Lately, this has been a hot topic under discussion in the media with some high profile chefs opting for a shorter working week in order to achieve a better work/life balance.
Prior to opening our own business we made a point of visiting most of the local competition in order to get a feel of what was on offer nearby, with the aim that we would try and do better than those around us.
I’m not saying we’ve always achieved this, but it’s a pretty good starting point and a simple but effective business plan.
Once the business gathered momentum, taking time off to review what everyone else is doing becomes increasingly difficult. With the demands of very long hours, difficulties with staffing and high overheads it’s easy to exist in the bubble that is your own business and it becomes ever easier to look inwards.
Add up the cost of additional staffing then the cost of your short break in the sun and it soon adds up.
Looking outwards at competition is important on several counts. Keeping focused, inspired and staying abreast of current trends is motivational and looking at the detail of your own operation from a guest perspective is hugely beneficial.
We recently had a week away in Ireland. Their hospitality is second to none and once we’d overcome the language barrier, (my strong Geordie accent can be as impenetrable as the James Joyce novel Ulysses) the people were unfailingly welcoming.
Interestingly, though we did eat some very good food, some of the best and most memorable experiences we had weren’t necessarily those with the best food. It’s true a mediocre meal can be lifted by amazing service yet an outstanding meal doesn’t make up for disinterested or surly service. This was a big wake up call for me and a reminder of how good service should always be at the core of your business.
Though we all complain about the increasingly unreasonable demands of our customers (thankfully a minority) the break reminded me that without the customers we have no business.
Customers should be your focus, not what you put on your menu. That’s actually only secondary because without the customers nobody is going to eat it and the whole thing is fabulously redundant. Food has become so trendy and as a result I fear some of us (cough) in the trade may have become a bit cocky and full of our own self importance.
Take the time, take a break and look around you. We need to get a grip. It’s only food after all.
Karen Errington is licensee of the Rat Inn, Anick, Northumberland