Mailbag! – Your Questions Answered

Mailbag! – Your Questions Answered

[Music]

Mike Peacock: Hello, all you beautiful people. Welcome back to another delicious episode of Cosmic Soup. I’m so glad to have you on board. Today, my friends, we are finally going to deliver on what we’ve been promising for the last few months. Yes, it’s finally here, the first-ever, fabled, long-awaited, almost legendary mailbag episode.

That’s right. Today, Cynthia, Shawn, and I are going to answer the burning questions that you, the listeners, submitted to our now famous email, [email protected] I’m super excited to finally bring you the first of what will no doubt be many of these listener-driven episodes. Grab yourself a delicious beverage and let’s get this going.

Well, hello, Cynthia. Hello, Shawn. It’s been so long since we’ve all been in the same room together. I was starting to feel like we weren’t even on the same planet anymore.

Shawn Boling: Well, no, we are because I can tell you don’t have a haircut and you haven’t had one in a while.

Mike: [Laughter] I know.

Shawn: I can see your beautiful mug.

Mike: Luckily for the listeners, they don’t have to look at this.

[Laughter]

Cynthia Thurlow Cruver: Exactly. Sadly, for me, my last hair appointment was January.

Shawn: What?!

Cynthia: Seriously.

Shawn: Wow. Okay. The listeners, they can’t see but, right now, she has the most awesome dreads.

Mike: Oh, amazing dreads.

Shawn: I’ve never seen dreads on her. Yeah, it’s bizarre.

Cynthia: Actually, I was wearing a flannel shirt the other day and Pat told me I looked like Kurt Cobain.

[Laughter]

Mike: Well, we are in Seattle.

Shawn: Yeah.

Mike: I don’t know if that’s pre- or post. I would be concerned about that. [Laughter]

Shawn: Wow!

Mike: Anyhow…

Shawn: There you go.

Mike: It’s finally here, guys. It’s finally time. We’ve been talking about doing this for so long. It’s the mailbag episode! I’m so excited.

Shawn: Yeah!

Mike: I’m really, really excited to finally get to answer those questions. We’ve got quite a few of them that piled up, and so we’re not going to be able to get to every question today but, I promise, all of you out there, if you send in those questions, and we’ll give you the address at the end of the show, at some point we will get to them.

Today is round one of the mailbag. How this is going to work is, some of you—

[Bell dinging]

Mike: [Laughter] We’ve got Shawn on the sound effects today. Good job, Shawn.

Shawn: You said round one.

Mike: I did say round one.

Shawn: I’m just trying to help you out.

Mike: I’m going to read these questions and then Shawn and Cynthia are going to answer them to the best of their ability. Take my word for it. They both know what they’re talking about. Are you ready to do this, guys?

Shawn: Amen.

Cynthia: I’m ready.

Mike: All right. The first question, this one is for you, Cynthia. “I work at a community in Southern California and, for a while, due to COVID-19, we weren’t able to give tours. I’m wondering what you’re hearing and seeing in the market with independent living customers and their sentiments on community living during this COVID-19 time.”

Cynthia: Well, okay, so what I’m hearing in the market, overall, communities obviously in different states are in varying stages of being able to do tours or host tours. Certainly, no events have been happening.

We just actually have in fresh data from our first COVID-19 marketing program and we quickly developed some Web seminars. We call them Web seminars so as to not confuse. Some of the leads are people who have never gone to a webinar, which proved to be correct because, in listening to the phone calls for RSVPing to attend the Web seminar, some of the leads would, instead of registering online for something that’s Web-based, they would call in. The sales team was using Zoom training as part of their relationship-building exercise, which was awesome. That really worked.

What was so interesting to me is, we’ve been experimenting with different Web seminar topics. The first one was 5 Financial Tips for Living in a Life Plan Community. The second one was Design Your Life, and it was the life coach talking about how right-sizing can really change your life. Then the third one we’re testing is about mixology and a cooking class.

What we’re really testing there is:
• Highly qualified: I want to know the finances.
• Lifestyle: I don’t know what I’m doing with the rest of my life. I’m trying to figure it out.
• Then the third one is sheer entertainment: Drink some cocktails.

What is fascinating to me is that whereas we would get maybe 50, 100 people to attend a live event, what we’re getting is about half of that. But what I’m noticing is that the leads who are coming through are really qualified. They are people who are really, really thinking seriously about moving. That’s been very encouraging to me. Yeah.

I didn’t know what was going to happen, what the sentiment of the market is. The Web seminars have definitely proven to be successful. People are looking for information. I’m hearing on the phones, when we listen to phone calls, leads are asking questions like, “Do I have to wear a mask in my apartment or the community?”

They have so many questions around COVID-19. “What can I and can’t I do?” “How do I get to eat?” There’s just a whole bunch of questions that I think communities could be answering right now.

I guess, in a nutshell, to sum it up, I’m very encouraged. I’m also hearing this across the market with other colleagues is that people are interested in moving. They are thinking about it seriously, still. At the same time, I am hearing about some cancellations for pre-leasing contracts or moving in. Some people are uncertain, but I think that’s just how it’s going to be because everybody is different and everybody has a different attitude about how they’re going to navigate with Coronavirus.

Mike: Okay. Awesome. Some good answers there. Definitely some good food for thought. See what I did there?

Shawn: Oh, my gosh.

[Laughter]

Cynthia: (Indiscernible)

Shawn: It is a bit grating.

Mike: Shawn thought he was the king of the dad joke, but I won on that one.

Shawn: Ooh.

Cynthia: [Laughter]

Mike: All right.

Shawn: You’re the king of the bad jokes. Oh!

Mike: Oh! That’s okay. I have the power of the editing button.

Shawn: [Laughter] Yeah, that’s true.

Mike: [Laughter] All right, Shawn.

Shawn: That is so true.

Mike: Well, this next one is for you. Are you ready for this?

Shawn: I am very ready. Bring it on, brother.

Mike: All right, Shawn. This question is for you. “I am a director of dining at a 250-person CCRC. Our kitchen equipment is really bad to the point that it’s hindering my ability to even keep good staff on. I’ve pointed this out to my upper management but they don’t seem to understand the situation. What can I do?”

Shawn: Well, one word: spreadsheet. Actually, I’d give it two words: Excel Spreadsheet. What I mean by that is data. Most CEOs, most CFOs, everybody is driven by data. Meaning that that equipment that’s in the kitchen that is old is consuming so much energy that I don’t think most people realize what the expense is to a community.

For instance, a dishwasher that’s 20 years old, 25 years old, we did a study at one community and it was actually saving $1,500 a month in electricity and around $800 to $1,000 in water. That’s just for one piece of equipment.

Then you go to all of the gas regulated pieces of equipment in the kitchen: the stoves, the grills, things like that, steamers that are run off gas. Those now have, just in the past six or eight years, microchips that are in and they sense when the thermocouple should turn on, turn off. We could get all technical.

If you look at the equipment that’s new, you can actually get the data on that, on pretty much any website out there, or you can contact your local vendor that’ll come out and give you quotes on it. You can see that probably the average piece of equipment in a kitchen, you could probably save a couple hundred a month off of each one. It’s that dramatic.

Just the new metals that they have, too, that keep the heat, that are conducted to the different kinds of insulation they have now for steamers. It’s just amazing. It’s finally, the 21st Century hit kitchen equipment and your energy costs are probably 20%, 25% less if you get in all new equipment.

When I did a study for the dish machine, which was a year ago, it literally paid for itself in 2.5 years. Then after that, it’s just money in the bank. That was just for one piece of equipment.

The Excel Spreadsheet, what I would encourage is that you go through that. You can obviously call a Culinary Coach. I’ll come out and help you with it. But you list all your equipment, what it is now, and then what the new equipment would be and the savings on that.

Then you go in front of the CFO, which I do all the time. It’s actually kind of fun because, at first, they’re like, “What? You want me to spend this much on the equipment?” I always come in with, “Well, first, before we go any further, we’re going to talk about the water bill, the electrical bill, and the chemical bill.”

Chemicals can run anywhere from $600 to $1,500 a month just for chemicals for your old school dish machine. The new dish machines do not need as much chemical or they don’t even need the chemical. They have a high temp process now that they do through rinsing.

Anyway, you walk in and you say, “Hey, here is what we’re spending monthly on chemicals, electricity, and our water bill. Here’s what it could look like if we use this equipment.” It does not take long for the CFO, or anybody with a calculator, to add that up super quick. It’ll pay for itself in just a few years.

Mike: Yeah. If you don’t mind me adding to that, also, if you’ve got, for instance, refrigeration, reach-ins are notorious for going out. If you’re losing product or having product become in that questionable zone because of equipment failure and you fixed it and fixed it and fixed it and fixed it, at that point—

Shawn: Mike, that is excellent. I am so glad you brought that up because, over my career and your career as well, and Cynthia—we’re all from the restaurant—how much food has been thrown out because a walk-in goes down, a freezer goes down? It’s in the tens of thousands at least. Yeah, there’s that point as well.

Mike: If you remember that last place that we were at, remember that flattop that we had planned on searing everything up on that flattop.

Shawn: Yeah.

Mike: Then that flattop just wouldn’t heat to temp.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: It got to temp but, as soon as you put something on it, it wouldn’t maintain it. You’re talking also about loss of production.

Shawn: Mm-hmm. Quality as well.

Mike: Really, take a look at the equipment you have. Yeah, sure, absolutely bad food quality, returned food.

Shawn: Well, steamers, yeah. Yeah, the steamers, I mean I’ve been in so many kitchens where the steamers are so old, they don’t work properly. Meaning, you could put beans in and it’s supposed to be al dente bean after three minutes. But the next day you do it, it overcooks it tremendously because all the sensors are completely off, so it is definitely the equipment.

Think of equipment. Think of a carpenter, a finished carpenter, and he wants to make a beautiful wood table. You give him a hammer and a screwdriver. You say, “Make me this beautiful table.” He doesn’t get a lathe machine. He doesn’t get a skill saw. He doesn’t get a finish nailer. He doesn’t get varnish. He doesn’t get any of the tools he needs, but you’re expecting this beautiful table. You have to have those tools.

In a kitchen, broilers that don’t work don’t sear the food. Then the food becomes soggy and gross. We can go on and on how it is so important to have proper equipment in a kitchen. It’s just like any other trade.

Mike: What I’m getting out of you is, if I’m the director of dining, I need to take scope of all the equipment I have, how it’s working, and what it costs to run it, so get involved with the appropriate tracking measures, right? Put together a proposal for what new ones would cost and then the cost involved with those as well. As well as keeping track of all the failures that happen as kind of a log of what happened due to the failure.

Shawn: Well, yeah, and part of what I do, I love, I’m a honey badger when it comes to saving money. I help folks get in touch with the right people. For instance, the city will give you what you’re actually using in your water per building, if you’ve got different outlets, and also there are companies, if you have a really good sales rep.

All my sales reps will actually take that old piece of equipment and they’ll go back and do a study on it for free. It doesn’t cost you anything. They’ll tell you if you use this piece of equipment, it’s going to cost you this much in electricity, how much are your ohms, how much is your electricity in your state, actually in your county, and they’ll literally tell you almost to the penny what it’s costing to run that machine. It’s just amazing.

Mike: Awesome.

Shawn: Yeah, so do the homework and then present finances. Then once they see that, then it makes sense. Plus, the food too.

Mike: Yeah. If you have more questions, then you can get ahold of Shawn and Culinary Coach. He’ll walk you through those proper steps.

Shawn: I want to say this one quick thing because I don’t say it enough. One of the communities I was in, we replaced the equipment. The very first day, because in one day all the equipment was gone and new equipment came in, I made some hors d’oeuvres, some deep-fried, some grilled products, grilled vegetables, and I served it to our residents’ dining committee.

They literally said, “What catering company did this come from?”
I said, “What do you mean?”
They go, “This didn’t come from the kitchen. We never get that’s cooked like this.”

Now, it was the same recipes. It was their recipe. I hadn’t changed the recipes yet. That is how different a piece of equipment can make. If you have a deep fryer that doesn’t filter properly, everything tastes like what just got deep-fried two days ago. Even if you changed the oil, it doesn’t matter. There’s so much to it.

Anyway, I think that’s just so cool that you literally can tell instantly, “Wow, they got new equipment.”

Mike: Awesome. Well, hey. Good luck on your convincing the powers that be that you need some new equipment, my friend who wishes to remain anonymous.

All right. Cynthia, back to you on this one. “My community has had a digital marketing campaign running for a year and it just seems like we’re not getting that many leads. What should I do? The company we work with keeps reporting a high number each month, but I don’t see them on my end.”

Cynthia: You know, surprisingly, this happens more than you’d like to believe. It’s fairly common.

I guess what you would want to do first is reach out to your partner, your lender who is helping you with digital marketing, and community. Maybe share. Share what you’re seeing on your end and then ask them to share what they’re seeing on their end.

I’ve actually seen cases where Web forms are not reaching the community but they are getting into the database on the backend. That could be something that’s going wrong.

Another thing that could be going wrong is just simply miscounting the leads. Newspapers will tend to do this. I’m not saying that all newspapers are like this, but I can’t tell you also how many times we’ve been running newspaper campaigns and we’ll have the newspaper tell us, “Oh, we generated X of leads.” We’re counting on our end and we know that we’re right. We’ll have to say, “No, actually, it didn’t generate that many leads.”

It’s pretty black and white when you have a lead form that’s working and there is a database on the backend. Then I would just say, compare and then figure out what the problems are.

If you feel like you’re having to do this a lot, maybe explore other digital partners. Was that too hardcore?

Mike: No. Sometimes the truth hurts. I believe that you like to use, Cynthia – I mean I’ve heard this out of you tons of times, but you are a fan of the truth bomb. Sometimes, I think people just need a little bit of a truth bomb to crack themselves out of their little bubble. Nothing is more jarring than a dose of reality right in your face.

Yeah, it’s how it’s presented, of course. It needs to be done tactfully. At the end of the day, if there is a relationship that’s not working, it’s not benefiting either side, right?

Cynthia: Right. Business is business and, certainly, looking at cost per lead. Besides that, really analyze your cost per lead and know what is the benchmark that you should be shooting for. Are you exceeding that? That’s awesome. Are you under that? If you’re not meeting that goal or you’re spending more than you should per lead, then I think that’s another thing to really watch out for.

Mike: Okay. All right.

Cynthia: That’s what I thought.

Mike: [Laughter] That’s all I have to say about that. Awesome. That’s good. No, that’s really good information. I think it’s to the point, and what else can you ask for?

All right, Shawn.

Shawn: Uh-oh.

Mike: Una más for you. This one says, “Buenos dias, Cosmic Soup. I am at a life plan community in Arizona and must remain anonymous.”

Shawn: Uh-oh.

Mike: Yeah. Uh-oh. All right.

Shawn: Uh-oh. This ain’t gonna be good.

Mike: We’ll do our best.

“However, my question is this. I feel like I have a meeting almost on a monthly basis with my food contractor over some sort of quality concerns and, yet, they seem to keep popping up. What should I do? I don’t want to alienate them and, yet, my residents are just not satisfied. Signed, Incognito in Arizona.”

[Laughter]

Shawn: Well, here. You know, speaking of truth bombs, I’m going to let one out the plane doors. Here we go.

You have to separate. You have to separate them. The listener said they don’t want to make them feel alienated. Well, that’s okay if you do because we have hundreds of residents to feel three times a day. We have to do it properly.

As far as holding them accountable, they have a contract. What I usually do when I am asked to go out and kind of just do an evaluation of their food contractor, I’ll look at the contract weeks before I go out and just dive into it.

I used to write them, back in the day. I used to be that guy way back when, so I know how the whole program works. There are clauses in there that have quality and they have staffing and things like that. If they’re not held up, then you write a letter and just say, “Look. You are not giving us what we signed up for,” and it’s very common. Then put them on notice and say, “Look. If things aren’t starting to get better,” then I guess your choices are you can leave, you can go to a different food contractor, or you can do in-house and just do it yourself, which I am a huge proponent of that because you have less cost, better food quality.

As far as doing something about it, again, we can go back to the Excel Spreadsheet. You can look it up when you look at that contract and dive into it. If you don’t understand it, find somebody that can help you with it. But you’ll see in there that it is costing you a lot of money to have a food contractor. The ones that I have been dealing with nationwide are running around $100,000 a year. That is just for their fee to serve bad food and bad service.

When you look at that, you can get financial support too, I think, from the CFOs and from the folks that you need to get support from. Really look at it and go, “Is this really worth the money?” If you’re constantly having those problems and you can’t fix them, it is frustrating and you do need to rattle the cage. You do need to say, “Look. I will alienate you if this doesn’t get fixed,” because when we show up for work every day as culinarians, what’s our goal at the end of the day? We’ve got to feed hundreds of people three times a day really good food and really safe food with dignity. I almost said, “And justice for all,” but you know. [Laughter] It sounds like I’m quoting.

We have responsibilities to take care of the residents that are paying thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars a month. They were promised a good, healthy food program. If they’re not getting it, then that’s shame on the community.

There’s no one else really to blame and that’s truth bomb that you are going to have to face at some point. When is enough enough? If the residents are complaining and you see weight loss with some of the skilled or memory or assisted living, people aren’t eating, a lot of food just thrown out, it’s to the benefit of the resident and it’s what they signed up for, and that’s what we’re paid to do.

Our goal isn’t to the food contractor. It’s to the residents.

Mike: Cynthia, you wanted to add to that?

Cynthia: [Heavy sigh] Yeah. I just want to chime in.

Mike: With a heavy sigh, she wants to add to it.

Cynthia: …topic because it happens a lot, but it’s weird because we all know what good food tastes like. We’re humans. We’re all humans. We know what good food tastes like.

Shawn: I like that.

Cynthia: We know when food is fresh. It’s pretty black and white. It’s either yes or no. Is it fresh or is it not fresh?

Shawn: Amen.

Cynthia: I would say, with COVID-19, one of the ways that the virus affects the human body is it creates inflammation. Our immune systems need to kick in and help us to fight that virus. One of the best ways to have a strong immune system is to eat healthy foods. That includes fresh greens, fresh vegetables, quality protein. It does not mean processed foods that come out of the freezer and get baked and make you feel thirsty or tired once you eat them, foods that are laden with sugar.

I have to say, my mother lives in an assisted living community which shall not be named because it’s very, very nice. However, every night when we’re talking now with the COVID situation, I always ask her, like, “Okay. What was for dinner tonight? It’s shocking what she gets to eat.” I’m a consumer. I’m in this business. Yet, I hesitate to be the squeaky wheel every week. I can’t. I can’t talk about it every month either, but you better believe if there was a comparable community in her town, she would be moved immediately.

Mike: Wow.

Cynthia: But I don’t have that choice.

Shawn: Well, that’s the other thing, too. I might be going off the road here a little bit on topic, but I think it warrants that we talk about it. That is, with marketing, if you’re spending all of the funds that you have for that year on marketing and you’re not marketing culinary, I think it’s a road you really don’t want to go down. I think you’re losing some horsepower there because, just like Cynthia just said, you are going to lose people. She’s going to take her mom out of there.

Now, that’s in a small area. I know where she’s at. It’s in a small, rural area, so there are not a lot of choices. But you get outside the rural area and you’ve got a lot of choices out there. If people are jumping ship over the food, then that’s something you definitely need to start marketing, especially if you’re doing a good job and you are bringing in the food, as Cynthia was saying, that’s healthy and fresh, and you don’t have outside food contractors that aren’t standing up to what they said they would do. It’s a financial loss. There’s just so much to the culinary world and it’s such a hot topic right now, especially with COVID-19.

Yeah, I always tell Cynthia, that’s how her and I got together is I would always see her come in and market, rebrand, and off they went. It was amazing. That’s the key.

If you market, you should be marketing culinary. If you’re not proud to do it, that’s okay. That’s a good red flag. Then that’s a conversation let’s have.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: You have with your superiors, “Hey, if we’re not proud enough to market this as one of the better communities in our area, then we need to talk. We need to go, ‘Why? Why is that?’ and do something about it.”

Mike: I also wanted to bring something up, Shawn, that became a recent callout for another community that you went into to do a consultation for that was a very similar issue that they were questioning whether or not there were actual true quality issues. One very simple tool kind of, I guess, sealed the nail in that coffin, which is pictures. Right?

Shawn: Oh, my gosh!

Mike: If you are bringing up these things time and time and time again, and people just think that you’re a talking head, well, the second you start to show them physical documentation that isn’t just somebody writing something on paper that you can question the source, this is a picture of your walk-in with rotten food. This is a picture of the plates you’re putting out. This is a picture of these employees doing X, Y, and Z they shouldn’t be doing. This is a picture of how long this food is sitting here for.

At the end of the day, if nothing else is working and you’ve got your last-ditch effort, start taking some pictures. That way you’ve got something that you’re armed with that says, “Hey, listen. I’m not making this up.”

Shawn: Mike, I’m just so glad you brought that up because that is very important. When I go in and do my evals, I take pictures of everything – everything. I date them. With technology on my iPhone, it’s got the timestamp on it.

I took some pictures to the president of this very big community and they were so shocked that there was so much grease. It was a fire hazard. I said, “I’m surprised that your kitchen isn’t on fire right now.” It was ridiculously dirty. Food all over the place.

He got out of his office, walked down with me into the kitchen, and looked around and went, “My God. I’ve never actually went and walked through the cook’s line before. What the hell is going on?” I mean literally, “What the hell is going on?”

He was just overwhelmed and that was just one area that I was looking at. Yeah, pictures tell a thousand things.

Mike: Yes, Cynthia?

Cynthia: I would like to chime in on that because, answering this question too, I think that executives or directors, anybody, could feel really empowered. Get a thermometer. Pop in.

Mike: I love it.

Cynthia: Pop in a thermometer and take some temps on stuff just spontaneously. That’s the best thing to do. It’s a really good clue as to what’s going on.

Shawn: I just bought a thermometer. They’re super cheap. Well, it’s not really a thermometer. It’s a laser thermometer, I guess. It temps the top temperature of the food and it’s just a laser beam. It’s super cool.

If you don’t want to walk around and shove a needle into the food, you can walk by any piece of food and shine it on it. Chicken on a countertop; how long has it been there? You can walk by and go “boop,” and the laser reads it instantly.

It’s all LED. It’s the coolest thing. It’s been out about three, four years now.

You can say, “Why is the chicken at 74 degrees? It’s 74 degrees on the surface. What is going on?”

You can go in your cook’s line and go down where the rice is at and the steak it is and just start shooting with the laser. It’ll tell you what the surface temp is. Amazing tool!

Mike: Just don’t shoot Shawn with it because it’ll blow up. It’ll be so hot that it’ll just explode in your hand.

Cynthia: What does a laser, Shawn, what does a laser sound like?

Shawn: What’s it sound like?

Mike: What did the laser sound like, Shawn?

Cynthia: Yeah.

Shawn: It was like, “Pew. Pew.”

[Laughter]

Shawn: It doesn’t make a sound. Oh, my God. But if it did—

Cynthia: I thought that would be….

Shawn: Okay. Listen. If you’re….

Mike: I would walk in. I’d be playing the Star Wars soundtrack as I walk into a kitchen with my laser thermometer. It would be so awesome.

Shawn: Oh, my God.

Mike: Every time I walk by it, I would just play, like – I would do it. I would play the soundtrack. Then when I enter the room, it would be like the Darth Vader—

[The Imperial March theme music]

Shawn: Word! Then it’d be like this. It’d be like, [using Darth Vader voice] “Luke, why is your chicken breast at 84 degrees, Luke? Put it in the cooler.”

Mike: [Using Darth Vader voice] “Luke, don’t serve that chicken. It will kill your father.”

Shawn: [Using Darth Vader voice] “Use the walk-in, Luke. Use the walk-in….”

Cynthia: You have the tools. I’ve given you the tools.

[Laughter]

Mike: Amazing. Amazing.

Shawn: Then we could go Star Trek. [Using Dr. McCoy’s voice] “Simon. Jim. I’m a chef, not a magician.” Just kidding. That was really bad.

Mike: Oh…

Shawn: But, yeah.

Mike: All right. I’m going to edit that one out, Shawn.

Shawn: They’re like $70 on Amazon. They’re $70.

Mike: Yeah, well worth the investment. It’s an instant telltale sign.

Shawn: Well, and here’s another thing I just thought of with COVID. I mean it’s kind of fun because I was practicing when I first got it and I shot my wife on the forehead to see how hot her forehead was or her arm. It’ll tell you the surface. Yeah, this was a laser thermometer.

It will tell you the surface of someone’s skin, so you literally could go buy it and go, “Hey, do you have a fever?” Beep! Not that you would want to, but you could. I’m just saying. But, yeah, it’s an awesome tool for executives that don’t want to walk around and clean a metal stick thermometer.

Mike: Yeah. Good callout, Cyn. Just walk through the kitchen one day with a couple of tools at your disposal. Show them you’re serious with thermometers, and you’re good to go.

Shawn: Do it when your chef is gone.

Mike: Yeah. They love it when you do that.

Shawn: Mm-hmm.

Mike: I think, Cynthia—

Shawn: Being a chef, I know what that’s like but I didn’t care because I did the right thing, man.

Mike: Yeah, so I think, though, that that’s a great segue into another question regarding the freshness in vegetables, food, and things like that. Cynthia, you wanted to kind of rattle off that one.

Cynthia: Well, yes. This is a question for Mike. Here’s how it goes. “Hello there, Cosmic Soup. Surprise! I’m actually a resident.” That’s so awesome that residents—

Shawn: Oh, my gosh! Right!

Cynthia: “I’m actually a resident who lives in an upscale retirement community in Florida. I’m writing to you about the vegetables, or lack of, at my community. The community is beautiful. It has wonderful amenities and I love it. Yet, I cannot seem to get fresh vegetables here. I’m looking for advice I can take to the resident council. Signed, The Unjolly Green Giant.”

[Laughter]

Mike: Nice.

Shawn: Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho.

Mike: There’s a lot going on with that statement. First off, I’m just going to say that it blows my mind when the perception is that you can’t get vegetables. Right off the bat, I’m just going to call B.S. on that because it’s just not true.

There are two, really two main reasons why you’re not getting fresh vegetables and it’s not an availability thing. The first reason is that whoever is in charge of your food program probably thinks that they’re saving money because they have a PPD goal that they have to hit. Otherwise, their backside is on the line.

They erroneously think that they’re going to save money by buying stuff that is not fresh. Okay? There’s that. It’s not an availability.

Then number two is, you combine that with this next step, which is, sometimes people just think that their stuff is okay and if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The people that are in charge have been doing this so long; they just feel like it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not important to them.

Both of those reasons would be the top two. There are many more reasons why that could be. I guess number three would be, the person who is in charge probably isn’t qualified to be in charge and doesn’t know what to order, how to order, or where to get it, or they’re not familiar with their vendors, or they don’t know how to differentiate their products.

Shawn, you’re waving at me like a madman like you want to add to that.

Shawn: Dude! I’ve got my parachute on. I’m ready to jump.

Mike: [Laughter]

Shawn: Okay. Here we go. It takes effort, okay?

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: Let’s talk about that word, “effort.” How much effort does it take to make a really crappy meal?

Mike: Zero effort.

Shawn: Right?

Mike: Actually, that’s not true. Sometimes people take a lot of effort and still make it crappy.

Shawn: Well, that’s true. Okay. You got me on that one. But if you’re going to do good food, it takes time.

I remember in chef school, back in the day, the Swiss chef said — I’ll never forget it — “I can’t make anything wonderful in under an hour. That really stuck with me. I’m like, “Okay.”

He goes, “Good food takes time,” and then he stopped talking. The whole kitchen was just quiet and everybody was like, “What’s he going to say next?” Then he just repeated it. “Good food takes time.”

Mike: Yes.

Shawn: It takes effort and it takes caring.

Mike: Yeah.

Shawn: It takes love. That’s why when people say, “Oh, my love language is through food,” they’ve said that for decades, generations, and it is very true. You can actually see and taste love in that sense if it’s done properly, not overcooked, and you’ve taken the time to take the little back of the snow pea off so it’s not all stringing in your mouth.

Mike: [Laughter]

Shawn: That takes time. That takes effort. That takes caring. There are skillsets too. We could go down a bunch of other avenues. Like you said, there are a lot of reasons. Honestly, if I just had one thing to throw out, it would be, it takes effort. You’ve got to want to do it.

Mike: Yeah, it does. Cynthia, what do you want to say about that?

Cynthia: Going back to the Unjolly Green Giant, I feel like this is a woman. I don’t know why, but the Unjolly Green Giant is asking, “What should I say to the resident council?” How does this person get some action in the vegetable department?

Mike: Yes. Once we’ve identified kind of what the cause is, what that person can do if they’re not comfortable – you don’t want to be a super sleuth if you’re a resident. I totally get that.

The first thing I would probably say is, one idea would be to approach the culinary director or, if the culinary director might be the issue, then somebody above that. Say, “Hey, listen. How about if we put out a survey? Let’s survey the residents about what they think about these vegetables.”

If you wanted to take it a step further, you could put on a petition. “Hey, listen. I think we can get this. I went to the grocery store today. It costs $2 a pound for green beans and, in the freezer section, a bag that is a 16-ounce bag of green beans is $3. It’s more expensive.” If you really wanted to go hardcore, you could do your own comparisons on there.

Really, at the end of the day, there are a lot of things that you could approach your resident council with ammo-wise, but surveys and petitions are a great start. Get people to go. A lot of times people don’t want to go to those councils because they feel like their voices aren’t heard and I get that. I’ve sat in on some of those. I’ve been to some of those.

Yeah, sometimes the people that run these councils, maybe they’re not the most—I don’t know—professional listeners in the world. But if you get enough people, like if one day, let’s say that you have 20 people that go to a resident council and then the next time you have a resident council there are 50 people there, they’re going to be like, “Whoa! What’s going on?” Right? So, more voices.

Then what you need to do is have every single person mirror that same sentiment. “How come I have frozen carrots when I can get fresh carrots for cheaper? How come I’m having frozen potatoes?”

Frozen carrots and potatoes blows my mind. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard because they’re fresh, they’re cheap, they’re easy, and they take up less storage space.

It’s getting enough people willing to speak out. If you’re all doing it at the same time, it’s different than doing it at different times because, yeah, your voice can get buried in the mix easily if it’s spread out over a month versus 50 people at one time.

Yes, Cynthia?

Cynthia: Well, I was thinking, okay, the last thing that might be helpful for this person is to just explain what is normal. What could we be having? What should they aspire to, in other words? What’s realistic?

Mike: Yeah. What would you like to see? Make suggestions. Getting back to the last couple of little quick hits that residents can do to bring suggestions to the table is, suggest maybe that they can make an event. If you have an event coordinator or something like that, say, “Hey, why don’t we take a community trip down to the local farmer’s market and see what’s going on at the farmer’s market?” That way you can get an idea for what’s available locally, how much it costs, how often you can get it.

Then kind of related to that, you could also suggest that maybe the community can get involved in their own horticulture program. There are a lot of residents who love to garden. Even start out simple. Start out small. Start out with fresh herbs, things that are easy to grow: cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, squash. Squash grows like a weed in my garden. It’s all over the place.

Something that you can do that gets the community involved, it doesn’t have a tremendous amount of overhead, and then it gives you one more thing that comes down to marketability, which is, “Hey, check out what we’re doing here on our side. We’re using local and we’re trying to do as much in-house as we can.”

It’s not going to happen at once, but you can start the conversation. At least that way the people that you’re talking to know that you’re taking this seriously. If you bring ideas to the table instead of just complaining about how bad things are, you’re going to be more likely to at least get some kind of an acknowledgment that you’re willing to be a part of the solution and not just the harbinger of the problems.

[Bell dinging]

Shawn: Amen, my brother.

Mike: Woo-hoo. [Laughter]

Cynthia: Yeah. You’re right. Be part of the solution. You can’t just complain. You have to have ideas.

Mike: Yeah.

Cynthia: Yeah, I like that a lot. Cool.

Shawn: Not everybody has ideas. Not a lot of people know how to convey. That’s where your committee comes in.

Mike: That’s what a committee is for.

Shawn: That’s why, every month, there is a resident food committee on top of the monthly resident committee where anybody can show up. Get involved with that too. Tell them, “Hey, I want to be on the board of the resident food committee.”

Mike: It’s a lot less pressure to sit in front of a committee with a bunch of people that might feel the same than going up to the ED’s office by yourself armed with a piece of paper and a complaint. You’re probably not going to get the same response as you would if you had just a little bit of backing behind you.

You might have a tremendous ED who says, “Yeah, that’s super awesome.” You never know. But for those that don’t or those that aren’t at least comfortable even giving that a shot, a committee is the best way to go because a committee is for you.

Okay, guys. We have one more question. Una más!

“Hi, Cosmic Soup.” This is for you, Cynthia. “I am writing to settle a dispute between me and my boss. I’m a marketing director at a full continuum life plan community located in Houston, Texas. Our disagreement is around Web leads and phone leads. I say that Web leads are more valuable. My boss says phone leads. What’s your opinion?”

Cynthia: Well, your boss is right.

Mike: Oh!! Don’t get a big head over this, Cynthia. Just FYI.

Cynthia: They tour at a higher rate. It’s more of a commitment to pick up the phone and talk to a person than it is to fill out a form on a website. Granted, Web leads are valuable too. There’s nothing wrong with them. Obviously, we love those. But definitely, a telephone call is worth more.

Mike: When do you decide when a Web lead is the right course of action or a phone lead is the right course of action to follow up on?

Cynthia: They are all the right course of action. In fact, in a perfect world, one campaign will have leads coming in via telephone, Web, social media, and business reply mail – if you believe it or not. It is more expensive to have a business reply card in a mailing but when it’s all filled out, somebody will tear it off and throw it in the mail. They don’t have to think about it. They don’t have to find a stamp. Boom. It’s done.

It does cost money, but if you think about how much a lead costs, I think an average cost per lead can range from $250 to $450. That’s one person calling you or responding. Then it’s worth the extra—let’s say it’s even $5 per the extra lead—the business reply channel. Why not? I would want that for a $250 value.

Mike: It seems like a pretty minimal investment for a big return if you ask me.

Cynthia: I love that phrase, “Do the math.” [Laughter]

Mike: Do the math. [Forrest Gump voice] “Well, I’m not a smart man, Jenny, but I know what math is.”

[Laughter]

Mike: Or the Excel – Do your math. Do your spreadsheets. If you learned anything out of this episode today, you kind of have to put in a little bit of work yourself, right?

Cynthia: I have one more thing.

Mike: One more thing to add, Cynthia.

Cynthia: Very quickly, super exciting that we, Chef Shawn and Mike, are developing a Web series. I believe it going to be out in July/August.

Shawn: What is the Web series, Cynthia?

Cynthia: Well, it’s how to self-operate your dining program, so if you are using a contractor now, you could learn how to transition to self-operation. Or let’s say you are already self-operating but you just want to get better at it, this would be the perfect thing for you to attend.

Shawn: Yeah. I’m super stoked – super, super. It’s been years and years of developing the strategy and now where you can finally unleash it, show people, and teach people.

Mike: Yes.

Shawn: Oh, it’s so cool. It’s so awesome.

Mike: We are super close to bringing this to you out there in the Cosmic Soup. When we’re ready, we’ll do a full-blown episode. We’ll tell you all about it, what you can expect, how do you take part, how do you get in on this amazing action. Thank you, Cynthia, for bringing that up. Yeah, we’re excited about that.

Shawn is busting his backside like you know what to put this program together. I’ve seen it from its early stages and it’s going to blow all your minds. I’m not just blowing smoke. This is some really legit, in-depth stuff that answers some very, very, very common questions.

It will alleviate a lot of your fears from the get-go. It’ll help ease your stress. It’ll save you some money. It really is designed just to inform you and show you that—you know what—there are other options in the world. When you’re ready to take that step, we’ll show you how to do it.

Shawn: I like that. Yeah.

Cynthia: Mm-hmm.

Shawn: Absolutely.

Mike: Well, Shawn and Cynthia, thank you so much for hanging out, here again, today on the Cosmic Soup. Hopefully, we can do this again real soon. I’m looking forward to answering some more listener questions. Thank you both very much.

Shawn: I would like to end with a little Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” It’s okay. You’ll have good food. You’ll have a wonderful marketing rebrand. It’s so cool. Don’t worry. Okay, here we go.

[Bobby McFerrin singing “Don’t Worry Be Happy”]

Shawn: Look at me. I’m happy. My community is full of people eating good food. Oh, my God.

All right, guys.

Cynthia: (Indiscernible)

Mike: All right. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Shawn: Bye. Peace out.

Cynthia: Bye.

Shawn: Woo!

[Music]

Mike: Well, there you have it, folks, the first-ever mailbag episode. Don’t worry if your head is spinning a little bit. It’ll soon pass. That’s just the effect that Shawn has on everybody. Continue to send us those questions and comments to [email protected] and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn so you can stay up to date with all the awesome stuff that we have coming up.

Thank you again so much for listening and we’ll talk to you soon on Cosmic Soup.

[Music]