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…

Promoting Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Your Cafe or Restaurant

It’s an important annual event in October and might be forgotten with all the COVID issues on our mind. It’s had less publicity in the last few years but is no less valued – we all have mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who have been affected.

The purpose of the month is to raise money for breast cancer medical care and research. It also raises awareness of an issue that affects tens of thousands of women and even some men.

How to get started

  • Check out these websites to understand the issue and the programs that need support: NBCF, McGrath Foundation and BCT. Plus information on Wikipedia and Cancer Australia.
  • Brainstorm with your staff – as you engage them, their enthusiasm to communicate with customers will become natural, not something they need reminding about. It’s an issue for women and for men.
  • Make plans to share with customers in your venue, on social media and through your email communication. If you’re making deliveries, include a flyer. If you’re raising money, tell everyone how it will be used.

Promotional ideas…

  • Just like food and drinks go green on St Patricks Day, this is the month to put a pink blush on desserts, drinks and decorations – there are opportunities all day, every day of the week. Pink latte anyone?
  • Promote the month with posters and flyers – free online design service Canva has some great templates ready to use.
  • Work out the best way to raise money, and choose a non-profit group (see above) to support. In previous years, fund-raising lunches were held – this is more difficult in 2020 but there can still be raffles and donations. Even raising $100 can make an impact. It could involve donations from customers on a certain day, a special fund-raising meal, or selling pink ribbon merchandise.
  • Take lots of photos – they don’t have to be clever, just real. Remember the digital photo rule – take 20 pictures and only use the best ones.
  • Share personal experiences – if you have staff who are willing to talk about how they or family have been touched by this issue, social media can be a good place for a photo and some simple words.
  • Have a special ‘wear pink’ day, just like they do at the cricket! Pink t-shirts are easy to organise.
  • Organise some pink lighting for your venue. You can do it with strings of lights or lanterns, or just change a few globes.
  • Make pink food and drinks – here’s a bunch of pink recipes, pink cocktails, rosé is more popular than ever, and there are plenty of ‘pink’ songs on Spotify to add to the playlist.
  • Celebrate what you did at the end of the month – be proud, sharing photos and stories about events and fundraising. Save the best experiences to repeat next year!

Quick Fixes to Guarantee a Happy Experience for Customers

Anxious customers keep their wallets closed. The world is feeling less safe and much less friendly – we can do a lot to overcome those feelings and turn stress into business.

There are many ways to ‘build in the welcome’ so it doesn’t depend on having a professional greeter.

Genuinely happy staff: Negative Nick or Sour Sarah can cause lots of damage if left unchecked – are they the reason Happy Harry left after a few weeks? We need people who smile and say ‘yes’ as their natural response – anyone you need to move along?

Really good music: a happy beat that lifts the spirit. There’s a billion-dollar music industry designed to create enjoyment. South American music comes to mind – who helps you put your music mix together? A skilled DJ can help with selections or staff at a music retailer. Spotify can give lots of inspiration – ask the staff to help.

No annoying draughts or rocky tables. It seems minor but it’s a constant annoyance if you’re at one of those tables – check and fix.

Change the TV channel. If you have one in your bar, does it really need to run the news? Endless drama and negativity – change it to nature, sport or music.

A friendly, hand-written ‘thank you’ on the account as it goes to the table: this was standard at my cafe and staff swore that it helped with tips.

A big bunch of flowers like the ones below at my local Bondi cafe The Cook & Baker. A tip – just have one variety, and don’t make it formal. Personal and natural – people will notice.

Share some humour on your website: most of them are so serious and self-important! There’s a big world of happy, funny YouTube videos to include on your newsletter or blog.

Calendar Events: you’ll find some great options in the Party & Events Calendar – some funny, some more serious, and all creating word-of-mouth.

Desserts make us happy: a sweet ending to the meal. Something creamy, rich with chocolate or juicy, fruity. Does your selection tempt people to ‘sin a little’?

Photos of happy customers and good coffee: let’s face it, they’re happening all the time when you serve hundreds of people. Instagram is great for this – take inspiration from the photos of people you follow, and share more of your own.

Recognition makes us happy: thanks for a job done well or in difficult circumstances. Congratulations on exam results or for handling a crazy customer. Usually it’s verbal, but a short ‘Thank You’ letter will be highly regarded (and kept).

Well-organised workspaces make staff happy: when they arrive for a shift, all the equipment is clean, working and ready to go. Fridges stocked and work lists waiting. PC runs smoothly and the till is easy to use. Anything to improve here?

How do you rate the big happy smile on job applicants? Paul, the smart owner of Green Zebra Cafe in Albury told me a while back that he immediately hired a girl who giggled all through the aptitude test in her job interview: where there’s a spark, make sure you grab it!

Help make other people happy: staff and business contributions to a World Vision sponsored child, Oxfam or a local community group – they lift everyone’s spirits.

And finally, money helps to make us all happy! Good pay, tips and bonuses make staff smile, and a full till at the end of the shift makes the hard work worthwhile. Your wise profit strategies will give you the resources to buy equipment, repaint the walls, pay more for a better manager and afford the holiday you deserve.

How to Share (and Receive) More Love in your Cafe or Restaurant

Customers want fresh, not stale; inspiration, not gloom.. One way to do this is to think about all the things that we love, our staff love and our customers love! We all need to find more ways to keep a smile on our faces and share our love of food, customers and business success.

It’s easy to share stories, photos and events – post them on Facebook, on a corner of the menu or add to your newsletter – they create great word-of-mouth and conversation starters. Suddenly there’s a personal connection between staff, managers and customers. Here’s a whole bunch of themes to get you into the groove for sharing some love!

The locals love to be acknowledged. Has a neighbourhood community or business completed a mammoth project, or students achieved excellent results? Offer a special treat for winners of the school sports carnival, debating competition or best achievers in exam results. Ask local bosses to nominate a winning worker for special commendation.

Staff love to be acknowledged. How do you recognise this? At Silver Chef we have our 10 minute ‘daily huddle’ and at the end, there’s an opportunity to acknowledge the work of others – how they’ve helped you or the business. Setting up systems for this will make it much more likely to happen, and leaders should model the process.

People love to be inspired. Share the story of one of your workers who’s overcome the odds to hold a job or achieve something special – customers give extra points to you for supporting them. Or how you support a local non-profit. Put a photo and a brief story on the noticeboard, and get staff to wear name tags so connections can be made. If there’s a local organisation you support that’s done something special, ask them to share a story.

People love the business owners. If you’re an independent or family-run business, when’s the last time you shared a photo of your family, or one of you (without grey hair) when you opened all those years ago? Pictures make stories easy to share, with milestones, awards and staff events. Add a news diary (blog) to your website and keep adding more. People love to hear ‘how we made it stories’ – they won’t make the TV news, but you do make thousands of people happy each year. Share your pride.

Many people love their town or local area. Regular support for sporting teams, the school and charity groups keeps customers loyal and connected. Get behind local causes like parking issues, over-development and conservation – now you’re one of us.

People love photos. Snap, snap, snap with your mobile phone or a camera kept at the shop to record food, parties, special customers and behind-the-scene activity. But don’t post them up without checking and editing – easy to do with on your phone or an app like Snapseed. Take several shots of each scene and choose the best, then brighten it and crop out the garbage bin on the side. Post them to your Facebook page – this will drive constant visitor traffic.

People love to laugh. Add a weekly quote about food on the noticeboard – like the one from baseball player Yogi Berra “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat eight” or “There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap”. Google for restaurant or cafe quotes and jokes – there’s no shortage!

Many people love animals. No, don’t bring them into the shop, but whether customers are a ‘cat’ person or a ‘dog’ person, people love hearing about them, seeing them and even getting life lessons from them. Could Henry the dog be the one that offers a Tip of the Week on your noticeboard? Could the best pet photo earn a prize in a random competition for one month?

People love events. Beyond the usual ones on Valentine’s Day and Mothers Day, every month has possibilities. Here are a few ideas for October, so you can be prepared:

Oktoberfest – think German flavours and great beer.
World Teachers Day – every year on October 5. Make friends with your local schoolies.
Halloween is on 31st October – find new ways to be creative with pumpkin!

Staff fall in love with each other – it happens! Some businesses have strict ‘no fraternisation’ policies, which will always be hard to police. Better to recognise that a lot of great relationships have started through working together – just make sure your staff manual covers issues about conflict of interest and the different power that supervisors may have over others.

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…

What’s your Business Plan B for when the Caronavirus hits Australia?

I’m still trying to process and understand the implications for restaurants, cafes and foodservice – the news keep unfolding every day. I’ll keep updating this over time – so much to consider…

  • Last year we had more than 1.4 million tourists from Chinese, many of them travelling in groups – new bookings have now been stopped. How exposed is your business to overseas tourists? Even my Uber driver this morning said he often has Chinese passengers in the city areas.
  • Export industries – rock lobster exports from Western Australia to China have stopped, because of transport and logistics problems in China. Where will they be redirected to, and what effect will it have on prices? What is their Plan B?
  • Imports – we depend on Chinese manufacturing for almost everything, from cooking equipment to electronics, clothing, utensils, furniture and quite a lot of food manufacturing. Much of it is delivered at very low cost through an extraordinarily efficient transport system – how will that be affected? The world is addicted to low-cost Chinese goods…
  • Australia hosts over 200,000 students from China, almost half of them university students, and the academic year is about to begin. Difficult timing for a health crisis – what will be expected of them when they return to campus? Many of these people also work in hospitality, and are foodservice customers.
  • Some schools are asking students returning from China to stay away, until their health status is clear. Who handles childcare, and what precautions are teachers taking? When do we get a unified national response?
  • We don’t need racial profiling and scapegoating – there’s way to much of that already. People become paranoid and lash out when there’s fear and uncertainty – we need compassionate, trustworthy leaders to reassure people and give direction. More science, expertise and rapid response – this will be very expensive.

Sources of Information: I find Twitter useful for breaking news, and there’s the Australian Dept of Health and World Health Organisation. Plus the ABC and Guardian.

8 Enterprise Skills – the New Essentials for a Well-Paid Hospitality Career

The New Basics is a very interesting report on the Enterprise Skills young people need for the new work order. It’s been prepared by the Foundation for Young Australians, and they have a steady stream of good articles about work and wellbeing.

Enterprise Skills are transferable skills, and Technical Skills are those specific to a particular industry. It’s a good checklist for people who are thinking about moving into or out of hospitality, and finding a well-paid job.

I’ve had some recent conversations with chefs and managers about where they will take their careers after restaurant work – this is useful to see what they need to strengthen. I’m guessing #1 would be on most people’s improvement list…

I’ve taken the 8 Enterprise Skills they’ve listed (in the order of increased demand for these skills), and added some examples from hospitality – what else would you add under these headings?

  1. Digital Literacy – using business software, POS and cloud-based services, typing, Google searching, managing email, using photos and editing images, managing social media.
  2. Critical Thinking – comparing supplier quotes and proposals, weighing up options for menus and events, choosing between a number of job candidates, examining options for business changes.
  3. Creativity – recipe and menu development, music and entertainment, events, improving restaurant design and atmosphere, motivating staff in new ways.
  4. Problem Solving – handling conflict between staff, managing a sudden growth or decline in business, dealing with critical customers and staff not performing as expected.
  5. Financial Literacy – recipe and menu costing, working out wage costs, using a calculator and spreadsheet, reading POS reports, working out Return on Investment for equipment purchases, understanding a Profit & Loss statement.
  6. Presentation Skills – explaining changes to a team meeting, talking on your feet, presenting a new menu to senior management, justifying the cost and benefit of a proposal, using PowerPoint, talking to prospective employees eg school students.
  7. Communication – having a constructive conversation with staff, writing a report, expressing praise or dissatisfaction to a supplier or staff member, effective emails, having a good sales manner with prospective customers – phone and in person.
  8. Teamwork – organising and running a meeting, monitoring performance and results, supporting staff who are not performing, creating a team with a positive mix of skills and personalities.

The biggest increase in demand is for skills in 1, 2 and 3:  Digital Literacy, Critical Thinking and Creativity.

How to Promote Harmony Week: 17-23 March

Harmony Week celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity. It’s about inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. Hospitality is uniquely placed to celebrate this event – we employ, and depend on people from so many countries. With a world in conflict, let’s promote the people who are the foundation of our business success. The dates coincide with the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Here are some celebration ideas…

  • Take lots of team photos – staff working, group shots, setting up, cooking and serving.
  • Share the photos on your Facebook page, Instagram and other social media accounts – take a few with people holding up a Harmony Day sign…
  • Make an extra feature of the kitchen – it’s often like the United Nations, and sometimes forgotten because they work behind the scenes. People are always fascinated by how kitchens work and the life of a chef.
  • Use the #harmonyday or #harmonyweek hashtags so others see your posts on Instagram and Twitter
  • Tell some team stories – about Ketut the chef from Bali, Connor the Irish manager or Mohammed the apprentice from Iran. It just needs a photo and a few sentences about when they came to Australia, where they trained and what they like about hospitality. Share them on your Facebook page, newsletter or website – these are the type of post that are shared widely.
  • Promote the event internally – sharing food, family photos and stories.
  • Tell the local paper about your great team, with a tie-in to Harmony Week. Talk about your business representing the face of modern Australia, with people from, for example, 12 nationalities serving more than 1500 customers every week.
  • Use the customisable posters and resources on the Harmony Week website.

There’s also a serious side to workforce diversity – be aware of the stress many staff are under with immigration and visas.

These processes are lengthy, complicated and expensive. It’s become an undignified political football, and the changes and politician rants are felt keenly by people who are waiting for permanency or citizenship. Your support and understanding will be greatly appreciated…

Harassment: Urgent Action to Protect Your Restaurant Staff and Reputation

Sexual harassment is all over the news, and likely to remain there for some time to come. And as journalists and celebrities find the courage to speak up, everyday workers will also find the confidence to talk about their past experience, or draw the line on something they are going through right now. The smart restaurant manager or owner is doubling down on anti-harassment action  – here’s what I suggest:

  • Bring out your Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Bullying, and Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies and give everyone a printed copy in a plastic binder, with their name on it. This shows how seriously you take the issue. Don’t have one yet? The Profitable Hospitality downloadable versions are an excellent start. Put some extracts or quotes in poster form on the noticeboard.
  • Hold a number of short staff meetings where attendance is compulsory. Go through the policies line by line and invite questions and discussion. Listen more than you talk. Ask for examples of what people may have experienced at another workplace. Request that it not be named, but by talking about somewhere else, this can sometimes give people the confidence to take part in a discussion.
  • Talk about those jokes. It’s challenging for many people to accept that what they think is just funny, could be regarded as harassment by someone else. That joke about the apprentice’s new girlfriend? All the guys laugh, but how did the women in the kitchen react? Talk about his car instead, and respect his relationship. Does Sleazy Stan the barman need a private chat about his behaviour? Hopefully he’ll get the message and clean up or move on.
  • Be real. Acknowledge that you’re uncomfortable talking about this, but it’s in the news and you know people may have questions. Renew your ‘my door is always open for a private talk’ promise – provide your email and phone number. Is there a rumour you should act on, and reach out to someone vulnerable?
  • Explain that managers have a special responsibility. Meet separately and explain their duty of care, and how they should handle infractions. Get them to listen to this podcast interview on Reducing Sexual Harassment Risks with lawyer Richard Edwards and HR specialist Natasha Hawker. This is hard but necessary work for all managers to do – role-play some situations and promise backup when they need to handle a situation.
  • Get rid of questionable products from your menu: how can we have a serious discussion about this and still sell ‘Blow Job’ and ‘Sex on the Beach’ cocktails? Delete them, and no-one will notice.
  • Be friendly, but not friends with your staff. This is a challenging one – so many hospitality businesses are run like a big, unruly family, with all the usual banter, joking and excuses. Get real – your staff already have friends and family of their own – as owner or manager, they want you to be kind and friendly, but they’re not after friends who may be twice their age.
  • Cut the swearing. It’s ironical that the F, C and Sh words are now used freely on TV,  but I’m suggesting they should be eliminated from daily use by staff, managers and owners. There are other ways to express your anger and frustration. When you clean this up, there’s an improvement in the emotional tone and the way people relate to each other. A challenging one!
  • Protect your staff from customer harassment. Alcohol changes everyone’s behaviour, and young attractive female and male staff are often groped or ‘hit on’ by customers. It’s not OK. Give staff a method to alert their manager if they feel threatened, and be ready to politely but firmly ask those customers to leave. Another challenging situation, upending decades of tolerated behaviour in bars and everywhere alcohol is served.
  • Make the Christmas party a test for future socialising. Many restaurants have their party in January, after the rush. It’s good for everyone to relax and let their hair down, but the same rules apply about behaviour, intoxication and harassment.
  • That’s my quick list – any other actions you have taken? Drop them into the Comments below, or on the Ken Burgin Facebook page…