It was a two-on-the-side, and the window seat was already occupied on the Alitalia flight to Milan on that day in 1991.
I eased in, said my hellos.
We started talking, the awkward conversation of strangers, and we soon realized that we were headed to the same place for the same purpose. We established all of that before takeoff. We talked through the night.
Chuck, or Dr. Charles, was the head of the hospitality department at a major Chicago university. He was a specialist in the restaurant end of the hospitality universe, and he ran one of the most respected restaurant consulting firms in the Midwest. He knew more about every aspect of the restaurant business than anyone I had ever met.
This was of particular interest to me at the time, because I had left a major cruise line to launch my own agency, and I had a side job as a travel and food columnist for a chain of regional newspapers. I was the restaurant critic.
We were both headed to Florence at the invitation of the Italian government, which had decided to hold a two-day conference inside city hall, better known as Palazzo Vecchio. They started construction on this building in 1299, and it was now the seat of the city council and the mayor's office.
Having lived in Florence, I could not pass up the generous opportunity to return. The purpose of the meeting, believe it or not, was to elicit feedback on the subject of increasing tourism to Italy.
But one outcome of the meeting was that Chuck and I became friends. I had started hosting a one-hour local cable television series, and Chuck was so honest and interesting that he was the only guest who was invited back several times.
As we start to emerge from Covid captivity and begin some serious business in the days ahead, we are all going through a period of reevaluation. I want to share one simple story that Chuck shared with me that I now use whenever I am speaking before groups of agents. It is, I believe, a lesson for our times in the agency business.
Chuck was asked to do a comprehensive review and analysis of the menu of Chicago's leading chain of restaurants, which included an Italian concept that was being opened across the U.S.
After six months of study, his No. 1 recommendation was that the restaurant group eliminate the top-selling dish on its menu.
It was an antipasto, beautifully displayed on a huge, curved dish with 17 items, 13 of which had to be carved and sliced in intricate designs on the plate. It was lovely. And Chuck's team created a document that proved that each and every time someone ordered the dish, the restaurant lost $4.25.
He had calculated the materials cost, the slicing time, the inventory costs, labor costs, and he was able to prove that the antipasto platter was a money-losing menu item.
I applied that lesson to my travel firm, and I hope you will consider applying it to yours. In the travel industry we can't specialize in it all, we can't devote endless hours to FITs without proper compensation, we can't make every trip a beautiful salad of 17 ingredients unless the client is willing to pay us what it is truly worth.
We need to know which items on our travel menu need to be quickly discontinued.
May I humbly suggest that this question be placed at the very top of your next meeting agenda: Which dishes on your current menu need to be eliminated?