Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Making of a Foodie

Jeff and I were chatting the other day about the concept of being a foodie. It dawned on me that at some point this term became popular and something everyone knew, even though it isn't even in the dictionary. Where did it come from and what does it mean I wondered? Well, the exact origin is hard to pinpoint but I have my suspicions.

Foodie, from my perspective, refers to someone who is obsessed with food, cooking, shopping, restaurants and everything having to do in general with the topic of gastronomy. These are people who subscribe to cooking magazines, read articles and blogs about cooking and food, seek out restaurants before anything else when planning a vacation, enjoy grocery shopping and trying new "gourmet" items, and are always planning their next meal before they even finished the one they are consuming. I am in the purest sense of the word a foodie, and one who has been fortunate enough to make a living at it.

It seems to me that the first time I ever heard this term was about 10 or so years ago on the Food Network. I think it may be a case of the chicken and the egg. Whether the term grew out of the network or the network grew out of the term is irrelevant. The fact remains that the popularity of food shows, food magazines, reality/competition shows revolving about food, food blogs, and food radio shows has skyrocketed.

When deciding upon a new marketing angle for our bed and breakfast it dawned on me that what we have created here is a haven for foodies so I incorporated it into our website, print ads, etc. If you type in the search term "foodie" on Google, you'll see over 13,000,000 search results. This is no small number. People who are foodies seek out other foodies to share their ideas with, meals with and ultimately to learn about the latest trends, flavors and even restaurants.

Several times over the last few months we have been told by various friends that they don't know of any other friends who are foodies like them and would appreciate a meal at a particular restaurant for whatever reason, be it cost, extravagance, unusual cuisine, strange ingredients or even quantity. This is something I am proud of. I like being known as the person who will probably know the answer to some random food question or has the latest scoop on an ingredient or restaurant. It is my passion, my creative outlet and ultimately, it tastes darn good.

One of the greatest joys in life in my opinion is experiencing new foods and flavors. I get practically giddy when I eat something truly great. When at Robuchon's in Las Vegas, the masterpiece of artwork that was the bread cart virtually brought a tear to my eye and the term "foodgasm" came to mind several times during a particularly memorable meal we had at Binkley's in Cave Creek, AZ.

This is even more incredulous considering I came from a background as a ballerina who did everything she could to avoid food and had a less than ideal relationship to it. When I met Jeff, however, that all changed. His courtship revolved around introducing me to new foods and flavors and from that a beautiful marriage was born. One in the literal sense and one in the figurative sense.

Once I began working on my Master's in Cultural Anthropology I found the topic of Food and Culture to be particularly interesting which only furthered my obsession. It always struck me that the words "You are what you eat" are not just a stupid catch phrase. They are the foundation of many of the basic tenets in our lives. We all have to eat to survive and ultimately how we fulfill this need is shaped by where and how we grew up. In this way, we are all interconnected. It is the one constant in life that sees no boundaries between race, gender, religion, economics, politics or anything else.

If there is only one legacy I leave on this planet when I die I hope that it is a greater appreciation for food. I hope that those who I cook for know that what they are consuming comes from a place of passion, love and respect. And I hope that in some way it sparks in them a sense of passion, love and respect for food that they can carry with them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Customer Service Part 2

So, what sparked my rant on customer service? Our recent vacation. We spent 2 weeks in Arizona and Las Vegas. We drove to and from and spent a couple of nights on the road as well. Our experiences with the vast majority of the places we stayed and ate at were tremendous.

The Tropicana, which happened to be under construction was great. The staff helpful, friendly and wanting to go out of their way to accommodate us even though there was the noise of jack hammers from about 7am till 5pm. None of that mattered. We were comfortable and well cared for. Ergo, an experience where a not totally ideal situation was made up for by good customer service. We will go back and we will refer others to them.

The many great restaurants we dined at all had tremendous customer service. Binkley's in Cave Creek, AZ, Mix at Mandalay Bay, Robuchon at the MGM Grand, Aureole at Mandalay Bay, all were superb and of course the food remarkable. Even the customer service at the Howard Johnson's in Oklahoma City en route to Arizona was great.

Then, the last night of our vacation, we stayed at the Super 8 in North Platte, Nebraska and the whole thing was stained with one lousy experience. We had spent 15 hours on the road, through a snow storm, rain and a long day. I called in advance to notify them that we were arriving later than anticipated. The girl on the phone said no problem. When we arrived at approx. midnight, the girl at the front desk was less than hospitable. At first she demanded we pay for the room, which we had booked online through Travelocity, which is always pre-paid. We hassled with that for about 5 minutes. She then proceeded to put us in a smoking room, when the hotel was half empty. When we requested she move us she said "the room is pre-paid, I can't change it." Well that sent Jeff and I over the moon. Jeff eplained he is allergic and we cannot sleep in a smoky room. She reluctantly agreed to move us 2 doors down to another non-smoking room. Needless to say, about 30 mins of lousy customer service to deal with after an exhausting day. The next morning, we requested that they take a copy of our confirmation letter stating that the room was pre-paid and print out a receipt saying we didn't owe anything or shred the the imprint of the credit card they took. They refused to do both. I have never stayed at a hotel that didn't give us a receipt for services rendered. They were rude, uncaring and made us feel like we were an imposition. The room itself was fine. Comfortable, clean, etc. But, the entire stay was ruined by two crummy attitudes.

It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise great vacation. And an always good reminder that customer service is everyone's job and of the utmost importance.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The ABC's of Customer Service

In my book, customer service is probably the most important job anyone can have. I maintain that a restaurant with just ok food but great service is always preferable than one that has great food but mediocre service. This goes for anything. A spa, a hotel, a retail shop, you name it. Most people will remember an experience where they were treated with respect and their needs catered to even if there were other aspects of the experience that were less than perfect. My basic rules for customer service are simple.

A) Always put a smile on your face. I don't care if you had a bad day, a fight with your spouse, bounced a check, have a stomach ache, whatever you may be feeling. A smile is worth a thousand words. And I guarantee it'll make you feel better. If your job entails answering the phone, this is even more important. Believe it or not, that smile reads through the phone receiver.

B) The customer is always right, even if they aren't. We all know that sometimes dealing with the public can be a challenge. We are all human and everyone has a bad day. BUT, it is easier to win them over with honey than with vinegar so stop, listen and always do anything you can to help or rectify a situation. It isn't worth the headache or negative PR you may get just to prove that the customer was indeed wrong.

C) My automatic answer to all requests is Yes. Even if I am not sure how I can accommodate something, I will assume there is a way, say yes and then figure out how to accommodate the request later. It isn't a customers problem if you haven't thought of everything, because there is no way you ever can. BUT, showing them your enthusiasm for coming up with a solution will mean more to them than the end result.

D) Finally, keep in mind, a happy customer may tell 10 people about their experience. An unhappy one will tell 100. Isn't it worth it to take care of someone the first time around and capture the 10 than to lose the 100 you never met??

Speaking of happy customers. Here are some recent guests of ours at the inn.