Coffee

One benefit of leaving Mormonism has been discovering coffee. I began drinking coffee one evening on a drive home from Vegas. I pulled over in Mesquite and ordered a coffee from McDonald’s to keep me alert during my drive home.

I’m surprised that first cup of coffee didn’t destroy my desire to try coffee again. I tried different roasts and types over the next couple of years from local roasters. Of course, I made a lot of trips to Starbucks as well.

I enjoy a number of coffee drinks both hot and cold and my two favorites are nitro cold brew coffee from Starbucks and a Perks Americano with heavy cream with no sugar. The flavored drinks are too sweet for my tastes today.

One fringe benefit that’s come from drinking coffee has been the time spent with friends, sipping coffee over discussions about sports, politics and whatever the hell is on our minds. There is an entire culture around coffee that I’ve yet to find elsewhere. When I visit Seattle, I love to meet my old friends over a cup of coffee.

I also like to make coffee in our French Press. I’ve tried making one cup at a time using an AeroPress which makes a delicious cup of coffee but requires a good deal of patience.

I can’t believe I waited so many years before enjoying coffee, but I’m making up for lost time. If you ever make it the St. George area, make sure to try a coffee from Perks.

My First Visit to Chick-fil-A

Last weekend I visited a Chick-fil-A with my family. The place was packed, but we ordered and found a corner booth with enough room for seven.

Before we could begin our meal a man approached our table and asked if he could help us. Before I could answer he said, “I see you have a few ketchup packets but I’ll get you the good stuff for your sandwiches.”

He returned a 30 seconds later with Chick-fil-A sauce. Since this was our first visit to a Chick-fil-A we had no idea such sauce existed. And yes, it was good. The kids dipped their chicken and waffle fries in the sauce and skipped the ketchup.

A few minutes later the same man asked if he could refill our drinks. He also brought over a stack of napkins and was friendly without being annoying. I expect this level of service at an upscale restaurant, but not a fast food joint where I can feed the family for under 35 bucks.

As we got up to leave, my son accidentally dumped his extra fries in the trash bin. This same man offered to replace them at no charge. When he saw me approach the exit with a car-seat over my shoulder, he stepped ahead of me and opened the door.

Is this just the norm for Chick-fil-A? I don’t know, but I was so impressed I stepped back into the lobby while Kim gathered the kids. I wanted to find out what this man’s job title is.

“I’m very impressed with the service here,” I told him. “What’s your job title?” I asked.

“My job is to make sure customers leave happy,” he replied before heading off to assist someone else. 

I never did find out what his official job title is, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

The fact is he made our visit a lot more comfortable and even, I dare say, memorable. With five young children, we’ve been on the flip side of this experience where our patronage wasn’t appreciated because our kids were acting like kids. Don’t you love that stare some servers give you when your child can’t decide between the fries, fruit cup, or carrot sticks? Oh how I love that!

Anyway, this experience reset my expectations of what a fast food experience can be.

Do you have someone at your company whose job it is to make sure customers leave happy? If not, should you?

You can really set your business and products apart from the competition especially if you’re in a market where the bar for service has been set low.

The Problem with Average Pizza

“Chicago Style Pizza”

That’s what the sign said, and it’s local and was busy so we gave it a try.

Of course, the kids wolfed down the pepperoni and the cheese pizzas. I tried a slice of Hawaiian and pepperoni which looked just like the cheese. I prefer the pepperoni be placed on top so they get crispy around the edges, but whatever.

The pizza wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great either. In fact, it’s a been a couple of weeks now and I’ve forgotten what it tasted like. So it wasn’t memorable by any means.

And that’s the problem.

If I want fast pizza I’ll call Papa Johns. If I want cheap pizza I’ll drive to Little Caesars. I don’t go out of my way to do either, but my kids aren’t picky when it comes to pizza. In fact, the pizza Kim makes from scratch is far better than either of those options.

But I never say, “I want a good average pizza tonight.”

The best pizza I’ve had in Utah is Piccolo Brothers Pizza off Washington Blvd in Ogden. Their website is just terrible, but that’s OK because their pizza is excellent. I have a rule for eating out in Ogden and it goes like this: the worse the location, the better the food.

In Seattle, Kim and I loved this tiny pizza joint at University Village called Delfinos that specialized in Chicago style. I have no idea how close it comes to authentic Chicago pizza, but we waited nearly an hour for our pizza to arrive. In fact, the server took our order and then suggested we browse the Barnes and Noble next door.

But it was well worth the wait, and the pizza is unlike any I’ve had before. I now understand why it takes an hour to prepare. Delfinos is the best and most expensive pizza I’ve eaten, and I’ve told dozens of people about it over the years. They also aren’t diverting any pizza profits to their website.

I feel bad for our little local pizza shop. I want to see them succeed. But it’s hard to recommend them when better options exist. I wish they would go one way or the other. Either offer OK cheap pizza or create the best pizza in the area. Joining the crowded “good pizza” market only gets you lost among the other dozen pizza shops, some of which have much larger marketing budgets.

Of course, they aren’t alone. Many companies fall victim to providing a service or product that’s good enough but not great or noteworthy. We don’t tell our friends about a product that just works. We tell others about products we LOVE.

Does your business or company sell a product your customers LOVE? If not, they probably aren’t telling anyone about it.

Pho: Worth the Hassle

Of course my order was wrong.

“Small number one without onions or cilantro”

I’ve been ordering the same item dozens of times over the past six years.  I don’t get creative with the menu. I find something that works and I stick with it. Small. Number one. No onions or cilantro. IMG_0804

So I sit at the table with a streaming bowl of Pho filled with cilantro and onions. This scene has played out so many times that it doesn’t faze me anymore. Flip a coin. Even odds that I’ll have to send it back.

My last three visits? Zero for three.

They never hassle me, but I know that incredulous look that says, “Who does this American think  he is eating Pho without onions or cilantro?” It’s like going to Fat Burger and ordering a salad.

And yet, I continue to return. Marketers like to say that consumers “vote with their wallets”. In that case, I’m encouraging poor service. But I return time and time again.

Because, when I finally get the bowl of Pho I ordered, it tastes and smells so dang good.

Well worth the extra wait.

The Two Sides Of My Closet

Last Friday, the alarm on my iPhone went off just before 6 am. I stumbled out of bed, put on gym shorts and laced up my Hyperdunks. In less than ten minutes I was heading to the gym with my neighbor to play basketball.

For the next 90 minutes I ran up and down the court. My shot wasn’t falling but that didn’t matter. I was there for the exercise, and I love the ebb and flow of the game.

As much as I complain to myself, once I get to the gym I can’t imagine being anywhere else. This school in Kent must have been built no later than the 1940’s. The glass boards drop from the ceiling. The rims are forgiving and are adorned with long nylon nets which flip up inside themselves on the perfect baseline swish shot. 

With my workout complete, I jump in the shower before heading to work. Then comes that time of day I dread: picking out my clothing for the day.

Kim has her own closet and I have mine. The right side is filled with clothing that fits me today. The other side is filled with shirts and pants that no longer do. Every morning I’m reminded of this fact so I seldom open the left side of my closet. It’s full of Dockers in perfect condition. Dress shirts hang there that haven’t been worn more than a few times. Even a couple of belts that used to fit around my waist.

Three years ago I got tired of being overweight and lost 60 lbs over the course of seven months. I did it by cutting sugar from my diet, monitoring carbohydrates and exercising. There were no secret formulas or magic pills. It was difficult. Bad habits occasionally surfaced. But I stuck with it and was down to within a few pounds of my goal. 

But by last December I’d gained back all but 15 lbs. Over time, I’d replaced my size large shirts with extra large ones. My jeans went from 34 to 38 and even those were tight. I had less energy to spend with my kids and my sugar cravings had returned in full force.

Sugar is my kryptonite. It’s the domino that triggers bad habits. I’m constantly fighting the urge to consume it through cookies or donuts or Chewy Sweet Tarts. Yet, once it’s out of my system, the cravings subside, and I am able to eat healthy foods without constantly feeling hungry.

When I went back to work after the holidays, I decided to change my eating habits. I began playing racquetball every Tuesday night. I joined a group of friends for basketball a couple of times each week. I got my butt back on the treadmill.  I began taking my lunch to work or making a salad at the Microsoft cafeteria. I’ve tripped up a few times. When that happens I move on instead of pouting over a bowl of ice cream.

Back to last Friday morning while I’m staring at my closet. I decide to pull down a pair of black Levi’s from the left side of my closet. I tell myself they probably won’t fit, but it will motivate me to keep going.

I was shocked when I was able to pull them on and fasten the buttons without suffocating myself. I checked the tag to make sure they were the smaller size. I could not believe it.

I was so happy I called out to Kim, “Hey, check this out! It’s been two years since I’ve been able to wear these.”

But I know I still have a ways to go. I know I can lose the weight. I know I’ll be able to get down to a weight I’m comfortable with. But I also understand that keeping the weight off will be a lifelong battle.

But I’m off to a good start. And most important, I feel better and have more energy to spend with Kim and the kids.

Just Follow the Quizno’s Signs

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy signs. Especially those that show up around businesses in full view of customers. Some of the best signs turn up at fast food joints that are typically staffed by a young crew of creative kids who can’t wait around for the corporate offices to make them a sign.

So they take matters into their own hands and and create some of the best unintentional humor around. It’s like a dinner play at a fraction of the cost.

Take the signs I came across at our local Quizno’s this afternoon. As I stepped up to the counter to order, I was presented with this gem:

quiznoscaution

I’m not sure “Caution” is the best choice when you’re in the sandwich business. Plenty of businesses sell items at cost, but make it up in other areas. Maybe there’s big profits in selling extra “guacamole”. I don’t know, but I love the use of quotation marks.

One more thing – wouldn’t one $ sign do? When I see $$$$ I think of Zagat reviews. By that scale a few extra tomatoes may run 50 bucks.

As I filled the kids drinks, I noticed this sign:

refills

I’m only used to paying for refills at Chinese and Thai restaurants. I don’t know what it is about those two, but it’s not uncommon for a glass of ice and a can of Diet Coke to arrive at our table. Maybe they don’t believe in the concept of fountain drinks, but I’ve adjusted my lifestyle to deal with it.

But I’m not accustomed to paying extra for fountain drinks at fast food places on top of inflated prices. Especially those with self-serve stations. I finished my Diet Pepsi and slowly nudged my way back over to the cooler where I filled my cup with ice. The two Quizno’s employees gave me the stare-down assuming I was about to fill my cup with an extra 99 cents worth of refreshment.

As I stood at the counter ready to pay for my meal, I noticed the obligatory tip jar.

tips 

I paid for one sandwich and three kid’s meals. The kids wanted chips so the cashier reached into each bag and pulled out the chocolate chip cookie right in front of the kids. I guess you get one or the other when business is tight.

How many of you would still leave a tip a this point?

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