Plan B for when the next COVID lockdown hits your cafe or restaurant

As COVID controls and vaccination helps business return to some type of normal operations, government policy in Australia and New Zealand now seems to be using selective lock-downs to control spot fires and outbreaks.

Your Lockdown Plan B needs to be permanently at hand, so you can move within hours to protect your business, and alert customers, staff and suppliers. Here’s a bunch of areas where you need to have emails, social posts and communication at the ready – almost like a putting the fire drill into action…

  • Alert your customers – through email, text message, social media posts and signs on the window. Hopefully you’ve been steadily building your email and SMS list (here are 10 ways to do that quickly). Spend some money to boost your social media posts in the local area, so you make a greater impact. Use Canva to design catchy signs – look sharp and professional.
  • Alert staff about roster changes and different work needs – through group email, texting, their private social media group and the messaging service. Stand down those not needed, and understand your rights in this situation.
  • Contact function & event bookings, if there are restrictions on group size or service style. Your event contract should now allow for rescheduling and deposit arrangements in the event of health-related restrictions.
  • Increase delivery and takeaway – expanding the services you are already using.
  • Simplify the menu and reduce stock – most operators are now much savvier with their numbers and cost of goods. Use your digital system or menu app to slim down the offer. Is there equipment you’ve delayed purchasing that will be part of your backup plans? Eg fridges and freezers. If equipment needs to be shut down, follow the correct procedures.
  • Alert suppliers about reduced needs and hours of operation.
  • Alert finance companies about what’s happening, You may not be delaying payments, but keeping them in the loop increases trust in case you do need to negotiate.
  • Alert landlords – they’ve been through the wars in 2020, and although they don’t love the idea of rent reductions, your regular communication can prepare them for possible concessions.
  • Build your diversification – it’s not an instant change, but the more you can diversify sales and add multiple income streams, the stronger you will be. Here’s a great list of options.
  • Prepare reopening promotions – it’s called Disaster Recovery Marketing, and there are lots of options using the communication channels you’ve developed. Move quickly and sound positive.
  • Strengthen your administration system – many operators have a new appreciation for working from home. Is your PC or Mac up to date, with a good backup for data? Is it time for a larger screen or a better office layout? Do you have POS integrated with bookkeeping, rosters and payroll?
  • Encourage COVID vaccinations for everyone – led by the owners and managers! Show staff how to book for their ‘jab’ and arrange for time off. Maybe even a bonus for doing it?

Fingers crossed this remains theory! 🤞

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

How to Have More Success Promoting Chef Jobs in Rural Areas

Your country cafe or restaurant offers good conditions, proper pay, decent hours, a friendly boss and a modern kitchen. So why can’t you find good staff? It’s time for a shift in how you promote the opportunities – the talent is out there, so let’s update the recruitment methods.

Promote the benefits of your area. Check the local tourist authority and council websites – they know how to talk up the town. Country rents and real estate can be much less expensive than the city – don’t forget to mention this in your advertisements. If there is a problem with accommodation, solve it – it can be a deal-breaker, and needs to be part of the whole package. Your website should include information about local attractions, schools and lifestyle, and transport links, as well as opening hours, facilities and menus. This could be the chance for a chef to buy their own house, which they could never afford in a big city.

Advertise positions so the whole country finds them. On your own website and using national job websites. Savvy candidates will check your website, and won’t be impressed if it looks outdated. Facebook advertising is also an option – it can be targeted to a particular area or type of person. See: How to Write Restaurant Job Advertisements That Get a Much Better Response

Consider using a professional recruiter. Use a service that does all the work – hunting, shortlisting, interviewing and recommending. It will cost a few thousand dollars, but the cost of DIY is much more than that – and you know how that’s worked in the past!

Make use of a migration agent. You’re likely to have a lot of applicants who want help to achieve permanent residency. This can be a great opportunity, but immigration laws are complex and changing all the time. Experienced agents can help to screen and assess applicants. With drastic reductions to visitor visas, overseas workers are no longer the answer that they were before 2020.

Update the menu. If the highlight of your offer is a burger & chips, you won’t be successful in attracting young chefs. TV food shows are popular in every part of Australia, and everyone is thinking about food in a new way. Keep the favourites, and a fresh new approach is essential – it needs to be led by the owner.

Build a relationship with the local school. Hospitality is a popular subject, and your teamwork with dedicated teachers will mean you are the first to hear about the best students. Host site visits and work-experience students, offer to be a guest speaker and find out what they need to improve school-to-work transition. Make friends first and the favours will follow.

Keep in touch with former staff. Invite staff to connect with your Facebook page – social media means friendships don’t have to be lost or forgotten. Keep posting photos of staff enjoying their work, as well as the usual food and event shots. Every month or so ‘boost’ a post about happy staff to your fans, so they all see it.

Find work for the partners. If the new chef is arriving with a family, chances are her partner needs work too. How can you help with this? What about her son who will be looking for an apprenticeship in greenkeeping or pastry?

Jump onto the training bandwagon. It won’t take long to find a training provider who will support with supervision, materials and even a subsidy. Everyone needs to start ‘growing their own’, and the hospitality training sector is highly developed.

Think outside the square about who you will employ. You may prefer a low-cost 16-year-old, but the 45-year-old mum could be more stable and flexible, even if you need to ‘untrain’ a few habits as well as installing new ones. Set your standards high – if the applicant doesn’t meet them but has a good attitude, get the coaching and feedback started.

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

I love this business interview with Nick Kokonas of Alinea and Tock

Make time to listen to one of the best restaurant business podcasts I’ve heard to in a long time: Patrick O’Shaughnessy interviews Nick Kokonas, founder of 3 great Chicago restaurants Alinea, Next, and The Aviary. He’s also co-founder and CEO of Tock, an innovative restaurant booking system.

Alinea broke the mould with the way they pre-sold bookings to avoid no-shows and cancellations, and introduced variable pricing (just like planes and hotels). Kokonas then developed the booking software to manage the process and the level of customer communication they wanted… and went on to sell the system to hundreds of other operators.

By knowing how many people will be visiting and what they’ll be ordering, Alinea is able to radically reduce labour and food costs – and break apart the ‘typical’ restaurant costs and profit margins (a fantastic story about how they halved the cost of high-end beef). Even learning the secrets of the publishing business to produce their cookery and cocktail books was an adventure, and created another highly-profitable niche. COVID-19 came, and there had to be a significant reshaping of the business – with strong foundations and a robust booking system, that change could be done in a matter of days.

The Alinea group is way bigger than many of the cafes and restaurants I connect with in Australia, but the lessons they’ve learned are absolutely applicable – put aside an hour of your time for some great business inspiration.

Update: here’s a long interview (3 hours!) between Nick Kokonas and Tim Ferriss from 2018.

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

Quick Fixes to Guarantee a Happy Experience for Customers

Anxious customers keep their wallets closed. The world is feeling less safe and much less friendly – we can do a lot to overcome those feelings and turn stress into business.

There are many ways to ‘build in the welcome’ so it doesn’t depend on having a professional greeter.

Genuinely happy staff: Negative Nick or Sour Sarah can cause lots of damage if left unchecked – are they the reason Happy Harry left after a few weeks? We need people who smile and say ‘yes’ as their natural response – anyone you need to move along?

Really good music: a happy beat that lifts the spirit. There’s a billion-dollar music industry designed to create enjoyment. South American music comes to mind – who helps you put your music mix together? A skilled DJ can help with selections or staff at a music retailer. Spotify can give lots of inspiration – ask the staff to help.

No annoying draughts or rocky tables. It seems minor but it’s a constant annoyance if you’re at one of those tables – check and fix.

Change the TV channel. If you have one in your bar, does it really need to run the news? Endless drama and negativity – change it to nature, sport or music.

A friendly, hand-written ‘thank you’ on the account as it goes to the table: this was standard at my cafe and staff swore that it helped with tips.

A big bunch of flowers like the ones below at my local Bondi cafe The Cook & Baker. A tip – just have one variety, and don’t make it formal. Personal and natural – people will notice.

Share some humour on your website: most of them are so serious and self-important! There’s a big world of happy, funny YouTube videos to include on your newsletter or blog.

Calendar Events: you’ll find some great options in the Party & Events Calendar – some funny, some more serious, and all creating word-of-mouth.

Desserts make us happy: a sweet ending to the meal. Something creamy, rich with chocolate or juicy, fruity. Does your selection tempt people to ‘sin a little’?

Photos of happy customers and good coffee: let’s face it, they’re happening all the time when you serve hundreds of people. Instagram is great for this – take inspiration from the photos of people you follow, and share more of your own.

Recognition makes us happy: thanks for a job done well or in difficult circumstances. Congratulations on exam results or for handling a crazy customer. Usually it’s verbal, but a short ‘Thank You’ letter will be highly regarded (and kept).

Well-organised workspaces make staff happy: when they arrive for a shift, all the equipment is clean, working and ready to go. Fridges stocked and work lists waiting. PC runs smoothly and the till is easy to use. Anything to improve here?

How do you rate the big happy smile on job applicants? Paul, the smart owner of Green Zebra Cafe in Albury told me a while back that he immediately hired a girl who giggled all through the aptitude test in her job interview: where there’s a spark, make sure you grab it!

Help make other people happy: staff and business contributions to a World Vision sponsored child, Oxfam or a local community group – they lift everyone’s spirits.

And finally, money helps to make us all happy! Good pay, tips and bonuses make staff smile, and a full till at the end of the shift makes the hard work worthwhile. Your wise profit strategies will give you the resources to buy equipment, repaint the walls, pay more for a better manager and afford the holiday you deserve.

Planning for the Worst: If You Decide to Close your Cafe or Restaurant

As the COVID crisis drags on, there are many operators who are contemplating closing up shop and walking away. Before it was hard work and OK profits, not it’s still hard work and no profit for the forseeable future.

The best way to get out is to sell your business, and a good broker will help you to do that quickly. But what if that’s not possible?

Here are some resources that could be useful…

How to Share (and Receive) More Love in your Cafe or Restaurant

Customers want fresh, not stale; inspiration, not gloom.. One way to do this is to think about all the things that we love, our staff love and our customers love! We all need to find more ways to keep a smile on our faces and share our love of food, customers and business success.

It’s easy to share stories, photos and events – post them on Facebook, on a corner of the menu or add to your newsletter – they create great word-of-mouth and conversation starters. Suddenly there’s a personal connection between staff, managers and customers. Here’s a whole bunch of themes to get you into the groove for sharing some love!

The locals love to be acknowledged. Has a neighbourhood community or business completed a mammoth project, or students achieved excellent results? Offer a special treat for winners of the school sports carnival, debating competition or best achievers in exam results. Ask local bosses to nominate a winning worker for special commendation.

Staff love to be acknowledged. How do you recognise this? At Silver Chef we have our 10 minute ‘daily huddle’ and at the end, there’s an opportunity to acknowledge the work of others – how they’ve helped you or the business. Setting up systems for this will make it much more likely to happen, and leaders should model the process.

People love to be inspired. Share the story of one of your workers who’s overcome the odds to hold a job or achieve something special – customers give extra points to you for supporting them. Or how you support a local non-profit. Put a photo and a brief story on the noticeboard, and get staff to wear name tags so connections can be made. If there’s a local organisation you support that’s done something special, ask them to share a story.

People love the business owners. If you’re an independent or family-run business, when’s the last time you shared a photo of your family, or one of you (without grey hair) when you opened all those years ago? Pictures make stories easy to share, with milestones, awards and staff events. Add a news diary (blog) to your website and keep adding more. People love to hear ‘how we made it stories’ – they won’t make the TV news, but you do make thousands of people happy each year. Share your pride.

Many people love their town or local area. Regular support for sporting teams, the school and charity groups keeps customers loyal and connected. Get behind local causes like parking issues, over-development and conservation – now you’re one of us.

People love photos. Snap, snap, snap with your mobile phone or a camera kept at the shop to record food, parties, special customers and behind-the-scene activity. But don’t post them up without checking and editing – easy to do with on your phone or an app like Snapseed. Take several shots of each scene and choose the best, then brighten it and crop out the garbage bin on the side. Post them to your Facebook page – this will drive constant visitor traffic.

People love to laugh. Add a weekly quote about food on the noticeboard – like the one from baseball player Yogi Berra “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat eight” or “There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap”. Google for restaurant or cafe quotes and jokes – there’s no shortage!

Many people love animals. No, don’t bring them into the shop, but whether customers are a ‘cat’ person or a ‘dog’ person, people love hearing about them, seeing them and even getting life lessons from them. Could Henry the dog be the one that offers a Tip of the Week on your noticeboard? Could the best pet photo earn a prize in a random competition for one month?

People love events. Beyond the usual ones on Valentine’s Day and Mothers Day, every month has possibilities. Here are a few ideas for October, so you can be prepared:

Oktoberfest – think German flavours and great beer.
World Teachers Day – every year on October 5. Make friends with your local schoolies.
Halloween is on 31st October – find new ways to be creative with pumpkin!

Staff fall in love with each other – it happens! Some businesses have strict ‘no fraternisation’ policies, which will always be hard to police. Better to recognise that a lot of great relationships have started through working together – just make sure your staff manual covers issues about conflict of interest and the different power that supervisors may have over others.

Real not Fake: How to Build a Positive Reputation for Yourself and your Restaurant

Customer BS radar is on high alert – they’re swamped with hype, and can learn a lot about your business before they even visit. Have you googled your name and business lately?

Make those buzz-words ‘transparency’ and ‘integrity’ your marketing advantage – share real, honest information about the management team, staff and daily activities. Consumers find ‘behind the scenes’ of hospitality endlessly fascinating, so give them facts to feast on.

Keep the Menu Honest: is ‘home made’ really made in someone’s home? How fresh is ‘fresh’ and can we trust the terms ‘organic’, ‘local’ and ‘made daily’? There are plenty of ways to write an enticing menu without overloading the adjectives. And reassure people that allergy-friendly items are the real deal.

Upgrade the About Us page: with real names of owners and managers, plus information about how the business has developed – timelines can be interesting. So many of these pages are full of fluff, and when no names are mentioned, we wonder if the place is run by robots!

Show Real Faces on the Website: we all relate to ‘people like me’, not glamour models or people with perfect CV’s. Take care if you’re promoting a celebrity chef – other staff are also doing great work. And be careful with stock photos – the photo libraries are handy (we use them too), but the images are everywhere. Taking decent digital photos is now a basic restaurant skill, like typing and Google searches – a project for one of your team, if you’re too busy.

Share Videos of Daily Life: not big-budget productions, but a quick look at daily activities eg meet the new staff, watch us make pasta, the barista at work, installing the pizza oven. Share them on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. A local media student can make these look sharp in no time.

Be Authentic on Social Media: an interesting Facebook Page is essential, and it needs to be updated at least daily with content that is informative, inspirational and sometimes entertaining. Include plenty of people shots, behind the scenes and produce stories – always of interest. Twitter is popular with chefs and restaurateurs, and Snapchat should also be on your list.

Share a few Mistakes: we all make them – the wine you chose that no-one would buy, a recent kitchen drama, the new stove that wouldn’t fit through the door. Now we can relate to you! Facebook, Twitter or a Blog can be a great way to share the daily bustle of hospitality life.

Actively Encourage Feedback: whether it’s on Facebook, feedback cards or a special website page, most comments are positive and you’ll be glad the negatives come directly to you. Most businesses make giving feedback too much of an effort – how is it at your place?

Respond to all Online Feedback: if it was good ‘thanks for the very nice comments…’. If it’s critical, it still needs a response – ‘thanks for letting us know – please call or email so we can follow up’. Unanswered online criticism looks bad, and makes it appear that you do not care.

Talk with Pride about your Area: places to visit, a popular park, places for children to play, recent events – share them on a web page with a map, and make sure staff know where customers can find an ATM, transport and parking. This can also be the basis for a good local-knowledge training quiz for staff – they all need to get 100%!

Great to talk about Reset & Refocus with Dani Valent on the Dirty Linen podcast…

From Dani’s description: ‘Ken Burgin is a hospitality consultant who reckons he’s stopped hundreds of hospo wannabes from sacrificing their own homes and futures for a starry-eyed food dream. He’s a realist and a numbers guy who loves helping people see the beauty – and the necessity – of a nice set of numbers. He sees the pandemic as an opportunity to reset and refocus…’

Your feedback very welcome – share with me on Linkedin

What’s happening in the Australian economy & hospitality industry? May 18, 2020

Figures of relevance to restaurants, cafes & foodservice, plus measures of the wider economic impact of COVID-19. Areas covered may vary week to week…

Hospitality Figures & Trends:

How many hospitality businesses have closed? Numbers vary – on a Restaurant & Catering Australia webinar on 13 April, the figure was given as 25%. Food Industry Foresight research group said (5 May 2020) that “45% of cafes and restaurants are closed. 84% of cafes & restaurants said their turnover had declined ‘dramatically’ to 0-40% of pre-COVID levels, and employment levels cut by 41% for cafes and 36% for restaurants.”

Heavy falls in shutdown-affected categories: gyms, public transport, travel, pubs & venues (-77%) and cafes (-36%). Stimulus has boosted some categories: online retail and subscription services, food delivery(+258%), pet care and supermarkets. (Illion)

National ANZ-observed dining expenditure is now 30% lower than same time last year, an improvement from -54% y/y for the week ending 16 April.

General Economic Figures and Trends:

Economist Stephen Koukoulas summarises the unemployment figues released last week:

  • 832,500 people unemployed.
  • 1,816,000 people underemployed.
  • 554,000 additional people have given up looking for a job with the workforce participation rate diving 2.5 percentage points in the last two months.
  • This is more than 3,200,000 people.

500,000 jobs were lost in April; and number of people employed in Australia dropped by 600,000 between March and April. The under-utilisation rate jumped to 20% – people who would like more work than they currently have. It’s been around 15% for the last 4 years. Had the increase in the number of people who were not in the labour force been a further increase in unemployment, the unemployment rate would have increased to around 9.6%. (ABS)

Clearly JobKeeper is working to keep people off the unemployment lists, but recent government hints that it would be discontinued or limited are causing great anxiety amongst restaurant & cafe operators.

Consumer spending (4-10 May): total spending per person now 7% below normal levels. Spending was boosted in the last week by the Coronavirus supplement (doubling of unemployment benefit and youth allowance) as well as the first easing of restrictions.

Super Fund Withdrawals: these are clearly having a substantial positive impact on spending – withdrawals of up to $10,000 are available before 30 June, and another $10,000 after: “More than 975,000 people registered their interest to withdraw their super early, though not everyone is expected to be approved. While the Treasury forecast that around 1.6 million people will likely make a claim totalling $27 billion, estimates among industry funds have forecast that figure to be closer to $65 billion.” Investment Magazine.

Sources: ANZ Research, Aust Bureau of Statistics, illion/Accenture, Food Industry Foresight and Stephen Koukoulas.