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Business Book Review – for the Busy Business Owner
AN ECONOMIST GETS LUNCH: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, By Tyler Cowen, 293 pages. Dutton. $26.95 (Paperback) *
Details: After hearing an interview with economist and foodie, Tyler Cowen on NPR, I was excited for an opportunity to review what I was sure would be an instructive read on how to get the best value from my very limited entertainment budget. Even though I have no problem picking good restaurants in my area of Atlanta, while avoiding tourist spots and chains, I don’t know where to eat in Chicago or Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Having chewed through An Economist Gets Lunch, I’m now armed with a common sense rationale (emphasis on common) for what I’ve always known.
To be fair, An Economist Gets Lunch is not a guide to restaurants per se, nor is it a history of modern food production. At best, it’s a common sense account of how ingredients make their way around the world, why some foods are a better buy than others and how to use that information to make an informed choice wherever you are. Cowen does let the reader know that midtown Manhattan’s best buys can be found on the streets rather than the avenues. That’s because there are more streets than avenues, avenues have higher rents and more people (tourists) are on them. The rule here is: go low rent where the focus is on the food rather than the turnover. This makes good sense.
Unfortunately, by the end of Chapter 1, I was not pleased with his odd prose style and confusingly contradictory opinions. For example, in an early chapter, Cowen instructs readers to avoid dishes in the US that are “ingredients-intensive” because raw ingredients here—vegetables, butter, bread, meats, etc.— are below world standards. Instead, when ordering in the U.S., we should go for dishes with sauces and complex mixes of ingredients, i.e., “composition-intensive.” But he offers no proof that U.S. raw ingredients are below standard; instead he relies on such notions that our sardines aren’t fresh. What’s more to the point is that bread is better than it’s ever been, ditto tomatoes and other farm products, especially when locally grown and bought.
I was particularly “confused” if not offended by his random comparisons, especially when generalizing about “locovores” (people who like to eat locally sourced foods) by assuming these foodies are looking to save the environment. After setting up this false argument, he contends that local farmers damage the environment by making two-hour truck drives, comparing this to shipping bananas by boat, which is cheaper.
Of course, I was hoping to unearth some information or insight to share with our restaurant owners. These folks probably know already that restaurants rely on either high turnover or good food but rarely both. They might also know that hip people aren’t necessarily good judges of food; that small towns yield the best barbeque; and to avoid Thai restaurants with big bars and sushi because these are distractions. Restaurants that distract diners from food are not good restaurants.
I can’t recommend this book, thanks to Cowen’s naughty habit of interjecting his political opinions into every chapter. All this does is make me suspect him of self-indulgence. From what could have been, indeed, has been marketed as a guide to foodie common sense from someone who understands both taste and economics, I found too little of either expertise on the page.
What I’d still like to know is how restaurant owners work with resources and ingredients immediately to hand and with those imported items customers enjoy. How do you make economics work with a passion for the food? If nothing else, Cowen has made me think about these two, often conflicting, essentials. I may not have enjoyed this book, however it has made me think and want to discuss the issues presented.
*An Economist Gets Lunch is currently available in paperback and Kindle formats.
Amazon link for paperback print version reviewed here: http://www.amazon.com/An-Economist-Gets-Lunch-Everyday/dp/0525952667
For more information on the author’s work, visit: http://tylercowensethnicdiningguide.com/
Based on this review, would you read this book?
The author of this review was provided the book by Capital Access Network, Inc. The views expressed represent those of the author and do not reflect those of Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries. Any opinions and/or advice expressed by the author do not imply endorsement by Capital Access Network, Inc. nor its subsidiaries.
Lifestyle Changes, Promoting Healthy Habits
According to the American Medical Association[i], “Four key health behaviors – poor diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and excessive or risky use of alcohol – are significantly related to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other conditions. Taking steps now to improve these key lifestyle behaviors can help prevent and manage these conditions.”
A Michigan State University study[ii] highlights just how widespread and serious the problem is; of the 153,000 participants in the study, “only 3% followed the four basic steps that define a healthy lifestyle – not smoking, holding weight down, eating right, and exercising.” Again according to the AMA, making healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the chance of a sudden heart attack – which kills over a quarter-million people a year in the U.S. alone – by 92%. Frightening statistics, right? We all know the risks by now, but many people just ignore the warnings and continue following the patterns that can propel them to a premature old age or end their lives. So what can you do to encourage your customers to live healthier lives, without scaring them or making them feel guilty for ordering that bacon cheeseburger? Perhaps more to the point, why should you even get involved in what are really your customers’ personal decisions?
Never mind the morality of encouraging others to live better; that’s an area better left to family and close friends, anyway, and most customers who don’t fall into either of those categories would likely resent what they felt was none of your business. Instead, let’s look for a minute at how you can help your customers become aware of and motivated toward improving their health without preaching at them, while letting them know you care about them at the same time.
If you offer heart-healthy suggestions on your menu, for example, you could add a brief statement, such as, “We want to keep you as our customer for a long time, and realize that giving you healthy menu options is one way to help make that happen.” You can also offer a little personal humor on the menu, such as adding a statement to a menu item that has reduced sodium, like, “Grandma always told me that it’s a lot easier to add salt to taste than it is to remove salt from a dish after it’s served. They’re your taste buds, so add salt – or not – as you prefer. My grandma will be pleased, and your heart will thank you.”
What else can your business do to encourage your customers to make those better choices? Another good place to start would be to lead by example, by offering healthy-choice incentives to not only your customers, but to your employees . Such incentives needn’t be excessively expensive, either. If you have vending machines in your place of business, you could request that healthy alternatives be offered in lieu of or as well as the typically high-sodium, sugar, and fat treats that are usually stocked. If you host promotional events where food is served, you could opt for healthier food items, like a veggie tray in lieu of hot wings in barbecue sauce. You could even widen the scope of your efforts, including other businesses in a win-win partnership, such as by entering into an arrangement with a local gym that is trying to boost its membership, wherein the gym offers your employees and customers discounted memberships. Once you make the decision to promote healthier lifestyles, both in your business and with your customers, you can come up with plenty of creative ways to achieve your goals, many without having to spend any money at all.
It is important that you never allow even a hint of judgmentalism to color your encouragement efforts, because that will turn everyone off – employees and customers alike. Keep in mind that you are offering people a gift, rather than a burden. Who knows; that gift could end up paying off for you financially, in the form of healthier employees and good customers who live – and support your business – for a long time to come.
[i] Promoting Healthy Lifestyles, AMA website at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/public-health/promoting-healthy-lifestyles/healthier-life-steps-program.page
For new/seasonal products, sales, promotional campaigns, or even refreshing the memory of your target market; a strategic advertising campaign is involved. In order to make the most out of it, it is a best practice to thoroughly go through a “brainstorming” period to gain ideas, access the current status of your business’ advertising resources, as well as ensure that you’ve covered all angles going into this process. A “Meeting of the Minds” between you (the business owner), co-management and employees can aid in creating a great outline to start with. Once all input is together, you can have a better idea of what is needed for your upcoming business advertisements.
Meeting of the Minds….everyone can bring something to the table
As a business owner, you are exposed to various issues that arise when implementing a campaign for your business. The first thing would be the current financial status of the business. Having this information will allow you to compile a budget for the advertising campaign. Employees are not always aware of the amount of bills, payroll, and monthly operating costs that goes into keeping the business going. To ensure that the figures are as accurate as possible, go over your books, perhaps with an accountant. This process will get you prepared financially along with giving you a guide on what can be done with the campaign.
Managers/Asst. Managers are often exposed to internal and external issues where business owners are not always directly/indirectly involved.. Internal issues may consist of the employees’ ability to execute promotional activities, new product knowledge, and the materials available for implementation. External issues may include customer knowledge of the product/promotion, customer complaints/resolutions, and how well past campaigns performed on the frontline from a managerial perspective. These influences can cause major impacts on future advertisement campaign performances. Having knowledge of such influences can give the planning stage a leg up on your upcoming ad campaign.
Employees have more direct contact with customers than managers and business owners combined. With this in mind, it is best to have more than a bird’s eye view of how customers respond to certain advertisements. Employees can provide information on which product/service is the best seller, how customers react to “up sale” offerings, how many customers actually take advantage of promotions once they see advertising collateral within the store, and the type of customers that are most affected by various advertisements within and around the business.
Since you now have three different views on the usual happenings for advertisement campaigns, you can now assess the best way to attack your business’ campaign. Here are some questions to ask during the “Meeting of the Minds”:
- What is the purpose of this product/promotion campaign?
- How much can the business afford on this advertising campaign?
- Are there enough resources in-house to implement this advertisement?
- Are sales training refreshers needed for employees?
- What strategies have been used to effectively communicate campaign details to customers?
- Have customers provided positive reactions to the business’ advertisements in the past?
- What past advertising schemes should the business revamp or bring back?
These questions are just a few examples of how to get the minds going in coming up with the best ideas for the business. A strong start on an advertising campaign can place the business on the right path to a strong finish. Brainstorming with all individuals actively involved in the business can give you a wider view of the types of advertisements that can increase sales, build brand awareness, and customer loyalty.
Finding other small businesses that compliment your products/services
Some franchise owners have taken advantage of teaming up with other franchises that are not direct competitors but compliment their current product and/or services. For an example, let’s look at Taco Bell and Pizza Hut teaming up under the same location. Both are fast food establishments however some Papa John’s lovers may want to convert if they visited to this Taco Bell/Pizza Hut establishment. Consumers, especially those who travel in large groups with picky eaters, will have more options to choose from by having other types of food products offered to them. Customers will likely return for this convenience of not having to drive to two different places to satisfy their appetites.
Small business owners, you too can take advantage of these opportunities. The best way to do so is to find businesses that sell products/services that would best compliment your product. A spa owner can team up with a hair salon owner and offer specials, provide events for customer appreciations and/or merge certain products packages, depending on the locations of both businesses. Merging product offerings would work best if both are located within the same shopping plaza.
By seeking and building a rapport with other businesses you can increase your chances of increasing your customers. Customers who are loyal to the complimentary business are more likely to patronize your establishment if referred by that business. Word of mouth advertising from customers is a great thing to gain and keep loyalty however this type of advertising from businesses can open you up to more opportunities for growth.
Here are a few more examples of possible complimentary businesses to seek out:
- Mechanic ←→ Auto Body and Glass
- Nail Salon ←→ Hair Salon ←→ Spa
- Men’s Specialty Store ←→ Women’s Specialty Store
- Barber Shop ←→ Hair and Nail Salon
- Health Food store ←→ Fitness Center
Possibilities are endless when looking to expand your business this way. Be creative and pay close attention to the types of products/services that your customers currently buy on a frequent basis. Also, it can be a good practice to engage in discussions about the various types of products they enjoy and purchase frequently from other businesses to give you an idea of where to start.
What product/service best compliments your business?