Thursday, February 19, 2009

Consumer Behavior / Ming Tsai

The second half the day was a guest lecture from celebrity TV chef Ming Tsai, so our In the News rollcall was shorter than usual. The New York Times had an interesting article about an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side that serves rich people, many who pay on a tab basis. Richard said that in these situations, the rich are notorious for not paying their bills.

A few opening in the city were notable, including 'Absinthe Wine Bar', which is odd, since Absinthe is a liquor, not a wine. Tom Colichio's Craftsteak is reopening as 'Halfsteak', in which the steaks come in 6 oz portions, with fries on small plates, for around $15. That sounds great to me -- I can go eat at a steak house and eat (and pay for) a portion that I'd cook for myself at home, a portion that won't block my colon for a week.

Finally, some kids got smart and built a transmitter to take over a speaker system at a drive-through Taco Bell. They shouted obsceneties or whatever at customers. Taco Bell is threatening to press charges, but Richard feels if they really wanted to spin the story to their advantage, they should get the kids to do some high-profile charitable work in leu of pressing charges. The Taco Bell is in a small town, and if you start prosecuting your customer's kids, there could be unintended consequences.

The next section of the class was dedicated to ServSafe and the introduction to the concept o f the flow of food. In a nutshell, when one follows the flow of a food item from entering a restaurant to leaving it, the trips through the temperature danger zone can be traced. An item can arrive frozen, brought into the danger zone to prep (41-135 degrees, where bacteria live and grow), refrozen, brought back through it to cook, cooled into the zone to be served, thrown into a doggie bag and into the back seat for hours, so when the customer eats it tomorrow and gets sick, thinks it's the restaurant's fault and not you. Talk of lots of thermometers, temperature logs, etc., stuff that's nice in theory but not horrendously applicable to the real world restaurant settings.

Consumer behavior is studdied to figure out how to manipulate customers into deciding to buy from us. This study is based on the assumption that human behavior is not random, but can fit an identifiable pattern.

A decision making model can be seen like:
Need Arousal --> Info Retrieval -->
Evaluating alternative choices --> Consumption Decision -->
Post consumption feeling.
There are two sets of influences along this model, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic include culture, socioeconomic level, reference group and household. Culture includes subculture, which if identified can help sharpen marketing. Socioeconomic level is directly related to the frequency of dining and reference groups are for comparing thoughts and feelings with others. Example, after a meal, someone says, "I thought that was great, don't you?" -- it colors perception. Friends, media, and subculture are all parts of the reference group. The ultimate reference group is the household, the immediate family who may be doing the real decision making for the individual consumer.

Intrinsic influences are needs, experience, personality/self-image and perceptions/attitudes. Needs are charted in Maslow's hierarchy (illustrated at right.) Starting at the base is basic needs, and as you go higher you get more ego-driven. At the base is 'physiological' needs -- the drive to kill hunger, to feed. A hot dog cart aims for this. Next is 'safety' -- the need for security. A chain restaurant like McDonalds is safe, as it's always consistent and you know exactly what your getting. In the middle is what Richard called 'Social', though to the right is 'Love/Belonging'. A neighborhood joint with lots regulars or a country club with a membership policy targets this need (and all those below it.) Next is 'Status' (or 'Esteem'), something a fine dining establishment which offers pampering service targets. Finally, 'Self Actualization', when the client identifies personally with the subject to the exclusion of other needs. When some one says, "That was the best -insert food item- I ever had", that's self-actualization. For example, DiFara's of Midwood, Brooklyn, is dirty, has ugly Formica tables from the 70s, the service is painfully slow, it's very expensive for what you get and it's hard to get to. however, it's the best NYC slice pizza I've ever had, and will continue to try to go and talk it up as long as I perceive it to be that good.

Other intrinsic values are experience, where projections of the past determine future behavior. There's personality/self image, where one reinforces self image by the choices they make. And then there are perceptions and attitude. For example, the Amex ad in which they show a couple talking to the camera, all snuggly and warm, saying something like, "We didn't even pack a bag, we just went to the airport, chose a warm destination and just charged everything" is a total play on the perception and attitude of the product.

The second half of the class was a visit by well-known restaurateur and TV food host Ming Tsia, of the Simply Ming show on the food network and chef/owner of Blue Ginger in the Boston area. I'm not his fan, only watched his show for about 10 minutes, and am not interested in Asian-fusion food (a term which he hates -- fusion is for nuclear particles, not food -- he refers to his style as East/West). However, he was charismatic, told funny stories, and worked the room to make us feel like he was talking to his long lost best friend. Seriously charming without being smarmy, it's easy to see why the guy is a star -- if he wasn't a cook or a TV host, he'd be the CEO of an international firm, y'know?

A few anecdotes: A customer greets him at his restaurant and says, "I hope this is going to be the best meal of my life!", to which he replies, "I hope you eat at McDonalds a lot!" "Keller is an artist. I am a craftsman." As much as he hates to admit it, service is 70% of the reason someone comes to dine, and what they'll remember more than the food. He told a story of the only customers he ever through out of his restaurant, a pair of ladies in their 50s dressed like they were in there 20s on a busy Saturday night, picked over a single salad for 1.5 hours, and when the server tried to clear the table so the main courses could come, they shooed them away, saying they were still working on it. They were being rude, noticeably making the surrounding tables uncomfortable. Finally Ming had to come out with the main dishes himself and convince them that their food would get cold if it didn't come out now. As they were eating, they snapped their fingers at a busser for water. At this point, Ming came out and told them to "just get out." He didn't bill them for their food, and told them that he doesn't care if they tell their friends that they were treated unkindly, because anyone with a friend like them would not be welcome here. The surrounding tables thanked him profusely. Ming said it felt great, but doing something like that regularly will probably kill a business.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ServSafe / Odds n' Ends

Odds and Ends began the day, with surprisingly few stories about Valentine's Day. K had a disastrous experience at a place called Croton Reservoir, a Tavern/sports bar on the edge of the theater district. They got there early, it was empty, the multiple TVs were blaring a game in contrast to the roses placed on all the tables. The menu was fixed at $125 and limited, and three times during the evening they were asked if they had a reservation, which they did not, but still had to wait 20 minutes to get the check.

L has been working prep at a Mexican restaurant for a few weeks now, and on Valentine's Day, she was assigned to assemble deserts....but never was trained on how to do that, and ended up getting a lot of stick from the Chef when he came in. Richard said, with apologies, that someone with no training on the dishes should never be let into a kitchen. Poor management.

Long Island Jenny found a hilarious study from the Cornell School of Hospitality, a research paper on how to increase a server's tip. This must of been some serious corporate-funded study, because the results were things you'd only find at an annoying corporate chain -- introduce yourself by name, crouch at the table, draw on the check, entertain the customer, smile always, and then some wackier stuff, like give candy with the check, touch the customer (?), and forecast good weather (?!?).

The second part of the class was more ServSafe, in particular safe food handling. This can really be summarized in two sentences: 1) Wash hands often, wear gloves and don't get poop in the food. 2) If one is puking for either end or has jaundice, don't work around food. And then we took a quiz. I got 88% correct, and will need 75% to get the certification. Whoop de doo!

We only got partially into a discussion of the study of consumer behavior, so I'll just roll it into one complete entry tomorrow.