Monthly Archives: July 2009

Are you an e-mail junkie?

OK! I have to admit it – if I’m not careful I can be an e-mail junkie too. And it’s not just e-mail, but social networking too. It’s just so easy to get into the habit of checking e-mail and Twitter all day long – or having some form of ‘New Message’ pinging or appearing.

The trouble with e-mail or any type of distraction of this nature is that it loses your momentum.  Think of a day when you have really made great progress and achieved all you set out to do.  You probably got into the flow with minimal distractions.  E-mail is one of the biggest distractions and each time you hear that ‘bing’, even if you don’t open it straight away you are wondering who it is from or what it’s about.
So over the next three days I’ll be giving you my top tips to help you manage your e-mail more effectively.

Follow the normal rules of time management

1. Devote set times to checking e-mail
When you create your to do list schedule time to check your e-mails, prioritise tasks and complete things in priority order.  Complete the task you are working on before either moving onto the next. This includes leaving your mail unless absolutely necessary in order to complete the task in hand.  Would you allow a visitor to just drop by and demand your time? You’d expect them to make an appointment. So why should anyone sending an e-mail demand your attention when you’re in the middle of doing something else?

2. Remove distractions
Decide when is the best time for you to deal with your e-mails, and stick to this. Limit it to twice or maximum three times a day. The rest of the time either turn your e-mail program off altogether or at the very least disable the notification of new mail.

3. Your Challenge
This might take a bit of getting used to so here’s something for you to try for a week and see how you get on. (If it’s ESSENTIAL that you need to be IMMEDIATELY contacted by e-mail, then naturally this isn’t for you.)

1. Check your e-mail first thing in the morning
2. Then close the programme
3. See how long you can hold out before checking it again
4. When you open your e-mail programme check just how many (or how few) ‘urgent’, ‘must read it now’, ‘must do it now’ e-mails have arrived
5. Close the e-mail programme
6. See how long you can hold out
7. Repeat
8. Learn from the experience!!

Try to separate other functions from your e-mail, if at all possible, to avoid the temptation to look at your e-mails each time you open that programme.

Look out tomrrow for tips on managing the volume of e-mails.

Are you missing out on a £100m potential business opportunity?

According to research by Coeliac UK, the hospitality industry is missing out on an estimated £1 million a year by failing to provide safe, gluten-free options, because sufferers feel obliged to eat at home. And this is just for the 1% of the UK population who have the disease.


Add this to the huge numbers who have some kind of allergy or intolerance to certain foods and you’re certainly missing out on huge opportunities if you don’t make any provision to cater for them. Not only are you potentially missing out on the people with dietary requirements, but if you can’t cater for that person, then the whole party will probably end up going somewhere else.


You just have to look at any of the big supermarkets and their range of products to recognise there is a huge market here.


But with so many different conditions to cater for it’s inevitable that we are often put off doing anything about it. So what are the first steps?


1.           Research

Contact Coeliac UK and/or Allergy UK to gather information on different dietary requirements and ingredients to avoid and suitable substitutions. Talk to your staff, existing customers and your network to identify those with first-hand knowledge and experience of any specific conditions. If any of your staff have first-hand experience enlist them as your dietary champion.


2.           Decide on your strategy

Decide whether you want to actively promote that you are able to cater for specific dietary requirements, or whether you want to do this on request.  By prompting people at the time of booking if there are any special dietary requirements enables you to cater for them on individual basis.


3.           Review your existing menu

You may be surprised to identify a number of dishes already on your menu that will meet certain dietary requirements such as those with no dairy produce, or wheat. You may also identify dishes that only require minor modifications to comply with some of the requirements.  Check pre prepared ingredients especially sauces and condiments for any ‘rogue’ ingredients.


4.           Revise menu options

Whether you decide to revise certain many items to feature on your main menu or whether you opt to have a variation of the same dish, make sure you have the recipe written up, costed and of course test that the replacement gives you satisfactory results.


5.           Segregate foodstuffs

Some food-triggered conditions can be set off by only minute traces of the food. So ensure that any dishes you have identified as being safe for certain diets are not then contaminated by the ingredient from utensils, chopping boards, or serving ware.


6.           Educate your staff

Ensure your staff are aware of all the options on the menu which are suitable for specific diet requirements, and the importance of checking if they are in any doubt. Keep staff up to date with any changes to recipes or ingredient substitutions.


7.           Gather customer data

Keep details of any of your customers who require special diets with specifics of foods or ingredients to avoid. Build relationships with these people, ask for feedback on meals you’ve created specially for them, get to know their likes and dislikes, and what they’d like to see more of on the menu, giving them an incentive to come back again.


Please note: I am not a trained dietician – these notes are intended as an introduction only.  Please contact the relevant societies for detailed information on diets.


Useful contacts:


Allergy UK


Information on Lactose intolerance


Coeliac information for Food Service businesses


Gluten-free Chef of the Year

If you are an established chef, enter recipes for a three course gluten-free menu and you could win a 1 week placement at Gleneagles.


Food Standards Agency introductory leaflet


Food Standards Agency allergen information


Food Standards Agency Voluntary Best Practice Guidance

Are you getting your food costing basics right?

With so much focus on increasing sales, are we remembering to keep tabs on our costs too?

Here are my 25 essentials to controlling food costs.

I’m sure there are many more ideas, but these are the basics…..

  1. Plan menus around seasonal availability
  2. Create costing cards for every menu item, and update ingredients costs as they change
  3. Include methods for all recipes, train chefs and provide the right tools to follow these methods
  4. Establish yields of all recipes, and check these are being achieved though production and sales controls
  5. Check suppliers prices before ordering, and adapt menu if costs reduce margin
  6. Only ever order what you need – chef will only be tempted to use more if it’s there, or it goes to waste
  7. Negotiate drop discounts with your main suppliers – if they can save on delivery costs they might be willing to negotiate
  8. Only ever buy products on offer if you know you can incorporate into the menu without it affecting your sales or margins
  9. Check invoice prices against list prices
  10. Don’t accept expensive substitutes for out of stock items
  11. Check all deliveries are complete, adequate shelf life and in good condition – never accept anything which is not to standard
  12. Keep stores tidy, with everything having its own place – it’s far easier to control
  13. Keep stores locked, with access only from those who need it
  14. Ensure stock rotation to avoid spoilage
  15. Take stock regularly, weekly if possible, but as a minimum monthly – to get accurate stock consumption figures (this also encourages low stocks and good rotation)
  16. Keep your menu choice limited to avoid low stock turnover – customers usually perceive this anyway with very extensive menus
  17. Keep records of patterns in menu popularity to help planning and ordering
  18. Batch cook as orders come in to meet demand
  19. Check what comes back on plates – and ask if wastage is due to poor quality or too big a portion?
  20. Keep a wastage book to track all wastage – you’ll be amazed how much goes in the bin and for avoidable reasons
  21. Investigate cost of a blast chiller if you don’t already have one – it could pay for itself in short space of time
  22. Ensure all chefs/service staff are trained in portion control
  23. Supply the right size serving equipment for a standard portion – if a portion of chips is 8 oz and you provide a 10 oz scoop that’s 25% over and your margin gone
  24. Educate staff in the budgets and margins involved in the businesses – if they think you make a fortune on each dish they wont respect food costs
  25. Have guidelines for staff meals and what they can and cant eat or drink….And a bonus point…
  26. Accidents do happen – but ask staff to let you know when there has been anything out of the ordinary to affect wastage

Why reinvent the wheel. I have a range of costing tools and other business management resources, which can be found here.

What have we got against students?

Placements are a great way to ‘try before you buy’

I find it rather sad that as the universities and colleges break up for their summer break, I hear that many of the hospitality & tourism students have yet to find placements for the coming term.

Yet, we hear that the industry is struggling to get the right candidates to fill management and chef positions, despite there supposedly being so much talent from other industries on which to capitalise.

Why is it businesses are so reluctant to take on students?  If we don’t give them the experience they need, then who is to blame when there is a lack of candidates?

From my own experience, offering placements to university students can bring new talent that can make a real difference to our business.   The benefits include: a source of fresh enthusiasm and new ideas; extra support while we are pursuing other business or organisational issues; a means of tackling shelved projects to take us forward (such as how to be at the front of the queue when the market picks up again); a route to university resources and knowledge, and last but not least, a cost effective solution to our recruitment needs.

I know of many hotels and restaurants who have ended up recruiting former placement students on a permanent basis at the end of their studies; what better way to ‘try before you buy’ a potential new recruit.

And as the economy picks up again we’ll be in a better position to attract  more of the high calibre managers we need to support the growth of our industry.

Who is responsible for a motivated team?

The headline read ‘Attitude and motivation training needed say line managers’. Surely you can’t train people to be motivated, I thought!

The article went on to report that when managers were asked in an on line poll what skills their teams needed training in the most, 34% said training related to improving attitude and motivation was most needed.

But shouldn’t this come from the manager?  Obviously the right training will play a big part in keeping your staff motivated, but what else needs to be in place?

In such uncertain times it can be difficult to keep staff motivated.  Is it important that they feel enthusiastic about their work?  We know that a demotivated team can lead to poor performance, poor customer service, poor attendance and ultimately lead to losing not only your best people, but also losing you business.  We also know that uncertainty or change is unsettling.

So how can you diminish the affects?

Left unchecked you will run the risk of unsubstantiated rumours, a drop in productivity, and potentially losing key team members.  Keep an eye out for the signs of declining motivation – an increase in time off sick, time spent surfing the internet (maybe looking for other jobs) a change in work patterns either doing less through lack of drive, or doing more through fear of being seen to be dispensable.

Getting the basics right
There are lots of theories on motivation and what motivates people will vary from person to person.  However there are a number of factors that will crop up time and again, so get these right and you will be well on the way to creating the right environment for a commited and motivated team

People need to know what is expected of them and how this will be measured
Lead by example, so there are no mixed messages
Set standards, and be consistent in these.  This includes ensuring the same rules apply to everyone
Provide the appropriate tools, resources and training to do the job effectively

Look and Listen
Ensure you are approachable
Provide support when needed and be receptive to when this is required –   Not  everyone will be confident enough to ask for this
Consult with staff and listen to their ideas – They may be able to offer better ways of doing things
Listen to and act quickly on staff concerns
Take time to talk to your staff to build relationships and show an interest in them as individuals
Identify what is important to them

Recognise and reward good performance and achievements
Give feedback – what have they done well and how it has contributes; where they have fallen short and how this can be improved
Celebrate and share successes
Identify and utilise people’s strengths – delegate and give them some control and ownership
Provide development to capitalise on strengths

In times of change
Let people know what is going on.  When savings are needed let your team know this – most people can be very resourceful in coming up with options, especially when it is a choice between bringing in more business, reducing costs, or making staff cuts.

Communicate any changes you intend to make before they happen, and involve them in the process as much as possible.  Whether the changes affect them directly or not, anything out of the norm will be unsettling and will have an impact on morale and subsequently productivity.  Then keep people up to date with progress.  Have the changes made had the impact you had hoped. What is happening in the way of new business.  You don’t want to be giving false hope, but equally when things have been implemented that have had a positive impact let them know, so you gain their buy-in, and encourage them to look for further opportunities.

Consider staff cuts to be a last resort – Before taking this step consider the knock on effects.  Short term, an impact on those remaining – a drop in morale, drop in productivity, increased stress and absenteeism, impact on client satisfaction, and what provision do you have if you do win that big contract you have been chasing?  Longer term consider the cost of replacing people and your reputation as an employer with both prospective employees and clients.

Remember – if your staff are your most valuable asset, remember to treat them as such and hopefully it will stay that way.

How customer service training impacts your bottom line (…and your stress levels)

Do you remember the storm that blew up over Marco Pierre White’s ‘demotion’ of celebrity staff from kitchen to waiter in Hells’ Kitchen.  And I couldn’t say I was surprised.  All front of house staff are key to a hotel’s or a restaurant’s success, and being there as a punishment will do nothing to promote good customer service.

Being able to deliver exceptional customer service should not be seen as secondary, it should be integral to the whole operation and certainly be a key part of the recruitment and training process.

Recruitment criteria needs to include interpersonal skills – it is far easier to train someone in operating the switch board or serving wine, than it is to train someone in how to be welcoming, how to listen or how to stay calm with even the most irate customer.

If you’ve recruited the right people customer service training should not be too difficult a task. Everyone at some point is a customer themselves, and they therefore know how they like to be treated.  Encourage your team to take the customer journey, and see everything from a customer’s perspective as often as possible.   Not only in and around the establishment, but get them to think of what the customer will be feeling after their journey, their expectations for that special occasion, or their anxiety to impress that all important client.

Before focussing on task training, ensure all new staff are conversant with your core values, which must be delivered whatever the situation, the importance of the customer experience, and the knock on effect this can have.

Remember that for guests booking on line their first impression on arrival will be key, as this will be the first human contact they will have had with your hotel or restaurant.  These impressions last, and can have a dramatic impact on how any later issues or problems are perceived by the customer.  No matter how fantastic the food, or luxurious your rooms, if the service is slow or reluctant it will leave the customer with a negative experience, and one which they are unlikely to want to repeat.

Involve your staff in the feedback process, both in person, and by getting them to track customer comments from comment cards and on sites such as Trip Advisor. Even if they disagree with the comments, it’s the customer’s perception that counts, so encourage staff to focus on analysing what led to that perception and decide what to do to build on positives and rectify negative views.

What you must have in place are some principles or guidelines for staff to follow in specific situations. Not a parrot fashion script, but some parameters, with an end result in mind.  This gives your team confidence – which will be apparent to your customers – and provides consistency. From a financial perspective it also safeguards you against staff being overly generous and giving away all your profits.

The more authority and skills you give your team to deal with issues the better. Firstly from the customer’s perspective things will get dealt with more quickly, as staff don’t need to find you or a manager. Secondly it gives your staff a sense of responsibility, which will normally be rewarded by better use of their initiative and taking responsibility in other areas too.

The quality of your customer service training, will have a major impact on your customers’ experience and the likelihood of them returning, and hence on your bottom line. Plus, it can reduce your stress levels, as it means you don’t have to be there keeping an eye on things 24/7.

Slashing prices is not the answer

Slashing your room rates to get increased occupancy is not the answer to generating higher sales margins.  Whereas it might increase occupancy rates slightly it will have a negative impact on your customer’s perception of quality, a massive impact on your margins and, once cut, it is extremity difficult to put prices back up again.

However, the Buy One, Get One Free or Two for the Price of One promotions still offer additional value, but leave you the flexibility to offer these only on certain items, or at certain times, or to a specific target customer. A variation on this is half price offers, but this still devalues your customer’s perception of quality, and the potential for you to only sell half as many.

A variation on price promotions is offering free upgrades on availability. People often remark that once you have flown first class you’ll never want to go back to economy! This follows the same principle – giving people a taste for your best offers, services and products can encourage them to upgrade at their own expense next time around. It also leaves them with a better experience than they may have expected which promotes a talking point and a great way to prompt testimonials and get referrals.

When conducting price promotions remember the rules of costing out beforehand, and think of high value to customer, low cost to you. You might therefore want to offer buy one, get one free just on your main courses, but all starters, side orders, deserts and drinks will still be at full normal price. The main meal is normally the price that customers will look at first so from their perspective this offers great value for money. For accommodation you might offer one night, get a second night free, for nights which otherwise have very low occupancy.  Result – a booking you might not have otherwise had, with minimal additional cost to you for the second night, so minimal impact on your margin.

I have just produced a new report “57 Ways to Boost Sales and Get More Repeat Bookings for Your Hotel“.  To get your copy click the link here.