The stand on the Jersey boardwalk advertised "Fresh Zeppoles."
It was an intriguing promise, since most zeppoles (or zeppoli for purists) at the shore have been under a heat lamp since Columbus Day--the one in 1492.
"Are they really fresh?" I asked the proprietor. "Or have they been under a lamp?"
"We sell out too quick for that," he replied. This stand specialized in fried things, french fries, funnel cake, and zeppoles, which underscores that great civilizations realize that happiness relies heavily on fat, yeast, and sugar--add in French beignets, and American doughnuts among others.
The end result was very apparent. While this stand had products that many others had, it had something else that they didn't--an unending line of customers. And that probably stemmed from the fact that it was committed to quality, and--as I nearly as I could tell by watching the workers operating within the confines of a stand whose boundaries are defined by wooden railings--it had workflow that had been fine-tuned.
How people move in a tight space is very important. At least, if you bump somebody carrying printed tax returns, your arm doesn't end up looking like a Sunday roast. Workflow is part of efficiency and safety in this environment. Hot cooking oil is very unforgiving.
Of course, customer service and quality go hand in hand in a successful business. In this case, work was divided in a basic way among three workers. One, probably the owner, took the orders. Those wanting funnel cake moved to the right side to be served by one worker; those who wanted fries or zeppoles stepped to the left.
Steps to ensure quality included one worker using an ice cream scoop to drop fresh balls of dough into the deep fat, periodically checking the internal temperature of the zeppoles. The potatoes in one sink weren't the usual bags of petrified sticks right out of the freezer--they were fresh-cut potatoes that were then routed to baskets that sat over another sink and then moved on to the deep fryer when the latest batch had been cooked to the right color. It was almost an assembly line.
Price wise? I didn't price the fries, but the zeppoles were about the same as elsewhere, a little better for six, probably a little worse for three.
The lesson: Most businesses have their version of products sitting under the heat lamp. In journalism, we call it repurposing information--trying to repackage stories and hoping the readers won't notice they aren't getting anything new. Accountants and consultants can relate their version.
Certainly, many aren't aware of their workflow or they have conflicting practices. The stories are endless.
But for anyone who thinks all this doesn't matter--do you have an unending line of customers in the face of a multitude of competitors that offer similar services?
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