Thursday, February 5, 2009

Introduction to ServSafe, Services Marketing (From the NY Times to Food Porn)

The class kicked off inna Thursday stylee with 'In the News'. I brought up that Coca Cola recently dropped 'classic' from the name of their flagship product. Twenty three years ago they made one of the biggest marketing bungles in history, and only today can they really lay it to rest.

is reacting to the economy not tolerating $6 coffee and introducing "value meals" to compete with McDonald's McCoffee concept. They've been waffling a little, and it has not been announced what the price point or the components of this deal will be. On a side note, Long Island Jenni told an anecdote of someone she met who owns 17 McDonalds franchises in and around NYC. It seems he has not added the McCoffee concept to his stores because a) he feels that people don't go to McD's for coffee and b) it costs him $100g per store to install the elements necessary to sell the coffee.

The dining section of Wednesday's Times was pored over. An interesting article about the 'Biggest Loser' TV show tells how they show the contestants working out and going crazy but never eating -- in reality, they're are put on unsustainable and unhealthy crash diets to achieve to most dramatic effect for TV, but when the show is over, they are left to figure out food for themselves and most fail and gain weight -- this entertainment that banishes food serves to make food into pornography, as I noted in class about this article from Restaurant News. It seems the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona dresses up waitresses as 'sexy nurses', serves up 'quadruple bypass' 2lb burgers and fries cooked in lard, and if you finish that burger you are escorted out of the restaurant in a wheel chair. Oy. People say they want healthy and yet places like this thrive.

Finally, a few weeks ago we mentioned a toilet that was shot at a Carl's Jr in Utah. Well now it seems the restaurateurs are milking it for all it's worth and holding a funeral for said toilet. God bless America.

Then we got to ServSafe. ServSafe is a national exam on food safety and preparation given by the NRA (that's the National Restaurant Association, silly!) It's certification is generally recognized nationally, but it is up to local authorities to require it. In NYC, the city Department of Health wants dat money and requires it's own Food Safety Handler Certificate. NYC's guidelines are not that different than ServSafe, it's all politics. I already have the city certificate by doing a ridiculously easy program on line and a multiple choice test at a dirty city office.

I won't go into detail about ServSafe on this blog. Today we watched an introductory video with some incredibly unconvincing acting about the basics - food can be adulterated by three groups
  • Physical - glass, debris, wedding ring
  • Chemical - cleaning fluid, soap, perfume
  • Bacterial - fungi, viruses, organisms
It's that last one that is the big mamajama. An outbreak is when one or more people get sick at the same time from eating the same food at the same establishment. The video predicts doom and death and 100 years of bad luck to any establishment who has an outbreak, so you better go spend a whole lot of money on getting your ServSafe certification!

Richard passed out a number of student business plans for the class to look at -- this will be our final project. We have our mission statements and concepts, and a few menu items to start, but the business plan is the packet that will be the main tool to pry the big bucks from investors. Some were very professional, but I took some pleasure in pulling out the crappiest ones. They literally looked like they were made by 4th graders, with a page of clippings of uniforms from a restaurant supply store, with the line, "We will have uniforms like these because uniforms are important in creating the image of a restaurant." Wow. This guy must of spent his youth growing up behind the counter of a KFC.

At the end of class, Richard ripped through some basic concepts of service marketing.Basically, the client tells you everything you need to know about your business, from what you sell, how you sell it, where you are, the color of your walls, the finishes on your plating, who you hire and fire, when you go to the bathroom, etc. Of course, they may lie (I want you to be a 100% vegan organic raw burger joint, but I ain't gonna tell you about how I'm lovin' McD's on the sly) or don't want to talk to you. Simply, the client determines product and services, and it is up to your communications to both interpret and reflect that back in a profitable way.

Richard sketched out a brief history of marketing in 4 phases.
  1. Originally, it was all 'pull'. Business was product centered. We do this, and if you don't like this, well, go somewhere else, we're not for you.
  2. As competition increased in a more communications-heavy world, a 'push' strategy emerged. "Hello! We got this here! Come in!" The illegal vendors selling yo-yos in the subway is pure push strategy.
  3. Third, the push was taken to the extreme with the 'promotional' strategy, which looks to influence the behavior of the client. "Don't think you need our thing? Well, we have a 2 for 1 sale for our thing!" My dad was old school, and fell for coupons for shit he didn't need at a heartbeat.
  4. Finally, the 'marketing' strategy -- determining the needs and wants of the client, and meeting them. The umbrella dudes who pop up out of the concrete the second it starts raining and mysteriously disappear when it stops is purely driving by marketing strategy. "We're a whore for your money! I don't care what I do, tell me what to do!"
And on that note, I'll see ya Monday! Have a good weekend, friend.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Introduction to Marketing

The day started off with odds n' ends, the class' restaurant experiences since we last met. Lenin-pisser was at Cafe Lulu in Brooklyn over the weekend, and while dining, there was a horrendous crash in the kitchen and several people shouting, "Kill it! Kill it!" Mmmmm, delicious. Russian Pam Anderson brought up the news about Tavern on the Green, about how despite the fact they are the 2nd highest grossing restaurant in the country, they're probably losing their lease from the city.

Another student spoke of an article about crock-pot cooking, a new fad in times of lowered economic prospects. This reminded me of the crock pot I found in an old farm-house I was invited to cook at for a weekend over the summer. There were piles of crap from the 70s there, and the thing that stood out was the crock pot (pictured above) -- all it is is a slow cooker!! You can use any pot with a cover and wack it in an oven at a low temp and -poof- no need for another piece of equipment. Silliness. What is old is new again.

The next part of the class was dedicated to literally deconstructing the menu of LI DeNiro's family's restaurant, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria. The original menu is just a big friggin' mess. It's 6 pages, 100s of items, and a border of crammed, garish close-ups of food which gives the impression of poorly-composed piles of noise. It seems items were added chronologically since the place opened in 1965, without too much sense or clarity. Spelling mistakes abounded, sections broken over multiple pages.

By taking photocopies and cutting them up and pasting them, it wasn't that hard to make it make sense. However, if I was answering to an old-school off-the-boat pizzaman whose business has been just fine without the menu rejiggering, it may be a challenge! Just removing 15% of the items would loosen up the menu, a lot of dishes who use the same ingredients in different combinations. Veal 10 ways -- really?

The last part of the class was an introduction to marketing.Richard presented us with a simple 2 page mini-case study of some wealthy individuals who open a luxurious Asian restaurant in a small town because they were tired of traveling 90 miles to the closest city to get the food they liked. Unsurprisingly, the place flops and when they hire marketing consultants who tell them that the market in the town is not big enough to support this concept, they fire their manager and hope for the best. They soon go out of business and get bought out, and the new owners turn it into a family steak house with great success and live happily ever after.

The moral of the story -- it all starts with the wants and needs of the client. You ignore that at your peril. If you want a restaurant that serves what YOU want, cool, but what YOU want better line up with what the client wants. And off we go!