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Why restaurants should copy the Cubs


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A Himalayan Chef rep offers veggies prepared on a Himalayan pink salt cooking plate.

What do restaurants and Major League Baseball have in common? Plenty, says Tom Ricketts, owner and chairman of the Chicago Cubs.

Building a positive team culture is what it takes to achieve long-term success, said Ricketts, the owner and chairman of the Chicago Cubs, as he addressed attendees at the National Restaurant Association Show in May. That’s as true in restaurant operations as it is in baseball, Ricketts continued, and isn’t accomplished overnight.

After he bought the Cubs in 2009, Ricketts put the organization on a rebuilding path that didn’t always prove popular—or initially successful. By August 2010, “we were the third worst team in baseball … that was pretty much the low point of the entire experience,” said Ricketts. “But it really drove home that we needed a complete shift and total change in strategy,” and what he kept reminding his team and fans was, “all this losing, all the things going wrong for us, was not for naught, there was a strategy behind it.”

That strategy ultimately paid off in 2016 when the Cubs won the World Series, ending a championship drought that dated back to 1908. It was fitting, then, that Ricketts urged restaurant operators in the room to be patient when enacting change and be prepared to weather difficult times, such as those that befell the Cubs when popular—and often higher paid—stars were traded for younger farm team players who would ultimately bring consistency from season to season.

“You have to set a standard and then walk the walk when you’ve set that standard,” said Ricketts. “If you say something and don’t follow up and don’t believe in it and don’t enforce it, you’ve only made it worse.”

Dan Park

Amazon's Dan Park says "customer
obsession" is a core focus for the company.

Some other advice from Ricketts: Creating a culture of personal responsibility means holding employees accountable. “It’s tough to delegate in a high-profile situation, but you have to give people authority and let them have it,” Ricketts said. “If it’s someone’s responsibility to make a decision for a business and you do it on their behalf, then if it fails, who does that fall on? The key is, once you decide you need someone and you give them the job to go get it done, you have to let them do it and stay out of it.”

Debunking myths

If you think you know everything about millennials, Jason Dorsey wants to debunk your myths.

Speaking May 21 during the NRA Show’s Signature ‘17 keynote, Dorsey, co-founder of millennial and Gen Z research firm The Center for Generational Kinetics, detailed some purchasing behavior myths that have caused those charged with marketing restaurants to millennials to misjudge their audience.

“The No. 1 myth that everyone thinks about millennials is that they are broke, but we are the No. 1 generation in the U.S. workforce,” Dorsey said. “There are more of us working today than any other generation, and our generation will outspend any other in restaurants today.”

The problem for the restaurant industry, Dorsey continued, is it relies heavily on data that tracks behavior that’s already happened— the types of purchases, when they were made, for how much—but very little on why that behavior occurs.

The restaurant industry, said Dorsey, “suffers from a tremendous lack of data” on why millennials make decisions.” His research challenges several industry assumptions, one being that millennials are tech savvy.

Naboo combination oven

Italian foodservice equipment company Lainox shows off the capabilities of its latest Naboo combination oven.

“What we discovered is we are tech dependent … my generation does not know how technology actually works,” said Dorsey. “We just know we cannot live without it. It’s all about how simple can you make it so it just works.”

Dorsey also emphasized that loyalty from millennials must be earned. “The No. 1 thing that irks me is when people say millennials aren’t loyal. Here’s the truth: Millennials are the most loyal generation of customers—once we establish our loyalty,” he said. Expectations are high, and millennials establish their loyalty later in life and are going to sample brands longer before committing.

But, “once we establish our loyalty, we are the No. 1 generation to refer people to a restaurant,” he said.

Betting on beverages

While the technology pavilion, culinary demonstrations and the organic and natural area again proved popular each day at the show, a noticeable uptick in specialty and craft beverage companies served to further amplify that all things drinkable are trending upward.  

At the Rishi Tea booth, the Milwaukee-based company passed out samples of kegged craft-brewed tea made with organic tea leaves and botanicals but without sugar, artificial colors or preservatives. SmartFruit, meanwhile, puts superfoods in its juices, along with ingredients such as oat fiber and ashwagandha extract.

Not to be left out, larger companies including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo showcased their new takes on drinks. Barrilitos Aguas Frescas is Coca-Cola’s line of flavor-enhanced water—using real fruit juices instead of artificial flavors—and with only 50-60 calories. PepsiCo went the craft soda route with its Stubborn Soda line.

On the cocktail side, Beyond Zero debuted its frozen liquor ice system at the show, essentially an ice maker capable of automatically freezing pure liquor, wine or mixed cocktails into ice in a matter of just minutes, “putting the liquor in the rocks rather than on the rocks,” a company rep said.

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