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Bite-size Basics Every Business Should Master

[This article originally appeared in the October 2013 KidsBiz newsletter.]

If you know me, you know I’m a geek when it comes to retail—and a borderline glutton when it comes to food. So when my cousin, Barbara, and her husband Curtis launched a food truck in Columbus, Ohio, this spring, I was consumed with the idea of hopping on board. Last month, I finally got my chance to sink my teeth into my first food service experience since my high school days of serving burgers at Mickey D’s.

The experience was fun and even enlightening since it proved to be a microcosm of retail principles. In a space the size of closet (or some NYC apartments), business boils down to the fundamentals. So here are a few morsels from my hours spent hanging out the window, taking orders one summery fall day:

Dish up service with a smile
Though sales has never been my primary professional role, I do know a thing or two bout it. The most important: Sales is about relationships. So in my role as the face of Bab’s Down Home Cookin that Saturday, I smiled, I chatted, I made menu suggestions and I inquired about our customers and how their day was going. It’s that kind of friendly demeanor that’s earned the truck a loyal following of return customers. Of course the food is also a factor but people can get lunch anywhere. They choose to come back because the service is as satisfying as the flavors.

Entice with presentation
My cousin’s truck is loosely themed on her roots in Washington, D.C. so she decided to include dishes popular there like crab cakes and Southern-style collard greens. And while sales were good, she recently decided to spice up her menu with names to match the food’s origins like The Constitution, Embassy Row and the RFK. And her customers eat it up. People smile as they read the menu, and they emphasis the Beltway-insider monikers when they place their orders. You could almost hear them wondering what makes White House whiting different from other fish sandwiches. Just by adding themed names, Barb found a way to cook up products that are more appetizing and memorable.

Satisfy with product
Of course, no matter how you package, name or otherwise market your goods, the proof is always in the pudding—or in this case, the chicken wings. As amused as people were by the dish descriptions not one of them circled back later to compliment us on the clever names. But several made a point of stopping back by to praise the food. That’s because Bab’s Down Home Cookin’ doesn’t skimp. The gumbo is filled with seafood and sausage not chicken and rice. The crab cakes are only lightly breaded on the outside with no filler inside. In that way, she’s definitely poised to take a bite out of the competition because diners noticed that her food is the real deal. While there’ll always be a customer who thrives on price only, there are still plenty who crave value and quality.

Apologize without reservation
Toward the end of the day, when we were on our third big rush, we got a group that was hungry for crab cakes and mac and cheese. The orders were coming in so quickly that we didn’t realize we were almost out of mac. Well, as it turned out we ended up being one serving short. Barb couldn’t stomach the idea of disappointing someone, so she left the truck for the first time all day to serve the group personally, apologize for the error and offer them anything else they wanted off the menu (even if it cost more than the original side dish). That’s called customer service. Swallowing your pride, being upfront and doing what it takes to please the customer makes an otherwise hard to digest situation much more palatable—and forgivable.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend you spend an afternoon on a food truck. And, of course, if you’re ever in Columbus, stop by Bab’s Down Home Cookin! —CC