Sunday, March 6, 2016

Learning Customer Focus from the Best Chefs on the Planet

Massimo Bottura
One of my New Years Resolutions from 4 or 5 years ago was to cook at least one meal per week for my wife and my grown kids (if they're fortunate enough to happen to be home when I cook).

It has been an eye opener, both for my victims, I mean diners as well as for me. My wife of 30 years is a terrific cook, so the bar is set high. I've also been determined to prepare concoctions, I mean dishes that she wouldn't ordinarily attempt. 

Part of this new "hobby" is to broaden my horizons by watching cooking shows like they're going out of style. Iron Chef, Hell's Kitchen, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, you name it. My DVR list is full of cooking shows. Not to mention what I've learned on the World Wide Web. As a seasoned Chemist by trade, give me a formula, and I can make it. Except for the lobster mac & cheese that my youngest son said has made him swear off all macaroni, any cheese and of course, lobster.

One of the things I realized is my heightened sense of anticipation when they take their first bite. I know that I do this because I want my customers to be satisfied. After 4 years or so, I'm batting 85% or higher. In some cases, better than MOM.

Which brings me to the latest cooking show I've been watching. Netflix has a series called "Chef Table", and if you haven't seen it, try to make a point to watch at least one episode. Especially if you love LEAN.

The series highlights one good chef each episode. I was just kidding with the word good. This series features inarguably the BEST chefs in the world. Michelin stars, top 20 rankings (in the world, etc. Scary good. 

You are now reading this and saying to yourself "get to the point Greider, isn't this blog about lean?"

As I was watching, I realized that these incredible chefs had one thing I sometimes see missing in some LEAN initiatives. Every one of them has a laser-like focus on their customer. They are also not at all interested in satisfying their customers. This thought has never even crossed their mind. They are determined to DELIGHT them. It seems their  very reason for being is to shock and awe their customers. It is amazing to what lengths these chef's will go to do this.

Niki Nakayama, of N/Naka Restaurant in Los Angeles keeps meticulous notes about what her customers order so she knows what to feature when they come back. Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy (pictured above), enlists the help of a local elderly woman to teach his staff the difference between good pasta and perfect pasta. Dan Barber of Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City has partnered with organic farmers and dairies because he believes the correct balance of the soil impacts the quality of the entire food chain.

I didn't notice expensive chandeliers, or many other bells and whistles in their GEMBAs. They did focus some energy on lighting, what the plates look like (works of art) and how every course builds on the next.

The other common theme is the fact that all of the chefs experienced what we in the lean world call a "lever". Womack and Jones in "Lean Thinking" insist it is almost impossible to create a culture of continuous improvement without a compelling reason to change. It is said that lean becomes a very difficult journey if a business is making even a modest profit. These chefs talk about preparing for a service for 10 or 12 hours, only to open the doors and have nobody come in. They talk about credit cards maxed out, and near bankruptcy.

Then, they all decided to focus on one singular thing. The customer. They all said that they realized they needed to be "true to themselves". That is code for giving their customer everything they have. No shortcuts. It was no longer about money. it was now about delivering their God-given talent and creativity to every bite. They all realized what their purpose was, and guess what? They no longer worry about money, and there is no such thing as an empty dining room.

I found myself very inspired by these people. Imagine if every person had this type of focus when delivering their work to their customer, either the person they hand their work to or the person who gives you their money? If you find yourself doing lean and wondering how your customer fits in, this show is a great reminder.

I wonder if they can help me get my customer back with a good lobster mac & cheese recipe?

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