The clue is in the phrase … “Customer Service”

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart had said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

Giving the customer what they want is something virtually all landlords will agree on in principle, but in practice, does it happen? Different customers want different things. Tastes vary and to satisfy everyone is impossible.  Trying to find that “happy medium” is as difficult. Consultants will advise that one has first to define one’s target customer and then cater for them and accept that there will be a range of people who will fall outside that specific target market.

Take the patrons at the College Arms in Birmingham, for example, whose new host is 75-year old Bridget Ware. She has established a rapport with her customers that ensures they know and understand what she can offer them and she knows and understands what they need. It’s the classic win-win scenario, but Tony Jennings points out that this doesn’t seem to be a strategy followed by many in the pub trade. He hints at the question those in the industry might ask, “what does someone who’s 75 years old know?” And answers it by pointing out that her successes with 55 years in the industry reveal that she does know a lot!

I wonder if Bridget Ware had read what Robert Craven wrote on how to keep customers happy? Points one and two in his article are: Understand what people want and Engage your customers! Stocktaking teams, like those operating out of Rutters, will confirm that by following the same principles their many satisfied customers get what they want: comprehensive reporting, specialist service, fast and effective problem solving. They have their needs met.

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Pub landlords, restaurant owners, club managers, tea house proprietors are all targeted with information about new trends, products, advice, hints, recipes and strategies. While all this information is important and also relevant, the ultimate “target,” the customer and information about their needs are generally relegated to the back-burner. You can have the best venue, the fanciest menu, the largest range of real ale and the most attentive staff, but if the customer’s needs aren’t being satisfied and if they’re trekking down to the greasy spoon on the corner, the question is that what the “spoon” has got that you haven’t? Possibly it’s a better rapport? Maybe the customer feels more welcome there? Who knows – but it’s becoming more evident that a successful establishment is that way because of whom, not what, takes first place.

And those who have lasted in the hospitality industry will also testify to the fact that success today doesn’t guarantee success tomorrow. If something is all the rage this year, it might be old news and out of fashion in the next. Who would have thought that WiFi would be so important to offer customers at some venues, like busy city centres. But at others, like in country garden settings, its availability is frowned on because it keeps people from conversation and enjoying the surroundings?

In one of 99 Legendary Customer Service Quotes, Robert Half sums up when he indicates, “When the customer comes first, the customer will last.

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Chemistry … down at your local!

Ever wondered how to really annoy a chef? One sure-fire way is to start adding salt before you’ve even tasted it! Any chef worth his salt, as they say, will have tasted and seasoned his dish so that it is just the way it should be by the time it is presented to you. And if, after tasting, you felt the need to add a sprinkling of salt, no offence would be taken.

The science of how salt works on food has to do with how it acts on the set of five primary tastes the tongue can detect (salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami). Salt has also been shown to suppress the bitter taste – which probably explains why salt is used when taking tequila shots! But if you’re running a restaurant in Mexico City the faith you have in how well your chef seasons the food is now critical because from April 4th the over 200 000 pubs and restaurants will no longer provide salt shakers on the tables. If this move was applied in the UK, Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers would have one less item to have to factor in to their planning and logistics as they help clients operate efficiently. It would be a tragedy to have a pub with no beer, but a pub with no salt shakers? Or brown sauce bottles? Mind you, the chefs would be ecstatic.

The Mexicans have introduced the no-salt-shaker zone in the interests of health. Apparently the amigos have been overdoing things when it comes to salt intake and has nothing to do with appeasing the ire of the chef community. The recommended daily intake of salt is 5mg per day (according to the World Health Organisation) and the Mexicans have been spooning in a whopping 12mg on average. The leading cardiologist at the Siglo III Medical Centre believes that by just removing the shakers from the table it will reduce the daily salt intake by 50%. I suppose he is basing his premise on what has become a habit at meal times – if it’s there, use it.

The good news for anyone holidaying there soon is that the restaurants will be allowed to offer salt to their patrons, it just won’t be standard issue on the table.

De Dorf Krug skol

Those who enjoy having a bit of a shake at the table will tell you that it adds to the enjoyment of their food. And isn’t that why people go out to eat – to have an enjoyable and pleasant time? This whole issue on taste and its effects also brought some more interesting news in regard to beer. Scientists (the blokes who told us about the dangers of too much salt) have said that beer cheers us up. They tell us that the taste releases dopamine that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. So even without the effect of the alcohol, just the taste of beer (even the non-alcoholic variety) will give a pleasurable feeling.

I wonder if Heston is working on a beer-flavoured-low-salt potato chip? It could be a hit.

Nearly 500 years old … and NOW it’s a fire concern?

English is a funny language in the sense that it has words that have originated from other languages but are regarded as “English words” – like booze, bungalow, shampoo or magazine! The English also like to use the names of people or events for naming places – like The Fawcett Inn, after Lieutenant Alexander Fawcett of the 95th Regiment who was killed in India in 1853 or “The Eagle and Child” based on a local legend in Oxfordshire.

Many pubs are named after some seemingly insignificant people. Insignificant to us today, but notable enough back in the day when their celebrity was such that a place was named in their honour. Such places abound in names of soldiers like Fawcett (above) and Alfred Herring, who won a VC for his role at the battle at Montagne Bridge in 1918. There’s also a fair number named after authors, sportsmen and captains of industry from bygone eras. One wonders what factors were taken into account in the naming process. It was probably a combination of favouritism, respect, popularity, notoriety and patriotism.

You’d expect people like Jon Rutter and his team to have crossed the thresholds of some of the most interestingly named establishments in their quest to look after the stocktaking interests of their customers. And their stocktaking role would play a significant part in keeping many of these places operating efficiently in this competitive industry.

You’d also expect, as you enter some of these places, that the landlords would be able to tell you about the origin of the name and the history of the place he proudly calls his patch. Or at least, there would be some kind of plaque, or sign or display for interested patrons to read that would help them enjoy the atmosphere or significance of the place.

But if red tape and bureaucracy have their way, patrons entering the Minerva Inn might think that they were only entering a pub named after the Roman goddess of wisdom and not Sir Francis Drake’s favourite pub! It contains woodwork and artifacts from some of the spoils of the Armada! It is the place that press gangs operated from! It is Plymouth’s oldest serving public house, circa 1540!

Revenge plate

No. If “health-and-safety” had their way then the historic, Grade II listed building that has survived unscathed since the 16th Century, that has also survived the bombing of the blitz, and countless re-development around it and having been redecorated in 1999 would have to have all the beams and woodwork painted over with fire-retardant paint, leaving nothing to be seen of its rich history.

This would mean that original woodwork (possibly some that even Sir Francis himself leaned against) and all the signatures of soldiers going off to war (some never to return) would all be obliterated. The fire service have indicated to the owners that it is their job to “safeguard heritage from the ravages of fire.”

Owners Mr and Mrs Jones put it very well when they said, “… it’s a 16th century timber framed building. If it catches fire, I’m not sure a coat of paint is going to do it much good.” They are trying to find a solution in a type of varnish that won’t be opaque.

Sir Francis wouldn’t be amused! He’d probably be thinking, why is all this happening now and not in 1999 when the place was redone? A fire service officer wouldn’t have lasted long on the deck of the Revenge.

Let them eat cake!

Everybody’s got to eat, right? So it would be safe to assume that this would be an industry that would be growing (because there are more and more mouths to feed) and that it’s an industry that guarantees customers everyday! So why don’t more people get involved in order to find something to do?

Probably because it’s jolly hard work. Watch any episode of Masterchef and see what has to be done to develop from scratch, and then present something people will pay for. And watch how hectic it gets in the professional kitchens with demanding chefs and even more demanding customers. Then think about doing all that six or seven days a week, at nights and on holidays and then wonder about your social and family life.

Confectionery Collage

But many will argue that not all the hospitality industry is like Masterchef, or The Great British Menu. They would be correct – but even the small tavern down the road that serves up some lovely pies and fish-n-chips still has that degree of being on duty when everyone else is watching the Boat Race, or heading off to Cornwall for the weekend, or popping off to Paris to experience a walking tour of Versailles. Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers meet regularly with their customers who can testify to the feeling of staying behind while others skip off to enjoy themselves in Europe. Jon’s group helps their restaurant and pub customers plan and prepare with careful and sustained strategies to keep them the sort of establishment that makes others want to skip over to them instead to enjoy themselves. They are part of this competitive and demanding industry called “hospitality.”

However, if you were to examine the rise in popularity of shows like The Great British Bake Off and the inspiration that the show has been to some people, the “food and hospitality” arena has taken on another dimension. There is a resurgence in homebakes, cupcakes and confectionery. The Office of National Statistics has indicated that independent bakeries in the UK grew by more than 5% last year (and that’s only talking about those that reached the VAT threshold). Cup cakes, for example, are becoming more popular at weddings than the traditional 3-tier cake. The wonderful thing about baking is that it can be done at home and delivered virtually when it’s convenient for the baker. They can still catch Eurostar to Paris if they plan correctly. And Gordon won’t be shouting at them about getting the 75 “cupcakes on the pass, right ******* now!”

One of the problems with baking is the “health brigade.” That group of doctors and dieticians who go on about sugar, flour and carbohydrates and how they are contributing to the rise of diabetes. That debate is a whole other ball-game in itself, but whatever you eat, there is a group that would approve and another that would disapprove. For example: some say butter is bad margarine is good … and then those who say that marg. is plastic and artificial while butter is best; cook in oil – avoid it like the plague! Chefs, bakers, amateur cooks, pub owners et al will always have someone against what they serve.

The bottom line is that people will eat what they like, and if they like cupcakes – give it to them!

(PS: There is a time and place for everything though, I found out recently. Serving cupcakes and Earl Grey to some friends while watching the ManU v Chelsea match saw the cakes bombarding the flat screen when Petr Cech performed his acrobatics on Hernandez‘ header. The one time I’m just glad I hadn’t served spareribs.)