I still remember the days when you could make a mistake or upset a customer and hope that no one will ever know. Gone are those days. I remember also clearly, when I started telling my staff in London that they could not get away anymore and it would be better to own up straightaway, rather than being caught later on. With the advent of Google Reviews, Facebook Reviews, Trip Advisor and requests for feedback at every possible chance from your table reservation software or websites like Top Table, Dine etc, people have got used to read and post reviews all the time. If you are sloppy, use inferior products or try to dupe your customers, sooner or later it will come out and it will hurt. As mentioned in my previous post when something is missing, you should tell the customer before taking their orders. If you take online orders and you run out of ingredients, before having the time to take this dish off the internet, you must call the customer, apologise and ask if you can substitute it for something else. It's easy to think that your customer won't notice you put cheap Tesco olives in their salads, instead of Kalamata olives. It's easy to forget that you need to mention this, and it's even easier to lull yourself in a false sense of security when you do this because you have a genuine emergency or suddenly run out of something and this is the second best option given the circumstances.
The problem with this is that every time you compromise, you lower your standards. If you send out a dish which is sub par one time, your team will think it's ok to send it out another time, you have set a precedent. And this is why it's good, from time to time, to receive a bad review, to be told that someone had a better meal somewhere else, or in other words to get a kick up our butts. We need this to keep striving to serve good food and good service.
What helps me is having a good review, a certificate of excellence or any other accolades up a wall and every time a dish is borderline, look at the accolade and think "if I serve this, am I still worthy of that accolade"?
On Monday I went to this pub nearby where I live as they were listed for the Eat Out to Help Out scheme on the government website. The government guidelines clearly state that if you participate you must offer 50% off on all applicable sales (that is food and drinks, excluding alcohol). When I got my bill, to my surprise they did not apply the discount to soft drinks. When I questioned this the poor young waitress first replied she didn't know why, then said they were too busy to apply it to soft drinks as well. There was no point discussing this with the waitress as she clearly was out of her depth. And also it was only a £3.10 discount we are talking about. But sometimes is the principle that counts. I felt misled as they are listed on the government website which will clearly give them some extra traffic. I sent them a message on Facebook and basically they replied that they would rather do it only on food rather than not do it at all and that I should have informed myself before going. Now I want you to think about the following points as all of us, sooner or later, will face this situation:
1. Offering the discount on drinks doesn't cost them anything
In my case they gave me a hand written receipt, discounted the food and could have discounted the drinks in another 5 seconds
2. If there is some important information that can affect our customers we should communicate it at the first possible chance, in this case when I made the reservation. (or for instance when something is missing on our menu, when presenting the menu, rather than when taking the order)
3. We can't just reply to a complaint in a dismissive manner without showing any sort of empathy
Expecting me to know about this was just naive. Also they did not make any extra money on me, but I lost £3.10, and because of how this was left I will never go back again (also the food was below average, but this is another story) so they have lost thousands of pounds in potential future revenues
4. You should make a difference between internal issues and customers issues.
What I mean by this is if we have a problem internally (lack of technology in this case) we shouldn't automatically assume that our customers will understand this and be sympathetic. Even as a small business we should try and move with the times. Adopt new technologies. In their case I imagine they could not program their point of sales system, but also if they have a POS, why wouldn't you print receipts from it rather than write everything by hand again? Puzzling
5. For everyone that mentions there was something wrong with their meal, there are another 10 that don't say anything and just won't come back. Mind that won't say anything to you but they will tell their story to another 8 people (real stats) or worse put it on Facebook or TripAdvisor.
When I worked in the corporate world someone coined the term "Feed Forward" (rather than feedback), as feedback helps us improve and move forward. I love good, honest, constructive feedback as if our own customers don't tell us where we went wrong how are we ever going to improve? Without feedback and criticism we risk resting on our laurels.
I recently found myself preparing a mini business plan for a new venture – how exciting. This reminded me of how many times I got things wrong in the past, and when I got them right it was for the wrong reasons!
If you listen to podcasts or read business articles, you’ll often hear how entrepreneurs big and small tell how their forecasts were wide of the mark. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but in the end it’s just impossible to account for all the variables and unforeseen circumstances.
What we should concentrate on are the things that we can accurately cost out (like cost of equipment and goods, energy, legal costs, rent), then estimate the other variable costs, leaving a bit of leeway. Finally we should estimate what our sales will be based on how many customers we can serve and the average spend (be realistic!) No need to say you should always have a contingency in place.
When I opened my pizzeria, on opening day we had £40 left in the bank! Although I had reserves, the £10k had forecast to spend became £15k and although I had more money on the side, I didn’t want to invest too much without knowing whether our concept would be well received.
You have to decide whether you will be taking a salary and come to term with the fact that that may not happen for a while.
You have to work out what your break-even point is, and if you are using a range of outcomes, probably use the lower one.
Most important costs
Rent (premium if applicable)
Rates ( in England – or other applicable taxes)
Legal costs (for the lease)
Staff (including preopening training)
Software (POS, Accounting, App ordering)
Most important Sales
Number of customers
Average dish price
Alan shares his experiences, struggles and tips to help other small restaurant operators.