During Tough Times, Bring
Comfort To The Troops
I have a group of friends I’ve known for more than 30 years. I’ve always been more interested in food than they have, and my job has only heightened that interest. On numerous occasions I’ve made them elaborate meals that they couldn’t have found in local restaurants if they tried. As it turns out, they wouldn’t have tried. That was a lesson I learned one night after I decided to quit showing off my skill in the kitchen and prepare them something simple and straightforward—a grilled steak, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. "Oh, man, this was the best meal you’ve ever made," one said. "You were amazing tonight," another one said.
I forced a smile and left the room because I wanted to kick ‘em all in the butt. How could they think a simple steak on the grill is better than something that took me hours to shop for, a half-day to prep and hours more to prepare? Well, the answer is simple: Many people like what they understand, what they’re familiar with.
That statement has never been more true than it is now. It’s a major point raised in this month’s cover story on the state of the industry. The recession, though not necessarily brutal, is taking its toll. The Sept. 11th attacks were mentally devastating for the entire nation. And let’s not forget the wars, ours and several others. They suck the life out of you. Is it any wonder why mom’s meatloaf may be just the medicine you need to get through another day?
Of course, this is where you come in. There’s a generation of people on the planet, and a whole lot more behind them, who have never eaten mom’s meatloaf because mom never made meatloaf or much of anything else. Today, mom’s meatloaf is your meatloaf and you have the remedy for what ails.
Going back to my original story, the mistake I made with my friends is that I did not read the audience I was cooking for. That’s a mistake I’m sure you’re not making. Meatloaf may soothe one person’s soul, while foie gras or a beautifully cooked whole fish may soothe another’s. You give your audience what they crave, not what you want.
The common denominator is comfort. You are slowly, but surely, becoming the moms of the world. It’s your job to make those people who come through your door comfortable. It doesn’t matter if it’s meatloaf or a cold martini, give them what they want, what they need.
All of this brings me to a man who left us last month. Dave Thomas had become such a national icon by the time he died, that the folks at Wendy’s and his family saw fit to have his body on display at the company’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio.
According to newspaper reports, thousands of people stood in long lines and waited an hour to view the body of a man they never met, but felt they knew through his 800-plus commercials. Dave’s greatest gift to the world was not his hamburgers. It was his ability to make people feel comfortable. Despite his millions, there was nothing fancy about Dave; he was as inviting and comfortable as a grilled steak with mashed potatoes.
That’s a lesson we can all learn.