Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Halos Eve

It is very scary out there tonight. There are ghosts and goblins wandering the earth unimpeded by their chains. Even more scary is the economy which continues to struggle at all levels. I was visiting my favorite bakery cafe when I asked the proprietor how things were? She replied that she wished she had a little more business. Ever the bright know-it-all, I informed her that the recession had ended and happy days were here again. She looked bemused and informed me that there are a lot of her customers that are unemployed and they do not believe the recession has ended...

Really now who should we believe, the uninformed baker who is on the front lines of this economic malaise or the bright intelligent ivory tower types who tell us that "prosperity is just around the corner and all boats will be lifted by this incredible economic recovery" Always the optimist, I am siding with my friend the baker. It is very scary out there this All Halos Eve.

What people pay for?

The thrill of possibility, the chance for recognition, the chemical high of anticipation. That's what people pay for. Seth Godin

Seth's quote is interesting because it encapsulates the thought process of the first few moments in any dining or purchasing decision. The purchaser examines the menu offerings while engulfed by the atmosphere that has been created by the entrepreneur. The decision resulting from those moments of contemplation is based in large measure on the thrill of possibility.

Have you heard the recession is over

Yea, it was all over the news the other day. I was not really sure how to respond. I thought I would go out to a restaurant and party. I was of course concerned that everyone else was doing the same and the place would be packed.

Fortunately that was not the case. Apparently no one but me was in a celebratory mood and the traffic count that night was way down. Cheer up I told the manager the recession is over.

Culling the customer base.

Jackie Huba's post reminds entrepreneurs that they actually have a duty to protect their good customers from their more disruptive brethren. It is ok and even beneficial to say "NO" to an individual who is disrupting another guest's experience.

To which Tim wrote on his blog:

"Fabulous.You sir are exactly the type of patron that I never want to see at an Alamo Drafthouse ever again. People who continue to talk when the movie has started are impolite, self-absorbed losers who were never taught common decency by their parents. WE DON’T EVER WANT YOU AT THE ALAMO. Please take your business elsewhere for the rest of your life....To our friendly customers, stay vigilant, report talkers and keep our theater safe from the raging hemorrhoids of cinematic society."

This happens all the time inside stores, movie theaters, sporting events, airline flights; an obnoxious customer makes everyone uncomfortable, and everyone in charge is oblivious.

Difficult Conversations

Peter Bergman's post offers three concrete steps to diffuse any awkward conversation;

  1. Ask questions. I would ask open ended, exploratory questions. Who, what, when, where, how, why, etc. Questions that would clarify what she was saying and feeling. Questions that would help me unpack the situation from her perspective. I would stay away from leading questions and statements that pretended to be questions but wouldn't fool anyone, like "You don't actually believe that, do you?"
  2. Actually listen. I would shut up and hear what she had to say. And I would avoid thinking about anything except what she was saying. I would also try to hear what she wasn't saying but was implying, the desires, fears, and assumptions that were behind what she was saying.
  3. Repeat and summarize. I would recap what I heard, trying to use the same words she did. I would also summarize what I heard and check with her to see if I understood her correctly. If she told me I didn't get it, I wouldn't ask her to repeat herself because, well, she would and I'd hear the whole thing over again. What I really wanted to know is what I got wrong. So I'd ask her what I missed. Once she told me, I'd repeat that part again and ask her if I got it right this time.

Most importantly, I wouldn't bother to defend our decision until her anger was diffused. And I picked a sign for myself: once she took a deep breath and relaxed her shoulders, I'd make my point.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Customer satisfaction is getting vocal.

Reuters' post discuss how the economy is impacting your guest's tolerance of less than exceptional service.

"The survey for online restaurant marketing service Livebookings also found nearly a quarter admitting they are more likely to moan about poor service due to the economic downturn."

People have less money or are feeling less wealthy in most cases and they are simply not going to tolerate exchanging their few discretionary dollars for a dining experience that does not meet their expectations. The study identifies the percentage that would complain, more problematic for your business are those who feel the experience was sub par and choose not to return. In those cases you have no idea why they did not return. The customer just vanished, and guess what if your business has a trend of vanishing customers, the business will also vanish.

What does your business smell like?

Cynthia Graber's post about the effects of smells has some direct implications;

grab whatever product you use to clean. Maybe it’s something that smells really citrusy. Do a bit of cleaning. Then take a few deep breaths. Believe it or not the odds are now higher that you’ll make decisions that are both more fair and more generous than you would have without smelling the cleanser. That’s according to research published in the journal Psychological Science.

Time to start pumping citrus into the air in your business.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fingers of instability

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
- Shakespeare

Have you ever wondered why some restaurant concepts flourish while others flounder? Have you done everything "right" and gotten a less than satisfactory result? Have you had a successful concept, opened your second one and stumbled badly? Well the problem is the finger of instability that permeates all elements of our existence. Actually the scientific term is self organizing criticality.

Mark Buchanan's "Ubiquity" describes the situation in this fashion;

"What counts in the critical state are not complex details but extremely simple underlying features of geometry that control how influences can propagate"

All one can do is their very best, everything else is whether or not their is enough underlying geometry to propagate the business.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How is your 2010 plan coming?

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.
– Harriet Beecher Stowe

There is carnage all around you. Some of your friends have shuttered their dreams. Economists are telling you the worst is over however you see people losing their homes in your neighborhood. Against this backdrop you need to create a plan for 2010.

Ivana Taylor has some great questions for your (Plan 2010)

  1. What is my situation right now?
  2. What scares you about this?
  3. Given what you’ve said, what is your default future?

Now take a look at that and decide if that’s right for you. Is this default future ok with you? I’m assuming the answer is probably no. So let’s try this again.

  1. What’s the situation right now?
  2. What missing in this situation, that if it were present, would open new possibilities? Is it risk-taking? creativity? passion about the business? Caring for the customer?
  3. What future is possible now that you’ve brought in the missing ingredient?

Trending toward 2010

Robert Passikoff's trends for 2010 has some interesting nuggets,

In case your brand didn't get the memo, here it is: Consumers are on to brands trying to play their emotions for profit. In the wake of the financial debacle of this past year, people are more aware then ever of the hollowness of bank ads that claim "we're all in this together" when those same banks have rescinded their credit and turned their retirement plan into case studies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What is the best way to learn?

Jonah Lehrer's post offers this reassurance,

getting the wrong answer helps us remember the right one...By challenging ourselves to retrieve or generate answers we can improve our recall. Keep that in mind next time you turn to Google for an answer, and give yourself a little more time to come up with the answer on your own.

it is ok and even beneficial to learn from mistakes

Credit card round trip

hat tip Chart Porn

Communal Table, good idea gone nowhere

Christopher Borrelli article lists the ten worst trends of the decade. Among them he listed the Communal Table. I hated the communal table concept because I thought, "I do not want to sit with perfect strangers who are going to ruin my evening." I was young and stupid back then.

The table does not work because everyone has the same mindset I used to have. There is an old proverb which escapes now, however the essence is that we age when we close ourselves off from new people and new experiences. When we are tried of trying to be social we become less than we were. Humans are a social animal, we need communal tables, granted we need a little Nudge

You need to have goals.

David Hammond reports on a pizza bet,

Scharoff "must eat sausage pizza for every meal during the month of October. The pizza must contain crust, sausage and cheese. All toppings, with the exception of lettuce on Taco Pizzas -- yes, he loves them -- and arugula and prosciutto -- he has no idea what either of these are -- must be cooked into the pizza. He cannot have dessert, chips or side dishes of any kind. No salads, no cereals, no slaw. Any significant caloric intake must be pizza."

Living the dream!

Red wine and fish

Steve Mirsky's article explains the silly notion of pairing red wine and fish. Sommelier's may have to return to their studies.

It’s one of the most vexing problems in modern science: which wine to order with the Chilean sea bass. One thing’s for sure, though—you’d only ever order a white wine, never a red wine with fish. The flavors just clash. But now researchers have pinpointed the problem with red wine and seafood. And some reds may actually go fine with fish.

So look for red wines with low iron.

Where does that cup of coffee come from?

Hat tip Chart porn

What happened to all the matchbooks

Katrina Heron's article visits an old standby,

matches appear to be struggling back from the brink to reassert their pre-eminence among the rabble of coasters, business cards, cocktail napkins and swizzle sticks charged with hawking a restaurant’s good name. In an era of instant information access and viral publicity, logo-bearing matches may have the edge as ambassadors that convey distinction in their very physicality.


Thomas Friedman's column deals with education, however its application is universal

Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spectre of deflation.

BLS report on wholesale prices. Prices seem sticky to me.

Finished foods:  Prices for finished consumer foods inched down 0.1 percent in September after 
rising 0.4 percent in August. The index for eggs for fresh use, which declined 9.8 percent, led the
decrease in finished consumer food prices.

Solar solutions to restaurant energy needs.

Lead, follow or get out of the way.

In all, Chipotle has committed to panels that will produce 500 kilowatt hours of electricity, making Chipotle the largest direct producer of solar energy in the restaurant industry.

“Our effort to change the way people think about and eat fast food began with our commitment to serving food made with ingredients from more sustainable sources, and that same kind of thinking now influences all areas of our business,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “Today, we’re following a similar path in the way we design and build restaurants, looking for more environmentally friendly building materials and systems that make our restaurants more efficient.”

Closing out the guest experience.

The guest experience does not end after the guest has consumed their last morsel. Everything that occurs from the presentation of the check to the time the guest physically leaves the confines of your space (i.e. drives or walks away) or munches on the last remnants of their doggie bag is part of the experience.

Too often, a perfect meal is tarnished because the restaurant failed to follow through and close out the guest experience in a congruent fashion. The last memory tends to be the one that has traction.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Cognitive Dissonance of tipping.

Cognitive Dissonance is defined by wiki as,

"is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The "ideas" or "cognitions" in question may include attitudes and beliefs, the awareness of one's behavior, and facts. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors"

When you go to a neighborhood diner and the server is exceptional and the bill is $20 you would tip $4 (20%). If you dine at a more upscale establishment and the service is ok, the bill is $40, you would tip $6 (15%). If you go to a fancy restaurant and the service is so-so, the bill is $80, the tip is $8 (10%). In all three cases the server took the order, brought a beverage, soup and an entree. The server in the neighborhood diner worked much harder and made the dining experience more pleasurable, however because of the price points and the whole IRS taxing tips based on a percentage of gross sales etc. the server at the high end steak house receives a higher income. That causes an unfairness in the mind of the customer and makes the higher end dining experience less desireable.

The question is how does a proprietor mitigate the effects of that dissonance on their customers?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Return of the Customer

James Surowiecki's article debunks the death of conspicuous consumption.

But the evidence for a radical shift in the way we consume seems more like the product of wishful thinking (there’s a palpable longing among pundits for Americans to become more frugal) than anything else. In many categories, spending has dropped only slightly, if at all. And, while these are very tough times for retailers who believed that spending could only go up, retail sales rose briskly in August. Before we go proclaiming this the age of the American tightwad, a little perspective is in order. Even after the worst recession of the past seventy years, retail sales this year will be about where they were in 2005. Does anyone really think that four years ago Americans were misers?

Are you ready for the return of the customer?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is a guest intellectual property?

A guest has a dining experience and then tweets about it. A server tweets or blogs about a particular guest that visited your restaurant. Who owns that information? Does the server have a right to discuss anything that occurs in the restaurant that you the proprietor are responsible for? Does a guest have a right to expect privacy within the confines of your establishment? Do we need to actively restrict employees with confidentiality agreements. Do we need to have a guest sign a confidentiality agreement?

Transparency in a wired world is a area of the law that is certainly in development. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Keep the intent high

Bill Caskey nails it when it comes to how you should interact with your customers. He is describing the unsuccessful Chicago 2016 bid however the business lesson for all entrepreneurs is crystal clear.

That’s because most of we sales people fail when it comes to our intent. I describe INTENT as that which is in your heart that governs how you attract or repel prospects to you.

High Intent is when everything is about THEM, YOUR CUSTOMER, YOUR PROSPECT, YOUR TARGET.
Low Intent is when everything is about YOU, YOUR NEEDS, YOUR COMMUNITY, YOUR DESIRES.

Rio it is in 2016

Being a Chicago Cub fan one would think I can handle a less than perfect outcome. However the greatest city in the world was not awarded the 2016 Olympic games and it feels horrible.

Raise a glass of cheer to the incredible efforts of Chicago 2016 organization, you did us proud!