Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding My Voice, One Restaurant at a Time

If reality television has taught me anything, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares surely has.  If you are not familiar with the television series which originally aired in the UK and now domestically on Fox affiliates, Gordon visits failing restaurants diagnosing the "whys" of their small business failures.  He then rolls up his sleeves providing the restaurateur guidance including, but not limited to, replacing the head chef, revamping the menu, improving service, analyzing the restaurant layout and strengthening the brand.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares: Complete UK Series 1Many of the proprietors take his advice and thrive because of the Kitchen Nightmares' hosts visit.   Then again, there are others who do not and ultimately close their doors for good.  The failures, more times than not, reveal owners who couldn't get over their own egos or waited too long to ask for help while running out of money.

How many times had I griped to my dinner companions when some aspect of my restaurant experience was going awry?  But not necessarily to the people who could do anything about it. 

My own armchair analysis would reveal I had fallen into the common practice of a woman doing everything in her power to keep the peace. Look pleasant, no matter the price.  It's social conditioning that many women find challenging when they're failing to be authentic in their relationships with others.  Unfortunately, I discovered, the keep-the-peace strategy would occasionally short change my personal enjoyment at a restaurant.

The final straw came for me several years ago when one of my favorite trendy restaurants served an overly salty roasted chicken.  Hard to do, I know.  Not an in-expensive meal, I suffered through my meal commenting to my husband how disappointing my meal was.  After asking for my third glass of water from the waiter, my light bulb went on remembering Kitchen Nightmares.  I wasn't doing anyone a favor by keeping quiet.  Not me, not my poor husband, not the restaurant.  I decided to speak up.  For the first time in my life I sent my half eaten meal back to a kitchen.

The chef admitted she hadn't sampled her creation.  My conclusion, had I not spoken up, how would she know there was a problem?  How many repeat customers had they lost because of one poor experience that the proprietor now can't pinpoint because the customers hadn't provided feedback?

On the flip side, when the restaurant does an outstanding job, I concluded my positive feedback could help reinforce a repeat performance.  I won't keep it to myself any longer.

The same holds true at the grocery store.  If they aren't stocking something, I remind myself they want my business.  I'm no longer shy of telling them when they ask did I find everything I was looking for that I did not.  It doesn't mean I'm changing my personality.  I'm still polite.  But now I'm honest in my responses instead of hiding behind a veil of pleasantries.  I have yet to come across a recipient of my feedback who wasn't appreciative of my honesty.

What had I been afraid of?  Probably nothing other than being thought of poorly.  The beauty of getting older for me is being more concerned of what I think of myself versus what others think about me.  Thank you Chef Ramsay for helping find my own voice albeit not quite a colorfully as you do. 

Food for thought.... is there ever a time when you shouldn't say something?  What's your perspective?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Bay Leaf Budget

I'm not a cheapskate.  Really!  I'm willing to pay a premium for clean, sustainable food especially if I can't harvest it myself.  But when we ran out of Turkish bay leaves, my husband John purchased a new bottle to restock our supply for ..... $7.99!  No, he did not purchase an organic variety which could command an extreme price.  In fact, he is an expert at scouting out the best cost per volume on spices at the grocery store. He is the one who showed me to look beyond the usual display on the spices rack the top brands prefer you purchase and to check out the ethnic and bulk sections in the same store to figure out the best buy.  If your market is anything like ours, these spice packaging choices could be in several different locations in the store.

Does $7.99 not sound expensive to you for what I counted was 25 leaves to the bottle?

Being an account's daughter I have this crazy knack for itemizing the cost of things.  That can be a good thing if I'm trying to justify the purchase of a cute pair of shoes, let's just say.  But it can also be a curse depending on your perspective.  By my calculation each of those purchased leaves has a value of 32 cents a piece.  Those leaves had better release the best essence ever, but my guess is their performance will only be average.

Several years ago, my next door neighbor who I was just getting to know invited me to pluck a few  bay leaves off her potted California Bay Laurel plant.  Before seeing her plant, I hadn't given much thought about the plant in which they came from.  Her leaves were just as useful as the bottled kind, however with this regional variety it has a stronger, eucalyptus flavor.

Remembering the experience with my neighbor, I headed to the nursery and inquired about buying my own Bay Laurel plant.  Surely, the cost of the plant would more than pay for itself for years to come.  The nurseryman walked me over to a gorgeous hedge of exaggeration!  The bushy plant has the capability of growing to the size of a privacy fence if given the right environment.  Realizing the promise of one plant producing so many leaves only reinforced my desire to outwit my previous bottled supplier. 

"I'll buy one please."  I purchased a small starter bush for.....$7.99.  And yes, I have counted how many leaves it has on its lovely branches.  There are over 80!  I'm already ahead of the game.  Since we don't go through bay leaves all that quickly, my plan is to pot the plant as my neighbor has to limit its potential size.

I wasn't looking for this challenge.  But then again who does?  Sometimes it takes something to get under your skin to prompt a solution or change.  Overpaying for bay leaves was mine.

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