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The Berkshire Company Blog

The World's Slowest Cook

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 4, 2022 4:00:00 AM

Growing up, Sunday morning breakfasts were always special. Whoever woke up first – usually my mother – would fry up bacon in a cast iron skillet. Using the grease from the bacon, we would fry up our eggs in the same skillet. (I said the breakfasts were special, not healthy.)

Getting the chance to make breakfast was a rite of passage. One Sunday, I woke up early, and went down to the kitchen before anyone else. Excited, I heated up the skillet, got the bacon out of the refrigerator, and started cooking. A few minutes later, my mother came downstairs, gave me an amused smile, and asked if the coffee was ready. In my rush, I forgot about the coffee. So I lowered the heat on the bacon, and fired up the coffeemaker.

Soon, my father walked in, and reminded me how he liked his eggs cooked. He poured himself a cup of coffee, went into the dining room, and opened the newspaper. I turned up the heat on the bacon, and cooked enough for all my brothers and sisters. Before the bacon was done, I heard my father ask, "Are those eggs done yet?"

When I finally did get to his eggs, I made sure they were done just right. I put the eggs on a plate with some bacon and toast, and proudly placed them in front of my father. He looked up from his paper and said, "You've got to be the slowest cook in the world."

A bit defensive, I said that food cooked at the same speed for everyone. He countered that the diner near the post office cooked faster than me. My father would place his order when he walked in, and his eggs, bacon, toast and homefries would be at his regular seat at the counter before he got his coat off. And that certainly didn't take 10 minutes.

For years, I dismissed my father's story as an exaggeration. Nobody could cook that fast. But one semester in college, I was a third-shift waiter at the local Howard Johnson's restaurant. My second week there, the cook quit. The manager convinced me to take the job. My father was certain that all the customers would starve to death.

I struggled for the first few weeks. It was difficult to keep track of all the orders. And it was difficult to cook the food so it tasted good and looked good. At the end of the shift, I spent another hour finishing my extra duties – preparing eggs and potatoes for the next shift, restocking the supplies, and cleaning the kitchen.

But with some coaching from my manager and the other cooks, I soon developed the techniques needed to be successful. I knew I had the routine down when I was able to cook a customer's breakfast before the waitress had time to write up the order. I was no longer "the world's slowest cook."

Most people never get the opportunity to work in a restaurant. It's one industry where you can be assured of immediate customer feedback on production quality and service. A short-order cook is always managing multiple priorities and filling different roles. There are 5 techniques of a successful cook that apply to many business situations.

Technique #1– Use the right tools for the job.  At the restaurant, I had special cooking forks and spatulas. I also had a four-burner stove, a commercial toaster, and a large griddle with adjustable heat zones. I could keep extra bacon and homefries simmering on the low heat area of the griddle, with plenty of room for eggs and pancakes on the high heat area. Do you and your employees have the right tools to get the job done right and on time, or are you trying to cook bacon and eggs in the same small skillet?

Technique #2 – Clean as you go.  A clean work area improves productivity. I learned to constantly wipe down the cooking areas. Spills were cleaned when they happened. Used pots and pans were moved to the dishwasher as soon as possible. The end-of-the-shift cleaning went quickly because the kitchen was already neat and orderly. What does your work area look like?

Technique #3 – Use downtime for "prep work".  A lull in the orders didn't mean it was time for a break. There were always potatoes to be diced, egg batter to be prepared and supplies to be restocked. We kept a list of tasks posted and checked them off as they were completed. You always knew what needed to be done during a break in the action. Are you using your downtime to prepare for the future?

Technique #4 – Know your regular customers. Every morning, between 5:30 and 6:00, two guys would meet at the restaurant for breakfast. One would order oatmeal with dry wheat toast, and the other would have eggs over easy, bacon, homefries and an English muffin. I learned to watch the parking lot, and start their breakfasts when I saw their cars pull in. Their food would be ready before they reached their seats. Do you know your customers well enough to anticipate their requests?

Technique #5 – Learn from the veteran cooks. My success at the restaurant – and the rest of my life – was possible because of help from more experienced people. The other cooks taught me how a good cook works. If I was willing to learn, they were willing to teach. Do you actively seek help from people with more experience?

The next time you go to your favorite diner, sit at the counter and watch the cook work. And learn.

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Operations Management / Leadership / learning / success / mentorship

I Need to Read More Books

Posted by Mark Fallon on Feb 2, 2022 4:00:00 AM

What I bought on my summer vacation last year.

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Strategy / Leadership / The Berkshire Company / books / reading

The Self-Inflicted Troubles of the Postmaster General

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 10, 2020 4:00:00 AM

It’s been eight weeks since Mr. Louis DeJoy began his service as the 75th Postmaster General (PMG) of the United States and Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service (USPS). In that short period of time, he’s done something his recent predecessors could not – have the Congress and the Press shine a spotlight on the USPS.

However, the coverage is around 99.76% negative.

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United States Postal Service / USPS / U.S. Postal Service / Leadership / Vote by mail / Postmaster General

Postmaster General DeJoy Should Know Silence Isn’t Golden

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jul 20, 2020 1:17:52 PM

Last month, Mr. Louis DeJoy began his service as the 75th Postmaster General (PMG) of the United States and Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service (USPS). On his first day in office, PMG DeJoy released a video praising USPS employees and recognizing outgoing PMG Megan Brennan. It was an upbeat message that was received well by employees and customers alike.

There have been no public statements by PMG DeJoy since then. Just silence.

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United States Postal Service / USPS / U.S. Postal Service / Postage Rates / Leadership / Postal Regulatory Commission / Postmaster General

When Backup Plans Need Backup Plans

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 23, 2020 4:30:00 AM

On Sunday, I received an email from a client concerned about his disaster recovery plans. In the first line of his message, he acknowledged it was the weekend and added, “Unfortunately my brain won’t allow me to take too much time off!”

We then exchanged some emails and texts, with plans for a call on Monday morning to review his options. I know he didn’t want to bother me on a Sunday, but he had to start working on the problem as soon as possible.

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Mail Security / Strategy / Leadership / mail / disaster recovery / business continuity

Huddle Up!

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 2, 2019 6:30:32 AM

Before every play, a football team forms a huddle to call the next plan of action. In the best teams, players give feedback about what they’re seeing on the field, so the quarterback has the best information possible to make the right decision. When they break, everyone knows the objective, and their role in helping achieve that objective.

In businesses, teams should follow a similar pattern. At the start of each day, or shift, everyone on the team should come together for a briefing. We call this “the daily huddle”. It works for all types of organizations, and is especially helpful for print and mail operations.

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Operations Management / Leadership / mail / print

The Clock is Ticking for the US Postal Service

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 17, 2019 5:00:00 PM

There wasn’t a lot of good news for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) last week. The proposed rates for 2020 have been returned from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the losses for the last fiscal year were higher than expected, and the search for the next Postmaster General (PMG) is formally announced amidst uncertainty.

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United States Postal Service / USPS / U.S. Postal Service / Postal Reform / Leadership / Postal Regulatory Commission

The First Postal Rate Change for 2020

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 4, 2019 9:27:47 AM

On October 9, 2019, the United States Postal Service (USPS) filed R2020-1: Notice of Market-Dominant Price Change. The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) will now review the rates to ensure they’re in compliance with the relevant statutes. The expected implementation of the new rates is on January 26, 2020.

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United States Postal Service / USPS / U.S. Postal Service / Postal Reform / Postage Rates / Leadership / mail / Postal Regulatory Commission

The USPS has a Board of Governors – Now What?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 6, 2019 7:37:23 AM

On Thursday, August 1, 2019, the Senate approved three more nominees to the US Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors (Board). John Barger, Ron Bloom and Roman Martinez IV bring the total number of appointed governors to 5, meaning that the Board now has a quorum for the first time in almost 5 years.



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United States Postal Service / USPS / U.S. Postal Service / Leadership

Postal Reform: Nothing Will Come of Nothing

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 8, 2019 7:40:38 AM

Any hopes of meaningful legislative reform in this Congress disappeared while watching the Senate hearing on the Presidential Task Force on the United States Postal System. Then the outlook got dimmer during the confirmation hearings for the President’s latest nominees to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors.

Throughout the hearings, the senators’ lack of knowledge about the USPS was on full display. Members confused ratepayers with taxpayers, claimed losses on systems that were making money, and repeatedly admitted they wish they had more information. They do have staffs that could do research, but that would take real commitment to solving the problems. A cynic might think that our senators are intentionally doing nothing to manufacture a crisis.

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United States Postal Service / USPS / Postal Reform / Leadership