A model of discreet efficiency, the well-known and often loved Chinese takeout place is too often taken for granted. In their quiet and humble way, these places provide many of us with the comfort food we crave and often badly need. The Chinese takeout has indeed spread its proverbial wings, and appear as often in Seattle and Savannah as in NYC and San Francisco. The appeal for affordable food, and the service that comes with it, is just about universal. It’s become an icon of modern urban life, and deservedly so.
More importantly, the Chinese takeout serves as a great business model, and not just for those of us who may one day hope to have our own business. The skills and talents that make even the most mediocre takeout successful can, and indeed should, be applied to where ever we work, or whatever we do. Knife skills are, after all, not required.
Here are four characteristics of a Chinese takeout that can be applied to your job, irrespective of the size of your cubicle.
If you’ve ever noticed, the workers at a takeout are totally focused on what they’re doing at the moment, whether it’s taking orders, filling bags, cooking food, or making wontons and egg rolls. (We’ve all experienced being ignored at the counter as a worker finishes up a phone order; now you know why!) Their concentration and detail-oriented approach to work insures that they always meet each task successfully. So many of the distractions we consider almost as a right, aren’t even a thought in this work world. How could they be?
The heart of the takeout is, of course, the kitchen. The ergonomics and high level of organization that it takes to run these kitchens are remarkable. Consider that above each wok cooking station, and well within the cook’s handy reach, are a bunch of bins. These hold an array of pre-sliced vegetables, fresh garlic, ginger, etc. On a shelf above the veggies are the squeeze bottles containing a wide array of all the sauces and flavorings essential to making good Chinese food. These are always well-stocked, so that the cook can fully concentrate on the primary task; cooking. Overall, nothing supports the ‘front liners’, irrespective of where they work, better than providing them with great logistical support. A lesson for all bosses, at all levels.
The takeout justifiably prides itself on being open during all of the days and hours posted on their sign. No matter what, including snow storms or any other “event,” they are there, ready to serve you. Though the menu is usually vast, there has rarely-if ever-been a time when they didn’t have every item listed on the menu. If it’s listed, they’ll make it for you. If they deliver, and promise your order in, say, a half an hour, they’re usually early. The takeout has a consistency, a steadiness and a reliability that we all seem to want, yet rarely find, at work, or in life. It’s a quality that we would all highly value, not only in our subordinates or peers, but even more so in our bosses.
Though the cooking may be complex, the environment and the tools used to make it are almost artfully simple. Some woks, cleavers, fresh meats and seafood, as well as an amazing variety of vegetables, spices and sauces is what it takes to turn out large amounts of urban comfort food, day after day and night after night. There’s no need for fancy chef hats, hokey uniforms, posturing knife displays, or the like. What you see, and ultimately taste, is after all what you get. And, by the way, pay very little for. This lack of pretension, this simplicity and indeed honesty is what makes the entire Chinese takeout experience an honest and direct one. There’s not one decent office worker, or executive at any level, for that matter, that doesn’t crave the clarity and honesty that such simplicity represents.
Thanks to the Chinese takeout, we certainly now have some business food for thought (fortune cookie not included).
This career advice blog post is by Jobacle.com team member Victor Kipling.