Let Me Double-Check That For You…

Another training gem from Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor.

Instead of the server saying ‘sorry, we’ve sold out of calamari/Venison/chocolate mousse or Saturday night tables, get them to take a moment more and say ‘let me double check’. Maybe there are no more, or maybe there is just one extra – either way it softens the No and shows they’re on the customer’s side.

Use this as a simple training video and watch how staff apply it. And learn more from Nancy in the podcast interview I did with her on Smarter Phone Management in Restaurants and Bars – she’s the best!

Comparing motor racing and kitchen productivity: 1981 vs 2019

There’s a dramatic difference between these two – vital minutes in a highly competitive event.

I’m wondering how this compares to kitchen and restaurant productivity? What’s lost and gained in the much faster 2019 process?

Safety should not be compromised, given that everything is calibrated and practised many times. The staff (about the same number) in the later process may be less skilled – they do just one thing, very fast. Will flavour be compromised? The original ‘recipe’ is probably not the same as the 2019 one – a different result for different times and customer expectations.

Worth discussing with your team how this could apply to a busy bar or kitchen – what new equipment is needed to match the speed of modern motor racing? Share your thoughts in the comments…

Short video honours the hard work of Kitchen Hands…

This Canadian documentary spends time with the kitchen hands at several Montreal restaurants, highlighting the fast, heavy and relentless pace of their work.

Without them there are no clean plates, no pans for chefs to cook with, no clean floors or cutlery for the table. It’s a job often done by people of colour and the marginalised, showing how the hierarchy still works in manual labour. We say we ‘couldn’t live without them’, but they’re rarely given a proper uniform or a bearable, efficient work space. Ever worked in one of those plastic aprons in a hot space? It’s tough.

The video gives an unflinching view of this hard labour, and the humanity of the people who do it…

How Climate Change Hits Small Business

It’s hard for us in our comfortable big cities to imagine what the people in Townsville (northern Australia) are going through after the massive floods and release of dam water. This inundated the town, and whole shopping centres and business areas are closed – some will never re-open.

But aren’t they insured? The reality is that the level of insurance that could cover this type of flood risk is too expensive for most small operators, even if it is available. Insurance is one of the ‘resented costs’ that operators pay year after year and never make a claim. The ‘1 in 100 year flood risk’ that’s excluded in insurance policies is now more like 1 year in 10. Some experts say Townsville will become uninsurable.

This is climate change hitting small business hard – it’s not about rain forests or the Antarctic, but the cost of being in business is becoming unbearable.

There are a number of parallels to the Brisbane floods of 2011, when I wrote an article on Disaster Recovery Marketing – how to get customers back in the door as quickly as possible. Ironically, it didn’t need much updating to be applicable to this situation.

What Employees Should Never See or Hear

We want to be open with staff and involve them in decisions and success. And the team may feel like ‘family’, but there are some things the kids shouldn’t know about – personal and business! New managers can find it difficult to be discreet – do they need some guidance?

Here’s my No-Go list – how does it compare with yours? Comments and examples very welcome…

Pay Rates and Employee Perks. Most people know what others are paid, but your discussion with each person is about their pay only. If possible, have a manager handle the negotiation for an increase. It’s good to keep your distance – a little bit of ‘good cop, bad cop’ can be useful. I usually found my manager was less generous than I would have been, and his decisions were accepted!

Personal Issues – Yours and Theirs. Gossip spreads fast, and one of the challenges of being a manager or owner is keeping your emotions and personality much more private. Most of the staff just aren’t interested in your hard times or difficulties or crazy new romance. Nor do they want others talking about their breakups, family issues or dramas. A firm ‘No Gossip’ rule is essential, and you lead the way.

Disciplinary Actions. Most staff know who’s not performing, and it’s usually no surprise. It should be handled privately, discreetly and preserving the dignity of the employee. If a termination is likely, have the ‘go away’ envelope of pay and documents ready. If someone leaves, the message is very simple – ‘Greg is no longer with us and we wish him all the best’.

How Much Money We Made!! Success is exciting, but your discreet face is still important. That goes for boasting about the brilliant sales on a huge weekend, the new BMW that is oh-so-tempting, and those Italian shoes you would love, love, love! You deserve success, but most staff don’t understand how long it took to get these results, the capital you invested, or the massive costs you cover every week. Never be seen taking cash from the till, and keep the sports car at home 😉

Politics and Religion: How you vote and how your employees vote may be very different – employers are usually more conservative. And what they believe or how they practise a religion is also private. When your friends disagree with you, they will argue back – staff don’t have that freedom and probably find your opinions oppressive. The ‘United Nations’ that makes up your workforce may also be offended by the cheap racial slant that infects so much politics. Protect them.

The Dumb Boss and the Stupid Rules. She may be hard and fair, or hard and unfair. Or weak and ineffective – whatever it is, you chose the job and have decided to stay. As have the other employees – keep your opinions to yourself. Changing from within is a challenge, and worth pursuing – how that happens and how the boss reacts needs to be handled discreetly. Bitching and rebellion doesn’t get you very far.

Your Potty Mouth. This was one of the hot issues discussed in a recent podcast about Reducing Sexual Harassment Risks in Hospitality.  Swearing and ‘adult themes’ are all over TV and the net – where do we draw the line? And laws are stronger than ever to protect people from abuse, bullying and harassment – keep it very clean.

AND… there are so many positive things you can talk about… what’s working on the spring menu, new seasonal produce, how well the Sunday night team handled the rush, new craft beers or desserts, the Chef’s new baby, the trainees doing so well, the crazy new colour scheme, a great new shop in the street nearby, celebrating Chris’s tenth anniversary at work, Jessie’s birthday – there’s no shortage!

Simple, low-cost Recipe Software – this looks just the ticket!

I found CookKeepBook through a social media mention, and it seems to have all the functions for recipe software that an independent operator needs. For many years we sold Profitable Recipe Manager, and its combination of simplicity and accuracy helped thousands of businesses control their food and recipe costs. Since retiring that product a few years ago, I’ve been looking for an inexpensive, cloud-based alternative.

There are some excellent high-end products such as Cooking the Books, MasterTracker, Menu Coster, Parsley, Hospitality Genie, KitchenCoster, the less expensive Fillet, and the venerable CalcMenu and Resort Software (waiting for them to go cloud-based), with integrations to POS systems, invoices, ordering and bookkeeping. Many of these are loaded with features, and fairly expensive for a small operator – no-one escapes subscription pricing these days!

In my experience, most people want a simple solution that can be used anywhere – PC, Mac, iPad or phone. They know that every time a recipe is costed, there will be surprises – sometimes good, usually not! The process should be as simple as: 1. enter the ingredients, 2. write the recipe and 3. create a costed recipe to print or share on iPad for daily use. When ingredient costs go up or down, changing a price adjusts the costing on all the relevant recipes.

CookKeepBook seems to have all that’s necessary for daily use, with a free version (not just a trial), and the annual cost to include a lot more features is only $69. I’ve been in touch with the developers and they are responsive and working on regular updates and new features. Highly recommended!

7 Small Ways You Could Be Leaking Money

None of these is major, but each week they soak up cash and cut into profits. Part of the fix is showing staff that every cent counts and you do watch the cents! They can be an active part of the solution, not standing on the side watching. Every single member of your staff could point out something that’s ‘leaky’ and wasteful – do they tell you? Do you ask?

  1. Late to Arrive and Early to Leave. You know who they are – the commitment of these employees is questionable. Other staff notice, and watch if you do anything about it. Finger or facial recognition clocking on and off is inexpensive to set up and integrates with payroll – if you haven’t done this already, it’s time.
  2. Dripping Taps and Running Water. In many venues, water down the toilet is more than half of the total consumption. Plus spray arms in the kitchen that use way too much and cleaning routines that use it like it’s free. Work out your water bill per day to show staff the real cost . Energy use consultants can be very useful to check this and other utility costs, and always pay for themselves.
  3. Coffee and Milk Waste. A few grams of lost coffee every time the dose is done – it adds up to big money each week. Plus all the milk that’s been overheated and can’t be used again for coffee – does it go down the sink? Ben Armstrong, the smart operator at Three Bean Espresso in Newcastle collects it to make their own yoghurt – they are now self-sufficient. Clever!
  4. Colour Printers – they’re money pits if you are still using a ‘cheap’ ink-jet printer. Really, do you need to print in colour, or would a low-cost black & white laser printer do for 95% of the printing? Or have both and set the default to the laser printer. Add up your ink cartridge purchases and divide by the number of days – the figures can be scary.
  5. Credit for Goods You Returned – this is one of the first things I look for when I’m doing a ‘costing blitz’ in a business. It’s not uncommon to return goods that are the wrong brand, size or not needed, but has the credit appeared on your statement? What’s the process to ensure this happens every time? Easy to overlook.
  6. Credit Card Fees. What’s the ‘effective rate’ your provider is charging? They create confusion with base rates and extra rates for different types of cards. Add up a month of charges and divide by a month of card sales – if it’s above 1.2% it’s time to talk with the bank manager.
  7. Back Door Dealing. In the rush of deliveries and a busy kitchen, it’s easy for delivery people to be unsupervised and cages left unlocked. Food and alcohol is as good as currency for many people – it needs a range of measures to control this including patient checking (you need the right person for this), cameras, tighter key access and storage routines. When did you last catch a thief?

Essential Directions for Restaurants & Cafes in 2019…

At the end of each year, there’s a flood of food trend surveys, and you may be wondering about nutella (wasn’t that 2016?), burgers (timeless, not trendy), vegan (essential) and a whole lot more. Step off the trend treadmill, and let’s put the industry changes into a series of directions or themes – areas where it’s vital that you stay ahead and keep improving your business. Standing still is not an option.

  1. Collecting Customers – detailed information about current and future customers is ever more important, and trend-setting operators use new methods to do this. They build on the solid foundation of email, and add personalised campaigns for different groups of Facebook fans. Or run Instagram competitions to reach young mums or food-loving singles they are chasing. They also see the value in live events and ticket sales – serving up food and experiences to passionate people, and bringing them back for more.
  2. New Profit Channels – there are many questions about the real profits from delivery services. Handing over 35% to UberEats or Deliveroo doesn’t leave much to cover costs and profits. But demand is soaring, and the extra sales are there – you’re absolutely on-trend when you experiment with the best way to take orders, organise delivery and keep the customer’s details all to yourself. Explore white-label delivery apps like Foodstorm or OrderUp, and special deals with couriers for catering. Or maybe your own app and a fast-service window for regular take-aways service.
  3. Tighter Control of the Numbers – the leading businesses in 2019 will have instant access to sales, wages and purchasing data, and they use it. This is low-cost technology available for everyone. 2017 was the year for online bookkeeping, roster systems, a better POS and booking apps. This is the year for integrating them into an easily-managed whole. Start by feeding them all into your Xero or MYOB system – sales, purchasing and wages to create a powerful dashboard. Don’t fear your numbers, bring them under control.
  4. Simplify for Efficiency. What processes can be done more quickly, with fewer phone calls, fewer moving parts, and less need for skilled staff? This is not about dumbing-down or going back to pen and paper. Simplify rostering with online systems like Tanda and Deputy – more control and an instant review of wage costs. Simplify food costs with software that gives you control of recipes, menus and ordering – check Cooking the Books, Ordermentum and Hospitality Genie. Make it easy for customers to book online, and send them reminders and messages. A simple and effective website has the phone number, hours of opening and address – are they easy to find? And ask your staff what they think could be simplified – they’ll have plenty of ideas.
  5. Great Flavours and Ingredients – whether it’s kale or cardamom, corn-fed chicken or vegan burgers, our Aussie customers love bright, strong flavours. Extra spicy, chilli options, smoky meats and char-grilled corn. Or single-origin chocolate and local mascarpone – yes please! With recent surveys showing about 1 in 10 Aussies are mostly vegetarian, vegetables at the centre with optional meat is a smart move, and if meat is your proud offering, boast about the origins and flavour profile.

People also have questions – where are the mussels from, what’s sugar-free, and how did you make the amazing lemon cake? All staff should be able to answer, and your website will be full of information. If a question keeps recurring, it might hint at a new offer – lactose-free milk anyone?

Restaurant Robotics – Two More Examples

We’ve already looked at robots cooking stirfy, and robots delivering plates.  Here are two more examples, both in early development but showing plenty of promise.

The Hiring Robot, with an improvement to the speech and intonation, would be good for a first interview. Asking questions verbally is likely to get more responses than a set of written questions. You’ve probably already related to ‘people’ like this when you make banking or airline inquiries.

It’s also early days for this robot Burger Maker, but it won’t take long for the process to be much smoother. Japanese precision food processing, like sushi-making machines, is already highly sophisticated. With this one it almost feels like the Americans are playing catch-up, and are creating the Disneyland version. Watch this space!

Taking Online Food Delivery Services to the Logical Conclusion…

Apparently Deliveroo in the UK is creating its own restaurant brands – it wants to work with celebrity chefs to open new concepts, with food produced in their dark kitchen production facilities. This will also allow international brands to test the popularity of their offer in markets with the right demographics.

Logically, their own house brands could also be invented  eg Hamilton’s Rib House or Why Not Noodles, with an entirely cloud-based identity of menu, graphics and ‘story’. We’re used to house brand groceries at supermarkets, and they don’t have to be lower quality. Some restaurants send out delivery food under a different name, to avoid confusing their brand.

Take it further: you love the Ottolenghi cookbooks, but an Ottolenghi restaurant will never open near you – there is a solution! You’ll be able to order dishes from any of his cookbooks – robotic production like this would automate the process, just another extension of recipe software.

Or you’ve tasted the wonderful Turkish food of Somer Sivioglu of Efendy and Anason restaurants in Sydney – when you’re in Dallas, it could be delivered to your door via the local shadow kitchen working from his cookbooks.

Ultimately, the difference will come down to whether you want to eat someone else’s food at home, or in the company of others. I want both, and I like the idea of more choices.

Food at Efendy, photo courtesy of Brandee Meier