May 18, 2023

One of the leadership positions I had early in my career was at Golden Corral. The hot food section was a large U-shaped feature with a grill in the middle, which featured all-you-could-eat sirloin steak and was the most advertised part of the experience. It was the first thing customers saw when paying for their meal, and every person walked past it on their way to their seat past the salad and dessert bars. Hopefully, you can picture the beautiful carrot cakes, fresh salads, and juicy steaks as we dive into this week's thoughts on buffets.

The single biggest risk in a buffet restaurant is food cost. It's a delicate balance to provide a high-value family dining experience while managing the cost of unlimited food at a fair price. Considering that a sirloin, side, and salad at a steakhouse can cost around $15, while at Golden Corral it's less than that, it's a wonder they stay in business. That's why in a well-run buffet restaurant, nothing is accidental. The plates are positioned to start customers on the outside and encourage them to work their way in. Along the way, they pass fresh, brightly colored salads, fluffy mashed potatoes, and golden fried okra. The foods are arranged in an order that makes sense, with ketchup-glazed meatloaf and crispy fried chicken surrounding the mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, and green beans. The vegetables and starches are piled high and refreshed every 15 minutes or so to ensure they look amazing. As customers make their way to the steak, their eyes and stomachs tell them that they want a little bourbon street chicken and that it makes sense to put that on a little rice that's conveniently located next to it. By the time they make it past the salads, fruits, other proteins, starches, and vegetables, they realize there's barely any room for steak on their plate (if any). They make it through that plate and think they'll get some steak now, but as they're walking past the dessert bar, they remember that they want to save some room for the steaming peach cobbler topped with ice cream. So, they either skip the steak or get just a little. In the end, they leave filled with all they can take, ready for a nap, and never regret that they had everything other than steak.

I think our business is a lot like a buffet. As our CEO, Wes is the face of our company, and he's constantly in demand with everyone wanting a piece of his time. Like the steak at the buffet, if that's all people took, the business would fall apart. Like the buffet, it takes the entire team to create a sustainable experience that our customers are thankful they chose. Ranch and peach cobbler are both great, but they can't do the same thing. Piling ice cream on ranch dressing sounds terrible! When you consider that each of our positions line up with the foods on the buffet, you realize that while different, when they work together in the right order, it becomes amazing. For instance, we have a customer care team that is completely focused on ensuring that our customers' billing is as painless as possible. Like a meal, it doesn't mean that our customers shouldn't expect to get great contributions from every single person on our team along the way; it just means, like ice cream, their job is to ensure that it ends sweetly. Like the dessert, salad, and hot food bars at the buffet, we are spread across different areas with different functions. (Bear with me through this analogy.) Just because the mac & cheese doesn't visit the cookies doesn't mean that either is less important. It also isn't bad that some customers put more emphasis on one over the other. Both are expertly placed and can trust in each other’s ability to do their part when called upon without needing approval from the other. The variety of expertise trusting each other and working together is what makes our business great.

When I consider my spot on the buffet, I’d like to think that I’m seasoning. Not the most important part of any dish, but hopefully enable each dish to be a little better. That leads me to this week’s challenge. Take a minute to consider your spot on the buffet. Take a moment to appreciate the value of your contribution and be intentional about trusting, encouraging, and enabling others in their part as well.

I’m thankful that you were willing to go to work today, that you took the time to read this, and for being a part of what makes Ag Partners the world’s greatest cooperative! 

Have an amazing day!