How to become ‘Employer of Choice’ for local Hospitality Teachers (and help solve your staff shortage)

Short of young staff? Hospitality is a very popular subject in secondary schools, and there are many students looking for opportunities. Here’s how to make the right connections:

  • Get to know the careers counsellor and the hospitality teachers. the counsellor works with every school student on their career and training plans and is keen to meet local business operators who have genuine opportunities. Once they know you are honest and fair, they can often give you the ‘inside running’ on the best students.
  • Offer to be a guest speaker for hospitality students. Think of it as a Q&A session rather than a prepared speech – it’s less nerve-wracking. Take one of your young staff along, or send the chef along to help a teacher with the dessert class, meat preparation or knife skills. Or your sharp barista to give the finer points on speedy latte production.
  • Sponsor an Award for School Speech Day. There are usually ‘Best Student’ awards for most subjects. Why not sponsor one with a Gift Voucher for the local kitchen supply shop? Knives and kit are always needed. Add some fun with a restaurant voucher for them to come and visit with their family. This is a lot more exciting for students than the dusty History Prize! If the school is hesitant about private sponsorship, organise it through the local Chamber of Commerce, who should be involved anyway.
  • Sponsor a school activity. You may be asked to help with excursion costs or sporting equipment, but focus on events that lead straight back to your business. The sponsorship may not be money, but it could be a celebration coffee back at the café. You may also hear of kitchen equipment that the school needs. Sometimes they’re well-equipped with heavy stoves and refrigeration, but missing out on utensils or a food- processor. The parent association is another group looking for support, and your donation of a dinner prize for the raffle or coupon book will be much appreciated.
  • Create a cookery or coffee event for the school. Put on a cooking show, and make it more than just fancy pans and flames.
  • Focus on nutrition, food safety and safe work practices to help teachers cover those essential parts of the curriculum.
  • Run a barista workshop at your cafe. With growing chef shortages, we have to do everything possible to show cooking is a fun and attractive career. Jamie Oliver has done great work with young students turning around their perceptions of ‘healthy food’. Watch his short videos, in which he shows students exactly what is in chicken nuggets. It’s a good format for how to do an engaging cooking demonstration in a short time (alhtough it’s not about cooking as a career).
  • Help students with an assessment event. Find out what dishes students must master for their assessment, and bring your insights to their preparation. Include a discussion of how you manage temperature, storage and quality. Recruit some student assistants and leave them with a souvenir for helping – a fun certificate or the restaurant’s postcard, cap or t-shirt.
  • Remember, schools have changed. Education is now more focused on career skills, and students are much more ‘worldly’ and assertive. They may be asking you things you’d never have discussed back when you were at school, and the language may be as colourful as in your kitchen! Relax, and be guided by the teacher on what’s OK and what’s not.
  • There’s a strong emphasis on protecting students – it’s part of modern work training. You may even be asked to obtain a ‘working with children’ clearance if you will be dealing with students over a period. Don’t be offended – schools are required to be very vigilant about keeping predators away – you see the news.
  • Relationships in action. Michael Fischer built up long-term relationships with schools in Parramatta, Australia, when he had Barnaby’s Restaurant. After building bridges with schools and developing trust, he was able to be more insistent that the students sent along for work experience were those genuinely interested in hospitality as a career, not just a soft option for school. He had many of these students continue on as apprentices and floor staff. Word gets back to teachers and other students if the workplace is fair and the opportunities are worthwhile. It was not only hospitality ‘lifers’ that he needed, but people to work weekends and regular casual shifts. Maybe they are training to be an engineer, but during the four years of their course, if they work for you most weekends and holidays, that’s long-term employment in this industry!
  • Is this all worth the effort? We all prefer to do business with someone we know and trust, and it grows over time. As you build the relationship with principals, teachers and students, you are the natural recommendation to the best students who want a career in hospitality. In a labour market with fewer and fewer choices, here’s to your unfair advantage!

C.R.C. – 3 Words to Get Much Better Results

If your staff management, menu updates, and marketing is inconsistent, these 3 words will get you back on track. They create much-needed discipline in an industry that’s often ‘hit and miss’, and they also show staff and public that your business is professional and reliable.

Calendar + Reminders = Consistency. And consistency is what makes the difference between smart ideas, and the implementation of them that creates results. Consistency is what your competitors rarely achieve – on again, off again marketing, staff who don’t know what’s happening, unhappy suppliers – it weakens them.

What does Consistency look like, from the outside?

  • The email newsletter goes out on the first Monday of every month.
  • Members of the Birthday Club always get a text message on their big day.
  • The Summer Menu starts… on the first day of summer!
  • Post a photo on Instagram every. single. day. (so fans are more likely to see you)
  • Loyal suppliers are paid on time, just like you promise.
  • Food cost figures available for the chefs every Tuesday morning.
  • Maintenance is organised for less expensive times (e.g. fridge checks in winter), so fewer breakdowns and less cost.
  • New staff have a review scheduled 7 days after they start, without fail. And if they’re unsuitable, the issue is handled quickly.
  • Regular staff have an organised ‘how’s it going’ review every 6 months – it becomes a positive part of their job, not something unknown and scary.

A Calendar creates the system – when you put a date on an event, or a deadline for preparation, it’s much more likely to happen, specially when you set up Reminders. Set it up your calendar with an online system like Google Calendar that can sync across your PC, phone, iPad etc – wherever you are the calendar is the same. It’s easy to set up automatic repeats, and notifications for multiple people – if others know, there’s less chance of a miss.

Add Reminders so that the tasks are not forgotten – these could be an email, or a phone notification. Or a project management system (e.g. we use Teamwork.com) that sends reminders and can be accessed by others in your team. Or a person who is tasked to prepare some documents or newsletters so they’re ready on the agreed time and date – they don’t just remind you, they have the essentials ready for you to send.

Now you’re creating Consistency – people see you and the business as organised, reliable and true to your word – qualities we all admire in a business. Our example: the Hospo Reset newsletter goes out every Wednesday morning. It’s empowering to have deadlines – they add discipline and strength to the often chaotic world of hospitality.

What’s first for your new calendar?

9 Ways Staff Will Take You For Granted – if you let them

You’re a good manager – fair, not too emotional and you care about the staff.

But over time they’ve taken more and more for granted – feeling entitled to extra favours, and assuming you make so much money it doesn’t matter. Why did this happen, and how can you make a change?

For most people (like your staff), if you don’t give them rules and reasons why things have to be done a certain way, they will make up their own. If you don’t provide guidelines, they’ll ask someone else, or base decisions on what they did in the last job – and many of these assumptions will be wrong.

Here’s a hit-list based on businesses I’ve visited – do any of them need your attention?

  • Left-overs taken home. Funny how there’s always extra left over when that’s allowed. Food safety regulations might be one way to close down this lurk, or just a change of rules related to a ‘food cost review’. I’m all for offering staff meals, but not take-outs – a clear Theft Policy may be needed.
  • Endless roster swaps. No one loves organising this, and it’s very easy to let people make fixes and changes themselves… and fairly soon there’s chaos. Swap to online rostering where it’s handled digitally with much more control. It still needs ‘parental supervision’, but the process is much easier for everyone online. What do the rules say now?
  • A staff drink at the end of a busy shift has turned into a free-for-all. Toughen-up the policy on ringing up staff drinks, or take a deep breath and go dry at the end of the night. Either way, a written Drug & Alcohol Policy will help to standardise the rules. Staff drinking and smoking is often the elephant we don’t want to look at.
  • Lateness. Texting ahead that you’re ‘running late – sorry!!!’ does not make it OK. Is it time to give someone an official warning? Everyone knows who the offenders are, and wonder why it’s tolerated. See the Memo example.
  • Mobile Phone Use. Where do we start with this?! It can be brought under control, even though for some staff it’s like taking away a child. Share the rules and make sure there is secure storage for phones not being used. Do you have rules set out clearly?
  • Scrappy grooming – you’re told it’s the modern way. For men, the daily shave now seems to be optional – hey, if you’re growing a beard, let it grow. But if you only bother to shave every third day, it will now have to be daily. Your staff manual may need more explicit guidelines, with pictures and clear examples of what is OK and not OK. Discreet facial studs and rings are also common, but our role is not to alarm the customers – do you need to tighten up on blue hair, big rings and crazy studs? It’s not ‘discrimination’ to restrict appearance that turns off your customers.
  • The place is untidy, and it’s not busy. The famous slogan ‘time to lean is time to clean’ needs regular reinforcement – what’s the standby list? Develop your list of Jobs for When It’s Not Busy and have it on the wall.
  • Coffee for the boss? I met a cafe owner recently in her own business and she had to wave down a staff member to order coffee for us – not a good look. Some staff are thoughtful, some are not – the standard instruction should be ‘if I’m meeting with a visitor the closest server should always ask if we’d like a beverage’.
  • Playing off partners and managers like they do with their own mum and dad. As kids, we all knew who to ask for certain things, and when. Same happens in a business – you don’t need a 10-page Policy on everything, but there need to be clear written directions to give certainty. If you and your partner have been played, put a list together and write up the standard response. Maybe just for you two, or put it on the noticeboard.

Watch Out for These Problems with ‘Perfect’ Staff

Do you have a dream employee?

They smile a lot, cover extra shifts, keep the bar clean, and know how to fix the fryer and the coffee grinder. They can cheer up cranky guests and sell them all dessert… and they know how the boss likes her coffee.

And because everything is going so well, it’s easy to leave them alone while you concentrate on fighting fires. But putting time into managing these people can be a much better investment than constantly chasing problem staff. And if you don’t, there’s a bunch of bigger issues that may come up.

So what could go wrong?

  • They may burn out from taking on too much. A key goal for all staff should be a work-life balance – it’s not just a new fad. Enthusiasm can slide into feeling exploited, and then resentment. Work with them on career plans and ensure (insist!) they have good holidays.
  • You may be overpaying them. The relief of having reliable help tempts some owners to be too generous. Make sure that the pay is not out of line with other key staff.
  • Are they good because your other staff are not? If the systems are faulty, lacking or chaotic, you need super staff to hold the place together. If you’ve got good, clear systems and everyone ‘follows the manual’, it’s surprising how well a 20-year-old can run key shifts.
  • They may not be great team players. Don’t let resentment build – suddenly Mr NewGuy is getting all the love and attention. Other staff may be good ‘B team’ workers but they just don’t share this person’s mad enthusiasm for being at work. Developing teamwork is a key skill for supervisors and maybe an area where this person is weak.
  • Do they know more about the business than you do? It’s never a good look when the staff know more than the boss – how to fix a POS problem, find an emergency wine delivery or handle large bookings. You don’t have to do everything yourself, but you need to show you can make it happen.
  • They have no life outside work. This is a business, not a religious order – is something happening at home that could affect future performance? Do they find it hard to form normal adult relationships? It may affect their teamwork.
  • Is doing a ton of shifts just a short-term fix? Why do they need so much extra money? Is it a gambling (or drug) problem, family drama or crazy spending habits? Technically it’s not your business…until it becomes your problem.
  • They might fall in love. Be realistic – everything will change. If they’re single, someone (else) perfect may come along and suddenly the world is different. Long hours at the business come second to evenings with someone special.
  • Someone will steal them. Your star may be tempted by a dazzling offer – more money, responsibility or glamour. Time will tell if the new job lasts – your competitive advantage is your reputation, the ease of working there and the ‘solidness’ of your business. Make these factors more obvious.
  • Even perfect staff don’t balance the till and count the float. There have been too many tragic tales of supergirl helping herself to the proceeds. Keep audit systems strong, and make sure they take regular holidays. People who are genuinely good don’t mind proving they are honest.

Does this mean less trust or lower expectations? Not at all – just make sure ‘how we do it here’ (your systems) are of the same quality as the person in the limelight. Careers change quickly and even golden staff can be tempted by someone else’s crazy pay offer. No problem, we have good systems and we’re covered…next!

How to use QR Codes for restaurant marketing and management – dozens of easy examples

Everyone understands QR codes, now that they’re compulsory for COVID check-ins. Point your smartphone camera at a QR code, and a website or app will pop up.

In fact QR codes have been around for many years, and widely used in Asian countries – now that they’re understood here, you can start to leverage them for restaurant & cafe marketing, recruitment and daily operations. How many of these ideas can you use?

It’s easy to create your own QR codes – for a web page, WiFi access, a feedback form or to check off a worklist. Use a web service like Scanova.io or BeaconStac or QRcode-monkey.com, or a QR generator phone app. The Chrome web browser now automatically generates a QR Code for every web page you visit – click on the right side of the URL address bar. Download the square code you create and add it to signs or stickers – easy.

📸 .. Check dozens of ways that QR codes are being used on this special Instagram Account – new examples added all the time.

Put your Front Window to Work: a couple of QR codes can lead to a welcome video from the owners, a downloadable copy of the menu, TripAdvisor reviews or more information about opening hours and bookings. Now you have a 24/7 billboard – place the codes on a poster or on a digital slide.

Boost your recruitment with a link to your main recruitment page, and liven this up with some one-minute video testimonials from staff, or an overview of daily work routines. From this page, people can click and fill out a job application form ready for you to respond.

Include a code in printed marketing material: flyers, postcards and posters can all have a QR code added for contact details, Facebook and Instagram accounts or special Coupons.

Take-Away Menus: print a QR Code on table tents, front door posters or where you’ll catch a customer’s eye. Scanning the code directs them to a digital version of your menu on the web, or as a PDF. Take it one step further and integrate this with an ordering app, so they can browse, click, choose and pay.

Share Recipes and Food Stories: put a small QR Code on your menu next to key dishes. Smartphone users can then scan the code and be taken to a recipe, or even a video of it being made. Too many codes could look unsightly, so have one that leads to a page where more links can be clicked.

Information about Wine and Cocktails: distributors and wineries often have detailed information on their websites – the QR code could lead straight to this, or to pages you’ve set up (so you don’t have to show the supplier’s pricing).

Feedback Surveys: place a QR Code on the receipt, and ask for instant feedback. This works even better when staff remind customers that it’s just 3 questions – put them on a Google Form or with a free app like Wufoo. Take it one step further and give the option to join your email list to receive promotions. Surprisingly, with compulsory check-ins now a part of every visit, most venues are not turning customer sign-ups into newsletter subscribers. Even a ‘thanks for visiting’ email can make a difference!

Nutritional Information: there’s a wide range of information available online – now you can link directly to it for the people who are interested. This avoids your menu becoming like Wikepedia – the facts are there just for those who want them.

Download a phone app: if you have your own app, or want people to use one for ordering, a QR code can be set up to go to the Apple or Android app store, according to the phone being used.

Ordering lists, instruction sheets, operating systems and food safety routines can all be accessed online with a QR code – generate it for the web page or relevant documents. Dymo Printers or A4 label sheets can be set up to print the labels with a description underneath, so there’s no confusion.

Opening and closing routines, COVID and food-safety checklists can be set up in Google Forms or specialist apps like iAuditor – a QR sticker on the wall will trigger them for each location or time of day. Even those hourly checklists behind the bathroom door can be a thing of the past!

Need equipment repairs? Have a QR code for repair information and manuals, all on one laminated sheet on the kitchen wall or in a folder.

When you need to generate bulk quantities of QR Codes on labels or as images, there are services to do that eg QR Batch, or it could be part of the software you are using eg Shopify.

QR code examples

10 Ways to Reduce Noise in your Cafe or Restaurant – and Bring Customers Back!

Why don’t people come back, after they enjoyed your food and the service? It could be the noise – too loud to talk with friends and feel relaxed.

Here’s a bunch of ideas for noise reduction, if you have to do it after your venue opens. The fact is, most architects and designers give little thought to effective noise reduction, creating hard-surface boxes with all 6 sides reflective so the noise bounces like bullets to kill our enjoyment.

It’s good to understand some of the technicalities of noise and how it’s created and reduced – the excellent Acoustical Surfaces blog is full of great articles such as Soundproofing vs Sound Absorbing – What’s the Difference? and Noisy restaurant solutions- when peace and quiet are not on the menu. Noise is measured in decibels, and the different levels are listed below. Measure it with a noise meter app from the iOS or Google App store – they’re good enough to show you the level of pain, which can quickly move into the danger level (above 80 dB) in a noisy venue.

Here are some easy ways to reduce noise in restaurants and cafes…

  • Acoustic panels – attached to walls or ceiling. These can be the expensive sound baffles like they use in a recording studio (they absorb sound) or simpler ones from a hardware like Bunnings. Even egg crates can be combined in an interesting way if your look is ‘cheap and cheerful’.
  • DIY acoustic panels – foam stuck onto plywood cut to size, covered with interesting fabric. In Australia, Clark Rubber has foams of all thicknesses and grades that they will cut to size.
  • Hang attractive floor rugs from the walls. There are many varieties at markets that could double as interesting art, and IKEA has a wide range at low cost
  • Hessian coffee sacks, filled with padding and hung as interesting wall features – another idea for a casual environment.
  • Padded panels between tables, to create more intimate spaces and reduce sound. Better in a more formal space with a large area.
  • Cushions and padding on chairs and benches – it all helps.
  • Tablecloths! Out of fashion in many places, but they do the job very well. Avoid padding under tables – it makes a slight improvement but feels a bit creepy when if you reach underneath.
  • Carpet! In my Cafe Troppo days, we had commercial carpet tiles in a charcoal grey and sound was never an issue. Steam cleaned once a month and very few spills to worry about – people don’t notice what’s on the floor. Artificial grass is also an option, and could be used in strips or as a feature – it’s done effectively by the Cafe 63 group in Queensland.
  • Turn down the music – it’s often up loud because of all the other noise, and people can hardly hear it anyway! You don’t need stereo in a large space, but you do need quality sound. Small speakers spaced around will be sufficient rather than a couple of big stereo speakers. If good music is a special feature at your place, it’s important that people can hear and enjoy it.
  • Reduce noise from the bar – blenders and appliances can be intrusive, best to have them with shields and covers.

Understanding noise levels…
Loud noise causes damage in two ways: the actual volume, and the length of time exposed to it. A noisy venue could result in occupational health and safety issues – attention clubs and entertainers!

Here’s a detailed chart of noise levels, and a quick summary of decibel levels:

140 – Jet engine at 30 m
130 – Rivet hammer (pain can be felt at this threshold)
120 – Rock drill – level at which PAIN BEGINS
110 – Chainsaw
100 – Sheet metal workshop
90 – Lawn mower
80 – Kerbside heavy traffic – level at which sustained exposure may cause HEARING LOSS
70 – Loud conversation
60 – Normal conversation

Seen behind the bar in a Las Vegas nighclub…

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.

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.

10 Ways to Celebrate Your Restaurant’s Birthday, and Make a Real Impact

People love to see a business succeed, and if they’re regular customers, they have watched your growth and development. An annual birthday celebration is a great way to share the love and build loyalty. Not sure when it is? No problem, make it up! Once you’ve set the date, here are some easy ways to spread the word, and remember, social media is your #1 friend for this!

Birthday Week, not just One Day: milk this for all you can – start promoting in the week before, so people take notice. You could even do a countdown sign – 7, 6, 5, 4… This is when you’ll be rolling out the publicity events listed about below.

Birthday Cake on the Day: square cakes are much easier to cut into small pieces, or prepare dozens of tiny cupcakes. Bright icing and a candle – everyone gets a piece.

Candles, Candles, Candles: on all desserts on the day, and maybe there are a couple of big candles on the counter. Label them for what they are, so people don’t think it’s a religious ceremony (!).

Gifts for the Customers: a voucher given out on the day, a free beverage or appetiser – something that will make an impact. Red Envelopes will also work a treat – bringing people back like a boomerang.

Show Old Photos: put an album together on a noticeboard, or better still on Facebook and Instagram.

Show it at the beginning: construction work, the old kitchen, the first espresso machine and some of the original staff. Plus milestones since then – look through your hard drive, there are tons of pictures! Create a slideshow video – they’re easy to make, just ask one of your young staff.

Where Are They Now? Tell people about staff who’ve moved on (the nice ones), and how many people you’ve employed over the years. It’s another reminder of the value of hospitality, and what you contribute to the area – a major employer.

Big Thank You Signs: in the window – get stick-on letters from a signage shop or a mega-sized poster. With all accounts given to customers, include your business card with a sticker on the back explaining that it’s your birthday and why you are proud. Or print a special slip with this information – make sure people know why it’s a big deal.

Boast About Some Numbers: ‘in the two years we’ve been open, we have served more than 50,000 happy customers, poured 22,000 beers and used 1500 kg of strawberries’. You get the idea – the numbers are light-hearted and also meant to impress. 50,000 customers over 2 years is still only 500 per week – maybe yours are much more!

Sing Happy Birthday: your staff do this for customers, now’s the time to do it on the hour throughout the special day. OK, not in the middle of peak hour, but you get the idea. We are hard-wired to respond to this music with a smile and a cheer, so play it up! There are other Happy Birthday songs (eg Stevie Wonder) – post the YouTube videos of these on Facebook throughout the week.

#Hashtag it: on Facebook & Instagram, set up a #hashtag just for the occasion and have an Instagram competition for the person who posts the best photo tagged #TroppoBirthday (for Cafe Troppo).

How to Support Staff to Give Productive Feedback & Suggestions

Your staff have plenty of bright ideas, but do they know the best way to present them?

If you want your staff to keep taking a positive interest in your business, you may need to teach them about ‘managing upwards’. Sometimes known as ‘managing the boss’, and it’s a lot more than knowing how she likes her coffee or what beer he drinks.

Many staff have bright ideas for new menus, equipment, service and efficiencies. Some will cost money and many of them won’t, but they usually need the agreement of senior management, owners or directors.

Staff are often told their suggestions are welcome: ‘my door is always open…’, but sometimes they don’t know how to use the key. Management, in turn, needs to hold back on the reflex reaction of ‘how much will that all cost?’ Suggestions soon dry up if the response is always negative.

Your staff may have noticed that you happily spend thousands on new furniture and ‘research holidays’ overseas, but then knock back their request for a faster coffee machine or function software to manage room bookings. But let’s leave those very human inconsistencies aside…

Here are some principles to share with staff so they offer their suggestions in a way that will be heard and taken seriously.

  • Choose your timing – don’t just drop by, it undervalues your time and the idea, and doesn’t respect the time of others. Make an appointment, even if it’s informal.
  • Get permission for the discussion. No-one likes to be ambushed, so make sure the boss knows what you want to talk about. This will also build curiosity and hopefully, a willingness to listen.
  • Be specific with examples, and offer comparisons with other businesses. Talk about ‘before’ and ‘after’ situations. Give the names of businesses where this equipment or method of operation can be seen in action. Gather testimonials, especially for intangibles like software. Show websites and social media posts to build your case.
  • Be frank with any possible negatives, or issues that might arise if changes are made. How will a menu change impact on other items? How will the kitchen cope, and what will be the reaction of customers? Where will new equipment fit? What will be the staff reaction if rostering is done in a different way?
  • Show financial benefits, and show the numbers. Will the suggestion save money, or will it increase sales and profits? How will that happen? Will this make the business look better or improve its reputation? Be ready to talk about the Return on Investment – how quickly the expense will pay for itself. A spreadsheet may help to make the costing more understandable.
  • Be ready with a short, written summary, so it’s not just words floating in the air. This may be a Word document, a spreadsheet or notes in the diary. Something that can be referred to later. A one-page Suggestion Sheet that sets out these details makes it easier for staff to put their bright ideas into a form that will make sense.

Innovation means taking risks, and the most successful businesses are continually testing new ideas and looking for better ways of working. Every single staff member knows of at least one way you could save money or unlock sales, even if it’s small. When you create positive channels, the positive ideas and enthusiasm of your staff will flow in all sorts of unexpected and wonderful ways. But you need to prepare the way…