Is this the real reason we can’t find chefs?

Is the chef shortage a result of work that’s too hard, low pay, a sudden lack of work ethics … or because of a housing problem?

Instead of blaming young people or immigration changes, or even Masterchef, I’d put a lot of it onto the lack of affordable rentals close to the main hospitality and tourism hubs, where the work is. In my city of Sydney, that’s in the CBD, on the harbour and at beach-side suburbs.

At the wonderful Aust Culinary Federation Chef’s Dinner the other night, I talked to a wide range of young chefs. They love their work, mostly in those busy areas, and they live a looooong way away – a couple of them told me about catching the last train home at 1am and falling asleep for an hour until they get off at 2.30am. Then back to work for lunch the next day. Some live with parents, others with friends in cheap housing.

OK those hours aren’t exactly fair (and probably illegal), but at another time they would have found a reasonably-priced house to share or a flat within 5km, with a 20 min. bus or train to work. Adding four hours of travel to every work day is just asking for burnout, and a resignation. This is not just a problem for chefs, but also for teachers, police workers, cleaners and all the people doing the essential middle-level work that keeps society functioning.

Let’s stop blaming young people and social media, and understand that the problem is much more fundamental…

What Profits Are Used For: An Explanation for Restaurant Staff

Sales – costs = profit. It’s simple. If profits are good, there are more smiles and generosity – the fundamentals of hospitality. If money is tight, there’s not much for extras, and shortcuts will usually cut into service and quality.

It’s easy for staff to misunderstand the profitability of a business – they assume that you’re making money on the first coffee sold on Monday morning, and it’s $3.50 profit on the $4.00 price. The financial literacy of staff is another training topic, but in the meantime it’s good for them to learn more about business essentials…

So why are profits so important?

  • Profits mean more tax is paid – which pays for schools, roads and hospitals. If the tax rate on business profits is 30%, that’s $300 paid for every $1000 of profit. No profit = no taxes.
  • The business can afford better (and often expensive) kitchen and coffee equipment, which is usually easier to use.
  • Profitable businesses can pay for good uniforms, not cheap ones. Or provide them for staff instead of insisting they use their own.
  • Profitable businesses can afford professional cleaning, so the place sparkles everywhere. They also buy flowers, quality furnishings and good tableware – small things that add up.
  • Pay for staff training and offering staff opportunities for staff development. Hard-up businesses never do this.
  • Profits allow for business expansion, which means more people employed and more opportunities for promotion, and work for your friends.
  • The boss is more likely to take staff to a trade show and dinner afterwards, or take all the staff to the restaurant awards dinner.
  • Managers don’t stress if someone has time off for urgent family reasons – they can afford to be generous.
  • A profitable business shows staff how to operate successfully – a great learning opportunity if they have dreams of their own restaurant in the future.
  • Profit gives the business a value, making it easier to sell. A business that’s easy to sell is usually fresh, lively and popular.

…and finally, a profitable businesses can give the boss a good holiday – making her more generous, smiling and easier to be around!

How to Celebrate the Smart Women At Your Restaurant on International Women’s Day

Use International Women’s Day on 8th March to celebrate staff and customers. There are many simple ways to mark the occasion, and you’ll get top marks for showing you notice and care – this is marketing with a heart. Women hold up half the sky, and as visitors and workers, at least half of your business…

  • Make it a week not just a day – there’s plenty to talk about, leading up to 8th March. Highlight one promotion, photo or story each day.
  • Feature the women who work for you – a group photo, and extra mention of the long-time workers and how they’ve developed. Share photos and stories on Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms – posts like these will be widely shared.
  • Talk about women who inspire your staff: more to post on Facebook. Kate might be inspired by Kylie Kwong, the chef and entrepreneur. Jan the floor manager loves the way Adele the singer has handled her struggle. You get the idea – post the Facebook with a picture of the staff member or their hero – this is easy content to prepare.
  • Ask staff to share ‘About My Mother’ on Facebook: these posts can be an inspiration. You just need a photo of a staff member with their mum or grandmother – ask them what’s special about the relationship in just one sentence. This needs organising a few weeks in advance, and the results can be very moving.
  • Share a food angle: favourite recipes from mothers and grandmothers. ‘Nanna food’ is still popular and something to feature – mention whose mother it is!
  • Support a women’s cause for the week: a local women’s shelter, or an aid project overseas. You’ll find information and photos about the cause on their websites.
  • Push it further and get staff thinking about gender and harassment issues – a conversation that all staff should take part in. It may be a little uncomfortable to start with, but good things come out of these discussions. There are some good interviews on Profitable Hospitality podcasts about Women Chefs and Inequality, and Reducing Sexual Harassment Risks.
  • Hold a special dinner or event: work with local community groups and give them a chance to raise funds by selling tickets. Organise a speaker and showcase the work of your women chefs with pictures in a Facebook album the next day. Start something regular.
  • Learn and share about the history of International Women’s Day – it’s inspiring!

The ‘Stage 2’ Error That Can Fatally Weaken a Cafe or Restaurant

A conversation with a new operator during the week got me thinking about a classic and potentially lethal startup mistake: Stage 1 and Stage 2 thinking.

This approach basically says “let’s get this new place open as quickly as we can, even though we don’t have enough money to do it properly. After a few months when we are profitable, we can afford Stage 2 and get the job finished.”

Stage 2 items include things like:

  • A modern website that will compete with the best in the area, with some great photography to attract social media attention
  • Co-ordinated and regular marketing – interesting social media posts, responsive to reviews, developing an email list, and a calendar of promotional events
  • Professional decoration that makes an immediate impression – not just secondhand, DIY and IKEA
  • Plenty of refrigeration and storage space, including a coolroom, so you can buy in bulk
  • A properly-fitted washup area, so kitchen staff can do the job quickly
  • Cost-saving kitchen equipment like slicers, food processors, a salad bar and a properly-tiled floor that’s easy to clean
  • An effective and easy-to-clean kitchen exhaust system – proper filters, easy-access ductwork, and a regular maintenance program. Otherwise it’s a fire just waiting to happen.
  • An efficient and well-equipped counter with great beverage systems – not just the free-on-loan Coke fridge. Fortunately, a quality espresso machine is usually a Stage 1 choice
  • Staff facilities – lockers, a change area and plenty of regular training
  • Staff recruitment and rostering systems – to attract the best and minimise wage costs
  • Correct staff wages, with all the legally-required benefits
  • Well-trained and experienced staff. Most of the best people actually don’t want to be part of a startup, because they know it’s messy. But after a couple of weeks that’s forgotten.
  • Bookkeeping system (like Xero) and someone dedicated to run it, to accurately and instantly track income and expenses

Unfortunately, the lack of these essential Stage 2 items fatally weakens a business from the start, so the great profits expected when you open  with Stage 1 never come to pass. Most Stage 2 items are essential for a healthy bottom line.

You’re overworked and tired, just managing to pay expenses, and the profits to finance investment aren’t there – it’s not long until you’re looking for the exit. Unfortunately businesses stuck in Stage 1 don’t sell for much, and there are lots of them on the market. Invest carefully.

Alimentari in Melbourne – getting it so right from the beginning…

Yuk Factor – Simple Things That Customers Dislike (and don’t tell you about)

We get busy, or need to cut expenses, and it doesn’t take long before shortcuts start with cleaning, maintenance, repairs and service.

Here’s a bunch of familiar items – we’ve all done it, but please find a better way. Most customers don’t complain, they just stop visiting… and tell their friends – these are the opposite of Quality Signals. PRINT and share with your team – they will find more!

  • Sticky things – unwiped tables, unclean carpet, underneath the edge of tables.
  • Wet things – the table that was wiped, but with a wet cloth. The floor or seat of the toilet – they need an immediate fix.
  • The walk to the toilet – is it clean, tidy and ‘neutral’ all the way?
  • Strange smells – in the toilet, cleaning fluid, bleach and more.
  • Dead or dying plants – I’ve always seen this as a strong indicator of a failing business.
  • Grubby kitchen clothes – chef jackets, pants and aprons that aren’t freshly laundered. It’s a time-consuming process, but less than sparkling sends a negative message. And why doesn’t the kitchenhand deserve better than  street clothes?
  • Worn aprons, especially on front of house staff, plus that awful chux in the back pocket for a quick table wipe.
  • Crazy piercings, hair and tattoos – OK, I’m out on a limb here, but our job is not to compete with customers. If you’re in an edgy neighbourhoood, maybe, but if your regular customers would feel confronted, it will turn people away… and should stop.
  • Grubby view of the kitchen – if it’s open, or visible at any time, the shelves have to be tidy, pots scrubbed top to bottom, and please don’t show yellow buckets of chicken booster!
  • Things on the floor – behind the bar or visible on the kitchen floor. Boxes, pots, trays, food cooling.
  • Crap on shelves and counters – staff cigarettes, a glass of old pens, docket books and things that should be in a drawer. Walk around to the customer side and have a look…
  • Staff clearing dirty glasses with their fingers in the rim – touching people’s spit!
  • Stack-and-clear for plates, aka the ‘nanna stack’. Clear professionally so dirty plates are lifted out of the customer view.
  • Fluorescent light tubes visible – in the kitchen or a bar fridge. Surprising how often a great design is sabotaged by careless lighting.
  • Cleaning materials – the mop bucket (usually grubby) and dirty rags.
  • Excess stock – in the corner there’s the big delivery of mineral water you don’t have room for.
  • Broken furniture – rocky tables and rickety chairs. These items get very heavy use, so invest in strong commercial versions or replace every year. IKEA is not a solution 😉
  • Dirty chair legs – they’re kicked all day, and quickly get scuffed and marked.
  • Dirty bins – why are they always so filthy on the outside? Need a weekly scrub.

Italians sometimes call these small, unpleasant items colpo d’occhio – something that hits you in the eye. It’s time to walk around with someone who doesn’t work in the business and see what you find!

Working on my elevator pitch as Silver Chef’s Community Manager

With my new role as Community Manager at Silver Chef, there’s the need to explain my slightly ambiguous title to people who ask about it. Or be ready to go beyond hello at an event, when most Australians seem to make ‘what do you do’ the ice-breaker question. A recent session with the marketing team had us working on our elevator pitches, and struggling to keep them short, jargon-free and interesting.

Here’s my one-sentence version, and the follow-up two sentences if people look interested and want to know more…

Hi, I’m Ken Burgin and my job is to educate cafe and restaurant operators on the latest industry trends and how to turn them into profits. [most times, I stop here]

We do this by organising training events, exhibiting at trade shows and connecting with smart business operators to share their skills

I’ve worked in hospitality for more than 25 years, and it’s great to use that experience to help make the industry stronger.

Why just one sentence? This was a useful tip from Dale Beaumont, the business educator. Check the great interview with him (go to 18:24) where he explains the need for a short-short version – most elevator pitches would have you travelling to the 99th floor to finish, when it needs to be all over by level 3 or your listener will be switched off and snoozing!

Working remotely – Amalfi Coast, Italy 2015

How ‘Quality Signals’ Silently Promote Your Restaurant and Bar

They’re the small, carefully chosen elements that, one by one, tell people that this is a quality business. Different people will notice different things, so one won’t be enough. Here are some of the ‘quality signals’ I’ve noticed in the last few months at different restaurants, cafes and bars…

  • Fresh flowers – a big bunch, not a small one
  • Good quality uniforms and aprons in staff – looking new, not washed 1000 times. Matching your staff, who are fresh and well groomed!
  • Staff demeanour – open, friendly and attentive. Focused on the customer, not on each other or their phones.
  • Paintwork clean and unscratched, and floors not scuffed. Wooden floors can be a big problem.
  • Table surfaces polished and not scratched or worn – they need regular replacement or treatment
  • Lighting is warm and the sources usually invisible – no sight of the fluoros in the kitchen
  • Quality tableware – cups, plates, cutlery, napkins and glassware. Water glasses get pitted after hundreds of washes – replace them
  • Good quality coffee machine – it tells us there’ll be good coffee
  • Polished bottles and shelves behind the bar – thorough cleaning
  • Nice view of the kitchen – tidy, clean and organised
  • A visit to the bathroom is pleasant – clean, dry, freshly painted, no smells and a hook for your bag. These little rooms get a lot of use and need industrial-strength fittings eg toilet paper dispensers and deodorising systems
  • The cake display – trays full of delicious treats, hopefully made on the premise
  • Menus freshly printed or laminated – no torn corners
  • Phone answering and email replies – prompt, articulate and helpful

Missing or wrong signals can undermine or sabotage an otherwise-professional operation – sometimes they could be called Yuk Factors. What needs changing?

10 Restaurant KPI’s to Measure Sales Strength and Weakness

Whether it’s sales, productivity or costs – your performance is in the numbers. Most Point of Sale systems offer hundreds of report options, but unless the sales are grouped in the right way, the results won’t show you useful information. Here’s a bunch of useful Sales KPI’s to see how well your business is performing…

Number of Customers. Simple! A good measure of popularity, but how do you count them if there’s a cafeteria line or take-away food? This is one of your most important numbers, and it’s surprising how many businesses don’t know it.

Total Sales Per Head. Total sales divided by the number of customers. How does it compare to last week and last month? May vary between different times of the day and day of the week.

Food, Dessert, Beverage Sales per Head. These are divided into key areas of choice – main course and starters, desserts, non-alcohol beverages, alcohol and perhaps also side orders (eg breads and salads) and other product sales. It’s the perfect indicator of two things – how much your menu appeals to your customers (do you have all the choices they want, eg the right dessert selection?), and how well your staff are selling. This KPI can be a good basis for a bonus system.

Seating Efficiency. How well your tables are being turned over while still offering high quality customer service. Usually many small things combine to have a large impact – cooking time, seating, service and clearing. The size of tables relative to the average group size will also make a difference.

Sales per Hour. Useful in a high-volume setting like a bar where staff may have their own till. Maximising their speed by setting up the touch screen so staff can find popular items quickly, and ensure that the screen has a rapid ‘refresh rate’.

Sales per Labour Hour. Divide total sales by total labour hours and compare with your average cost of staff per hour. How does it look?

Basket Size: this is one that retailers use to measure how many items each customer buys. You may want to check how many items other than pizza, or the main course, are ordered eg drinks, salads and dessert. Count them for take-away and for sit-down.

Strike Rate. If 500 people came to your pub last night and only 100 ate at the bistro, the ‘strike rate’ would be 1 in 5, or 20%. Good enough? Compare it with similar businesses and at different times. If only 20 of the 100 diners ate dessert, the strike rate would also be 1 in 5. This could definitely be improved with a better menu and suggestive selling.

Revenue per Available Seat Hour (RevPASH). Similar thinking to the way hotels measure Revenue per Available Room. To work out RevPASH, divide total sales by the number of ‘seat hours’. Eg a restaurant of 100 seats open for a 4 hour period has 400 ‘seat hours’.

Most and Least Profitable Menu Items, plus Best and Worst Selling Items.
Grade recipes from most to least profitable, working out accurate results using recipe software or recipe cards. Compare with the number of sales of each. When you have items that are both low profit and low sales, these ‘losers’ should be taken off the menu as fast as possible.

Comparisons and Benchmarks…

Many operators are frustrated by the lack of detailed industry figures to compare with their own performance. Some industries have organised KPI comparison figures available by subscription eg the club industry. The lack of outside figures shouldn’t stop you comparing performance your own figures between periods.

Comparisons that can be useful:

  • This week with last week
  • This month with the same period last year
  • One section or unit compared with another
  • Compare the effects of different weather conditions and temperatures
  • Compare different times of the day and days of the week
  • Compare the performance of different staff or under different managers
  • Compare results with a different number of people on duty

Which of these sales KPI’s do you find most useful?

The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us [Training Video]

You may have seen this short video, but have your staff? Motivation is one of those constant issues with employees, just like ‘productivity’ and ‘wage costs’. You want to motivate them, and get your managers and head chefs to help with the process. And hopefully you’ve employed people who are self-motivated?

But what is motivation?

This short animated video from Dan Pink is an excellent starting point for a discussion with managers, or with all your team. Stop it several times and ask for feedback, then seek comparisons with places that people have previously worked and the current workplace. In what areas is motivation lacking, and what are some quick changes that could be made to improve it? 10-minute videos like these can be a powerful part of a staff meeting or coaching session – they get everyone thinking outside the daily issues.