Plan B for when the next COVID lockdown hits your cafe or restaurant

As COVID controls and vaccination helps business return to some type of normal operations, government policy in Australia and New Zealand now seems to be using selective lock-downs to control spot fires and outbreaks.

Your Lockdown Plan B needs to be permanently at hand, so you can move within hours to protect your business, and alert customers, staff and suppliers. Here’s a bunch of areas where you need to have emails, social posts and communication at the ready – almost like a putting the fire drill into action…

  • Alert your customers – through email, text message, social media posts and signs on the window. Hopefully you’ve been steadily building your email and SMS list (here are 10 ways to do that quickly). Spend some money to boost your social media posts in the local area, so you make a greater impact. Use Canva to design catchy signs – look sharp and professional.
  • Alert staff about roster changes and different work needs – through group email, texting, their private social media group and the messaging service. Stand down those not needed, and understand your rights in this situation.
  • Contact function & event bookings, if there are restrictions on group size or service style. Your event contract should now allow for rescheduling and deposit arrangements in the event of health-related restrictions.
  • Increase delivery and takeaway – expanding the services you are already using.
  • Simplify the menu and reduce stock – most operators are now much savvier with their numbers and cost of goods. Use your digital system or menu app to slim down the offer. Is there equipment you’ve delayed purchasing that will be part of your backup plans? Eg fridges and freezers. If equipment needs to be shut down, follow the correct procedures.
  • Alert suppliers about reduced needs and hours of operation.
  • Alert finance companies about what’s happening, You may not be delaying payments, but keeping them in the loop increases trust in case you do need to negotiate.
  • Alert landlords – they’ve been through the wars in 2020, and although they don’t love the idea of rent reductions, your regular communication can prepare them for possible concessions.
  • Build your diversification – it’s not an instant change, but the more you can diversify sales and add multiple income streams, the stronger you will be. Here’s a great list of options.
  • Prepare reopening promotions – it’s called Disaster Recovery Marketing, and there are lots of options using the communication channels you’ve developed. Move quickly and sound positive.
  • Strengthen your administration system – many operators have a new appreciation for working from home. Is your PC or Mac up to date, with a good backup for data? Is it time for a larger screen or a better office layout? Do you have POS integrated with bookkeeping, rosters and payroll?
  • Encourage COVID vaccinations for everyone – led by the owners and managers! Show staff how to book for their ‘jab’ and arrange for time off. Maybe even a bonus for doing it?

Fingers crossed this remains theory! 🤞

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

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?

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

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.

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.

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

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…

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

Using Toyota’s 8 Waste Control Methods in Your Restaurant or Cafe

Toyota built its world-class success by watching and controlling every step of the manufacturing process, especially waste. It’s very useful to apply the discipline of manufacturing to hospitality – we make things too!

Use Toyota’s classification of 8 different types of waste, and discover new ways to cut costs and improve your bottom line.

  1. Over-Production: creating more of a product than is needed. The enthusiastic bar staff over-prepare fruit garnishes for the evening. Salad trays are filled beyond what’s needed and too much meat is carved. Forecasting accurate sales of different products reduces this – over-production is usually the default.
  2. Excessive Wait Time. When staff must wait to do their job, because of bottlenecks, shortages of equipment or lack of support. Insufficient glassware means drinks can’t be served while glasses are being washed. A deep-fryer that’s under-powered takes too long to cook chips, slowing up meals. Insufficient mise-en-place means delays for chefs.
  3. Transportation Waste – unnecessary movement of products and equipment. Carrying one box at a time from the store, instead of using a trolley to bring them all together. When the bar is not setup for efficient service, with high-demand bottles a long way from where they’re needed. What works: a barista who has everything at hand and can push product through quickly and efficiently – it’s so good to watch!
  4. Processing Waste – repeated action that adds no value to a product or service. Intentional over-processing might be a barman creating a complex cocktail, with far more garnish than the customer wants. Non-intentional over-processing is when an apprentice finely chops vegetables that will only be used for stock – no-one told him it’s not needed.
  5. Inventory Waste – over-ordering that results in spoilage or theft. Just because the salesman offers you a bonus box of wine if you order 10, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Where will you store it? High-value items in abundance lose their value in the eyes of staff and may start to disappear or be used carelessly – ‘no-one will notice’.
  6. Motion Waste – unnecessary movement that does not add value, eg when untrained staff take much longer to do a task than needed. Are there too many steps needed to do the roster or payroll? Can essential forms be found quickly on the computer? Do you need unnecessary approvals for standard ordering decisions?
  7. Defect Waste – when a product or service must be redone to meet a standard. It could be human or equipment error. Not following a recipe means the mousses don’t set – out they go! Failing to keep the oven in good condition means baked goods burn easily. Job interviewers don’t ask the right questions, so unqualified people are appointed, and later on must be let go.
  8. Unused Employee Talent and Creativity – the waste that’s far too common, from a failure to listen. Toyota is famous for its rigorous involvement of staff in improving processes and reducing errors – why don’t we do it too? Some managers don’t want to listen, or think they know everything. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. If an employee notices an inefficient or unnecessary process, will she be listened to when she mentions it to the manager?

Combine these 8 types of Waste and the cost reduction will be considerable. Some are more common than others, and some have never been considered as a real problem.

Many managers attempt to fix problems or reduce costs by just watching everything, when the problem is often with the lack of standards, systems and consultation.

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

Talking Food Costs & Restaurant Management – Podcast Interview

I’m getting fairly excited by what some see as a fairly dry topic – but not for me! Great to share ideas and information about food costs, inventory, ordering, kitchen technology, kitchen teams and staff management with Venessa Barnes and Adam Moore, two chefs who really know what the industry is about.

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

How to Have More Life When You Own a 7 Day Business

Have a life and a business. It works fine if you have a Monday to Friday cafe in a business area. But if you’re part of the raging weekend cafe market, Saturday and Sunday are top earners – they can’t be neglected. Maybe you can’t have office hours like your corporate friends, but there’s a lot you can do to have more time away from business and still have control.

Build your Remote Control Systems: modern POS systems are designed to share information in the cloud, which gives you access from your phone or iPad, or PC. They can also be set up with email or SMS alerts to zap you with the final sales or variations that indicate problems (like a refrigeration motor that’s failed). Surveillance cameras are inexpensive and can give a view of anywhere in the business – the till, the spirit shelves, the front door and the storeroom. There’s a whole industry grown up around remote control monitoring – it’s available for your business and your home.

Good Systems Help Staff To Do a Great Job. Amazing people are hard to find, and they usually have a job already! Once you systemise your business with easy-to-follow Start-up Lists, Ordering Sheets, Cleaning Rosters, Recipe Cards and Manager Checklists, it’s much easier for everyday employees to perform well. Get these forms onto an iPad or PC, so you watch the input from somewhere else – on the beach and still in control.

Delegate Counting and Reporting Tasks. Now that online bookkeeping, rostering, reporting and communication are so well established, you can have a skilled helper doing the bookwork, checking invoices and making phone calls from anywhere. It might be a relative or a Virtual Assistant – working from their home office. Google ‘virtual office assistant in Australia’ and see the choices – an admin assistant without the need to provide a desk. Tedious office jobs are often the ones that suck up your recreation time.

Simplify, Simplify. Sometimes it needs an outsider to cast a calm, critical eye over the crazy, complex menu you’ve created, or the eccentric set up of your counter. The flavour, the smiles and consistency are what matters – most menus could be cut by 20%, and no-one would notice. Plus fewer chances of staff getting it wrong, and you getting upset.

Cut the Days or Hours That You’re Open. Sound radical? Even scaling back from a 4pm to 3pm close for a weekday cafe could give you massively more time with family. Or closing on Monday or Sunday instead of opening 7 days per week. It depends on your area or style, and sales figures will guide you. Many places have been operating the same hours for years, while competition increases and customer demand changes.

Build Profits So You Can Afford Better Staff. I recently spent a week in a tourist town south of Sydney, and it was depressing how 90% of the cafes were selling the same-old food with the same sloppy service and mediocre coffee. And the business owners were running the show! Two places were doing a great job and no visible sign of an owner in attendance. Good staff need to be paid more, and if you’ve cut profits to the bone, you probably can’t afford them.

Employ Staff Who Want to Work on Weekends. There are plenty of people wanting part-time work, and they’re increasingly aware they should be paid more on Saturday and Sunday. Once you have the good systems and monitoring in place, the weekend team can be as strong as when you’re around. Watch the numbers and give regular feedback. Remember the saying: ‘When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the improvement accelerates’. The weekend team needs their own care and attention – they can do a great job even if you’re not in the building.

Which of these 7 areas is your weakest, and demanding most of your time or giving the least return? That’s the one to work on first…

The 7 Day Food Cost Diet – help your cafe or restaurant to lose the fat!

Feeling heavy, slow and financially unfit? Time for some urgent action – cut, reduce and tighten. Staff might complain and want to quit – lazy is always more comfortable. But the business will be slimmer, healthier and much more sexy after you’ve pushed through the pain barrier!

Day 1 – Lighten up the Fridge and Freezer. That’s where up to 80% of product value is stored. Do you really need to hold enough for a week or a fortnight? If you don’t stocktake regularly, a one-off, totally honest counting session will reveal some surprises. Organise the lists, the scales and an early start.

Day 2 – Stop the Snacking! It’s easy for bad ordering to be covered up with a quick trip to the supermarket or 7-Eleven… at twice the price. A ban on emergency shopping will have a little short-term pain and force an improvement in ordering.

Day 3 – Blitz the Rich Foods. We’re talking the expensive protein items, like meat, seafood and dairy. List them on a spreadsheet, then sort purchases from biggest spend to least and see where most of your money goes. You will soon see the items (fish, steak, nuts etc) that need close attention – not just in ordering and storage, but also their cost in recipes – a recipe costing system will help tell the truth!

Day 4 – Track your Daily Intake. We’re talking about the numbers on your POS, and detailed cost of items being delivered. Most of this POS information is never checked – what items can be cut off the menu completely? What are your least profitable items (in dollars, not percentages) and the profit heroes that need more promotion? How do this week’s meat costs compare to last week?

Day 5 – Start Weighing Your Food. Good pricing scales are cheaper than ever – like the ones in the deli where they put in the price per lb. and tell you exactly how much those 4 slices of meat cost. Your kitchen needs these too, so the chef and the boss can do an instant check.

Day 6 – Call in the Support Team. That’s your suppliers and key staff – how long since you’ve had a good honest chat? Tell them you’re on a diet and determined to lose at least 3% off your costs – how can they help? What have they done before that worked?

Day 7 – Sweat the Small Details. Weigh and cost all sauces, garnishes and side vegetables. How much is a slice of tomato, a scoop of fries or a single olive? Work out the real yield cost i.e. cost that pot of sauce and divide by how many portions sold. This is not a theoretical cost based on grams and ounces, but the real cost to serve it. There are lots more examples like this you can find.

Play it Up! – use this ‘Food Cost Diet’ as a motivating example to get staff taking cost control seriously in all areas. Have fun with the comparisons – ‘Biggest Loser’, ‘Weekly Weigh-in’, ‘Losing the Big T-Shirt’, ‘Looking Great in Lycra’, ‘Locking the Fridge’ etc.

Why The E-Myth is Still So Relevant for Cafe & Restaurant Owners

It was published 24 years ago in 1986, and reverberated like a thunderclap in the world of business. You’ve heard that saying ‘work on your business, not in your business‘ so many times you could scream. That’s from the The E-Myth!, and author Michael Gerber’s message is still electrifying, even in a world run by digital systems… and facing virus restrictions and dislocation.

Years ago I ran one-day management events for restaurant owners and would show this short videp, pausing for discussion every few minutes. It would would totally rock them all – so powerful is the message. Wait till you hear what he says about ‘what Mary does‘ – sound familiar with how you’ve positioned your chef or a key manager? Have you created a prison with your business, instead of a path to freedom? Now watch, and find out the key to create a better future…

Here’s a summary of the key points, but don’t use this to stop watching the video!

3 Parts of the Business Development Process:
* Innovation
* Quantification
* Orchestration

4 Key Business Systems:
* How we do it here
* How we recruit hire and train people here
* How we manage here
* How we change it here

7 Point Plan for Business Success
* what’s your vision?
* develop the strategic objective
* develop an organisational plan
* develop management systems
* develop recruitment and staff systems
* develop marketing systems
* develop your operational systems – soft, hard and information