Sharing Success

Farming Your Business

Here in California, blossoming cherry trees are a reminder that spring has arrived! Seeing them also reminds me of a La Trattoria column Uncle Dino wrote back in the spring of 2002. Called “Farming Your Business,” his comments help me remember the importance of not getting so busy “doing business” that you neglect improving how you do business.

As a lifelong farmer, Dino explained that running a successful business is a lot like raising productive fruit trees. They both require proper pruning and tending each year to remain healthy, fruitful, and growing.

In raising fruit trees, a good farmer carefully prunes and shapes them over time to stimulate productive fruitwood and remove low productivity deadwood. That way, the trees’ “life energy” can be directed into growing only healthy, productive branches, and not tired, dying ones. As a result, the properly tended trees yield more fruit and remain vibrant and healthy.

On the other hand, when fruit trees are neglected, over time their life energy is increasingly sapped by unproductive deadwood. As a result, untended trees yield progressively less fruit, physically weaken, and become more susceptible to pests and disease.

If you think about it, businesses behave the same way. Owners who routinely seek to improve what is working (and prune what is not) tend to keep their businesses profitable and healthy. On the other hand, businesses which operate for long periods of time without reexamining what is and is not working often get tired and less profitable over time.

Dino’s original comments focused mostly on regularly measuring each individual team member’s performance, rewarding the most productive employees and replacing the least. His point was that replacing “deadwood” workers failing to pull their weight not only boosts efficiency and morale, it also sends a strong message to the rest of the team that you really do recognize and value their individual contributions.

I completely agree with Dino about measuring employee performance and holding them accountable. I also think that Dino’s concept of “farming your business” is an equally powerful way for owners to recognize the importance of regularly reevaluating every aspect of your operation.

I am no expert in running restaurants, but here are a few common restaurant related examples to help explain my point.

1) Ingredient quality. If superior food quality is important to your success, when was the last time you upgraded the quality of any of your ingredients? Is it your habit to taste your key ingredients daily to know for sure whether their quality remains as consistent as when you first started using them?

2) Menu profitability. When did you last analyze the profitability of your individual menu offerings? Which items are pulling their weight profit wise? Which “slow movers” deserve improvement (or retirement)? When did you last adjust menu prices upward to reflect the reality of rising ingredient costs?

3) Equipment choices. It is tempting to stick with equipment that is “paid for,” but are there specific new appliances or tools which could help improve food quality and/or consistency, improve service, increase efficiency, reduce labor, reduce power bills, and reduce maintenance and repair costs, etc.?

4) Appearance and presentation. Like it or not, people judge books by their covers. Does the current exterior and interior appearance of your place do justice to the superior quality of your food? How long has it been since you last refreshed the paint?

I am sure there are dozens of other facets of restaurant operations worthy of regular review and “pruning” and only you know where the most “deadwood” can accumulate in your business.

My point is this. Making time to regularly “farm your business” by reevaluating (and improving) every aspect of your operation can help keep it healthy and “fruitful,” now and in the future. And that is a very good thing!

So if you already “farm your business,” congratulations! Chances are that it is heading in a direction of your choosing.

If, on the other hand, it has been a while since you last looked hard at what is working, the results may surprise you!