Hope, and Change

“I hope you had a great meal.”

Was he serious?

We had just finished paying over $400 for dinner for eight at a once great Charleston restaurant and not once had the manager stopped by our table. He never engaged us in conversation, he didn’t offer any wine recommendations, and there was no explanation of the evening’s specials other than a point to the chalk board on the wall.  He didn’t enlighten us as to why their menu hadn’t changed in twenty years. He never explained the odd salad of California greens, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries when we were in the middle of Charleston’s growing season. He offered no defense of the gummy Key Lime Pie or the frozen lima beans that were offered up as the local vegetable of the evening.

He did walk through his half empty (on a Saturday night, no less) dining room numerous times and he did smile at us, yet he never engaged us.

Until we had paid the check and were scooting back in our chairs.

“I hope you had a great meal.”

Seriously?

Beach

When was the last time you took a Friday afternoon detour to your supervisor’s office and asked, “I hope I did a great job this week”?

I would hope never.

Many years ago I learned never to ask a diner at the end of a meal if they enjoyed themselves. Because what if they said a sincere “No, I really didn’t.” They’re finished dining, they’ve paid the bill and only then you find out they’re unhappy. What can you do? Not much. The appropriate thing to say at the end of a meal is “Thank you for coming in.”

A polished server or manager can sense when a group is enjoying themselves and doesn’t have to pander, search for validity or a compliment.  And if someone isn’t enjoying themselves or is puzzled by a certain dish or disappointed by a slice of pie, that disappointment is most likely written all over their body language. At that point it’s time to ask a direct question; “Is your steak cooked the way you prefer? How are those lima beans? Are you enjoying that slice of Key Lime Pie?”

The same goes for anyone working in a team environment; you should know you’ve gotten the job done without having to resort to broad, tactless questions. When the time comes for a review or counseling session, you better know the outcome before you sit down with your team leader.  So take the guess work out of your performance by paying attention and getting the dang job done in a timely and professional manner.

Let’s leave the hope out of it.

Now about that pie.

I Predict a Tie

As Rich Gore made his way to the front door of my restaurant, I put an arm around his shoulder, pulled him close and mumbled, “I’m gonna wipe the floor with Phillipe.”

Rich pulled on his jacket and smiled casually.  “Malik, I’m gonna predict a tie.”

Once upon a time, I was a B list celebrity chef with an A list ego.  And I’ve also had a competitive nature for a very long time, and while that nature has many positives, it also comes with a bit of a downside.  And that’s what led me to spend an afternoon in a local shopping mall wearing a chef’s coat and a red silk boxer’s robe.  The Food Network was in town with a travelling live show that included a wine tasting, cooking demos, cookbook signings and a cooking competition; but with a guy like me on stage, I planned on winning, no questions asked.  Cue the theme from Rocky.  But over in the producer’s corner was Rich Gore.  And he was going to make sure the whole thing ended in a tie.

When show time came the next day, myself and Chef Phillipe Chin each had a mystery basket of ingredients, a picked-from-the-audience assistant, and a pantry of dry goods, the MC Bill Boggs, and a special guest in none other than Southern food authority Nathalie DuPree.  We had thirty minutes to cook and an audience of a couple hundred shoppers watching and cheering us on.  Like many other cooking demonstrations I’ve done, it was on a narrow stage with a minimum of equipment, and little room to work.  But that can be a lot of fun, and I’ve always been good at making do with what I have.  When Nathalie called time, I believe I had three different dishes.  Likewise Phillipe.  And I have no idea what I made, I can’t remember.  But I will remember the next few minutes for a very long time.  Mr. Boggs announced that the winner would be declared through the audience’s reaction and that our producer, Mr. Gore, would measure their reaction trough his computer.  I looked down at Rich as he donned a pair of enormous headphones.  In one hand he held a heavy laptop computer, in the other he hoisted what looked like the antennae from an old Chevy.  The antennae had a wire wrapped around it and it was plugged into his computer.  And those of us on the stage were the only ones that knew the laptop wasn’t turned on.  Rich stood up and waved that antennae around and pretended to listen intently to the beeps of his reaction-judging software while Bill Boggs had everyone cheering first for me, then for Phillipe.  After a couple of minutes, Rich whipped off his headphones and with unbridled enthusiasm announced: “It’s too close, we gotta do it again!”

Super Chef!

Cue the theme from Rocky!

And I stood up there laughing myself stupid.

We did the whole thing again and Bill really got everyone screaming and yelling, first for Phillipe then for me.  Rich directed his antennae towards the loudest screams and the shouts, his eyes wide and intent on judging their enthusiasm.  Finally he ripped off his headphones, threw his arms into the air and with a look of shock and disbelief announced a tie.

“It’s too close to call. It’s a tie!”

Phillipe and I were both laughing so hard that Phillipe chided me.  He was afraid we would give away the secret.

“Chef! Behave, behave.”

“Yes, Chef.”

What was at stake?  From the chef’s point of view, not much.  Phillipe and I both had solid reputations; there was no money riding on the outcome, no contracts to star in the latest cooking show, no kiss from the local beauty queen.  What was at stake was Rich’s reputation and his desire to be successful.  And he measured success in the audience’s laughter, smiles, and applause.  So what if the chicken dishes were thrown together in thirty minutes or less, did the audience enjoy the show?  And the answer was yes. When we came off the stage, me and Phillipe signed autographs, took handshakes and returned a lot of smiles.  And the biggest one was from Rich.

“What’d I tell ya, Malik?  It was a tie.”

That’s a lesson I’ve carried with me for a long time. Is your audience getting what they came for?  Have you engaged your audience, your staff, your customers, or your family?  Are they having a good time enjoying the show, their job, or just their day?  When you’re on the stage, the real winner should be the audience.

Thanks, Rich.

 

 

Would you like Onions with That?

John, when is the best time for me to send my company’s weekly email?

That’s a great question.  And the answer is, when it’s ready.

I believe in great content.  And I’ve also been told that Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday night, and Sunday mornings in February are the best times for Facebook interaction.  And the best time to send out your company email is Thursday at 2:00 pm.  However, just because your timing is impeccable doesn’t mean you should cut corners on your content.  What exactly does that email say?  Is it carefully written, with an interesting subject line or are you sending out a bulk email just because it’s Thursday at 1:45 pm?

Before you hit send, think about how many emails you personally delete.  Maybe it’s the sender (Aldi has expired flour on sale!), maybe it’s the subject line (Bob, Senator Jones needs your $50) or maybe you just feel like making something disappear.  I’ve read that perhaps only 20% of all email is actually opened.  If you don’t want your email to end up on the virtual cutting room floor, think about a few things before you compose that note.

Does it have to be said?  If the answer is yes, make sure your email is clear and concise.  Get to the point on the opening line.

“Dear Bob.  We need your liver.”  You wouldn’t delete that one, would you?

“Now allow me to explain.  Veal Liver is delicious and a great source of high-quality protein.  And this week, Bistro Bistro is featuring our best customer-submitted liver recipes.  Submit your liver recipe and perhaps next week we’ll feature your liver.”

Does it include a call-to-action?  In other words: do this; buy that; call this number; eat at this restaurant.

“Dear Bob.  Your neighborhood bistro market has liver on sale!  So stop in (Stop In.  That’s the Call to Action) and pick up a couple of pounds today.  We’re here until 9:00 pm and while you’re waiting for our butchers to trim your liver, take a look at our award-winning produce department.  We’re featuring fava beans for only $3.99 a pound.  And fava beans make an excellent accompaniment to liver.”

Do you have a compelling subject line?  Because I’m going to decide whether I’ll delete or open based on your subject line.  If it’s the standard “Our latest news…” then you can bet I’m headed for the delete key.  So think about your subject line and write something compelling.  Get your recipients to take that next step.

“Our livers really quiver.”

And with that in mind, if you’re haphazard, you can produce emails that are akin to a  fried liver drenched in gravy.  It’s drenched because very little care was taken in the actual preparation.  Coat it in gravy and perhaps 20% of the public may order it.

liver-and-onions-with-spuds-and-gravy

Overcooked peas, instant mashed potatoes, and too much brown gravy. If this dish represented a paragraph in your company’s weekly email, would you want to read it?

 

 

Or you can take a moment to refine your company’s weekly emails, carefully read them three or four times looking for unnecessary words, frivolous sprigs of parsley, or too much breading.  Only use what is absolutely necessary to produce your statements, your emails, and your dinner.  And instead of drowning your liver in gravy, produce something your customers and clients should look forward to receiving, much like an appetizer at your favorite restaurant.

liver_onions_perse

Liver and Onions, courtesy Thomas Keller’s Per Se. If this dish represented a story, I would want every bite.

 

If you’re looking for clever, knowledgeable, and affordable help with your company’s social media, call me at (864) 616-7171.

John