Dealing With Copycats…

Tell the truth – most restaurant and foodservice ideas are some version of what you’ve seen or eaten before. You could call it ‘creative swiping’ instead of copying or plagiarism, but it’s rare for any chef or restaurateur to create a full set of completely original ideas for a new menu or cocktail list. Remember that trip to Chicago, Bali or Barcelona – tasting, taking photos and dreaming up how you could do an Aussie version for your customers?

And sometimes true originality does happen – a magic combination of sauce, spice, protein and fire. An unusual chocolate cake, upside down ice-cream or lethal cocktail – the stuff that drives word-of-mouth, Instagram and crazy return customers.

What can be copied? A recipe, decoration and furniture ideas, a menu layout, fonts, website design or even a name – how many times have you seen an Aussie concept that copies a US original?

What can be stolen? Your chef, your manager, the best waiter and some of your customers…

READ the rest of my Copycat article on p.24 of this months Hospitality magazine

Bar and restaurant found in Madrid…

Restaurant Robotics – a Couple of Interesting Examples

There are more and more examples – these two intrigued me from the cooking and the service side. Maintaining consistency and quality, freeing up staff to have more interaction and quality time with customers or the food they are cooking.

In fact the revolution is well underway – hand-held ordering has eliminated errors and kept servers close to the customers, and kiosk ordering is gaining traction. What have you seen?

Cooking with robotic woks…

Bringing the food to the server…

And a couple more recent developments for Burgers and Interviews

Simple Ways to be a ‘Thought Leader’, Even If You Dislike the Term…

A recent comment on LinkedIn got me thinking:

“LinkedIn is an amazing B2B lead generating tool, but if you are not actively reaching out to prospects and showcasing your thought leadership through regular posting it’s unlikely that you will generate any quality leads…”

‘Thought Leader’ – can’t say I love the term, but I realised there are many ways to share ideas and observations, so people become interested in your experience and opinions. You will stand out because you put them out publicly.

Here are some suggestions to get started, and LinkedIn is a great platform for sharing most of your content. When people Google your name, the LinkedIn profile is usually the #1 entry, so it makes sense.

Share a photo or two of something interesting you’ve seen, with a comment about it’s relevance to the industry eg a new shopfront, a plate of new food, a bar design or some clever lighting. 1 photo + 2 sentences is all you need.

Take better photos with your phone. Concentrate on the lighting and composition, then crop and edit so it’s focused on the main subject. Find photos that tell a story eg the busy restaurant with staff flying past, or the untidy back-lane that gives a lesson about hygiene – this is a very visual industry.

Review places you like on TripAdvisor or Yelp – it gets you in the habit of writing and thinking about how businesses operate. 3 or 4 sentences is plenty, plus a photo if you have one.

Write in a positive tone, focusing on what is useful and interesting. If something is poor quality, talk about it being ‘disappointing’ or ‘not what you expected’. Explain why, and also find at least one positive. Don’t just describe things as ‘crap’ or ‘rubbish’ – only write what you’d say to someone’s face. If it’s really bad, write nothing and move on – negativity shows you up in a bad light.

Share interesting articles or videos you find online – this is much easier than writing everything yourself. It also shows that you’re watching industry trends – most people don’t have time to do this, and depend on people like you as ‘curators’. It’s an important role.

Focus on LinkedIn, and also consider having a separate Facebook business page and Instagram business profile. Keep your private Facebook profile firmly locked – don’t mix business and personal content. Here’s how I keep a  separate business Facebook Page.

Use good Facebook Groups to share information and opinions on the industry. I find the Australian Chef Network and the Australian Cafe Owners Network are excellent for this.

Build your confidence writing short posts and opinions, then you’ll be ready to write something longer… like this blog! Or submit opinion or knowledge pieces to trade magazines – they’re always after good, factual content.

Whether we like the term ‘thought leader’ or not, there’s a hunger by most people for industry information and thoughtful opinions. Put your fingers on the keyboard and start leading!

 

8 Simple LinkedIn Profile Improvements for Chefs & Restaurant Managers

Want to be taken seriously as a professional? A good LinkedIn profile is essential, and this means more than just dumping your CV into a new location.

People who want to know more about you for a job, as a referee or even for a presenting opportunity will always Google your name. Your LinkedIn profile will appear high up on the first search page, and usually influences their opinion. Let’s get started on some simple upgrades – install the LinkedIn app on your phone if that’s the easiest way to edit. Each of the terms used below eg ‘Summary’ refer to the heading you will see when you edit your profile.

Update your Photo – no cheap selfies or party shots! If you need a new photo, use ‘portrait photo’ mode on your phone, and get someone to take it in bright, flat light, to avoid shadows eg in a room facing a window. If you want to go further, professional portrait photos can be done at relatively low cost – get a few done, maybe also with family or partner You can also add a horizontal banner photo up the top of your profile – use a favourite picture of hospitality or a travel location. I use one of a Munich beer garden 😉

Use ‘Keywords’ in your Headline. This is more than just your job title, which is listed separately as ‘Current Position’. Use words in the Headline that people search for (keywords), and make it descriptive Eg not just Head Chef, but ‘Head Chef with 20 years experience in fine dining, gourmet catering and casual bistros’ – you can use up to 120 characters.

Expand the Summary – show your enthusiasm for work, and what you’ve learned about the industry. This is where you show how you can help people. Have at least 3 paragraphs in this very important section. If you find it hard to write about yourself, ask a friend to assist. Write this Summary in the first person eg ‘I have set up new food safety systems’ not ‘She set up new food safety systems’ – this is more personal and real.

Add some personal details to round out your image eg ‘volunteer with trainee baristas at the local refugee centre’, ‘renovating an old timber house in my spare time’, or ‘training with my local team for the 2020 Hockey World Cup’.

Make Yourself Easy to Contact – include your personal email and a relevant phone number, especially if you want to be reached for career opportunities. Do whatever you’re comfortable with, and at least an email is important for credibility.

Expand on Your Experience – add a couple of sentences about each of your previous jobs in the Experience section. Include some numbers to add credibility eg ‘ran a team of 12 people’ or ‘Organised 3 offsite kitchens feeding 600 people every day’. If one position was a particular favourite or a huge learning opportunity, say so!

Add All Your Education – include the location of where you trained. Include any short, relevant courses eg a Food Safety Certificate. If you speak additional languages, include those as well – a bonus.

Add Links to Relevant Websites or Social Media – the website of your workplace, or your food-related Instagram site. Maybe you contribute to an events or hospitality blog – if it adds to your reputation, add it.

Update Privacy & Security Settings – this is simple to do, and offers a lot of options. You’ll find them listed under your Profile picture on a PC/Mac browser, or under the little cog that’s top right on the phone or iPad app.

Once you have a good professional profile, you’re ready to reach out to build your list of connections – here’s how I’ve been doing it over the last 12 months.

How to Build Your Career in Coffee or Cooking – 2 minute advice video

You may find Chris Baca’s enthusiasm annoying, or his message spot on. I like what he’s saying, and he got it out in 2 minutes flat – that’s way quicker than most career advice. And maybe it’s a model for how to share video information in a way that will be watched right to the end.

What’s he on about? If you’re a speedy barista who knows all about flavour, or a chef who can cook blindfolded – congratulations.

But if you want to get ahead in coffee, or become a head chef or manager, the real skills to develop are how you lead, teach and communicate. Simple. Get off the tools and work on doing these better – that’s what business operators are looking for. Otherwise, you’re just one of many in a crowded field.

Another great discussion starter video for a team meeting…

Understanding the Science of Timing – When to Take Action [Short Video]

Social psychologist Dan Pink has released a fascinating new book called When – the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

I love the way he does a massive amount of research, then presents his conclusions in an appealing way that can assist us all to be more effective. Here’s a short interview with Dan Pink about his research, and how to work out when is the optimal time to do our best work. Short videos like this are great discussion starters for staff development sessions…


Also check Dan Pink talking about his previous book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

It’s World Backup Day – When Did You Do It Last?

March 31 is World Backup Day – and apparently 30% of people have never backed up their data, ever. Or maybe you did it a long, long time ago…which is equal to never. All your employment records, emails, sales data, recipes, booking information, customer lists, tax records, your website… let alone all the personal information and family photos. One in 10 computers is affected by viruses every month.

You need to be backing up to a local hard-drive, and a cloud service. I now use cloud-based service Backblaze, for a measly $50 per year. Very easy to set up, and it quietly backs up my new and changed data every hour, without me noticing. Double security, and highly recommended.

Imagine your laptop, phone, iPad and POS system all stolen or destroyed, or your system hijacked – what would it take to recover?

When You Take Over a Cafe or Restaurant – How to Do It Right

A while back I wrote about the decline of a favourite cafe now under new ownership. I was challenged to give suggestions for how this could be done well, so here’s my To-Do list for the new business owner:

New Faces: own it, and let people know who’s who. Now’s the time for name tags (yes!) and the owner or manager could even add a cheeky label to say ‘Proud New Owner’.  Could you get a ‘best wishes’ message from the old owner? Put it up on the wall for all to see.

This is also time to say goodbye to staff who weren’t adding to the business – the slow and the negative. In most situations, you have a unique opportunity to let go of previous employees without any obligation – the previous owner should be paying them out, or compensating you for any accrued benefits they have (eg long service leave). New owner, new start – talk to your lawyer.

Do More of What Was Done Well: the great cakes, the friendly greeting, excellent coffee (don’t change the blend!) and the special services. Keep buying flowers and providing newspapers.

Fix the Weak System: businesses are rarely sold because they’re making too much money… it’s usually the opposite, no matter what stories you were told by the broker! Audit and start upgrading the ordering systems, stocktaking, recipe costing, booking and customer service procedures. Are staff signing on and off correctly? Assume that there’s been internal theft, and look for system gaps that have allowed this eg stocktaking, POS not being used correctly, cash handling etc. Once you close off these opportunities, the thieves will soon leave.

Dig Into the Numbers: the figures you were given from the old business are probably a bit sketchy, but you will soon find valuable information from your POS and the bills you pay. A well-setup cloud accounting system is essential eg Xero or MYOB, so you can track results day by day – get your accountant onto this immediately. Detailed figures from the POS will soon show best and worst sellers, plus sales by hour and day. A good roster system like Tanda or Deputy let’s you compare wage costs against sales – even a spreadsheet will help to find areas of strength and weakness. Slice and dice all the numbers you can – opportunities will be right there in front of you.

Clean and Repair: businesses for sale often look tired, and cleaning is one of the first things to be neglected. Blitz the floors, and ceilings, plus behind counters and shelves – you’ll be surprised at what you find. Fix the broken appliances, toss out old platters and pots, ditch the broken furniture. Front of house, fix wobbly tables and repair all the dings and scratches on furniture. Paint the toilets and install new toilet seats and amenities.

Don’t Redecorate Just Yet: if you’re launching a whole new concept, go for it. But if you value the concept you bought, minimise the redecoration until you’ve settled in. Once you know more about the customers and service rhythm, you’ll be clearer about new decor.

Leave the Menu Alone: there will be weaknesses that need to be fixed, but in the first few months you are stabilising the ship, sorting out the staff and making friends with customers. You’re also finding out what customers really like, so use the specials board to try new ideas. Ask questions and listen.

Improve the Marketing: another area where the previous owners were probably economising or forgetful. Increase the friendliness and frequency of posts on Facebook and Instagram, including targeted ads. Check that your ‘Google My Business’ listing is up to date and has plenty of photos. The website may need a major improvement – this should be a high priority, with better photos, more relevant information and optimised for mobile phones. If an email newsletters was being send, use it to spread good news – another area where things had probably slipped.

Improve Staff Culture and Conditions: that includes fairer treatment, proper pay, better rostering and good communication channels. There will be times you are told ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ – just smile and explain why it needs to change. Don’t be surprised if within 3 months all the old staff have left – it usually happens with new management. Yes, even the ones who say you’re much nicer than the old boss! Staff manuals and policies, job descriptions and a noticeboard – they’re all part of the healthy new broom.

Time to Tighten Up Your Facebook Privacy – How Long Since You Checked It?

I like Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family, but worry about the privacy side – who else knows what I say and like? The latest news about political use of Facebook data shouldn’t come as a surprise – it’s just a sophisticated extension of what you can do to target local customers with Facebook ads.

It’s important to review your privacy settings – the options keep changing and you might be surprised at the information you make available. If you’ve never done this, chances are that strangers can see all of your posts. And what about your staff? It’s amazing how unaware they are with privacy – challenge them.

Here’s Canadian tech guru Steve Dotto, showing how to tighten up access to your private Facebook information. Read his article or watch him show you how on the video…

UPDATE: Seems like the data Facebook collects from our phones is way more than imagined, although I’m sure we gave permission in those Terms & Conditions we agreed to. This tweet alerted me to the range of data, and how you can access it – read the details here on TechCrunch

Watching the Decline of a Cafe Under New Owners

It’s painful to watch the decline of a favourite cafe – it’s been under new management for the last 2 months. It was probably not an easy business to sell, as the menu is complex and standards high – that would make it intimidating for many potential purchasers. The previous owners set it up ten years ago, and it has a passionate following – for the product and for them as people. But new owners should expect this –  it is too personal a business for them to assume people won’t care about changes. Just doing the same as before is never enough in situations like this.

What else have I noticed?

  • The beautiful fresh flowers on the front table are now skimpy, or missing. No more quirky signs or humorous touches.
  • Instagram action has fallen away – previously we would see something wonderful just out of the oven almost every day.
  • Most of the familiar staff have gone. That is inevitable with a changeover, but we miss the friendly greetings, especially from the previous owners. This ’emotional leadership’ can be replaced by new faces, but there are no obvious owners taking on this role – who is running the show? Who is the new chef? Many people like to know this…
  • Cake cabinets are a little less full and abundant. They may have been overstocked before, but all that great food piled high was part of the attraction.
  • Signs of carelessness – staff touching hair between serving, cash sales not rung up properly. Maybe I’m watching too closely?
  • Decline in coffee quality – have they changed brands?!? This can be a disaster for regulars, and I’ve heard comment from others.

Taking over a popular business will always be a challenge, and the last thing that regulars want is change. There’s a strong need for stability, continuity and even more friendliness. Once a slide starts to happen, it can be reversed, but it needs ‘turnaround marketing’ skills that many people don’t have.

>> Check the positive companion article to this: When You Take Over a Cafe or Restaurant – How to Do It Right .