Creative Morning, Baltimore's presentation entitled "Collaboration!" was perfectly timed. Baltimore is a collaborative town, and the results are great for our community. Collaboration in Baltimore's food community is attracting attention by chefs and business owners in other parts of the US. During my Food Journey in the UK last week I wondered how the well-known foodie of Brighton UK is embracing collaboration. Last week I met Kanthi, owner of Curry Leaf Cafe and Olivia, Marketing Guru at Terre a Terre. I asked the question, "how well do the community of restaurant-owners collaborate in Brighton, UK?".
Fair to say, that in your business, the central constant is to serve your customers. To some business owners that means, as fast and efficiently as possible. Other business owners rely on carefully organized hospitality. And while serving your customer is the central goal, ask yourself if customers are central to your business day. It may not be happening at all, or service may be happening, accompanied with chaos, or you just cannot figure out why service is not smooth and simple. Lets visit three tips for being prepared to serve your customers. This will improve their experience.
As an owner of a food related business, you have people and responsibility pulling you in different directions. So, if bringing one more task to your attention is not what you want to read now, stop now, and come back later...But know that its not good to ignore the appearance of your business. It's easy to tell yourself you don't care/it doesn't really matter, or wish them away; but honestly, the customers see these items as undone/incomplete/needing attention.
Let me tell you my story about approval from a business owners’ point of view. While running my cafe I would notice something in every new employee. Their need for approval, and disapproval. As new staff each baristas and cafe staff would receive the one to two week training. After our training period, they were expected to do their job. “Okay, your have our training, we don’t need to shadow you anymore. You are awesome.” Then, I would start to notice the desire for approval. As the owner, I did praise them. It kept them energized, and kept the team together. At the same time, I couldn’t figure out why approval was so necessary given that their experience in life and a job was just starting. Turns out, this is a vignette for every business owner.
Being good at their job was fantastic, but as an owner I didn’t have a lot of time to laud them with compliments. Our day was full: 7am opening to 4pm close, and the prep list and front line list gave everyone structure and tasks to complete. “just initial what you did, so I know it’s getting done” was a common method of approval. And, yes, mix into this, staff showing up late (excused or unexcused), complaining (lots of things to fuss about as a new adult) or feeling ill (Monday, Monday!). These too are on the spectrum of getting attention/receiving disapproval. Why was I caught in needing to hand out approval or disapproval. The phrase, “just do your job” rang loud and clear in my head, and my GM’s voice. But this was their first or second job. They were just starting on the road of adulthood. Until that point, they had been getting approval or disapproval from two main areas of their life: Nurturing from parents and critical approval through school teachers and grading. That was all they knew. So here’s the funny thing: most of us didn’t get the memo: when you enter the work world, outside approval ends. Adulthood starts, and suddenly no one is handing out approval.
Take this to the owner level. As a business owner, you are told, “it’s lonely there”, “you wear lots of different hats”. But again, no one sent you that memo, either. Approval is simply missing. You have to stay centered, you have to find your focus, reset to the original plan, and not waver. That is hard. Customers might approve or disapprove of your product or delivery. Is that your source of approval? Should you follow their comments? Only if it is aligned with your original mission. Fair to say that having that zen focus, and self-approval does not come easy, but if you give it a little focus, you can train yourself to self-approval, and recenter to your goals. I know: easier said than done. Here is are three simple questions to ask when things get foggy
1) Can I find a question or statement that will help me reset?
2) Can I run this business so it becomes more successful, and less chaotic?
3) Can I set aside time each week to make sure I am happy running my business (and that it is not running me)?
It’s my hope and desire that these words seep into your working owner brain. They can help you focus on your business…and avoid getting bogged down in your business.
Running a business keeps you running fast and furious every day. Running a food-centric business takes it up a notch... okay, maybe five notches. Frankly, owners wince at the very thought of facing the big picture. It's unwieldy, it's awkward and just entertaining the thought is enough to annoy you. "I know I should (fill in the blank)", or "I have no idea where to begin to find a (graphic designer/equipment repair person".
Here are ways to begin the new habit of breaking old patterns. Start by walking around your business when it is quiet, or when staff have left for the day. Write a list of items that need your attention. Some of the items you write down on your list do not have an immediate answer. Identifying the problem is still worth the effort. Here are three ways to start looking at your business and start breaking old pattern. They can guide you.
NUMBER ONE: RETREAT/RESET
Take a moment, away from your business. It's probably unrealistic and quite unnecessary to actually take a retreat from your business -- i mean like the one in the Bahamas. But a simple retreat where you take a half day, to a quiet corner of a coffee shop, to a peaceful place in your home, and address the six most important parts of your business: strategy, distibution, financial stability, customer service, operations and quality product. Take time to decide how you want to focus on each of these topic, all year long. Decide how often you can afford your mini retreat, because you do need time to focus on each of these areas of your business, all year long. Then you can determine how and when you can reasonably address the big picture, and not be afraid of it: it's your own personal reset button. Resetting will eventually be appealing, not fear inducing!
NUMBER TWO: READ THE SIGNS
By now you have made your list of things you want to fix. Be willing to look at your list, regularly (this is where you constantly reset). There will be the items that require simple fixes. That means clean the air compressor, fix keys on your POS system or quickbooks management system, change items on the menu because the food cost is no longer good. All these things can become part of the method and practices staff address. If it is not in the everyday process, then it's time you take that as a sign, and figure out how to add it into the tasks. Maybe it's adding items to the staff monthly cleaning list, or managers responsibilities, to ensure it gets done in a timely fashion..
NUMBER THREE: ALLOW
Allow yourself to learn from yourself. This is your entrepreneurial spirit. Take time to look at the past, present and future of your business. There are so many aspects of your business: strategy, distibution, financial stability, customer service, operations and quality product. Allow your business brain, and entrepreneurial mindset needs to focus on each. No, not all at once, but take time to think about how to improve each of these areas. The time you take now transmits your ideas and plans into the future of your business. This will give your customers a much better experience, and lead them to appreciate exactly why they like your business so much.
When it comes to winter, evergreens have a fantastic message for business-owners. Food businesses feel winter like a punch in the gut. Common feedback from restaurants, purveyors alike, "this is such a dead time of year". How about turning that on it's head as saying winter is a great time to reset--returning to your original, ever true message.
In the words of Luke, my GM for the last 9 years of my business, "reset". He returned to this message at least two times in each day. And Luke returned to it in each month, and in each year. It's essential in each food-based business. Reset is a way to remind yourself of your original dream, and how to return to that place. As business owners there is a constant barrage of "good ideas". Some are from within--the entrepreneur feeding on more ideas. We each feed ourselves with fun, new, good ideas. It's important that the ideas are focused on the original concept.
Any good entrepreneur is fed new "good ideas" from your own customers. Again, you as an entrepreneur, feed on ideas. Here is an example. A cafe here in town is asked by it's client to bottle three of it's salsas, and sell them. Seems like a fantastic idea. Grow the business! Now, take it a step farther--to bottle the salsas you need three different UPC codes, all kinds of paperwork for the health department, labelling, branding, bottles (oh, and which ones?!?!?), and quickly the original business, of the cafe's existence is off track because of an idea that seems enticing, and perhaps it will improve revenue. It's a tangent, and will absorb time, money, effort...and perhaps the revenue from that is not as impressive as the revenue the cafe can attract if food quality and customer experience continue to be the reset mantra. Think it through, contemplate it, and check/recheck/reset. Does it match the original plan? Nike says, "just do it" Cavalletta says, "Just reset".
Winter is that secret ingredient here--reminding you to be the evergreen--return to the original goal, and reset to what you know your best work is.
Learning from a Goat Cheese Maker
Christmas-time 2013 I met Pam Miller, of Charlottetown Farm. I had volunteered to organize food for the TEDxBaltimore Conference. This 800 person event was in January. Charlottetown Farms' chèvre and cheesecake samples highlighted Baltimore's winter bounty from local purveyors. It was strictly a business connection. Pam Miller knew the event was simply an authentic way to promote, along with other local farms and restaurants. It's been a pet project of mine to focus attention on food-based business that serve and sell when the bounty in winter, when farm fields are hibernating.
As life would have it, that event forged a friendship that surpasses business. As our chatter grew, Pam's refrain, all year long was, "hey, you should make chèvre, it's easy!". Quietly, in my brain ran the subtitle, "oh, yah... great idea, I'll just learn how....I don't even know how to do that!!!?" So, here it is, December. Our friendship took us to NYC. Our mutual love of cheese took us on a planned trip to Saxelby Cheese at Exxex Street Market, owned by cheese-goddess Ann Saxelby. For those who don't know, she is a pioneer in NYC, who now runs a fantastic artisinal cheese shop in Manhattan, and runs a cheese cave in Red Hook (Brooklyn). We also had the delightful treat to be given a tour of Martha Stewarts' offices and kitchen!! What a treat that was! We met the staff of fantastically talented writers, chefs, video staffers... an impressive and kind team.
And here it is, December, and I am finally giving in to Pam's plan for me. She delivered goats milk from her farm, along with the cheesecloth, rennet and microbial bacteria I need to make this batch. Mind you, i have a ridiculously small, useless kitchen. And yes, I am envious of Martha Stewarts' kitchen; and yes, I was wishing I could use my former Boheme Cafe kitchen. The reality: I managed to make the cheese, with a little stress from my conditions! So here is the photoessay, of cheesemaking. It's an herb chèvre.
Maybe you did not grow up with this term, Zeitgeist. It's a fascinating word because it has different facets. I am going to explore zeitgeist as it pertains to coffeehouses.
Taking a moment, being cozy, chatting with a friend. "Let's meet at a cafe" It's that specific space: what you need, when you need it. Do you need to contemplate, do you need a political argument, or do you just need to see an old friend? It's the community that you want in the oldest, simplest form. So is the concept, Zeitgeist, the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. Coffee houses started in the 17th century in London, when coffee went from being medicinal need to social habit. Unlike the pub, where alcohol flowed freely, the coffeehouse had an ambiance where discourse and conversation were central. Theory and speculation today says those early coffeehouses in England led to banks, financial markets and newspapers. Manchester, UK is said to be where the first financial market started, in a city filled with textiles, cotton and weaving.
Claiming to be the oldest coffeehouse in the world is Cafe Florian in Venice. Famous in it's day because it allowed women, which therefore attracted a lively set -- including Casanova himself. In 2015 more cafes will burst out of every tight spot in cities everywhere, I enjoy following this trend, and am always looking for the highlights. In London I follow 100 Cups of Coffee. I just love seeing the creativity that owner/operators dream up for our pleasure. Support your local cafe, and always take a moment in any city to try their local cafe. Quickest, easiest way to get a vibe of what that city, town or metropolis has to offer.
It's autumn. In my mind autumn evokes introspection and quietude. You may even notice you do not need to be as social. The falling leaves, quiet rain, the brilliant colors of those leaves ask you to pause, and pay attention to new things. Even this post has been on hold for about a week. Looking for the right words to this describe a conundrum that constantly appears for owners of businesses. Perpective clients learn of my wide range of skills and ask, "can you help with my catering business?", "can you attract more customers to my business, even though our retail shop is in a rural location?", "can you help me improve my sales number?". Those are the issues I care about, and they are what I help solve, but in the quiet moment we reach deeper, and grow bigger. In the quiet moments we dare to talk about the headier topics, "what is your mission?", "Is this what you imagined your business would become?", and, "Are you on-track, or off-track with your original mission?"
Depending on the client we dig deep or reach out to the farthest and widest part of their business. But answering big questions seems to be the hardest request. Is it because, if they say it aloud or write it down, they well then have to answer? Or is it because they just do not want to have that journey for those answers? Has our fast paced world caused us to think in the moment? Setting intention and allowing focus, is, really and truly, the best approach.
Take time to stop. Take in your surroundings. Decide: are you stuck? Or are ready to align with your original mission? Are you permitting your day-to-day operations to creep in and hold you captive.
Now, allow the intention to remind you of your original path and vision for your business.
Whether you are running a food-related business for a moment or for years you have a nagging voice in the back of your mind, it's saying, "keep going". It's the perfect phrase to listen to, because you know it's true, you have to keep going.
But you need energy to "keep going". So where, oh where, do you get energy? I suggest you starting conversations with yourself about your quality. Quality of the experience, quality of the taste of your food, quality of your staff morale. Question your business' quality each and every day. Think on a very high level, about what you created, and is this the manifestation of your desires. Ask if this sandwich/cheese/pickle is what you meant it would be when you started. If you are like me, our cafe kept quality at the forefront everyday. We did quality control checks. Sometimes a quality control check is even a little humorous: I would get a hankering for an egg sandwich--spinach, tomato, bacon and provolone, and so I would walk up and make it, or have my staff make it. Did they make it the same way? The whole while there would be banter back and forth with the staff, where I would say in a humorous tone, "this is just a quality control check: I'd need a lil'italian sandwich". Staff knew what was happening: 50% hunger, 50% quality control. The side effect? It kept morale high--they knew I cared that they made my recipe the way I wanted it to be made. High morale leads your staff to serve in a quality manner. And frankly, my staff made quality-control checking a pleasure.
This is where energy to go on, and grow lies. It does not lie in micromanaging your business or your staff. It does lie in your quality operation. If you want to grow a single part of your business, you need the reassurance that quality is paramount and unwavering.
And never forget, good music in a cafe/restaurant/commercial kitchen is paramount. Click on this link to get groovin'
If you are a business owner, you probably spend time thinking, "I just want more customers". Simple enough thought. Customers, on the other hand, don't spend there day thinking, "I just want to be a customer at that cafe 3 blocks from my office".
ENTICING A CUSTOMER
A customer comes to you in two forms, maybe three:
1. Walking by, and being enticed by your cafe's warm, inviting atmoshere
2. Talking to a co-worker who suggests that it's worth walking 3 blocks for your food
3. You have a catering menu and you have become an attractive option to local offices
Picture the scene: a friendly looking (well-dressed) fellow walks into a cafe, and doesn't know what to do, because you aren't Chipotle or McDonalds, where he knows the drill. He has to be engaged by the staff, in a friendly, easy method,
ENTICING A CUSTOMER TO BE A REGULAR
Now, picture the next scene: a friendly looking (well-dressed) fellow walks into a cafe, and knows the drill. He is engaged again, by the staff, in a friendly, easy method. He is remembered or not, but treated like he belongs. Who doesn't want that experience? If you make the experience consistent, pleasant and, let's not forget, delicious, they will come back. If staff is not engaging, your nice looking, well-dressed fellow figures he should go to a place that appreciates his business. Simple solutions to gaining customers.
We know, everyone wants to be that hip: that you eat only at locally sourced restaurants. Well, that just is not realistic. We encourage you to think about adding simple, fresh and clean ingredients to your kitchen, at home. And as a restauranteur, you are often asked if your food is fresh and local, even organic. It's our aim, when we work with a client, to educate their customers through the menu and blogging on their site. Be sincere, be transparent, your message will come through.