I was talking to a chef pal of mine who owns and operates an upscale restaurant that serves stunningly good food. Many of her purveyors are local farmers and artisans. She was poring over bills and realized that her restaurant was on track to spend more than $30,000 this year with one artisan bread maker.
Her customers have come to expect the highest quality at her restaurant, but her food costs are spiraling out of control. She offers free bread service at tables and uses bread for sandwiches, primarily for lunch and at her adjoining market, which prepares sandwiches on the spot for takeout. I suggested she find a good but lesser-quality bread for her sandwiches and put the best quality bread on the table. She says her sandwiches are “her babies” and she does not want to use anything but the best. This is a quandary for top-tier chefs who have made their reputation using the finest ingredients. High food costs interfere with profit, and lesser ingredients may interfere with an established reputation. Is there a way out of this quandary? Email me with your thoughts.
Here’s an endearing story I was told about the Wolfgang Puck organization. Sometime back, a young boy was flying, unaccompanied, and had a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. He had no money on him. His father called a bunch of eateries in the airport offering his credit card so that his son could eat. Everyone denied him.
Eventually he called a Wolfgang Puck Express. While the woman who answered denied the credit card, she didn’t deny the meal and promptly fed the kid. The father insisted on finding a way to pay for the meal, but the woman at WPE told him to just do something nice for someone else. The father wound up calling the corporate office to tell them about his son’s experience, and his own experience with one of their employees. He was passed to the v.p. of Puck’s worldwide operations, who explained that employees are encouraged to show this kind of initiative.
Sure, Wolfgang Puck runs a gazillion-dollar operation and an unpaid food check of $12 or so is insignificant. But you could hire a world-class team of marketers and they won’t come up with a program that would help your company more than this simple, organic company policy that lets all employees in the organization know that they can be more than robot order takers and servers. Can you imagine the morale among employees who work for an organization like this? They have to feel a lot better about coming into work than at so many other places.
Now imagine how customers are going to react when they hear this story. If given a choice of going to a company that has a heart like WPE, or one that demonstrates less of a connection with customers, where do you think they would prefer to go?
You and I have been interacting more than 20 years and I know a big chunk of you also have a lot of heart.
I’d like to hear about the policies and stories that make your businesses stand out. Email me.
Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: [email protected] 
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH