Kitchens and Communicators: Same Knives

A food critic friend of mine posted this piece from the site Fine Dining Lovers and I thought it was excellent. I also thought that it’s not necessarily only germane to commercial kitchens. I think it’s also quite relevant to practitioners of both the culinary and the communication arts.

Here’s a short version with my take. Read the entire piece at the link above.

INADEQUATE MISE EN PLACE
There is no excuse for this. It does happen and the finger should be pointed at both the individual line cook and the chef. Well-designed prep sheets based on sound projections, a sense of urgency on the part of the line cook, and chef oversight throughout the prep window will all help to rectify this problem.
MRB: Yep. If you don’t have all of your planning done; if you don’t have all the tools you need, the likelihood of  project failure increases exponentially.
LACK OF TRAINING
MRB: Fairly self-evident, this. Always train your staff. And, if you can, always hire smarter than yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
EQUIPMENT MALFUNCTIONS
Cooks depend on their tools working well. Ovens must be calibrated, burners must work well, fryer temperatures must be true, pans must be seasoned …
MRB: I learned this wisdom a long time ago from a boss who always insisted that the communications staff have the latest equipment possible and put the office on a strict replacement schedule. We also all had machines that were the same so that we could all talk to one another whenever we needed to. This is smart stuff — and hard to get past the bean-counters in lean years — but it’s absolutely essential. I swear by it.
Chef-knivesPOOR DOOR MANAGEMENT
Even the best prep and mental preparedness will fail if the front of the house fails to manage and pace the door and door reservations for smooth service.
MRB: Your jobs are not “one-offs.” You have to be cognizant of what else you have on your plate when you assign deadlines and due dates. If you don’t factor in “the other,” you’re always going to be scrambling, always going to be behind and you’ll end up with a poor reputation — and that’s something much harder to fix than learning how to calendarize projects.
LACK OF MENTAL PREPAREDNESS
Cooks need to be in the right mental state to function at peak efficiency. Chefs need to help to manage this.
MRB: Yes, a thousand times, yes! Make sure your staff is operating as best as they can. You can help them by providing them with an invigorating, well-run workplace or simply a shoulder to cry on. Give staff a chance to stretch in their roles and turn mistakes into learning experiences, not opportunities to always rebuke and belittle. Helping them focus will increase creativity across the board.
AN INDEPENDENT APPROACH VS. A TEAM PREPARATION
It is never sufficient to be satisfied that you are ready for the rush if the rest of the team is not. Every cook’s readiness is every cook’s responsibility. Observation and communication will help teams survive and thrive.
MRB: Nothing to add here. Build a team that helps one another thrive.
OVERALL WEAK COMMUNICATION
Constant communication between cooks, between the chef and cooks, between the dining room manager and the chef, and effective dialogue between service staff and cooks will keep everyone on track and will help to minimise the surprises that bring a restaurant down.
MRB: Ditto the above. Always keep talking. Let managers know of potential impending crises and let management assist in easing pressure in certain areas in order to get things done. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone feeling that they can say to their supervisor, “I’m swamped. I have three projects due today and I can’t get them all done,” and having the supervisor answer, “That’s okay. I’ll give one to Mary. Thanks for letting me know.”
AN ILL-CONCEIVED MENU WITHOUT STATION BALANCE
The menu is the key control device in a kitchen. Planning a menu is certainly an art, but it is also a science.
MRB: And ultimately, this is the foundation upon which all of the above is built. If you promise to be all things to all people, you’re not going to make it. Tighten your offerings, limit your services to those that you know your staff are capable of and make sure you can deliver the goods on time and on budget.
It’s not rocket science, but it is good management — and no matter what your industry, good management is good management. 

Branding and Other Nonsense

As the Quakers say, “My friend speaks my mind.” In this case, my friend is Gerry McGovern. And he’s never wrong.

Here’s the full text of is latest New Thinking E-Newsletter. It’s absolutely worth a read and a ponder.

361px-Branding_iron_from_Texas

Image: Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

BRANDING IS BULL

The origin of the word branding comes from the branding of cattle. Let’s travel back in time 100 years and listen in to a branding conversation by two cattlemen.

“Very impressive brand, Tom. It has a wonderful aesthetic feel to it.”
“Do you think so, John? We did think very deeply about the colors to choose. And we did have an intense debate about whether to use Athelas or Freight Text Pro. We decided to go with Athelas. It has that certain je ne sais quoi.”

“Absolutely! Superb choice. It will bring the customer on an emotional journey. Listen, the reason for my visit, Tom, is that I’d like your advice. We’re thinking of doing a rebranding.”

“Why is that, John?”

“Well, you know, the last couple of years have not been so good for the brand. We’ve had a drought, got hit by some diseases. The meat quality on the cattle is not great. So, I thought that if we refreshed the brand we could capture back some of our old market share.”

“What a fantastic idea, John! I know just the branding agency for you. They understand bull better than anyone I know.

“It’s amazing, Tom, isn’t it. Take the same old scrawny tough-as-nails meat, put some nice packaging and branding on it, and it just flies out of the store.”
“Those branding guys are magicians, John. They truly understand human emotion and are so brilliant at manipulating it. With the right brand you can sell any sort of bull.”

“And to think, Tom, when I was a kid we had such a limited understanding of what branding was. We thought it was just a unique mark we made on the cattle so that we would know who owned what. When I was a young, foolish teenager, I was under the mistaken impression that what mattered was the meat itself.”

At this stage John laughed. Tom laughed too. They both found the idea that the meat was more important than the brand absolutely hilarious.

“Some idiots say, Tom,” John said in between gushes of laughter, “that the meat is the brand!” Tom looked at him for a moment and then literally rolled around the floor laughing.

Where do people get these crazy ideas from? Don’t they know that coming up with meaningless, interchangeable taglines like: “Live life at a faster pace” is much more important than the quality of the product or service? Haven’t they learned from the magicians of marketing and branding that it’s all about coming up with a compelling story? That the right font and the right color are the quickest way to a customer’s credit card?

Branding is bull, and that’s a fact. Branding in practice is the manipulation of human emotion, the targeting of human weaknesses, the wrapping of the product in an image that has got nothing to do with the product itself. The gushing, smiling faces of actors pretending to be customers. Branding is the mark of the establishment. The opposite of authenticity.

Yes, we humans are fools and we have long fallen for branding and the whole school of psychological manipulation that goes behind it. But there is a reaction underway. Many of us are getting tired of being fools and being fooled. We go to the Web now, to search, to research, to check the facts, to read up on what people like us who have bought the product have experienced.

Gerry McGovern

I encourage you to follow McGovern. On Twitter, he’s @gerrymcgovern.

Subscribe to his newsletter at: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/new-thinking

New Emerson Logo Met with Derision

EmersonLogo

Image: InsideHigherEd.com

A new logo for Emerson College (at right) is receiving widespread criticism from students and alumni.

It never ceases to amaze me how often very intelligent people fall down this particular rabbit hole.

Look, no one will ever choose your institution based on your logo. Or your very expensive advertising-agency-quality tagline. Not. Going. To. Happen.

What may happen, however, is someone will decide NOT to attend your college or university based solely on the fact that they don’t want to look stupid with your dumb logo plastered across their chest.

Think I’m just being cheeky? Test me.

I dare ya.

Is Your Customer King?

Probably not. There’s a lot of folderol in management circles about making sure that you put the customer first, that the customer is always right, that the customer relationship is the most critical relationship of all.

Szlachecka_korona

Image: Tomasz Steifer, Gdansk

Then, of course, big business (let’s not lay all the blame at their feet; small business can suck at this, too) comes along and undermines anything the “boots on the ground” are actually doing on the ground.

From the latest New Thinking by Gerry McGovern:

In many organizations, the current customer is so disrespected that support is outsourced. You outsource the things that matter least to you. You outsource to save money. You outsource because you don’t care. You outsource because you don’t think something is a core competence.

It doesn’t get any truer than that, babies. It’s all about grabbing the most that you can and the devil take the hindmost.

Why do you hate dealing with Comcast/Time Warner/Verizon/fill-in-the-blank-with-other-hated-company-of-your-choice? Because their customer service stinks.

Two weeks ago, my local electricity provider (recently purchased by a mega-conglomerate) sent me a letter telling me to URGENTLY get in touch as someone needed to come over RIGHT AWAY to change my electric meter.

I called. I got the now-ubiquitous automated operator. I tried several different options (“Press 2 for Residential Customers”) and finally I just started yelling “Represenative!” and it finally connected me. To someone who didn’t know what in the hell was going on. Who lived states away from me. *sigh* Well, at least he didn’t live in a foreign country.

I’m still waiting on the promised technician to come out to fix something that THEY wanted fixed. I don’t care if they replace the dumb meter or not. I just called because I thought it would be helpful. I won’t make that mistake again.

“You outsource because you don’t think something is a core competence.” Gerry’s been right a lot, but he’s never been more right than right here.

What’s in a Name?

Good piece on NPR regarding the American Dialect Society naming the singular “they” as its word of the year. This has engendered much breast-beating and hand-wringing from the pedantry, but as much as I dig a grammatical argument and detest an Oxford comma, I believe language is fluid. If it wasn’t, we’d still be mired in the middle ages with the Wife of Bath and her tales. And who wants that?

 

10,000 Character Tweets?

That’s the rumor, as reported on Re/code and other sites. And it’s a desperate attempt to reinvent the social media site and cement its relevance. I also don’t think it will work.

UnknownI think this because most of the other tweaks to the site have not yielded positive results: bigger characters, gee-whiz graphics, photos, that annoying “Moments” section and the even more annoying “While you were away” tweets.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that Jack Dorsey and the “thought leaders” at Twitter seem to be more worried about how competitive Twitter is with Facebook and less worried about what their users want or expect from the microblogging platform.

The user experience — or user expectation — is the real key here. People are leaving Twitter not because there are not enough features but perhaps because there are just too many. When you are using Twitter on your phone, which most people do, the last thing you want are six million options. Trying to remember and figure out what you want to do decreases the value of the service to the user, thereby decreasing the likelihood that the user will continue using.

I’ve been completely frustrated by the 140-character limit at times, but that’s the essential element. Think about it. If I wanted to read a 10,000 character dissertation, why would I want to read it on Twitter?

The beauty of Twitter is its simplicity. Don’t keep mucking about and trying to make it into something it’s not. If you’re not careful, brand extension can kill you. Just be who you are, Twitter, not what you think someone else wants you to be.

Follow me before it all goes away!

College Changes Name Again: I Told You This Was a Mistake!

Do you ever have those days when you feel vindicated and can say to the world, “I told you so?” I’m having one of those days today!

Back in August, 2012, I first weighed in on a controversial name change of a university in Georgia. The short version is that two schools were merging, branding recommendations were made and the regents of the university system discounted the facts and renamed the university what they wanted it to be called.

At the time, I said, “I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. If, in fact, the Georgia regents did go against research when choosing the name of the combined university, they’ll be in trouble. This never works out well.” [emphasis added]

And guess what? They are now changing the name again. To what the top choice was then.

Millions of dollars were spent on this campaign before they surrendered to the inevitable. When will they ever learn, eh?