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During the Age of Exploration, brave people climbed aboard wooden ships to set sail for faraway lands.

Armed with a compass and spyglass, these explorers risked life and limb in search of spices, treasures or just a new land and way of life. The first explorers had no maps. The few who returned sketched drawings on parchment, so the second wave had some direction. The custom of the time was to note these crude maps with the expression, "here be dragons" for unexplored areas.

Many aspects of the foodservice business today are unexplored. Rising food costs, new health care rules, insidious governmental regulations from wastewater to environmental impact statements for installing a fountain on our own properties. Wall Street backed mega-chains with huge marketing budgets grab consumer's attention. The endless number of start-up "deal" sites, online order platforms, coupons and reservation sites. Everywhere yee look, there be dragons.

Like the early explorers, now is a time for courage.

Common wisdom suggests the application of careful planning, focus groups and consumer research to draw conclusions. I recently met with the head of a large advertising firm that has practiced in foodservice for decades. At the end of the meeting, I asked this honest exec one question, "Can you honestly say what activities will work for your clients today?" He answered, "No". He probably wouldn't admit it, even to himself, but there be dragons at the edge of his map.

So what can YOU do?

First – like my advertising friend, be honest. Be honest with your staff, your suppliers, and your bankers. "I'm not certain what works, but I need your assistance to keep going." We live in an age of uncertainty. New ways emerge that light our ships on dark nights. We are not at first dawn yet, but stay the course.

Second – research your competition thoroughly. Visit their websites, look at their promotions, go secret shopping at their location. Every business has strengths and weaknesses, seek out the soft underbelly of these dragons, it is the only known way to steal their treasure.

Third – Hop aboard your tall ship like a mighty sea captain of old. Bravely set off for the edge of the map in search in answers. You own or run a business because for many years, you knew what worked, how to manage a staff and how to treat guests. Continue to rely on your gut instincts for guidance.

Today in the age of digital maps and internet conquests, the whole world is at your fingertips. Information is available like never before and the use of tools to pencil out new war games and what-if scenarios are endless. Seek the edges of the map, you can actually see the entire globe now and nowhere on any map today, do there be dragons.

Ed Zimmerman is a foodservice industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.

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Ed Zimmerman
Ed Zimmerman is a pizza industry veteran and President of The Food Connector. His almost four decades of foodservice experience includes food manufacturing and distribution leadership, food industry technology, marketing services and restaurant and grocery operations management.
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