Lessons Learned from Ray Kroc, Milton Hershey and Other Great Food Business Founders
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The legacy of Milton Hershey, Richard McDonald, Maurice McDonald, Ray Kroc, Ken Hardy, Jur van Hoorn, Adolphus Green, John Stith Pemberton, Asa Griggs Candler, Caleb Bradham, Will Keith Kellogg, C.W. Post, Harry Burnett "H. B." Reese, James L. Kraft, Herman Warden Lay, Elmer Doolin, Dan and Frank Carney, Dr. John T. Dorrance, and a lot of other great men paved the way for how we do business today. All of them thought beyond their current situations and possessed amazing business acumen. Marjorie Merriweather Post was also very influential after inheriting her father’s business, but faced unique challenges that she had to overcome.
Their contribution to innovation astonishes me; they were responsive to their market conditions and thrived because of it. The leaders in our industry, most of them, started in their home kitchens when there were little to no food safety regulations or guidelines. Our present-day conveniences were once luxuries that were hard to access, but they made them easily accessible to us. Their brands and products have captivated our attention and still have us craving their products long after they are gone. The food industry will make a comeback when the economy is restored, that’s for sure. I expect creativity and ingenuity to be at an all-time high and I am excited about what the future holds.
Understanding business, how to generate profitable revenue, implementing strategies that increase operational efficiency and customer service the way your customers need to be served is much more important than culinary skills and the front and back of the house experience. Business acumen is what entrepreneurs need to survive, not just during a pandemic, stock market crash, natural disaster, or recovery efforts afterward - it is essential to survival in its purest form. Looking at our industry pioneers and the challenges that they faced, it seems as if they would need an actual miracle to overcome them. But the way they did succeed was no miracle; it was purely guts, skills, and perseverance to achieve one goal: innovate.
We have access to modern resources and technology that makes it much easier for us to be productive. If you are in the food industry and your only focus is producing amazing food in an environment with a pleasing ambiance, there’s a chance that you are going to invest in improving the wrong areas.
The businesses that find or create ways to be essential and necessary, not a luxury, have a higher success rate. You should find ways to incorporate technology into your practices to increase efficiency and productivity. Serve your customers the way they expect to be served in the quickest and most efficient manner, which might mean that you need to enhance or reduce your menu, redesign your packaging for transport, or increase shelf-life. Enterprises that solve common challenges and limitations with innovative solutions will more likely be at the top.
Collaborations, creative marketing, mergers, packaging that extends travel time and shelf-life, etc. is what really counts. If a culinary artist's focus is simply on the plate and what they will be serving, their vision, and then their customer, they won’t be successful in this “art business.” To make a name in the industry, thinking should not be in a limited space such as a box or a circle. Be a student of your business, customers, products, and services while consistently studying trends, patterns, feedback, systems, processes, etc.
Indeed, customers are after the taste of perfection in your menu but that is not all there is to thrive in the food industry. The foundation of a reputable restaurant does not just lie on a signature family recipe presented in an A-grade plating or a comforting ambiance, it’s also about the customer’s overall experience - from the moment they visit your website to place an online order or reservation to when they enter your premises and until they settle the bill.
I believe that it is important for businesses, particularly restaurants, to function holistically and not just solely focus on a particular area such as the food or service. All aspects must come together to gain the customer’s trust and satisfaction. I’m looking forward to seeing companies apply what they have learned and creating a more defined vision with foresight. Innovation. Ingenuity.