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.

Nat shares his dislike of crap food, and millions agree…

What is it about Nat the muso cook that people love? [warning: lots of swearing].

He’s raw and real (his dad was a chef), he hates fake food, and he’s getting media attention. What can we translate from this into restaurant & cafe land? Enthusiasm ✅, energy ✅, love of real food ✅, potty mouth 🤔. …

I asked a bunch of restaurant mates if Nat actually helps the industry:

Absolutely yes I love him. He’s bringing accessible cooking to people who wouldn’t watch a Jamie Oliver or Gordon’s Ramsay video. He’s real, funny and entirely a good thing as far as I’m concerned. – Rob

I had a mate yesterday mention this and he is a convert. He reckons his approach works for him and he rarely cooks. As for how it impacts cafe customers – my mate is a good example as he is high income and eats out regularly (hence not cooking much!) but he uses Nat when he has to cook. – Gordon

It’s not about us, it’s about the kids that have been scared to cook for themselves. All power to him! – Paul

I’m a big fan, he’s a hard case dude alright and his cooking is awesome. “F#*k JAR sauce!!” – Lisa

Suddenly, Everything Needs to be Negotiated!

Restaurant & cafe operatiors now have to do a lot more negotiation, and it’s not just the small stuff. Three months ago you were arguing over a 20c increase in chicken prices, or the chef wanting a $30 wage rise.

Now you’re dealing with a stubborn landlord, an unknown bank manager, impatient suppliers and a cranky partner. Most of what you did before was haggling, now it’s time to work like a grown-up!

Negotiating with landlords is a good place to start, and is likely to give you the largest financial return if you get it right. Shopping centre leasing executive Julian Mero advises:

  • Preparation and planning are two of the most important components of a negotiation. Without them you negotiate with force, threat or bluff which is not desirable and can break down the communication.
  • Understand the other side – what do they need? What is the landlord’s financial position, or if it’s in a shopping centre, what are they allowed to offer?
  • At the beginning, create the right atmosphere, communicate your position and learn their position – asking questions gathers information and gives you time to assess.
  • Back up every phone call with an email, outlining what you understood was agreed.
  • Never give anything away without something in return – eg an extension of the lease, or help with refurbishment in return for paying more rent than you anticipated.
  • The first offer has more influence on the final deal than any other factor – so plan and make it carefully.

The most common mistakes Julian sees in negotiation:

  • Don’t rush, the person with the most time pressure has the lower hand.
  • Neglecting the other sides position or problems – the landlord is not a demon!
  • Letting price dominate all other interests – there are other concessions that may be worth more than just a rent reduction.
  • Searching too hard for common ground to make the deal happen.
  • Neglecting your ‘walk away position’ previously set – if it looks like you were bluffing, you immediately lose leverage.

Business broker Paul Leach has dealt with many landlords, and people buying and selling restaurants & cafes. His advice for negotiating in the current crisis:

  • Act quickly and communicate with your landlord immediately.
  • Crunch the numbers and make a plan. Be ready with up-to-date bookwork – your sales data, P&L statement, bank statements etc. Back up your argument with honest, transparent information.
  • Do all that you can to meet your current rental obligations.
  • Work out what help you need from the landlord and look at it from both sides.
  • Don’t take “No” as being final – it might be the start of some serious discussion.

Chris Voss of the Black Swan Group talks about the personal interaction that takes place, and his tips could be blended with the practical advice of Julian and Paul. Remember most of this will be on the phone or email, not face to face:

  • Use the voice of a soothing late-nigh DJ – let’s get everyone nice and calm.
  • Establish a connection with your opening – ‘I’ll bet things are crazy over your way. I’ll bet this is all pretty overwhelming.’
  • Label what you hear: ‘this must be pretty stressful for you’ and ‘It probably feels like things are changing from one minute to the next’ or ‘It sounds like you guys have thought through quite a few options.’
  • Shape new thinking with the word ‘how’ eg ‘How do we work our way through this so that we don’t destroy each other. and we’re in a position to pick up the pieces and work together when this is over?’

Buckle up – you’re about to save yourself a lot of money!

Here’s Chris Voss telling us how to save deals in the post-coronavirus environment…

Some of this article was written by me for Hospitality magazine.

How Restaurant & Cafe Owners Can Learn from Sport Teams and Violin Players

What can sporting clubs and a classical violinist teach us about staying in touch with our customers? And not just ‘don’t forget me’ messages, but spending this time of enforced separation to build their love, enthusiasm and loyalty?

Two widely contrasting social media posts landed in my feed recently – one from ‘sports fan engagement specialist’ Blair Hughes, and the other from young violinist rock star Ray Chen.

Blair is a lifelong sports nut, and watches the way smart clubs build their connection with fans, spectators and players – at the game and through the rest of the week, online and offline 24/7. He’s just shared 200 Fan Engagement Ideas to Educate, Entertain & Connect Sport Fans During Covid-19. A week later he shared one that’s even more relevant for cafes & restaurants: 150+ Fan Engagement Ideas for Craft Breweries to Entertain, Educate and Drive Revenue.

Ray Chen started as a child prodigy violin player in Brisbane, then moved to the US on a scholarship when he was 15. His career has skyrocketed since then and he travels the world giving concerts, until the start of 2020, when live events ground to a halt. He’s rapidly pivoted to a wide range of YouTube activities – live streams, practice sessions with fans, online meetings with other performers. He even has merchandise for sale. These are not just the usual ‘turn on the camera and start recording’ videos, but he gets them cleverly edited to add snap, crackle and fun. He knows his audience!

What do they have in common? Imagination, and a commitment to the pleasure, enthusiasm and loyalty of every single fan and follower. What lessons can we take from these two passionate experts to maintain and develop our own customer connections and fan base?

Here’s Ray in a recent online coaching session, and here he is jamming Waltzing Matilda