Just got alerted by a Facebook friend from Austin, Texas that the Georgia Straight online reported BC liquor prices have risen by $1 on 750-millitre bottles of hard liquor.  Here’s how she let me know:

“Dammit, Ed!  The province raised liquor prices! What the hell!  you already have to sell your first born child to get a fifth of Jameson, what is it now? Two unborn children?”

You see, in the States, liquor is about 30% less expensive than it is in Canada, so I think that reference point contributes to her frustration.

I should point out that beer and wine prices remain unchanged, though for some this is little consolation.

US beer is generally more watery and the alcohol affects you less than it does in Canada.  For example, drinking 24 US Pabst Blue Ribbons, which would cost you about $18.00, affects you about the same as drinking 18 Canadian Pabst Blue Ribbons, which  would cost $25.00.

While these numbers are not referenced from any official data, they are based on personal independent studies I conducted while at University.

In some ways, it’s good that the province controls liquor prices, but as the Georgia Straight article sites, some politicians believe it’s part of a bigger scheme of “gouging consumers in the province of B.C.”

Next on the list:  Hashing out the liquor service policy in Vancouver.  Stay tuned…

It’s amazing how food has become one of the most engaging topics in media, especially on the internet. Food is a bonafide media darling. It’s more popular than Oprah, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama, combined. Nutritional importance aside, if just our interest in food could be harnessed as energy it would power every home on Earth. I bet there’s a new food blog created every hour of every day.

And why not? We have an insatiable appetite for this stuff! We know all the celebrity chefs by name. We support the countless number of food websites out there, scouring the web for recipes, news and information. Even the most casual among us enjoy watching The Food Network from time to time (and we’re even starting to admit it, too).

Food is our obsession. We want to experience it with all our senses, swoon over it with our friends, follow it around with our cameras, write it love notes, canonize its artists, and build great houses of worship in its honour. We consume food like, well, food. It really isn’t just something we eat, anymore.

Ok, we get it. Everyone’s talking about it. Now what?

Well, the first thing to do is find out what people are saying, and who they’re talking about. Television, radio, newspapers and the internet are where we normally get our information. These are great advertising outlets for big businesses with big marketing budgets, but small businesses need people talking about them, too.

One 30-second Super Bowl commercial alone costs $3 million to air! And why is it so expensive? Because millions of people will see the message, and this is very important for business.

Since very few businesses this much to spend on advertising and other resources, there has to be a better way – and there is! You can reach millions of people just like Pepsi and Budweiser, and do it by spending hardly any money at all.

Social Media Saves You Time and Money

With social media, you contribute a little, and receive lots in return. Here’s how it works:

Say you want to take a swim, but have no pool and only one litre of water. What do you do? Well, you collect 10,000 other people just like you who have only one litre of water but want to swim, and let a social media platform like Industry Blender serve as your pool. If everyone contributes their litre of water to the pool, then everybody gets to swim! All you’re paying for is the cost of the pool which, because of the volume of users, is very low.

The Power of Collaboration – Imagine the Impossible!

If you operate a bakery, for example, social media platforms are helpful because they allow you to link with other bakeries in your area quite easily. Before you know it, there are 100 bakeries in your group.

You talk to each other about the challenges you face, share stories, recommend, give advice, and team up. You provide each other with easy-to-access information and resources, which means no more searching all over to find what you need. Over time, the sum becomes much bigger than the whole of its parts.

Know your Competitors

Wouldn’t this group make things too competitive, you ask?

Not really. A large group of bakeries will get much more attention than a single one here and there, and attracting bakery customers is your primary goal. You can also use social media to keep up with what other businesses are doing. Watch what successful companies do and try to emulate those strategies. Social media gives you detailed access to this information, and makes it really easy to find.

Understand your Unique Advantages and Let your Customers Know About Them

On the other hand, since no two bakeries are alike, you can celebrate your differences and market to different types of customers. One bakery may specialize in custom wedding cakes, while another is set up for mass production. The great thing about social media is you can have an actual conversation with your customers, which puts a face to your business that people require these days before they will buy. Cultivate relationships, reinforce your brand, and take control of what is being said about you.

Market to Millions of People on a Small Budget

The ultimate goal is to be highly visible to people searching for bakeries, and from there you develop niches and set yourself apart. This large union of bakeries is very noticeable to customers, and now you’re a force which demands attention. Now that you’re getting noticed, other bakeries will want to join your group, and soon you’re a powerhouse of bakeries. You continue to pool your resources, become more and more visible to potential customers, and everyone does better business in the end.

Harnessing the Power and Speed of the Internet to Stay Competitive

Things happen very fast, so you must be able to converse quickly. If you have lobsters or other inventory that hasn’t been selling that you need to get rid of immediately, you can’t wait to announce a special in the paper, or count on a sign being seen on your restaurant or around town.

The best method is to post your information where other seafood lovers go for the latest information, just like how Craigslist works for people with classifieds. Advertising online is instant; there’s no need to wait for the “next issue,” or worry if you have missed a deadline date

Word of Mouth Advertising

One reality emerging is that people trust word of mouth more than advertising. This is why customer referrals are so important.

People love commenting about restaurants, movies, etc…, so use their opinions as free advertising. Post referrals you’ve received on your website and use them in your other marketing, as well. Information that comes from unbiased members of the general public is most powerful in influencing the decisions of others.

Encourage comments about your business because, on the internet, they spread fast or “go viral.” You’re probably worried about negative feedback, and, yes these spread faster than positive comments, in fact. But not everyone is going to be happy, so luckily social media is very defensible. You can quickly put out fires before they spread because you’re always conversing with your customers.

Most social media sites like IndustryBlender.com allow customers to comment directly about the goods and services they received. These comments are set in stone, so if you’re a business that takes care of its patrons and provides an excellent service, you will be rewarded.

It’s tempting for business owners to hibernate during, this, the winter of our economic discontent. Everyone wants to freeze their marketing budgets, and hunker down until warmer economic climates arrive. We’re all feeling the effects of these trying times, especially small business owners, who must crunch their finances and try to make the marketing dollars stretch.

Luckily, it doesn’t cost you hardly anything to market anymore. Thanks to the internet, creativity and knowledge are the new currencies. Adhere to these simple promotional tools and you’ll get that extra publicity boost you need to take your business to the next level.

Advertising Vs Public Relations

Before you begin promoting your business, you need to ask yourself the following question: What’s the difference between advertising and public relations? It may sound like a no-brainer, but many business owners use these terms interchangeably. They’re different, and here’s how:

  • Advertising: This is the term for a paid public promotion of a product or service (i.e. newspaper ad or online ad banner)
  • Public Relations: This is an unpaid promotion intended to create goodwill for a person, product or company (i.e. press conference or press release).

Now that you know the difference between advertising and publicity, it’s time to consider including some “public relations” initiatives into your marketing plan. Here are some can’t-miss actions you should take:

Create news-worthy press releases:

Not all news necessarily warrants its own press release, so exercise a bit of caution, here. Before you send out a press release, consider if it’s a topic that would interest the local media (or national media – depending on the scope/region of your business).  It’s really quality over quantity, here. If you are a food supplier, get to know your local community groups so you may contact them to break your news. If you’re a restaurant, send press releases to your local newspapers, internet groups, and advertise, advertise, advertise on many social media outlets. There are many places to post your press release online, and make sure to check your press release for errors and mistakes before you send it out.

Websites, blogs and social networking sites:

These are free publicity tools (a website is more expensive, but it’s an essential long-term investment) are readily available at anybody’s fingertips. If you haven’t developed a website or created a blog, then you are missing out on crucial promotional opportunities. Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Industry Blender are tools of connectivity and promotion that you simply cannot live without. They generate potential leads and customers, and can reach many more people than traditional advertising at a fraction of the cost

Organize free or low-cost special events:

Utilize your company’s conference room or restaurant for an after-hours or off-hours event that will help you meet new people and generate buzz for your business. It’s important to thank your customers and clients in this way because the gesture makes them feel appreciated. Even if it’s only an inexpensive morning coffee event, it’s important to put a “face” in front of your clients and customers. In this age of the email, text messaging, and voicemail, business owners sometimes forget that people buy from people, and that physical meetings will only enhance your transparency and “realness” that people seek when they’re buying in person and online. Free or low-cost special events put you right in front of your clients again.

Become involved in your community:

Even if you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, your volunteer time is just as important both for promotional purposes and to help worthy causes. Involvement allows you to give back to your community and provides a great networking opportunity. You can also give in-kind donations for auctions (both products and services), which is another great way to promote your business (and are tax write-offs). Pick a charitable organization that has personal meaning for you, and become a good steward within your community. You will meet other business owners and possibly land new clients and prospects.

Attend events that really target your audience/target market:

Before you take on every networking event or trade show, ask yourself a few questions: Is this event going to help my business? How many people are attending? What’s my return on investment? Is it free or is there cost involved? How many leads/contacts do I hope to land as a result of this event? Don’t get into the bad habit of saying “yes” to every event because you THINK you need to attend them all. Pick and choose the best networking events that you think will provide the most benefit.

21st century business owners market smarter, not harder. Try out some of these cost- effective tips and you’ll boost your reputation, become more visible to your customers, and improve sales more than you ever thought possible.

I just returned from a private stakeholder meeting at City Hall today, regarding the potential revisal of city liquor regulations.  Yes, this is an issue of concern and interest for members of the food and beverage industry, but it also represents policy decisions that will undoubtedly affect the general public.

The nature of this gathering is discussed in greater detail on the main page, so I won’t go into too many specifics.  What I will address is the unfortunate reality that the public (or absent industry pros, for that matter) has no forum with which to A.) be kept abreast of this and other issues and B.) direct questions and comments to other concerned and applicable parties.

There were approximately 40 industry professionals in attendance, all sitting around a large round table or in the audience.  As I watched the discussion unfold, it once again reinforced my belief that a collection of individuals, when given an outlet for their opinions, will seize that opportunity and can have an immense amount of influence when it comes to solving problems that affect their lives, communities and businesses.

This, folks, is a collection of people with similar vested interests coming together to have their voices heard for a common goal.  There simply isn’t enough of this going on in our industry, and I think it’s deplorable that the public has no easily accessible channel with which to be heard on issues that affect them.

But in a world where people have easy access to technology and information in the convenience of their own spaces, there should be an online forum for comments, questions, suggestions regarding this and any industry-related issue.  Social and business networking is the best way to gather information on a topic that is relevant to you.

My suggestion to the city of Vancouver or any other organization or industry would be to create a specific network that caters to the needs and voices of its members.  That’s one of the reasons we started Industry Blender:  Because the Facebook and Myspace models have showed that people need to and will congregate with their peers if given the opportuniy.  We need to be the catalysts for this change.

Social networks make our lives richer and easier and give us the opportunity to have our voices heard.  They make possible meaningful and profitable connections with people we never would have met before.  Their power is immeasurable, and it means you will change the way business is done in the future.  You’re the ones conducting the business, so it is imperative that you be front and centre and totally in control of your own fates.

Gathering physically is very important and can never be replaced, but a virtual network is a room that never gets full.  And it requires no driving or schedule juggling to get there.  We could suggest to City Hall or any other decision making organisation to make available a forum where people can voice their opinions on issues.  The technology and ability to do this is before us, it’s just a matter of organising and stratifying interests.

If the City started a network which allowed restaurant, lounge, bar owners and their patrons to comment on the liquor regulation issue, which people are very passionate about, you can be assured there would be a mob of support and comments.  It’s amazing how all these old and established organisations haven’t caught on to the idea.  No matter.  We’ll work together to educate the business world and show them how things have evolved in the 21st century.  We’ll give our customers and colleagues the opportunity to be collectively heard, and we’ll be on the forefront because of it.

So…what does this mean for us?  It means that the Food, Beverage and Hospitality Industry in Vancouver can be on the forefront of this change which market research shows is going to be in full swing in the next 2-4 years.  We’re a progressive bunch that knows our city and customers, and recognise the need to facilitate this change. 

But change is slow to take place, especially for bohemoth, slow moving companies where it takes much more time for things to get done because they’re reluctant to alter their business models.  But our industry is primed for this transition, and we can get in on the ground floor of this transition.

H.A.V.E. Café Caters to the Have-Nots

It’s Friday afternoon, and staff and students at the H.A.V.E Café are gathered around a back table enjoying a quiet late lunch of stuffed peppers and sandwiches.  It’s two o’clock pm, the day is now over, and everyone is enjoying some well-deserved relaxation.

“I’m graduating today,” Dave says while sitting down to his meal.  He appears slightly exhausted after today’s busy service, but speaks with a renewed sense of worth and accomplishment.  Originally from Newfoundland, Dave fell on hard times recently, and needed a fresh start.  He has just completed the 8 week culinary training program offered from this small café on Powell Street in the Downtown Eastside.  He has on-the-job training under his belt and, best of all, interviews with restaurants who want to hire him.

Dave is one of the dozens of students H.A.V.E. Café has trained since opening nearly 18 months ago.  The program is a multi-tiered team effort involving corporate sponsors, private donors, and dedicated volunteers who donate time and resources to provide hope to those who feel they have none at all.

“H.A.V.E. Café is about serving people who have various employment barriers,” says executive director Amber Anderson, whose roots can be traced back to the former Cook Studio, a similar program at the same location of which H.A.V.E. Café is a successful offshoot.  Anderson and one other trainer lead a team of anywhere from five to thirteen students who have battled addictions, struggle with English, or have other special needs which prevent them from acquiring a job and getting on their feet.

The program has the support of such big name establishments as White Spot, who actively recruits graduates from the program and hire them into jobs where they make $15 an hour or more, with medical benefits.  These businesses may pay training costs back to H.A.V.E. Café, and provide new graduates with an environment where they can continue to learn, grow, and possibly receive additional certification such as Red Seal training.

“It’s great,” says Dave, the student.  “There’s a system in place where they help find you a job and send you somewhere where you know you’re wanted.  I’ve learned more here from Amber in eight weeks than I learned in 20 years of cooking.  She’s a very gifted instructor.”

Anderson realizes each person has a different background and needs, and thus a lot of the training she provides is intuitive and specific to the individual.  The café’s unprecedented success is reflected through Anderson’s philosophy of emphasizing life skills and personal development just as much as the culinary training.

“We practice compassion with our students, “she says.  “There isn’t a three strikes and you’re out rule.  If we need to go the extra mile everyday to persuade people to keep coming back, we do.  We want them to stay in the program no matter what.”
“It’s important to develop the whole individual,” she says.  “You can’t lump everyone into one category; it really is on a person to person basis.”

She also lets the graduates know that her door is always open, and she tries to stay connected with everyone who goes through the program.

“I never let go of them completely,” Anderson says.  They’re always in and out, even after they move on.”

Thanks to this committed network of donors and citizens, the program is looking to apply this model in other similar locations.  Lookout operates a transition house just a few blocks away, which could provide an ideal spot for expansion.  She says H.A.V.E. Café’s attempts to garner financial support from the government has been slow and inefficient, so she’s focusing on her students and letting the other chips fall as they may.

“We try to work with the government, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy and red tape,” she explains.  “We’d love more of their support, but here we’re focused on the students.  It’s really because of them that I love what I do.”

H.A.V.E Logo

H.A.V.E Logo

Cooks Working Giving Back

February 26, 2009

Cooks Working Giving Back
by Nathalie Carriere

Yes! Heat’s ‘outside’ and this cook’s day off, begs for a patio. So, with the husband and pretty little dog, tail wagging with joy in tow we stroll around the hood, and start driving curiosity around to find the latest of the hot, loath to state the obvious, on the patio scene.

And the winner is… the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. The only way we could steal a vacation together, with our friends, at the same time, this season, was to get all in wish, on the kitchen volunteer roster for 2008 fingers and toes crossed.

Second year, return for me, blushing. And big, quiet, but understood nod of thanks to Chef Cale, and the newish, yes post foie-Feenie BoH crew at Beyond, for holding up, requested time off, with ok.

Meanwhile, husband, and best friends end up on the hot side team (a.k.a. The Violent Vegans) with me, same scheds, manning the flat tops, and getting things done hard core… welcome to my world my loves, you rock!

For real, under the fierce protection of the experienced kitchen organizing team of Paul Friedman and Kristina Berg, Chef Anya Keefe (first year at the wheel, balls of steel baby, balls) rightfully beamed with pride watching a volunteer team of 175 loyals and noobs (very few pros in that house btw, peeps to NWCA alumni representin’), push out, and round off her cleverly conceived vegan and meat lunch and dinner creations to the tune of over 10,000 meals to Festival Volunteers and Talent, over 3 days. Now that, takes some hard kind of iron fist in velvet glove ‘just do it, this way, please and thank you’.

Aside from the incredible smoothness with which the largess of this magnificent Jerico Beach event was executed by all the volunteers, for the 31th time around, my heart melted most at the site of the contagious smile, banter, and laugh of Big BBQ Dave (who’s been ‘owning’ this private fire pit with passion for 29 years) orchestrating his sons, their friends and his beautiful daughter, on how to push out, hot of the barby salmon, at temperature, yes real cooks use thermometers underwriters and the Vancouver health board are in the room, for a 5:30 to 7:30 dinner service on Friday night ‘James Barber Style’. Held it all weekend. Tears, talk amongst yourselves.

Anyone, pitching ‘Nofuncouver’ in this field of bliss in action, this weekend, was going to get serious laugh in yo’ face.

Trying to absorb without fainting, stage-side Ozomatli, Spirit of the West, Michael Franti and Spearhead and others, by twilight, or under the stars, (pssst, there were numerous rumors of UFO sittings at the private after party last night- Kodo Town thanks for the sweet-hard jam) with your volunteer restricted area pass blowing in the breeze was, and continues to be, beyond description, seriously.

A special thank you, and ‘on it, will so hug you’ with awe the next times, to all the local talent, blessing these great outdoor stages here and all over town, let alone the main one, this time around, some, as a first. So sweet.

Hard BoH high-five to the local food vendors who took such great care of the paying customer, yeah me, can’t pass up some of that feed, with great delivery on promise. Loved it, again!

A special work to ‘dude’ who rigged the weather, I want the business card.

Visit www.thefestival.bc.ca to get the inside and out on where to be next year. Or better still throw hard money at that mad vision. It’s doing for dibs on the land, going forward to break free. Let’s show some cash, service industry-style. Look for the need meet on the site link and let’s help them make it happen.

Well-hard earned, these determined, committed people sure know how to throw a party!

Now, where were we on the other outdoor hang decision?