Zagat’s 50 Sandwiches: Maryland’s is…

The Lake Trout Sandwich? Not a Crab Cake Sandwich, or even more appropriately a Pit Beef Sandwich (from Chap’s of course). To say I’m perplexed would be an understatement. Close to 90% of the people I shared this with have never even had a Lake Trout Sandwich, and these are all lifelong Maryland residents. Something is fishy here, and I’m not talking about the sandwich.

From the article:

Lake trout sandwiches are ubiquitous in Baltimore, where they’re sold everywhere from check-cashing spots to Chinese restaurants. Funny enough though, the fish – fried in cornmeal or crushed crackers and served between slices of white bread with a vinegar-based hot sauce – isn’t from a lake nor is it a trout at all. It’s typically a fish known as whiting or silver hake in the Northeast. Whatever it’s called, you’ll need to watch out for bones as you crunch down, although at the same time, those bones are a hallmark of a properly done lake trout sandwich. Snag one at Roost Lake Trout, which claims to have “the best” lake trout in town.

So, “ubiquitous in Baltimore”? I thought this was supposed to be a Maryland Sandwich, not a Baltimore Sandwich? I can say with absolute certainty that places that serve Lake Trout Sandwiches are not ubiquitous in Maryland as a whole. You know what is ubiquitous in Maryland? Crab Cake Sandwiches and Pit Beef Sandwiches. Please, go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. I’m not saying every single Crab Cake or Pit Beef is going to knock your socks off, but they are much more ubiquitous across our fair state than Lake Trout will ever be.

I’ve been told by a number of people that the Lake Trout Sandwich is super tasty (yes, I have never had one), and that I need to try one for myself. This is not a fact I’m arguing, and I will absolutely add it to my list of foods to try, but it still does not change the fact it is not a Maryland Sandwich but a Baltimore one. I’m sorry folks, contrary to what The Wire told you, there is more to Maryland than Baltimore.

Sorry Zagat, but you got this one wrong. So in closing I’m going to leave you with this, the real Maryland Sandwich:

Chap's Pit Beef Sandwich

The BEST Pit Beef you will ever have. A real Maryland Sandwich.

Lines of Communication

When people talk about almost any aspect of life involving interaction with others, there is always one phrase that shows up again and again:

Communication is key

Some might say that this phrase is overused and has become less relevant with the advent of social media. I say social media has made the need for communication even greater as customers now expect an open dialogue with the places they do business. A customer wants to be able to tweet you and ask if you are open or if a certain special is still in effect, and a failure to respond can result in them taking their business to a competitor. Do not think for a moment that social media is the only place where you need to concern yourself with communicating, but it is fast becoming the primary and most visible method that people are using to gather their information.

I recently came across an example of how not to disseminate information about a specific special case scenario. The story is of a local bar, a kitchen floor, three days, and a lack of proactive dissemination of information.

Brewer’s Cask closed on a Tuesday to allow them to work on repairing the floor in their kitchen. They placed a note in their door (I unfortunately did not take a picture at the time) that stated they would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday of that week and would be re-opened on Thursday. Maintenance of the restaurant is always a valid reason to temporarily close your establishment, so there is not fault there. The problem comes when there is no proactive notice to their clientele. No Facebook postings, no tweets, no note in the door in the days leading up to the closing. This means that the only way for a customer to find out about the closing would be to arrive at the bar only to be turned away by a note that says closed. There is no simpler way to lose a customer than to waste their time, and this is true across all industries.

It is not that Brewer’s Cask doesn’t have the conduits to communicate this closure to their customers. They have a WordPress powered website, a Facebook profile (subject of an entirely different coming post), a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. That’s four proactive methods available to communicate the fact that the business would not be open for two days that week. The first news of Brewer’s Cask being closed did not come from them, but instead another local bar that happens to be very proactive about their lines of communication to their customers.

Brewer's Cask Closed

No Idea Tavern’s owner posted the tweet above at almost 7:00PM on that Tuesday. This is almost a full 4 hours after Brewer’s Cask is regularly scheduled to open. This is not a good sign when your competition informs people of your closing before you have the opportunity to communicate this to your customers. This puts you in a damage control mode that is purely reactionary at this point, and reactionary measures are never as effective as preventing the problems in the first place. It unfortunately took a full 12 hours to receive a response as to what was happening at Brewer’s Cask. In a scenario where you have unexpectedly shut your doors to customers, you absolutely can not wait that long to respond once the issue has been broached.

Response

Once the response was actually put out, you find that there is one major problem: It is a reply to a message. This means that the majority of their followers will not see this tweet unless they follow both Brewer’s Cask and my twitter account. This simply may as well be not mentioning being closed on Twitter at all. It is much like putting a note in an empty office, the possibility that anyone will see it is quite slim.

Once Thursday came around, I tweeted at Brewer’s Cask asking if they’d be open as expected. The response was that they wouldn’t be opening until Friday now.

Not Opening Until Friday

This is where you can begin to frustrate your customers. Not only did you not informed anyone that you were closing, but after passing your initial time frame you failed to post an update that says you would not be opening until Friday. I did not make the trek down the street to see if they had updated their sign in the door, but with the lack of communication it could lead one to reasonably assume that it did not get updated there either.

Facebook on the other hand was completely silent during this entire period, with not a single update to either their page or profile. The profile had an update the night before telling people to come in for Trivia Night. And then, nothing. The business page is updated so infrequently it is actually hardly even worth mentioning its existence. The profile itself wasn’t updated again until the 22nd.

No Facebook Updates

What needs to be examined here is not the lack of communication itself, but the question:

How much did this lack of communication cost Brewer’s Cask?

It is very basic math to calculate the tangible loss for not being open those three days. Take the average gross profit from each day, add in product lost due to spoilage and you have a rough guess as to how much money was lost directly by not being open. The part that becomes nearly impossible to quantify is how many people won’t come back or will never come in because they came by the restaurant to find it closed, especially if they had looked online at Facebook or Twitter and found nothing that said they should not come to Brewer’s Cask that night. Say a single customer was lost to another local bar and they will now become a regular at that establishment. Say said customer spends an average of only $20 a week at their new regular hangout. Over the course of three years they are looking at $3120 in lost revenue. What if that customer spends $50 a week? That’s $7800 over three years!

Nothing is to say for certain that a few internet updates would have prevented this customer from moving to another bar or never coming in again. But what if they did? What if a few quick tweets, some Facebook posts and a little blurb on the website could have kept this customer around and they were the recipient of all the business that would have moved elsewhere? Think about the fact that 4-5 Facebook posts, 4-5 tweets and one minor webpage update would have at most taken 20 minutes of their time depending on how detailed they were in their postings. That effectively equates to them making $156 per minute of work based on a $20 a week customer. That’s $9360 per hour. Just think about that for a moment and ask yourself, if it was you, would that be enough to make you ensure that your customer base was well informed?

How much is it worth to you to communicate with your customers? Be proactive, keep customers informed, because a single customer could be worth much more than you ever realized.