Thursday, February 20, 2014

Guest Blog Post: Book Cover Reveal

[I'm hosting a guest blog post this week, the book cover reveal for a fellow writer's soon to be released book. Hopefully one day soon, others will have a reason to do the same for me. In the meantime, congratulations and best of luck to Geoff.]

Cover Freedom After The SharksGeoff Hudson-Searle's book "Freedom after the Sharks" is coming out soon. The book covers how to survive regardless of a lack of resources and finances in a declining economy. The book discusses business failures, success, and includes business models that can be implemented immediately. The primary target audience are entrepreneurs. Starting up, they may not be sure of the path to take. Even if they can visualize the path, it is good to learn from other people’s mistakes and failures. Other groups of readers are middle management or junior executives who are looking for a fascinating life story of courage, drive, and inspiration. My secondary target audience are graduates and college students who will find information in my book that will prepare them for their career.

About the author: Geoff Hudson-Searle is a very passionate and innovating international director whose leadership is characterized by sharing information, round-table discussions, and strategic growth and deployment. Embracing cultural diversity in business, Geoff is a thought-leader. Now, he has added being an author to his impressive resume. Geoff blogs about his business insights and workshops here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Going Deaf in the Neighborhood (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

I had the damndest experience yesterday, a jaw-dropping moment of rudeness in a service-oriented establishment. Here’s a fact: If you run a service-oriented business, and you don’t believe the customer is always right, you are doing it wrong.

Listen, I bartended and waited tables immediately after college and all through graduate school. I know firsthand that the customer is not always right. Occasionally the customer is a drunken asshole who needs to be arrested rather than mollified. Occasionally they are cheap jerks who think it’s enlightening to leave, in place of a tip on a $40 tab, a business card for their stupid church, like oh sure, that will feed the cat and me. (I just realized, 24 years later, I still really hate that man…shaking mad all over again…he and his dour-faced wife were a picky, demanding table, rude from the first hello; they ate like pigs, left a mess, and business card instead of a tip…actually wrote a little note on it to the effect that God was the only tip I needed. The Lord prepares a special hell for assholes like that, but I digress.)

Yesterday, Friday, was Valentine’s Day. I had been working from home since the snowstorm hit Wednesday afternoon, which is nice to be able to do, but cabin fever had set in. My husband and I managed to dig out the driveway by noon yesterday and decided to go out for lunch, an early, more practical spin on a Valentine’s Day meal. We went to Applebee’s in Christiansburg, because we tend to like their bartenders, and on any given day, we are likely to run into at least one friend or acquaintance. It’s our “feel good” neighborhood spot, and if I understand the Applebee’s brand correctly, they want us to have that experience. We’ve been hanging out at this particular spot pretty regularly since the day it opened back in the mid-to-late 1990’s.

The nice bartender, I’ll call him Jim, was working, and as usual, a friend and husband’s co-worker sat at the bar. (Their mutual employer had closed due to the 20+ inches of snow that had fallen the day before). Jim poured us the usual without needing to ask and handed over menus. I could barely hear his greeting because the music volume was unusually loud. I then became engrossed in the flurry of incoming emails from the post office – mail carriers reporting the successful delivery of the Valentine’s Day treats I mailed to friends and family just before the storm hit. So I missed the conversation between my husband, Jim, and the General Manager, I’ll call him Bonehead.

When I finally looked back up, the nice Kitchen Manager (not Bonehead) was urging my husband to use the survey number on our receipt to tell them how we feel. I could barely hear the conversation. I like Lenny Kravitz, I really do, and I wanted to fly away, but the driving bass and percussions were just too loud for lunchtime. I asked Jim, “Can you please turn the music down?” He shook his head, and looked confused. My husband said, “No Kim, he can’t that’s what we were just bitching about. Didn’t you hear any of it?”

“Well, no. The music is too loud.”

So they patiently explained to me that when Jim asked Bonehead to please turn the music down, Bonehead told Jim, “the volume is set by the owner and if you don’t like it, you know where the door is.” I was floored.

“For real?” Suddenly the conversation with the Kitchen Manager about the survey made sense. “Yeah, I’ll take a survey. Or better…” I whipped out my smart phone and pulled up Twitter. “Hey @Applebees,” I typed, “the music in your 24073 store is too damn loud and the manager won’t turn it down. Help!”

I had a reply within moments, and a tip of the hat to the Applebee’s social media team for getting that right. “We can’t help you quickly from here, but please tell our customer care team.” The Tweet included a link to the customer care web site, but it was too large a form to deal with on the smart phone. About that time, Bonehead wandered by to speak to the table directly behind us (not sure if they were complaining about the music). As he walked away I flagged him down and asked him, “Can you please turn down the music?”

He all but rolled his eyes and gave my husband a look like, “Can’t you control her?”  The he explained how the owners set the volume and that was that.

I said, “But we would like to have a quiet conversation, and we can’t do that politely at this volume.” Lenny Kravitz’s voice trailed off as the song ended and a thumping hip hop number came on.

Bonehead had to raise his voice to make his retort audible. “We’re having a conversation now,” he said defensively.

“Not a quiet one,” I half-hollered back.

“Well I can turn it down for now, but the next time you come in, it will be back at this volume so you may as well get used to it.”

My jaw dropped. “No need to bother,” I told him. “We’re leaving.” Bonehead gave me a nasty look and stalked off. We paid the check for the two barely touched beverages and left. We didn’t leave a tip on principle, but we’ll slide by there later today, and if Jim is working, we’ll slip him a twenty.

I continued roundly bashing Applebee’s on Twitter from my comfortable seat at O’Charley’s (which is less than a mile from ‘Bee’s). They urged me again to contact their customer care team, so when I got home, I did. The form allows for 1500 characters, a veritable banquet of words, compared to Twitter, so I told the whole sorry tale, including the veiled threat to that nice bartender, Jim, who had tried to intervene on our behalf.

Then last night, my phone rang. It was the regional manager for Applebee’s responding to my email. I’ll call him Clark. Clark sounded horrified about the “threat” made to Jim, which pleased me. As a former bartender, I know what a hard job that is, and Jim is good at it. I told Clark if Jim lost his job because of this, I would be angry. He assured me that would not happen. He apologized repeatedly, and not just because we’re regulars. (“Newcomers shouldn’t have to listen to overloud music either,” Clark pointed out.) He offered to send a gift card as well as his business card. “If you ever have a problem with any Applebee’s” and then he chuckled slightly, “in Virginia,” let me know. We appreciate your support of our brand. I’ll be bending the ear of the owners at that store next week.”

I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting. Hopefully, Jim will be able to hear some of it, and maybe he’ll share a detail or two with us, if we go back. I told Clark he could send the gift card, and maybe I would use it at a different store, but truthfully, I’ll probably just give that to Jim too. It will make up for the tips he will miss out on. I can’t, in good conscience, support that particular location under its current management. Too many other restaurant managers within a two-mile radius understand: the customer is always right.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Unfinished Poem (In the category of Want What You Have.)

It’s far easier, you see,
To write these lines in threes,
Than to finish an unfinished poem.

My intention is still there,
But all I can do is stare,
At the screen, filled with unfinished poem.

I feel the danger could exist,
As I sit, that also this
Could become an unfinished poem.

But I’ll push an ending through,
Return my vacant stares to,
The longer, more unfinished poem.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jelly Doesn’t Freeze (In the Category of Say What You Mean.)

I had a vision for a new cookie, peanut butter and jelly. I’m not the first to think of this, but I have yet to find a recipe that matches my vision: a ball of peanut butter cookie dough folded around a glistening globe of jelly and baked to perfection. In my vision, the warm jelly squirts out as you bite into the tender-crisp peanut butter cookie shell, not unlike a jelly doughnut.

Early in the vision, I imagined putting jelly into plastic containers and letting it set in the freezer, then using the small end of a melon-baller to make little jelly dots. I planned to let them set firm and then drop them into little cups formed of cookie dough. I reasoned that the cold jelly would hold up while the cookie baked around it.

I Googled the concept a bit more. I found recipes that spread jelly between two frozen rounds of cookie dough, and recipes the plopped it into thumbprints pushed into peanut butter colored balls. The majority of recipes suggested I simply bake peanut butter cookies and make jelly-filled sandwiches out of them. I haven’t found anything like what I envisioned.

Have I mentioned my fantasy of winning the Pillsbury Bake-Off one day? It’s a bucket list item, really. The biggest challenge to date has been coming up with a completely original recipe – something that has never been baked before. If my cookie idea works, it could be a contender. (This goal drives many of my recipe experiments, and I’ve cooked some doozies.)

Jelly doesn’t freeze, however, which I did not know until today. I had a suspicion yesterday when, after keeping two bowls of jelly (one grape, one strawberry) in the freezer for two hours, I could scoop it with the melon-baller as easily as if I had taken it straight from the newly bought jar. I persevered, scooped little gems of jelly onto a parchment-papered cookie sheet and slid them into the freezer to set firm. This morning, I expected to find hard little marbles of jelly rolling around on the cookie sheet. Instead, I found this:
After sixteen hours in my freezer, the jelly had merely spread.
My perfect balls of jelly had actually spread over night. They jiggle just like jelly. They didn’t even get frosty. I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation for this, but it complicates my vision. I’m not giving up, though, because if it works, this might be the one -- the original recipe that wins me the million, and fame, and glory. Submissions for the 2014 Pillsbury Bake-Off “Simple Sweets” category begin April 4, 2014. Today’s baking will determine whether or not I have a thirteenth contest to enter this year. Recipe writing counts, doesn’t it?