The last chapter in my book “Beyond Price” focuses on culture change as a key mechanism for realizing the growth potential of new business models. Business model specialist Patrick Stahler also emphasizes values and the culture they create. Chicago-area’s Tasty Catering provides an excellent demonstration of our arguments.
Tasty Catering has an ambitious goal: being one of the best-known and most highly regarded companies in their industry. The Chicago-based company, which employs over 70 full-time and 150 part-time seasonal workers, is well on its way to realizing that vision. Inc. Magazine Best Top Workplaces, Wall Street Journal Best Small Workplaces, and Catering Magazine awards, among others, cover one wall.
The secret of Tasty Catering’s success lies in the company’s culture of individual excellence and initiative, aligned around a shared aim of customer delight.
Sound business practices with a customer focus
Brothers Tom, Kevin and Larry Walter, who own the business, have created a culture that allows staff to deliver on promises and build customer trust at every stage. Employees have authority to make decisions on the spot (e.g., a delivery driver can provide a customer rebate if a delivery was delayed), as long as the return-on-investment of that decision can be explained. Sales personnel write customer contracts without home-office approval. An open-book policy ensures everyone understands how individual decisions link back to the company’s financial success.
Attention to detail with the aim of delighting clients and their guests shapes everyone’s approach to his or her job. During an open-invitation lunch I attended, a customer raved about the cookies. Five minutes later, a pastry chef appeared with the recipe.
Information systems and business processes help the company’s operations run smoothly. Every customer must confirm his or her exact order, a step that creates a two-page checklist for cooking, packing and delivery; a responsible employee must sign off after each step. Schedulers know which drivers and trucks can best handle loads of varying sizes.
This attention to detail also helps the bottom line. Records of each dish’s labor and food costs and the amount of food consumed (and left behind) create a detailed, accurate cost basis for estimating pricing. The information also enables Tasty to purchase high-quality ingredients while selling meals at competitive prices.
Creating a hard-to-copy culture
Like many business families, the Walters learned about company culture the hard way when revenue growth sputtered to a growth stop in 2006.
“The brothers’ daily moods were affecting how we were supposed to do our work,” recalls Tim, Tom’s son. “One day it was OK for us as employees to make a decision and the next day one brother would insist it was his decision.”
To break this cycle, the three brothers created a vision and, with help from a cross section of employees, developed a culture statement about the values needed to enable Tasty Catering to consistently achieve that vision. Today the values are posted on large signs in every work area.
Tasty Catering Core Values
* Always moral, ethical and legal
* Treat others with respect
* Quality in everything we do
* High service standards
* Competitiveness, a strong determination to be the best
* An enduring culture of individual discipline
* Freedom and responsibility within the culture of discipline
These values themselves are not new. The twist was the brothers’ decision to hold themselves and everyone else accountable to those values. For example, Larry fired a newly hired renowned chef, at the cost of an expensive severance package, because the chef had repeatedly insulted some kitchen workers, violating the core value “Treat others with respect.” Tom changed his title from CEO to Chief Culture Officer.
Individual excellence and team effort
How can a culture that encourages individual responsibility and team competitiveness avoid the silo mentality that undermines so many other companies’ performance?
Tasty Catering’s core values of “quality in everything we do” and “high service standards” keep all employees pointing in the same direction. A team critique (called “Autopsies Without Blame”) of every special event, no matter how successful, identifies areas for improvement.
In addition to sharing core values, employees are also encouraged to understand each other’s roles. Sales professionals ride with drivers, and delivery employees share lunch every Tuesday with visiting customers, enabling new drivers to observe how meals are presented and learn best setup practices.
With culture as its differentiator, the company has a winning value promise that competitors cannot easily copy. “Some days it would be so easy to just take a shortcut and fix a problem in a way not consistent with our promises,” Larry Walter says. “But when you’re on stage, you just can’t do that. It’s that simple.”