22 January 2012

Requirements Analysis At The Butcher

The impulse of many good butchers is to provide a solution for you. I did not realize this my first trip to a proper butcher nearly a dozen years ago. My mistake was thinking that you go and tell the butcher exactly what you want and they simply provide it. In other words, I not only know all about my problem, but I have already decided on the exact solution. The butcher, who didn't know me, didn't yet trust me enough to let me dictate the solution. Maybe I'm asking for completely the wrong thing, it won't work out, I'll blame the butcher, and he'll lose a customer. Am I planning on using rolled brisket for steaks on the grill? Making a stew with onglet? (Providing exactly and specifically what the customer asked for and yet the problem fails to be adequately solved? Hm....)

So I got a bit of a quiz -- how many people? how are you going to cook it? -- before a specific type and amount of meat was suggested to me. Of course, I could have shortcut the process and just demanded this or that, but it was more interesting to figure out the protocol. At my current butcher, I just ask for very specific things. They operate fine in either mode, as many of their customers know exactly what they want, whereas plenty of others come in with a general statement of the problem -- lamb for the bbq for 8 people -- and the butchers are delighted to come up with solutions.

So: problem domain, solution domain. Where is everyone standing?

I thought of this while witnessing a suboptimal transaction at the butcher's. In retrospect it's clear the customer's problem was needing a kilo of cubed beef for a stew. The butcher could have provided this via a couple different alternatives. What actually happened was that the customer specifically asked for a kilo of a designated, sale price, cubed "beef for stew", pointing at the tray. Which would have worked out just fine if the tray hadn't had about 500g of beef left, max. An ask of "I need a kilo of beef for a stew, cubed" would have resulted in the butcher surveying the alternatives and making suggestions. Or asking for a specific cut, in stock, and having the butcher cube it would have worked. Instead a dialogue ensued in which it took a while to establish that the customer just needed a kilo of cubed beef suitable for stewing and was perfectly content to pay more, if required, than the price on the insufficient amount of "beef for stew".

All was well, I think, eventually. But the customer was a little bit frustrated in the middle. As grateful as they no doubt would have been, I did not afterwards lecture the butchers on how they could have handled that better. A teaching moment wasted. Bitter tears at the missed opportunity to bask in the warming glow of my wisdom. Right, off to whip up some oxtail tartar.


JustJoeP said...

by "oxtail" do you mean actual tail, or are you going to eat ox penis, raw?

In China, "niu bian" is called "oxtail" in English, but it is actually "ox penis" when yu get right down to it.

pyker said...

Oxtail is the tail. Very commonly available here, and used in stews. I was joking about a tartar.

zim said...

one of the butcher's at Paulina told me of an old german fellow who would order very specifically, including the exact millimeter thickness of his lunch meats.

if someone does it wrong, it is rejected.