes just need a prod from an attentive cook to put me back on track, or the shock of a food cost out of control that could spell real problems for the operation and its employees if left unchecked.

Profit in restaurants may seem like an oxymoron at times, but with great planning and constant monitoring, those peels and shells can make all the difference in the world.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

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THE ADVANTAGE OF AGE

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THE ADVANTAGE OF AGE

After watching the Grammy Awards last night I was impressed with something that many might not have seen through all of the glitz and glamour of an entertainment spectacle. What impressed me the most was the “advantage of age” and the realization that many artists from my era are still relevant in people’s minds and continue to have an impact on a new generation of musicians and performers. Now, I may not appreciate or even “get” some of today’s musical mediums but that doesn’t mean that I fail to respect the artistic process. I do “get” how things evolve, yet how much the certain wisdom of elders permeates even the youngest and most “unique” artist of today.

I believe that this same observation can be made when it comes to restaurants, kitchen operation, cooking, and service. There was an article and YouTube piece floating around this week about a 14 year old “chef” and his ability to plate up multiple course meals with the finesse of a Thomas Keller. I found it interesting, no I guess more appropriately “amusing” calling Justin Bieber a monumental artist. There is no question that both individuals are gifted and have enormous potential to make a difference in their respective fields, however what they have in natural talent pales in comparison to what they lack in terms of experience, the ability to reason, problem solving, successes and failures, and most importantly, their ability to coach and lead others. These attributes can only come from time in the saddle. There is no substitute for experience, period. Some may have an innate ability that can speed up the learning curve, but without facing challenges, making attempts at resolution, failing often and finding the right formula for recovery – even the most talented cook, musician, painter, carpenter, or designer will struggle and crash.

If you are now a chef or restaurateur I know that you can appreciate these statements. I do not have all of the answers but am confident that given an opportunity to step back from a situation in the kitchen I can pull up some previous experience that will help me to make a decision (hopefully the right one). This cannot be taught in a classroom, read in a book, or be something that people are genetically in tune with, it is a result of being there and doing it more than once.

Eric Clapton was a wild and crazy, gifted guitar player when he was with John Mayall and the Yardbirds and later with the group Cream. His chops on the guitar allow people to refer to him as a guitar god, but it wasn’t until he had endured heart break, the personal drain of an abusive lifestyle and grown in years that his licks became a craft and subsequently legendary. Does he play with the same intensity as when he was experimenting in his twenties – no, but listening today to the maturity of his playing and the warmth and pain in his voice it would be hard to deny that Clapton will be a benchmark and a source of inspiration long after he is gone.

Excuse my obsession with analogies, but I can see little difference between this example and the power of age associated with chefs and restaurant managers. I have stated numerous times how certain tasks within a kitchen are reserved for youth. When I spent four years beginning at 55 back in the kitchen as a chef and occasionally worked the line, I would often reflect on words from an old Little Feat song: “you know that you’re over the hill when your mind makes a promise that you body can’t fulfill.” As much as working the line was no longer something that was my cup of tea, the ability to put together a team, design menus to reflect the needs of different audiences, solve potentially disastrous situations when a function was about to go sideways was something that those agile young line cooks would have no clue how to approach.

To state that a young, gifted 14 year old could carry the title of “chef” was parallel to anyone inferring that the young, under twenty something Justin Bieber could be held in the same category as Eric Clapton or any other of the enormously talented and still relevant artists on the Grammy’s last night. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Carole King, Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Metallica and Trombone Shorty may not have been backed with all of the fireworks and glitz of their contemporaries (although the show behind Metallica was pretty cool) it was apparent that these pioneers had the advantage of age that inspired those who were headliners with awards.

The next wave of stellar cooks and chefs who will change the face of dining in America should be admired for their gift, but it will be their experiences with life and the challenges that every day in the kitchen brings that will determine whether or not their impact will be felt past this season’s flavor of the month. We should never forget the foundations that have been built through the experiences of those who paid their dues through time behind the range, unforgiving guests, and restaurant experiences that nearly broke a team. We should never forget the importance of looking back before we look forward. In cooking, as in music, some things are the way they are because of trial and error and the consistent results that listeners or diners find satisfying and rewarding. In music it may be the tempo, the importance of harmony, the thrill of a well-conceived solo, or the message delivered through thought provoking lyrics. In the kitchen it is just as important to know how to extract complementary flavors from a dish or how to adjust a recipe based on the quality of raw materials that you receive. In restaurant management it is all about time and experience with people, your ability to listen, your sincere interest in their issues and what they have to offer and your ability to coach them and help them to become better every day. All of this comes from the advantage of age.

Sometimes we don’t know how much we don’t know until we face a situation without an answer. Say thanks to your chef or manager even though they may seem to be out of touch with your enthusiasm for changing things. Listen to them, learn from them and then go out and make your own mistakes. Your greatness in life will be a reflection on how much you hold this to heart and truly listen to the music that age can play.

PLAN BETTER -TRAIN HARDER (and Listen to Those Who Have “Been There, Done That”)

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE IN RESTAURANTS

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE IN RESTAURANTS

There are numerous ways to look at the debate over raising the minimum wage in the United States. First, there is no question that low-end wages have not kept up with the cost of living and that, of course, is an issue that needs serious consideration, however it appears that the primary target has been the restaurant industry. Restaurants are likely one of the most significant sources of minimum wage jobs, thus it is understandable that it would be the focus of this on-going debate.

I do not profess to have the answer to this issue that would satisfy the needs of all sides of the argument, however, I think that it is important to look at the situation from every angle. Unemotional assessment oftentimes leads to the best resolutions.

The positions in the restaurant industry that are the subject of concern are typically classified as either “entry level” or “gratuity based” positions. I refrain from using the term “unskilled” because that is far from the truth. All positions in a service industry have a level of skill associated with successful execution of tasks. To this end it is important to define “entry-level”. By definition, this would infer that there is a track for growth and that the initial position is temporary if the individual is willing and able to take advantage of the opportunities availed. This, to me, is the real issue.

When an industry provides “entry-level” positions does it have a responsibility to provide opportunities for growth? Does this mean that this same industry has a responsibility to assist “entry-level” employees reach those opportunities through effective training and assessment? I believe that the answer is yes and also believe that few industries are as well positioned as restaurants to do so.

Unfortunately, formal training programs are few and far between. The intent is there since most restaurants would agree that promoting from within is preferred to constantly searching for candidates to jumpstart their careers by entering an established business culture without a true understanding of the dynamics of its team. Intent is rarely supported by the funds or the investment of time in the process of training people for growth.

Minimum wage is designed to give people a chance. In restaurant operations there are numerous examples of dishwashers who became breakfast cooks and eventually went on to become chefs or managers. If you were to poll a sampling of successful professionals in the prime of their careers I would dare say that a large percentage likely began with a minimum wage position in restaurants. This was their foray into the world of work and the experience provided them with an opportunity to grow.

Entry-level positions are not designed to be a long-term career for anyone. To view them as the sole means of providing a livable wage is not realistic. When education and training are not in place to provide opportunities for growth then entry-level, minimum wage jobs appear to be a problem that needs to be fixed.

The restaurant industry is labor intensive. The provision of a service that is driven by customer spontaneity, requiring the creation and service of products to order will always be difficult to automate and systematize. The profit margins are very slim, limiting the funds available to support a large labor force. You can do the math.

In the front-of-the-house another related issue is a concern. Gratuity based employees can, by law, be paid a sub-minimum wage with the intent that customer gratuities will bring their average wage at least up to Federal minimum. In most cases, this is the reality and service staff will typically make substantially more than minimum as a result. There are a handful of restaurants considering the elimination of gratuities and simply paying servers a much better wage. On the surface this sounds reasonable, however elimination of gratuities will simply mean that the selling prices of menu items will need to increase substantially to support the higher wages associated with service impacting the incentive for an entrepreneurial approach.

Service staff members in a restaurant are private entrepreneurs who have been given an opportunity to set up shop in a restaurant dining room. They must adhere to the standards of the operation, however the more adept they are at meeting and exceeding guest expectations, the more they know about the product that they sell, the more they are able to control the outcome of the guest experience, the better their private business will perform. It is similar to having your own business without any upfront investment of capital. They are in control of their success and earning power.

With the right training in place and a commitment from the restaurant to invest in training, dishwashers can become better paid cooks and maybe even kitchen managers and chefs and servers can become the next wave of restaurant supervisors and managers. It is this investment in people that will take the focus off of minimum wage and benefit the business at the same time.

A positive approach would be for the restaurant industry, as a whole, to reinvigorate the age-old apprenticeship model that has been the hallmark of hospitality throughout Europe and one that continues to flourish with some of the trade careers in the United States. Individuals would begin their career as an entry-level Apprentice while they learn the basics of a trade, move on to Journeyman status after successful assessment of their acquired skills and eventually on to a Master once they have completed the program. At each stage the wages they receive would increase, as would their overall value to the company. The investment of time and funds would be apparent on the part of the employer and the commitment of time would be required of the employee (typically a three year contract to work for the company).

Not everyone is inclined or can afford to pursue a college education so this model would provide an alternative with comparable results. The investment on the part of the employer would help to address the issues of employee attrition and the short-term concern over “entry-level” wages. Apprenticeship can be a win-win and possibly a more effective alternative to simply raising minimum wage.

Let’s push for investment in training and a restructuring of our education system to provide improved skilled career opportunities for young people.

PLAN BETTER –TRAIN HARDER