May 15, 2020

The Case for Change: Chef Matthew Jennings, founder of Full Heart Hospitality

The Case for Change: Chef Matthew Jennings, founder of Full Heart Hospitality

We're all shut down. The hamster wheel has stopped. And some of us, myself included, are wondering if we have the energy and, more importantly, the desire, to hop back on. 

Today we discuss the case for change with a man that did just that. Matthew Jennings walked away from his award winning restaurants and all of the perks that come with being a celebrity chef to follow his bliss. 

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SHOW NOTES

  • Change to the flow of service
  • What happens to Front-of-House service?
  • When doing delivery, does presentation matter?
  • Restaurants won’t be restaurants anymore
  • Reservation systems could be a benefit
  • More information is taken from the guest
  • Additional information is an opportunity for more engagement and connection with customers
  • Pivoting
  • Cornell Business suggests ⅓ bodega style, ⅓ takeout, ⅓ dine-in
  • Chefs Matthew interviewed pivoted in different ways
  • 1 pivoted to groceraunt model
  • 1 pivoted to meal kits and family meals
  • 1 pivoted to mercantile - soap, non-perishable products
  • Starting in consulting
  • Started as a side hustle whilst running own restaurant
  • Worked with Dunkin Donuts
  • Started Full Heart Hospitality
  • Teamed up with Jason Rose
  • Areas of consulting
  • Creative
  • Design concepts
  • Design products
  • Creating menus
  • Marketing
  • Operational
  • Strategy
  • Implementation
  • Why Matthew left the restaurant biz at the top of his game
  • Growing wasn’t fulfilling
  • Running a restaurant took a toll on health and family life
  • Doctor gave him a wake-up call
  • Recovering from being overworked
  • Moving
  • Creating a new community
  • Working from home
  • Belief that life can be about abundance, joy, and progress can all happen at the same time
  • Changes that can be made in the industry
  • What do guests want
  • Comfort food
  • Number of people in a restaurant
  • How to treat our teams
  • What systems to keep
  • The hard part is not having answers regarding the future of the virus
  • Information changes every day
  • How do you make decisions when things are constantly changing?
  • 30/60/90 strategy for planning
  • 30-day strategy aiming for small wins
  • Reflect and measure the results at the end of the 30days
  • Create a roadmap for 60 days then 90 days
  • Cut down overwhelm by breaking it down
  • We must remain flexible as things change
  • Not completely reinventing the business model just in case things change quickly again
  • Post-pandemic predictions
  • How are guests going to feel in a restaurant?
  • Restaurateurs responsibility to keep guests and staff safe
Transcript

Josh Kopel:
Today's episode is brought to you by Yelp, whose mission is to connect people with great local businesses. They're also hoping to connect with you, which is totally awesome. Now, here we go.

Matthew Jennings:
The whole process of notoriety and recognition for what you're doing is really only a mechanism by which to feed the next thing. And so, it's built on this false construct of, you have to do more to be more.

Josh Kopel:
Welcome to FULL COMP, a show offering insight into the future of the hospitality industry, featuring restaurateurs, thought leaders and innovators, served up on the house.

Josh Kopel:
On today's show, we chat with James Beard Award winning chef turned thought leader, Matthew Jennings, founder of Full Heart Hospitality.

Josh Kopel:
We're all shut down. The hamster wheel has stopped, and some of us are wondering if we have the energy, and more importantly, the desire to hop back on. Today we discuss the case for change with a man that did just that. Matthew Jennings walked away from his award winning restaurants, and all of the perks that come with being a celebrity chef, to follow his bliss. In a time of great change, we find the opportunity to lean in. We begin with Matt discussing the changes he's seeing already within the industry.

Matthew Jennings:
Now, I just talked to Gavin Kaysen, who is the chef and owner at a bunch of places in Minneapolis, and he's like, "The whole experience that we're used to delivering, from hosts greeting guests at the door and leading them to their table, walking past all these other people, stopping and having three or four members of the staff, multiple times a night, drop by a table, the touches, all of it, where is that going to be now?" And now it's like, on the opposite end of that spectrum, I talked to another chef locally here who's like, "These are the things I'm thinking about right now. When I box up this half chicken, do I care what it looks like when they open it? It's going to get jostled around in the car, depending on how far they're going." Those are the things that I'm thinking about right now.

Matthew Jennings:
It's like, what is the reveal look like when you open the box? It's just ...

Josh Kopel:
Oh, it's crazy. I mean, even getting into the fundamentals. I think a great example is, I used to tell people all the time, we strategically over booked a restaurant, because nobody wants to walk into a slow ass restaurant on a Saturday night at eight o'clock. You want to come in and you want to see a sea of people, because there's social proof there, validation that you made the right choice. And, are we pivoting into a culture where people go, "Oh, I went to Preux & Proper on Saturday night, there were 15 people in there, and I felt very safe?"

Matthew Jennings:
Yes, yes. Somebody else was talking about, and I think this is actually brilliant, the opportunity now that exists for guests, like making things as transparent as possible. Imagine in the experience of, now most of us being forced to go to a reservation system, where there's even more information taken about you as a guest, with the caveat that that information is going to be provided to other diners, because people are going to want to know, like, who's sitting around me, and ... And yet, that also creates this whole new opportunity for engagement, like being in a restaurant, being able to look at your reservation on your app and be like, "Oh, and here's some people that are going to be there. This person works for this thing. They do this. Oh, that's interesting."

Matthew Jennings:
You walk into the room and you feel an even better sense of connection to place and experience. So, there is some interesting opportunities in there, but, man, it's not pretty though. It's not. It's not the kind of restaurant world I want to live in. I know that.

Josh Kopel:
Well, Sam and I were talking about Pru, and he goes, "Just so you know, Josh, as we're going through the financials, trying to do some sort of strategic modeling," he goes, "it's just not going to be a restaurant in the traditional sense. It's not going to be the restaurant that it was." And I was like, "I know." That hits me so viscerally. We got into this because we're restaurateurs, and who knows what the pivot is, and then who knows, extrapolate that out six months, 12 months, 18 months, what is the expectation of the diner after? Once they get used to us pulling ourselves out of the experience, do they want us to come back in? Is dining out as experiential as it was before, or have we pivoted to this ...

Josh Kopel:
In Cornell University, they're talking about this third, a third, a third model, where it's a third bodega style grocery boxes and things like that, the third takeout and delivery, and then a third dine in. I don't know what your strategy was when you opened your restaurants, but my whole business model was, someone's going to get in their car, they're going to drive to the restaurant, they're going to sit there for an hour to an hour and a half, they're going to pay us money, and then they're going to leave. And that was it. That was the whole thing. I wonder how many people, especially considering that you have access to so many other restaurateurs, what's the overall consensus? Are people saying, "I don't want to get into the grocery game. I don't want to get into the takeout and delivery game. I just want to do what I set out to do."

Matthew Jennings:
Yes. Well, right now it's about survival. I mean, we just interviewed three different chef owners for the newsletter that we have going out here this week. One has pivoted to a full grocerant model. He's in San Francisco and he saw the foods flying off the shelves at the big block supermarkets, so he was like, "Let's do that." He's had, I mean, great success doing that, whatever that means. I think it's all relative as he's told me, but it goes from looking at it as a check average to now, what groceries called a basket average. So, it's a whole new way of looking at revenue.

Matthew Jennings:
We have another person we talked to who she's doing meal kits, or I should say, family meals and meat in three type situation for families. And then we have another couple in Pennsylvania that we talked to that has gone full blown mercantile, so soap and non-perishables, and all this crazy stuff. I mean, it's just madness. It's madness.

Josh Kopel:
You mentioned the newsletter, I want to dig into Full Heart Hospitality. Talk to me about how it started, the idea behind it, and what you guys are currently working on.

Matthew Jennings:
Well, it started because I was doing some side hustle consulting when I owned my restaurant in Boston, and it was picking up steam, and I was having a good amount of success with it. And I also had a couple of pretty interesting relationships that opened up because of the restaurant. One of my greatest regulars at the time was the former CMO for Dunkin' Donuts, and so he and I became buddies, and we started kicking some stuff around, and he knew I was a New England guy. So, the conversations about the brand heritage for Dunkin' ensued, and where they were at in this moment in time, and wanting to really improve their food and service and everything.

Matthew Jennings:
And so, we just kept in touch, and as things worked out, he said to me, "Well, do you want to help us shape what the future of Dunkin' Donuts looks like?" And I said, "I'd love to. I think it'd be a great opportunity." So I'd start doing a little bit of work for them, and then everything cascaded with my health situation and other variables, and then the restaurants. And so, as I decided to move away from full service and sell my restaurant to close, I ramped up the consultant. My goal in the beginning was ... I said to myself, "God, what do I love about hospitality?" And it's always that connection to people, it's creating experience, it's driving teams. It's that really hyper creative work. So how do I turn that into a job, basically.

Matthew Jennings:
And so, I started going out to more and more of those opportunities. I was designing concepts, I was creating menus, I was doing recipe R&D, marketing, social media, stuff like that. And then, I started to get some gravity doing those things on the East Coast. Simultaneously, my business partner, Jason Rose, who is an accomplished chef in his own right, and has had a pretty storied career in culinary, he's in San Francisco, and he had been running the Bi-Rite family businesses in San Francisco. He'd also done some amazing things throughout his career. He has been Tyler Florence's culinary director, he had been the culinary director for Dean & DeLuca, some pretty amazing things, but Bi-Rite was where he was at the time.

Matthew Jennings:
And he'd been there, I think, eight years, and he was just also feeling that push-pull about, what am I doing, what do I really want to be doing? How do I want to be spending my professional time? And so, he said, "Hey, what if I join you? What if I do West Coast hub, you do East Coast hub, and then we can collab on a bunch of stuff?" So luckily, we're in a situation where we had the traction for clients, and we had a good pipeline built up. So, I said, "Come on board." And he jumped ship and came on. So, that's how it all began. We realized quickly that, I think the pipe dream of wanting to be this esoteric creative agency based in culinary wasn't always what clients wanted.

Matthew Jennings:
Clients, they love that stuff, and there's definitely value in those things, but they also want that real hard data-driven, tangible work that they just don't have time to do. And a lot of that ends up being very operationally based. So, we agreed that Jason would handle the chunk of operational experience, and I would do the creative. And so, those two streams have always driven us from the guts of the business part of restaurants and food service establishments that isn't really sexy, which is the operation stuff, SOPs, and strategy, and implementation and all that, and then the really fun, creative, wild concepts creation and building, and all that.

Matthew Jennings:
So, we always have moved in tandem with those two things, and we've had an amazing breadth of clients, everything from small mom and pop operations, to multi billion dollar international corporations, doing everything from designing restaurants to working on products, consumer packaged goods. Right now, we're doing all this COVID work for operations to get operators ready with a new playbook for post-COVID success. So, there's a lot of different things that we do. It's been interesting, but it's had plenty of its challenges too.

Josh Kopel:
Well, I want to draw back to push forward. Just prior to creating the firm, you were an awarded, famous, well-to-do chef doing interviews here, and this there. You were by all metrics at the top of your game. Whatever people in this industry consider success, you had that. And you were like, "Not for me." And I think it puts you in a position of thought leadership, because it takes courage to do that. It takes courage to look at these worldly metrics and say, "I don't find fulfillment in this," or, "This isn't what I thought it was going to be." And choose something that more closely resonates with who you are as a person. Can you walk me through what led up to that thought process and all that, because, I assure you, so many of us find ourselves in the same position now?

Matthew Jennings:
Yes. It's interesting, and my greatest asset is also my greatest liability, and that is that I'm never satisfied. And I think that only within the last four or five years, I've been able to recognize what success means to me. I think that ... I've been cooking since I was 14, it's all I've ever done. I've been in kitchens from the first time I could have a summer job, right up until recently. And I've never left, because I love it, and I love so many pieces of the industry. And so, I think that, in that process, and in that trajectory of becoming a chef, I think I got lost. The industry is insidious in that ... And you know this, is that it creates these monsters by which the whole process of notoriety and recognition for what you're doing is really only a mechanism by which to feed the next thing.

Matthew Jennings:
And so, it's built on this false construct of, you have to do more to be more. And I think that was something that I couldn't recognize at the time, because I was so deep in it, and when you're that deep in, and when you have one location and then two locations, and then you grow from your small little mom and pop empire in a second tier city, like I did, to say, "Oh, now we've got this opportunity to go to the big time and move up to a major metropolitan area, blow the concept out, and do four times as many seats, and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and ..." You get caught up in all that shit. I'm not saying that it wasn't my fault for going through a lot of that process, I was certainly in the driver's seat, but I think that you don't necessarily have the ability to even see the road, just because there's so much incoming constantly.

Matthew Jennings:
And you find yourself wanting to deliver on what's expected of you. And that's delivering to your guests, it's delivering to your team, it's delivering to your investors, it's delivering to anybody who is in the pool with you. And so, in that process, I think it's hard to be objective, and to look from the outside in, and I totally lost that ability. And so, I think, the thing that brought me back to level set was 2015, my restaurant was about a year and a half in. Or maybe it's 2016. So, I was just about two years into the restaurant. I was working a lot, I was doing the crazy days like everybody does, 14, 15, 17 hour days, six, seven days a week. I didn't see my kids, so I was not being a good husband, I was not being a good father, for sure.

Matthew Jennings:
And I was taking substances, and I was drinking, and not sleeping, and doing all of the things, all of the quintessential chef pitfalls. I was falling into all of them. And so, in that process, I just had a couple instances where I had to have some coming to God moments, and I told you one of those stories, and I'm happy to tell it again, but a couple of moments that really brought me back to ground zero and made me recognize that I was chasing demons, and I wasn't necessarily chasing what real [inaudible 00:17:44] was for me. And so, I had to take a break. I had to get well, and mentally, I was in a bad place. I had this anxiety disorder.

Matthew Jennings:
I mean, I would literally, in the middle of service, have a panic attack when the board was full of tickets, and I'd have to go into the walk-in freezer to literally chill out. And I remember tying ... I would make long strands of plastic wrap, and I would literally wrap them around my waist, and around the metro shelf in the freezer, so that I wouldn't want to get out, because I had to just chill the fuck out, and I had to like calm down. And my only way of doing that, the only space I had in the whole restaurant to be to myself was in the freezer. So, I just remember these moments of just being like, "Why am I doing this? If I'm doing all this and our restaurant's just breaking even, what's the point?"

Matthew Jennings:
I had a few moments like that and others, and I had to just slam the brakes on and get right. So my priority list shifted. My priority list shifted. My doctor said to me, "You've got these anxiety issues. You've pretty high blood pressure, pretty diabetic, you're 400 pounds, you've got some light substance issues here. You have the choice to either reel this in and correct course, or not. And if you don't, you're probably going to die." It was the first person that had really gone out of their way to give me a reality check. And so, I took that as fuel, and I said, "Okay, you're right. I've known this." And so my priority list changed, and one of those priorities was, at least at that point, temporarily, getting out of the restaurant business.

Matthew Jennings:
So, I sold my restaurant and shutted it up, and started leaning into the consulting really hard.

Josh Kopel:
Well, there were a lot of choices made there, right? You also moved.

Matthew Jennings:
Yes. So, that didn't happen until a little bit later. So, once Full Heart was off and running, and we had clients at both coasts, and we had income, and we're doing some really interesting projects, and getting some traction and feeling good, I took my first breath, because, as you know, starting any business, whether it's in food service or consulting, or whatever it is, it's a big lift. And so, even just getting Full Heart off the ground to the point where it felt stable enough for me to look at it from the outside, it was almost a year. So, at that point then, I was able to sit back and say, "Here we are, we've created this new thing. I don't have a restaurant. We're not tied to Boston." We love it, it will always be our home. I'm very proud to be from there, but my wife was from Southern Vermont. We had always talked about coming back.

Matthew Jennings:
In fact, throughout my career, any chance or opportunity I had to get to Vermont, I would. I went to culinary school up here for a number of years, and always found a really deep connection with Vermont. And, I don't know if that ... Maybe it's ironic or serendipitous, is a better word, that I married a girl from Vermont, but there's a reason there, I'm sure, cosmically, for some some reason. And so, we looked at each other and we're like, "Let's do it." I actually was pushing harder than Kate was. She had a very strong community in the Boston area and her whole family's there, but I was like, "Let's go, let's go, let's go." And so, I eventually won her over after a number of visits up here, and we also have some dear friends that had moved here just about a couple of years prior to us. So we had some community already here a little bit.

Matthew Jennings:
And so, we found this amazing piece of property, and this great little community, just south of Burlington. And things just started to fall into place. The real estate market was right in Boston at the time. It was peak. And, we found this cute old house had been sitting empty for a few years, and just everything is worked out. So, changing place was ... I think also, honestly, for me, it was important mentally, to be afforded the luxury to now work from home, and to also pick myself up and put myself in a new community. There was something about that experiment in that journey that was really motivating and fulfilling for me. And I knew that we'd get a lot out of that process as hard as it be. So now we've been here ... Will be a year in July living here in the Green Mountains State.

Josh Kopel:
The reason I bring it up is because, you've just done such a great job of making very specific decisions within your life, and I find that to be very inspiring, because I've always fancied myself the same kind of guy, and then the pandemic hit, and I realized that I was on the same train that you're talking about, that we had a bar that did really well. And then we opened a fine dining restaurant, and I signed a lease for rent that's $21,000 a month, and then you've got to fill that space so that you can pay that rent. And then we had the idea that, "Oh, we could expand into fast casual, and then we'll do a fried chicken joint and ..." And I wonder how much of that I was in control of, and how much I was just, again, feeding the monster.

Josh Kopel:
And I find it so inspiring to see that you do take that time to take a step back and say, "What do I want from my life? What's best for me?" Because I think a lot of people are doing that right now. But it's worked out really well for you, so I find it really inspiring.

Matthew Jennings:
Well, thanks. I mean, I think the break in the clouds with my health changed everything, for me, changed everything for me. I mean, I literally remember when I went through some of the process of reclaiming my health. I remember having a moment, lying in bed, and looking up at the ceiling one morning before I put my feet on the ground, and saying to myself, "I literally have another chance. I literally have a second chance right now to do whatever the fuck I want, to be whoever I want to be." Who can say that? Who can say that? And to squander that opportunity would have been the most selfish thing ever, because I had my family who was relying on me, my kids and my wife, to make the right choices, and I could have very easily said, "You know what? No, let's go, let's open another restaurant. Let's do this. Let's keep grinding, let's go after the award. Let's get the next article, let's get the next cover of whatever," and that would have been a real shame.

Matthew Jennings:
And I think, I never was able to think about things that way until I started getting my health back. And I think that it hasn't stopped. I mean, for whatever it's worth, I truly believe and I never have felt this way before, but I truly believe that life can be about abundance, and joy, and progress, all simultaneously. You just have to figure out how to manifest that for yourself. And it looks different for everybody. It looks different for everybody. And my decisions are not going to be the decisions that you make or can make, or vice versa, but when you realize the amount of control that you have, and being aware of your surroundings and the strong relationships that exist in your life, and the amount of time that you have on this planet to contribute to them, and to your community, and to yourself in a way that's meaningful, why wouldn't you take advantage of that?

Matthew Jennings:
And so, I didn't think about it in any of that shape before. It was all about me, for real. It was a total ego trip. I will tell you 100%, I think there's a lot of ego in this business. There's a lot of ego in this business. And a lot of it goes, I think, even without people recognizing that they're injecting their ego into their projects. They do it unknowingly. I was one of those people. And I think now, to be on the outside in a sense of the world, of my little micro world of hospitality and food and beverage looking in, I'm just like, "Wow." It's really interesting to me, because it's still my people, it's still my community, I still believe in that most poignant piece of this business, which is providing a connection for people. That's where I have been brought up on, is that, that's what my whole career is about, is connecting with other human beings, but food was just a vehicle.

Matthew Jennings:
Restaurants and culinary, it was just the vehicle by which I was able to have those relationships with people. But then, once I got outside of the restaurant, I realized that shit's possible anywhere. All around us, in all dimensions, you can create those types of relationships. And so, then I just started to ... That just blew my mind, and I just started to say, "How do I get more of that?" I became voracious for developing quality relationships and what I would consider my own productivity.

Josh Kopel:
You've also functioned as an agent of change, both individually, through your work, like we talked about recently with food and wine, and then also through Full Heart Hospitality. Foundationally, what agenda are you pushing forward? What changes do you want to see within the industry?

Matthew Jennings:
Well, I mean, I say all of this stuff to you recognizing and wanting to make sure that I'm clear that I still don't have all the answers, and I think that's part of this. I by no means profess to have answers for everyone. There's days I do don't even have them for myself. I'm still fumbling my way through a lot of things, but I will say that, this is an incredible opportunity right now that I think this industry has, this forced introspection that we can have on what we're doing, how we're operating, how we're treating our teams, what the systems look like, by which we serve guests, what guests want, really digging down on what people want, and how to deliver to that.

Matthew Jennings:
I've heard so many people these last few weeks talk about comfort food again. That's my fucking jam. I've been doing comfort foods since I was 16, and people dogged me for it for years. I had cooks that would come and work for me, who would then go and work at Noma, and then they'd come back, and there was a respect for me, but at the same time, it was like, "Oh, you do such simple food, chef." The kind of underhanded dog. And, that's fine, it's all good. It doesn't bother me. None of that stuff bothers me, but I feel like it's amazing now for people, like chefs of these crazy calibers that I talked to, who are like, "I'm focusing this week on getting out this really great roast chicken and potatoes dish. I'm doing potatoes the way my grandmother used to do them, where we double fry them, and ..." And I'm just like, "Yep," because that's what people want. That is what people want, and that they've always wanted some degree of that, but now it's just magnified.

Matthew Jennings:
So I think right now we have an opportunity to really think about who we are and what we're doing, and to improve on those systems, and the way in which we deliver the product and the experience. I think the hard part is that we still don't have any answers about this awful disease, and it's just still changing. I mean, you saw yesterday, there's now this thing about kids getting these side effects from COVID that nobody understands. And so, every day we wake up and the information changes from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and as an operator, how do you make the decisions for your business in that environment when the information is constantly changing? So I think right now, instead of these overarching lofty goals for the hospitality industry, I'm telling people to focus on what I'm calling the 30 to, 60, 90.

Matthew Jennings:
So, the 30, 60, 90 is basically just for you, for your business, for your specific finite set of circumstances that you have right now. What is your 30 day strategy look like? How can you get some small wins within a 30 day period and capitalize on those wins? And then, at the end of the month, look back, see what worked, dissect it constantly. I'm a huge note guy. I've got notepads everywhere, and notebooks everywhere. I'm just like a psychopath for keeping record. So, I think that feeds into this, measure what you're doing constantly, measure what you're doing. So get to the end of your 30 days, look back, see what's worked, document it, and then use that to create the roadmap for 60 and then for 90, and just go slow, and be methodical about what that process looks like.

Matthew Jennings:
So, I think that people are really overwhelmed right now, and the last thing they need is like, "Here's the manifesto for what it needs to look like when your state ban is lifted on non-essential businesses," and instead, break it down. So, that's what we're trying to do, that's how we're trying to coach people right now. We've got a few people that are having some great success with that, and I think that for right now, that's the best we can do, is just moderate term strategies until we really have more learnings from the science community as to what this thing looks like. My biggest fear is that we're going to get into this thing, and people will be allowed to reopen, and they'll reinvest, and they'll take out some new capital expenditures for their locations, maybe even take on some loans that they don't need. I mean, nobody needs that extra debt service right on top of what currently exists.

Matthew Jennings:
And they invest it into their business to get reopened, and then when we get hit again in October with this crazy wave of illness, where's that going to leave people? So, I think the key, or the beauty, I should say, maybe of that 30, 60, 90 concept is, you're making enough changes that you're seeing some controllable success, but you're not completely reinventing yourself, because, at some point, if that looming cloud of more illnesses begins to roll in over the valley, you can go back to what you were doing, and be reactionary. So, it's about being proactive, I think in ... It's a crazy time. It's a crazy time out there.

Josh Kopel:
Well, what do you think it looks like in 18 months, post-vaccine, post-pandemic? Does it go back to the way it was before? Do you want to see it go back to the way it was before?

Matthew Jennings:
I want people to feel comfortable. I want guests to feel comfortable. And I think that's the part that is the great unknown. I think that's more unknown than any part of this whole disease, is the human element. How are people going to feel walking into a restaurant and sitting down at an area of cramped two tops next to people they don't know? We just don't know yet, and we don't know how long that's going to take. There can be some major fucking scar tissue there for a while. And so, I would love to think that people will feel comfortable, and yet, I think we as operators also have a responsibility, more than anything, to make sure that things are safe. Transparency is more important than it's ever been. So, how do we create these new relationships with guests that are totally based on transparency, and bringing them in more than we ever have to understand why we're making the decisions we are, why my staff is wearing masks, why we've gone to disposable menus, why we're taking your temperature at the door?

Matthew Jennings:
All these sorts of things are going to have to be communicated really thoughtfully. And I hope that actually some of that doesn't go away, because I think that actually frees us up to have, again, those better relationships. And I think guests will want that, and expect some level of that. So, that part of it is, I think, something that we just don't have enough learning on yet. This one guy I talked to in San Francisco who has changed his restaurant to a grocery model, and he's buying bulk foods, he's buying 50 pound bags of flour, and his staff's breaking it down into five pound bags, and they're buying beans and canned sauces, and all this stuff you would never normally buy. He had something really interesting to say to me that has resonated, which is the people that ...

Matthew Jennings:
There's something huge about being a place right now, where people feel comfortable enough to go to, because if they're leaving their house at all, there may be only going out once or twice a week to pick up food from a restaurant or from another establishment or something, or maybe to go shopping for food or whatever the case may be. So, developing that relationship with the guests right now, where they're trusting you to come into your place, and understanding that your business model isn't completely changed, there's some real power in that. And so, the big fear in me, I think, is, the consumers are going to forget. We as human beings have this thing where we just forget, we go back to normal, and I would hate to get to the point where, all this stuff that now we've spent evaluating, and all these moments even like this, where we can have these conversations about how do we get better, how do we shape shift and turn into something that was even better than before, it washes away once the vaccine comes out.

Matthew Jennings:
So, I don't know. Yes, I want to get back to normal, or I want to get back to a comfort level with guests and staff, but I also want to be super vigilant about making sure that things are safe. And I think that's on us as operators, that's our responsibility.

Josh Kopel:
And we could probably talk all day about how restaurants, restaurateurs, restaurant operators will change post-COVID, but I also want to talk about customers and how they'll change, because ... And maybe this is a bearish view, but I would think that, either they're going to need to set the expectation that they will pay more moving forward, or they will expect less, because, I can't imagine anyone's interested in going back to the margins that we were used to.

Matthew Jennings:
Well, it's an awesome point, and I think that that's another ... Even if it's just a thin line, this thin veneer of opportunity in this whole mess, it's another piece of it, which is, we now have this chance to create this window for the guests to look in and see that this is a hard business. This is really hard. These margins are thinner than razor thin. And now, given the world of global affairs, it's even worse than it was before. They need to understand how much food costs, they need to understand how it's a challenge to figure out the tipping system, they need to figure out, or they need to understand all of these auxiliary businesses that are supported by restaurants, those tertiary businesses that feed into the restaurant community, whether you're a linen supplier, or a farmer, or a butcher, or a fishmonger, or whatever.

Matthew Jennings:
I don't think the guest has ever made those ... I shouldn't say any guest, but very few guests make those direct connections. Right now, we have an opportunity to show them all the shit, all the guts, come on in, come see the shit show, and you'll understand now when you come back as a consumer, hopefully a little bit better, and you'll understand why I'm going to demand the reservation, and you're going to understand why I'm going to take a non-refundable deposit on your event, and you're going to understand why I don't do third app or third party app delivery, because I have the revenue share with them, and it's just not a profitable model for me. All of those conversations are now right there on the table. So, that's good. That's good. We have that to our benefit right now.

Josh Kopel:
I wouldn't even blame the consumer for that, because the reality is, even within the industry itself, we've never had conversations like we're having today. We've never been so open and so honest. I always tell the story; one of the neighboring restaurants, I was walking into the bank, and I saw the owner a couple of years ago of this other restaurant. I was like, "Hey, man, how's it going?" And he's like, "Oh, things are really good." And I was like, "Really? Because sales are down for me this month, and they were last month too. So, it's very interesting that they were really good for you." He said, "Oh, no, man. Things are great." And he closed two weeks later, closed up shop for good, because nobody was talking about the issue.

Matthew Jennings:
I mean, the amount of chest puffing that goes on in the business is unprecedented, I think, on any level in any other business. But, I mean, it makes sense. It's because it's a fucking horrible business model. [inaudible 00:41:13] So, everybody is out to act as though they're doing better than they are. I mean, I think there's a little bit of evolutionary wisdom in there, but, I think you're absolutely right. And I think the greatest opportunity, maybe, in what you're talking about, is this opportunity for collaboration. And, I've always been somebody who has always believed that the better minds we get around the table and talk about these things, the better off we all are. I think that concept is timely right now. We have a chance now, nobody's in their fucking restaurant. Well, very few of us are in their restaurants.

Matthew Jennings:
So, use this time to create alliances, and to reach out to people, and to call that friend of yours down the street that you know is having a harder time than you, and to start to think about how you can collectively shape the future. Here in Vermont, there's actually an amazing coalition of about 150 food service establishments that have started a group called Vermont for Hospitality, and they're on Facebook. And, you go on there ... I'm not even on Facebook anymore, I got off years ago, but I go on through Full Heart's channel. And I read some of these posts, and it's just beautiful to watch the flow of information now between different organizations and different ownerships, and people who maybe were a little guarded before, or who would withhold information.

Matthew Jennings:
So, I think it's a great opportunity, you're absolutely right.

Josh Kopel:
Do you have any last thoughts for the industry at large? You have a big audience.

Matthew Jennings:
I think we all need to be patient. I think we all need to be patient. I think we need to be patient with ourselves. I know that this is not easy for people. I know that people, operators and owners, and those who are in managerial positions have those instances where they second guess themselves. I think that's totally normal. I think we need to tap into our humanity, and really think about not every decision that you make is going to be a win, and that's okay. I think that we need to afford ourselves, right now, that opportunity to stay nimble enough that we can tweak things and change things as information changes, and know that in that process of remaining nimble and dancing throughout these next few months, that you may find some parts of your business that you really like and you want to keep around. This thing you mentioned about a third, a third, a third from Cornell business, I think it's smart, and I think that it's not going to go away.

Matthew Jennings:
I think the guests wanting to come and pick up food to either cook at home themselves that may be ingredients that come from your restaurant that's inspired by your menu, or these meal kit situations, or the grab and go, or the CPG, or whatever it is, I think that's not going anywhere. So, maybe that's something you play around with, and you can experiment with now. You have this opportunity time right now to have some failures and have it be okay. So, it's a good time to feel creative and to get those creative juices flowing to see what might be possible, and that you might want to keep as a permanent part of your business, long term.

Matthew Jennings:
I also encourage people to really touch base with each other. I think that collaboration concept we're talking about, we are in such a moment right now, just forgetting restaurants for a moment, as a human race where we have a chance to get on your bike and ride down the street and check in with your older neighbor, to go pack up some bread that you made at home and go drop it off at the doorstep of a nursing home, whatever the case may be. I feel like we have these chances right now to do some real good. And I've seen some organizations that are doing some amazing things. There's another restaurant group I talked to the other day, they were able to work with one of their vendors to get eggs at a heavy, heavy discount, and because of that, they then offered that discount effectively to their guests.

Matthew Jennings:
And with that discount that was provided to them, they turned around and then used that to buy more eggs. And those eggs that they purchased, they donated to a local food pantry. And they were able to sell or purchase, I should say, 14,000 eggs in two days to push out to their local food pantries. And, I mean, those stories don't come along every day. And so, we've got an incredible opportunity as operators right now, to be creative, to be engaged, to work with our teams to come up with some really collaborative, interesting new paths forward, and to try a bunch of shit. And to just put one foot in front of the other. I think we need to skew the idea of being overwhelmed by the catastrophe of this thing, and instead, get inspired by the possibility that we have in these next 30, 60, 90, 120 days, bit by bit.

Josh Kopel:
That's Matthew Jennings. For more on his consulting work, go to fullhearthospitality.com, or follow him on Instagram @matthewjennings.

Josh Kopel:
If you want to tell us your story here, previous episodes, check out our video content or read our weekly blog. Go to joshkopel.com. That's J-O-S-H-K-O-P-E-L.com. Thank you so much for listening to the show. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're there, please leave us a review. A special thanks to Yelp for helping us spread the word to the whole hospitality community. I'm Josh Kopel. You've been listening to FULL COMP.