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Daily Archives: August 15, 2009

Totally off topic – RIP Jim Dickinson













The wild man of music. Father to Cody and Luther, the mainstays of the North Mississippi All-Stars. Husband to Mary Lindsay. The man who played piano on The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses. The man who produced and played on one of the most harrowing albums of all time, Big Star’s Big Star 3rd/Sister Lovers. The man who produced such diverse artists as the late Willy DeVille, The Replacements, Mojo Nixon, Mudhoney and Screaming Jay Hawkins. Conservator of southern fried music.

Here is a partial list of the artists whose albums he’s played on:

Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan,  Ry Cooder, Petula Clark, The Flamin’ Groovies, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jason and the Scorchers, Delaney and Bonnie, G. Love and Special Sauce, John Spencer Blues Explosion, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Amy LaVere, Arlo Guthrie, Alex Chilton…the list goes on and on.

The saving grace of this is that his is a life well-lived and his sons will carry on the musical legacy.

My thoughts are with the family, the musicians that he worked with and touched, and all residents of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta who will miss him. And he died one day short of the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. I think he’d chuckle at the irony and the appropriateness of that.

You are hereby commanded to put on the Stones Wild Horses. It’s playing now as I type this.

Thailand on this weeks “No Reservations”


Regular readers of this blog know how enamored I am with the cuisine of Thailand. So I am happy to point out that the newest episode of Anthony Bourdain’s great show, No Reservations, takes place in Thailand.

I can’t wait to experience Tony’s descriptions of the distinct flavor and texture profiles of this great and noble cuisine. And I’m sure there are going to be some passing references to debauchery and decadence as well.

I suggest that just before you watch the show, that you dust off a copy of Alex Chilton’s song Bangkok and listen to it at maximum volume.

This makes me very happy indeed.

The show airs on The Travel Channel at 9pm CDT Monday night.

Be there. Aloha.


Four-walls marketing

What is this odd sounding name and what does it have to do with me as a waiter?

Four-walls marketing is the use of the restaurant itself in lieu of employing outside advertising dollars to promote said restaurant. The restaurant still has an advertising budget, but they use it almost exclusively within its four walls. The idea is to get positive word-of-mouth promotion in the community and create a loyal customer base without the extensive use of outside advertising. Most of the “ad dollars” that would usually be spent on outside media are spent on things like cutomer loyalty programs, higher paid kitchen help and higher food costs (to assure consistency), better uniforms, local press releases when appropriate, more aggressive upkeep of physical plant appearance and support of targeted community groups and events. Yes, doing an outside event can be considered four-wall marketing – it’s the dollars that stay within the four walls, not necessarily the promotion.

The opposite of this approach is the “Olive Garden” approach. Heavy marketing campaigns and value-driven menus. There’s nothing wrong with that approach – it’s just a different way of doing business.

In order to be successful at this sort of marketing, the restaurant has to have a great appearance, consistent food and friendly and caring staff that make people feel like the restaurant is an extension of their home. And this, of course, is where we as waiters come in. We have to maintain a top-notch appearance, be consistent with our service, and make the guest feel like they’re part of something special.

All restaurants have facets of four-wall marketing. However, more and more restaurants are making it a concrete part of their business strategy. If your restaurant has adopted this approach, you should have already been brought in as a “partner”, because you’re a key component to the approach. You are the point of contact with the guest and it’s you who holds the key to making them want to return time and time again, all the while telling their friends about your joint.  However, you aren’t the only key, just the most visible, and the one that spends the most time with the guest.

If a restaurant actually uses the four-wall marketing approach, they might not verbalize it to you, which I think is a mistake. You should know that they are employing this approach so that you know the importance of your role. If your restaurant does little outside advertising, such as coupons and ads in the local paper or ad buys on local radio, they are relying on you and your co-workers to be their advertising and they are in essence doing this sort of marketing. Who knows, they might be doing it by accident or due to a lack of advertising dollars.

For a restaurant to really be successful with this approach, they have to consciously do it, because all of the key elements have to be followed. They can’t stumble around hoping that their in-store efforts pay off – they should work up a program and adhere to it. They almost need to make a contract with themselves and their employees the same way they would sign a contract for outside advertising. It doesn’t do any good to spend money on better food and snazzy uniforms if the restaurant looks shabby. It doesn’t do any good to have a glitzy interior if the guest never knows whether the food is going to be great or lousy. It doesn’t do any good to have beautifully plated food and a sparkling interior if your waitstaff isn’t sparkling (in both appearance and spirit) to go along with the decor and food. 

Hopefully, this blog will help you keep your edge and deepen your knowledge of what it takes to be successful in the restaurant world, whether you work at The Olive Garden or the Palm, or whether you are a rank beginner or grizzled veteran.


P.F. Chang’s to help develop True Food Kitchen

Restaurant News Logo

From Nation’s Restaurant News breaking news:

P.F. Chang’s to help develop True Food Kitchen

By Ron  Ruggless

SCOTTSDALE , Ariz. (Aug. 12, 2009) P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. said Wednesday it has agreed to lend $10 million to Fox Restaurant Concepts to develop more units of Fox’s True Food Kitchen, a health-oriented eatery that opened late last year in Phoenix.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but P.F. Chang’s said the debt capital could be converted into a future majority equity position. Fox Restaurant Concepts president and chief executive Sam Fox partnered with wellness author Dr. Andrew Weil to open the restaurant in the Biltmore Fashion Park as a regionally sourced “global” eatery.

“We have admired the work of Sam Fox and his team for quite some time,” Bert Vivian, co-chief executive of P.F. Chang’s, said in a statement. “We are pleased to be able to provide capital for the growth of their newest creation.”

P.F. Chang’s said the transaction would not have a material impact on its financial condition or prospects for the foreseeable future. In 2005, P.F. Chang’s first ventured outside its China Bistro and Pei Wei Asian Diner concepts to open Taneko Japanese Tavern in Scottsdale. The concept failed to gain a profitable following and was closed after sale attempts were made in 2008.

Read the rest of the article here:

I find this to be an interesting trend, especially in these days of rough economic waters. Restaurant chains becoming debt capitalists  in order to diversify their holdings without actually creating new companies themselves? As the article indicates, it might not always be smooth sailing, but it it a creative use of capital. This sort of thing has gone on in other industries, and, for all I know, it might not be a new development in the restaurant world, but I’m more familiar with buyouts and mergers. Obviously, this could lead to ownership or a true merger down the road.

Whether or not this ends up offering a good return on investment, it’s just another way that P. F. Chang’s seems to be thinking outside the box. But I guess it’s just business as usual for the only company that has really been successful at growing a nationwide Chinese-themed restaurant chain – note I didn’t call it a Chinese restaurant chain. Other larger entities (Darden by way of General Mills) have tried it and failed.

I suspect that the companies that survive this economic downturn are the ones that aren’t scared to cautiously expand, either into their areas of strength or in creative ways such as this. Refusing to give into panic is key – finding ways to create what the military calls force multipliers will allow operations to aggressively combat weak economic times. This might include cost-cutting measures, but, as doctors found in the 18th century, bloodletting only gets you so far.