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What Can We Learn From Anthony Bourdain?

On Friday June 8th, Tina Jordan wrote in The New York Times, "(Anthony Bourdain) left his mark in restaurant kitchens and libraries -- both fiction and nonfiction -- and redefined the genre of food-tourism shows." The article is worth your time. Many of the links in the article will lead to interesting insights into the man, his thinking and his passion for food, people and culture.  

Okay, now, as usual, you're wondering "What does this one have to do with my business?" There is a lot to learn from Anthony Bourdain.

We have been long-time fans of cooking shows … going back to watching Julia Child on public television networks wherever we were living. Cable television networks dramatically expanded the lineup of cooking shows and added tourism and travel offerings.

Others have said, better than my words ever could, that Bourdain had a deep understanding of the intersection of food and culture. We all need food to meet our physical needs for the nutrients to sustain ourselves. But there are a deeper set of needs which are cultural and emotional.

Think back, and there are times with family and friends that we recall fondly, and food played a central role in making an event memorable. There are aromas which stimulate our memories of times long past. The kitchens of both of my grandmothers reappear before me when certain foods are cooking.  

Again you're wondering, "What does this one have to do with my business."

Our business is focused on providing food, snacks and beverages for immediate consumption by people who are away from home.  My term is that we serve the "at-markets" -- when they're at work, or at a hospital, or at college, at an airport or train staion, etc.

The companies in our industry deliver their services effectively and efficiently. That work, all of those steps, must be executed flawlessly. Otherwise the right products do not reach the right place at the right time. Our equipment must be properly maintained to perform with precision every day. If we do all of those things well, we can meet the physical needs for the people we serve. They satisfy their hunger and thirst with the brands and products they prefer.

But we must look beyond the technical aspects of our work. Bourdain described it perfectly in an interview with Fresh Air's Dave Davies, "When I cook at home it's with a 9-year-old girl in mind. I mean, she's who I need to please, and if she's not happy, I'm not happy."

Do you take the time be consider who you are working to keep happy?  This is key to being a great service provider.

We can please our shoppers with our product menu. But how can we go further? Have you looked at each of the "restaurants" where your products are being sold? Consider these factors:

● Check the lighting in the room. Is it engaging or depressing?
● Are there windows in the room? Are you using the natural lighting to your advantage?
● How is the equipment (and fixtures too) placed to maximize the appeal of what you're selling?
● How clean is the break/lunch room? Dirty floors and tables are major (emotional) turn-offs.
● Microwave oven(s): Clean? Do you need more ovens to meet peak demand periods?
● Trash: Are there trash cans deployed? Is there enough capacity? Are there covers for the trash? Who is responsible for emptying the trash? Nothing spoils a meal like the odors from trash. How about recycling bins?

We are service providers. We need to work with our clients, our hosts, to be sure that the break/lunch room is clean and inviting. It is a requirement to visit our locations regularly, especially our best accounts. Be certain to include "the state of the facilities" in business reviews. (Of course, you are doing scheduled business reviews. Right?)

As for me, there is a personal lesson from Anthony Bourdain. Three restaurants caught my attention from his television shows. His description of these meals – not just the food – got me hooked. In 2016 we had dinner at the successor of one, after the chef closed the original restaurant. It was in Barcelona and was a truly magical meal. Hopefully another one will get checked off my list later this year. That will be #2 of the three.

Do you want to sell more stuff? Pay attention to the emotional needs of the shoppers you serve. Keep them happy and you're likely to sell more stuff.

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Paul Schlossberg is the president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX area, he can be reached at or 972-877-2972 or

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