A Review: Mobile AL Restaurant Demos Customer Service As It Should Be

 

 

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Sadly, this is not a trend: A restaurant where team members actually work as a team, sharing responsibilities for getting dishes to tables, making customers feel important, helping, quietly, without seeming to do anything out of the ordinary, to see tables are promptly cleared and that, overall, the ebb and flow of a meal period flows without incident; with customers none the wiser that they are enjoying an unusually superb example of what good customer service is supposed to be about.

We witnessed that on Friday, March 10, at Felix’s Fish Camp, an outstanding seafood-dispensing establishment in Mobile AL. Having driven there from New Orleans, a couple of hours and a bit away, we arrived somewhat later than planned. We were promised we’d be seated in five minutes. It took less than four for our ‘caller device’ to vibrate, and our adventure was underway.

Courtney seated us, at close to 1 pm., at a table with clear views from both seats (I had to turn a bit to take in the totality of the view over the Gulf of Mexico shallows, with shore birds busily securing feasts of their own; My wife with had the entire panorama laid out before her.) If you’re fortunate, you might also see alligators moving about or nesting in the shore side reeds and grasses.

Drinks were ordered (a glass of pino grigio for me, a ‘fancy’, foamy concoction for her) , then orders were taken – a cup of crab soup for me, followed by the been-waiting-all-week-for boiled jumbo Gulf shrimp; a taco specialty for her.

Already, I was looking around, observing, having been attracted by a parade of servers heading for a table just beyond us. Fully coordinated, smooth as you’d wish, food-to-table service. I watched this display of in-snych service several times, as a silent row of servers slid between tables toward their destination then, as quietly and unobtrusively, slip away.

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I happened to be facing the dining room entrance, and was intrigued to note a staging area set up just beyond that entrance way. Orders were delivered from the kitchen to a large table there, to be dispensed to servers close to their stations, and well away from the kitchen itself, where their presence, as is often the case in commercial kitchens, is something to be endured by cooks and their assistants, but only grudgingly tolerated. The staging station eliminates that issue, helping back-of-the-house operations run smoother, with fewer distractions.

The staging station also enables the multi-server food-to-table operation so successfully employed by Felix’s. This system also reduces the apparent to-ing-and-fro-ing of wait staff, trimming – both apparently and in fact – traffic in the dining room, and enhancing, in the process, clients’ dining experience.

This was, you’ll recall, a Friday afternoon in early March – a March when, in fact, spring sprung early, and the leaves were out and the temps were up (into the upper ’60’s). Still, it was a weekday.

When a restaurant, even one so ideally positioned as this one, with a local reputation beyond repute, keeps turning lunch-period tables well beyond 2 pm, maintaining a near-full dining room at a time when most competitors’ kitchen staff are on break and the wait staff count is shrinking, you know the place is doing something right.

Peeling and consuming fresh-boiled shrimp is a messy business. By the time I (willingly) fought my way to the end of my very generous portion, my large cloth napkin was a mess, as were my hands. Two soapy hand-washes later, I’d largely dealt with the messy hands issue. Meanwhile, Courtney had dealt with the messy napkin one by providing, where my shrimp-shell bowl so recently sat, a fresh one.

But though we had to decline dessert, Felix’s wasn’t through with us.

While our arrival hadn’t been at a terribly busy time, there was a more or less steady flow of people presenting to the hostess station. I’m guess she dealt with no fewer than 50 people between the time we entered and the time we departed. Yet, somehow, she was able to greet my wife by name as we did so! A crowning touch on a royal experience.

The restaurant’s website gives no indication of how long Felix’s Fish Camp has been in business. It’s undoubtedly been in place for many decades. But it doesn’t take those factors for granted, nor does in treat lightly the fact that its generations-spanning clientele was (and still is being) acquired one customer at a time.

The reviews on the website say it all – or almost all: To them , though, I add: Despite living nearly 800 miles from Mobile and Felix’s, I’d seriously consider taking a Thursday-to-Tuesday break to twice endure a 500-mile or so road trip just to enjoy the food and the atmosphere there.

“Bad” Fruits, Veggies, Turn “Good”

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Photo: Portland (ME) Press Herald

Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets has begun offering less-than-perfect produce on sale in 15 of its home-state stores. Hannaford launched the same program in the Albany NY area last year, resulting, so far, in keeping some 100,000 pounds of edible food from being discarded.

Others jumping on the “misfit produce” bandwagon include Giant Eagle in the Pittsburgh area and Whole Foods in California. France’s Intermarche chain also has saved a lot of otherwise passed over produce and a lot of cash for customers, who enjoy discounted prices on oddly-shaped or slightly bruised items.

While a similar recycling program failed to gain traction in Raley’s supermarkets in California, the concept is providing to be a winner with consumers in a growing number of places – and why shouldn’t it, when shoppers are able to enjoy savings of as much as or more than 30% off regular retail prices.

 

A National Public Radio article on this trend noted last year that Americans waste enough perfectly nutritious but odd looking fruits and veggies annually to fill “44 skyscrapers” – a rather imprecise term, but you get the point.

7Eleven Gets Fresh(er)

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7Eleven’s Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

7Eleven is upping its commitment to fresh foods.

Anne Readhimer, Senior Director of Fresh Food Innovation, recently told Convenience Store Decisions magazine that, “At 7Eleven, we’re growing our fresh food department to meet the changing needs of our customers, and as we are seeing that higher demand as customers continue to crave these offerings, we’re going to expand the space needed to support those products.”

She noted that as the company is designing and building new store layouts for the future, you’ll see the new builds will have more space, and as we go back and retrofit other stores, you’ll see expansion in the fresh food space allocated.”

7eleven-saladA company spokesperson noted that the Japan-based chain anticipates growing its US store count to 10,000 by 2019.

“Hot” New Habanero Varietal Is Heatless

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The shishito — another mild pepper varietal popularized by Noah Robbins.

Just as you’ve never heard anyone say they drink sweet tea just for the sugar, it’s highly unlikely you’ve every heard someone say they eat Habanero peppers just for their wonderful taste. That’s about to change.

A guy who clearly got bit by a ‘crazy-as-a-fox’ bug has found a way to consistently breed the heat out of the Habanero, leaving a “tangy, sweet, melon-like flavor,” Ark Foods CEO Noah Robbins told Munchies.vice. Robbins’ company, which has farms in New York, North Carolina and Florida, specializes in what he calls “interesting” vegetables, such as that mild, tasty Habanero and the shishito pepper, a sweet Asian variety.

Robbins first encountered the heat-free Habanero at a farmers’ market in New York City. The seller didn’t have many available, but Noah was so impressed with the different eating sensation – “you keep expecting heat, but it doesn’t come,” he told Munchies – so he picked up a few to generate enough seeds for some experimenting. It took about three years to come up with the one he now marketing, in a limited way across the country.

He notes on his company’s website that “the newest (and cutest) member” of the Ark Foods family is the cucamelon.

They’re strikingly similar looking to tiny watermelons, with the tangy, fresh taste of a cucumber. Delicious, refreshing, and tart,” the web site says.

Never let it be said that there’s nothing new under the sun!

 

ow To Encourage Shoppers to Return, and Be Glad They Did

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The recent duel trade show for the Independent Grocers Association (IGA) and the National Grocers Association (NGA) produced an idea that smart grocers across the country should be picking up on soon: Instore contests for shoppers to take the most imaginative “selfies” they can, with prizes awarded to winners – ideally selected by an independent party. (A local photo studio would probably be pleased to play that role, getting themselves some good PR in the process!)

Michael Sansolo, formerly editor of Progressivee Grocer, Senior VP at the FMI (Food Marketing Institute and presently a consultant and columnist for Morning News Beat, an industry blog, reported that shortly before a break in a program at that convention, a social media marketing company introduced the selfies idea. In the break room, “people went nuts,” Sansolo reported, when they found small props such as glittery sunglasses, false mustaches “and the ubiquitous selfie stick.”

So many photos were taken, “and some were so creative, [the marketing company] on the fly had to add two more prizes to reward people’s efforts”.

This is a program that could so easily be introduced at the store level companies would be foolish to not give it a try. Do it a store or region at a time. Offer actual prizes – displays of which would encourage participation – or reasonable level store coupons. However you try it, do so. You WILL win. You will create a sense of excitement, a challenge, something fun, parallel to the shopping experience.

A store coupon redeemable on your next visit is a great thing – a tool to get the shopper back in your store. In today’s retailing environment, you need to employ every tool you can.

Whole Foods Bans False “Healthy” Claims Based on Presence of a Probiotic

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Whole Foods has told a number of its product producers to ‘cut it out’ – to quit advertising and promoting assorted junk foods as healthy simply because their makers have built a probiotic of one kind or another into them.

This is a brilliant more.

Too many producers are trying to climb on the “we’re healthy” band wagon – failing to realize the public is getting too smart for such ruses.

Adding a probiotic to something doesn’t, in and of itself, make the product “healthier”.

Probiotics are supposed to help clean “bad stuff” out of your colon and, in the process, have a positive impact on your health. But when an item otherwise falls into the “junk food” category – loaded with”added sugar” and extra calories – a probiotic is not, in the short or long term, going to defeat that.

First of all, probiotics are said to work over a long period of time, when consistently taken daily. The excess sugar and other unhealthy ingredients in health foods act on your system with hours, or days, at worst. Even if you ate the sweet thing, or whatever it is, daily, the probiotic’s effects would be overcome by the negative effects of the negative stuff.

A significant share of the public realizes that. Those who don’t, well, they can’t see that those producers are effectively lying to them.

And that’s wrong.

Ingredient-watching is a worthwhile activity. Practice it.

Beer Edges Out Wine as Bevvie of Choice

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A survey taken at the end of last month by The Harris Poll revealed beer to be a near favorite over wine among adult imbibers.

While many consumers will increasingly drink across all three major adult beverage categories (beer, wine and liquor/spirits), they still have their preferred type,” Danny Brager, SVP of Neilsen’s beverage alcohol practice, told Beverage Daily.com.

Nearly four in ten (38%) of U.S. adults who drink several times a year or more told the pollsters they choose beer as their go-to bevvie, and 31% named wine as their sippy selection. Those favoring as their first choice the liquor/spirits amounted to 28% of the 2,148 surveyed.

These numbers, by category have pretty much flipped in the last decade, with liquor/spirits losing ground, particularly, to wine.

Hardly surprisingly, wine is favored over any other kind of alcoholic beverage by women.

Developments concerning food — from research to farm to factory to restaurants and home.