… coming to a restaurant near you, test tube meat!

If you were to ask someone which football team they supported, their answer might surprise or even infuriate you. “How can you support Liverpool if you’re just down the road from Old Trafford?” you might ask. And if their team was not the same as yours, much of your conversation would be trying to convince each other why they should switch allegiances – and neither of you would win THAT battle. What is it about loyalty to teams or individuals that drive us so much? Why do some punters follow the trainer (regardless of the horse he has running) while others put their cash on the jockey irrespective of the beast he happens to be sitting on?

Usain Bolt nailed his colours firmly to the mast when he pleaded with Prince William not to let young George grow up in a Villa shirt. Too late, Usain, Villa had already sent the gift, with “HRH 1” embroidered on the shirt! And that leads to the next questions, why does the Queen support Arsenal, or Prince Charles, Burnley?

Image: Bev Lussier

Image: Bev Lussier

Jon Rutter’s team of stocktakers can also tell of the times they have been asked the same questions by their customers while they’re in the middle of working on some detailed formulae to help improve their GP, when out the blue the casual remark is thrown out, “so, who’re you supporting on Saturday?” But any good stocktaker worth their salt has developed the knack of knowing their client’s preferences beforehand and can hold that type of sports-talk conversation without coming to blows about team colours.

It could also be said that supporter’s preferences extend to pubs and restaurants for the same reasons – “how can you possibly drink light ale when you know lager is best!” Or, “you ALWAYS have the cheese burger and then ice cream … why don’t you at least try the scallops? They’re ALWAYS delicious every time I have them.” 

But those who love their hamburgers may be in for a shock in years to come, as apart from the price increase, the composition of the patty might put them off. In fact, those who choose some types of seafood might also blanch a little as they discover that what’s on their plate is the same as on ‘burger lover’s’ plate too. If science continues to make giant strides into the area of engineered foods, we could all be eating the same stuff … just dressed up a bit differently with a bit of garnish and an olive (if they’re still around) to ensure that they are served as separately named choices on the menu.

Artificially grown meat, or fish or poultry will be available if the Dutch (bless them) have their way. The mind boggles at what some poor stocktaker will make of that scenario when they try to plan for the local restaurant owner – “you’ll need 24 tins of ArtiProtein for next week, mate, that’ll keep your 36 item menu going. Your customers will be spoiled for choice!”

At least we’ll still have our football teams that we could argue about.

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Gadgets rule? OK for some …

It would be disconcerting to a speaker, while in mid-flow of his oration, to see various members of the audience get up to move around – or to even walk around the auditorium and then return to their seats. Or for a busy restaurant owner suddenly to see the odd patron get up and walk outside for a few minutes then return to the table. They could be forgiven for thinking, “What’s going on here?”

The next wave of techno-gadgets has arrived, and for the observer, these odd displays of activity could be the result of the actions the gizmo tells the new users to perform. Sceptics may refer to this as self-enforced “tagging” but the blurb on it tells that this programmable device can monitor the wearer’s habits and actions and remind them of when they need to be more active – like getting up to have a walk around in order to burn off some calories! The Chancellor was spotted wearing one the other day, a black one. But apparently they come in a variety of other colours. They can be “synched” with a mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet. These wristbands are marketed under the name “Jawbone UP.”

But I can’t imagine any of Jon Rutter’s stocktaking team having theirs turned on when they’re getting down to the serious business of giving feedback and reports of profit margins, security and pricing to their customers. They concentrate on the tasks at hand and don’t need interruptions!

But with the advent of this new type of device, “new challenges arise as to acceptable usage practice” (don’t you just love modern expressions?) in public places. In other words, when should you use it, or turn the thing off? Much like turning mobiles off when sitting down to eat and giving your dining companions your full attention. Or not answering the phone when you’re already in a meeting/conversation with other people. Or checking your Facebook alerts when you’re in the in the middle of a sales transaction. I suppose Mr Osborne had his turned off when he was in front of the Finance Committee the other day. Imagine his embarrassment if the thing had started vibrating to remind him to burn off some more calories right in the middle of a conversation about “quantitative easing.”

Other concerns about the increased use of technology and gadgets could spill over to other areas. One would have to be sure they were deactivated before walking through airport security. Probably also have them off while flying – hard to imagine the chaos if half the passengers had to get up at the same time to “move around” let alone what effect it would have on the avionics. And I don’t know whether they have an “Airplane Mode” or not. They’d probably be useless for chefs because they taste things all day and the “calorie intake” function may need constant rebooting. Waiters and other front of house staff would make a mockery of the “burn off calories” feature as they seem to be moving about all the time. The other day someone remarked that the reason we have an “energy crisis” is because all the electronic devices need charging every day and they didn’t plan for that 10 years ago!

One couple who will not be using one of these Jawbone UP’s is the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – their own, personalised, portable device arrived safely on the 22nd and will remind them at regular intervals when they need to be active and move around! It’s so new, it hasn’t even been named yet. (24 July UPDATE: Portable device has now been identified as “GAL” short for George Alexander Louis)

The customer is always right!

Whether you run a pub, a fine dining restaurant, a tea room or a small ‘chippy’ on the corner you have a lot in common with each other. There are suppliers, bills, licenses, staff – and there are customers. The other common denominator is the need to plan successfully in order to be successful and in that process is the need to try to cater for every eventuality that may occur.

It would seem obvious that the publican would plan differently to the chap with the tea room but planning, none the less is involved. The stocktaker dealing with the tea room will have different formulae and items in his system than when he visits the hotel or the club who are also his customers. Jon Rutter will give you lots of examples of the things he has to consider for his clients that form part of his comprehensive feedback.

But it is unlikely that even Jon would have seen the ‘little black book’ that some establishments are reported to have tucked away that contain the list of rude customers. The implication in Francesca Infante’s recent piece is that the more upmarket type establishments might have such a list that they consult when a table is requested and they can then “regretfully” tell the client that there are no bookings available. The owner of a chippy will generally tell a rude customer “take a hike” rather than waste time consulting a list.

Image: Guenter M Kirchweger www.redfloor.at

Image: Guenter M Kirchweger http://www.redfloor.at

However, one wonders what one has to do in order to “get on the list.” Do you have to generally behave badly and chuck food around? Drink red wine with your halibut? Or merely point out to the waiter that you’d like your steak done a little less rare. Whatever the reasons they seem to be pretty subjective as to what “rude” is. It seems that it’s up to the waiter’s and the maitre-d’s whim as to whether or not to write the name down.

At least being refused a table would seem preferable to having the police called in when you start to have words with the receptionist (a word of warning here – if you plan to have a birthday celebration, make sure in advance that you ARE permitted to sing a few bars to the birthday boy or girl). You don’t want to end up like Mr Doherty who, after coughing up over 300 quid for his child’s outing had the police roll up and query “what’s going on here, then?” because he hadn’t paid for the “party option.”

And if you’re over twelve, don’t ask for fish fingers (even if you like them) – the Cummings family might be branded as rude for asking for this, but the Regional Manager of the hotel in question has apologised “for any inconvenience” after they left.

Any host will tell you that this hospitality business can be a minefield of service, preferences, customers, planning and so on. They’ll point out that there are always two sides to a story but that they cannot accommodate every request. They would be right – it’s just a pity that sometimes PR doesn’t come into play, especially in the heat of the moment.

There is a sign on the wall of one kitchen I know – in full view of every waiter coming in and out as they serve – “The customer is ALWAYS right … even when they’re wrong!

Like it or not, use it or not … social media is here to stay!

Social media is regarded by some as a waste of time. They take the view that, “I don’t do Facebook or Twitter. They’re rubbish!” While others view them as a means to spreading the word about the business or a message that they’re trying to portray to the public and their potential customers.

The bad news for the detractors is that whatever their sentiments, social media is here to stay and they might as well accept and even embrace it. For those who are already “sold” on it, they’d better learn to use and exploit the possibilities or be left behind.

Image by Diego Eis: eyesmiles.tableless.com.br

Image by Diego Eis: eyesmiles.tableless.com.br

Social media and its spread was highlighted this last fortnight during the build up to the Wimbledon finals and also will be in the run-up to the the arrival of new Duke or Duchess of Cambridge. Within seconds of an event’s occurrence, the news hits the streets and there’s no retraction that come quickly enough if the details are not completely accurate or if they’re not presented in the way that isn’t totally compliant with what the PR machines dictate. For instance, the moment John Inverdale made the disparaging remark about Marion Bartoli’s looks, Twitter erupted with comments and outrage and he had to issue a “grovelling apology” which might even not have prevented his early retirement from the commentary box.

And even as the grin was rising on Ewan McKenzie’s face in Brisbane, the rest of the world knew that Robbie Deans had been axed as the Wallabies Coach – before even the news wires had updated their websites.

Social media DOES work and it is a force to be reckoned with, embraced and utilised, rather than pooh poohed. So much so that an Enterprise Lessee has even launched their own pub version of a social media, called “Pub Network” that is aimed to help pubs engage more with their customers. The site enables pubs to create their own profiles and is seen as a way of letting their customers know about their latest events, offers and promotions. However, one wonders whether those who have successful social media sites will forego them in favour of the new Pub Network – personally, I would use both, as I’m sure the new network could also work and achieve the aim for which it was set up.

With all this marketing and promotional effort going on, I’m convinced that stocktakers like Jon Rutter and the lads take things like planning for social media into account when they give advice and deal with planning strategies of their clients. There was an excellent article in the Morning Advertiser this week that dealt with the need to use a qualified stocktaker and the services they provide in order to be successful in the trade (not, incidentally, commissioned by Rutters nor anyone else) but highlighting the need for business people to use those expert and proficient in the trade in order to make things work out well.

As the article pointed out – you wouldn’t get your car serviced by an unqualified mechanic, would you?

In the same way, those who advise that social media can work and if they have already it made it work for them, should be listened to … or will businesses listen to the mantras of a few years ago when they said, “this Facebook thing will never take off.” They were wrong.

Over 1 billion Facebook users must be viewed as a potential market. As could 500 million Twitter users sending 340 million tweets per day. So, potentially, Pub Network could be the next biggest thing in Britain. However you view it, people like Rutters and their customers will need to take various social media into account in getting the word out to their prospective clientele as to what’s on the menu, what the specials are and what other news there is … because if they don’t someone else will. And right or wrong, the public seem to be paying attention to what’s out there in cyberspace!

It’s not as simple as shifting tables around!

So, you have an unexpected guest arrive for your sit-down dinner party. Well, it’s not too inconvenient, just some rearranging of the seating, slightly smaller gaps between the plates and glasses and pop in an extra chair. Job done!

Most ‘ordinary’ people would do that at home and they would also be forgiven for thinking that this is what happens in a restaurant when a table has an extra person or two join the group. We’ve all seen it. The manager hovering about, giving instructions, and one or two waiters trying to look nonchalant as they pass chairs over other diners, or ease tables together and rearrange the place settings. Then suddenly your elbow room seems to have shrunk (which makes it cosier) and no-one seems to mind too much. Unless of course you’re the manager and suddenly all your carefully worked out seating plans have gone awry. Not to mention the panic there may be in the kitchen at the news that more-than-planned mouths have arrived!

The stocktakers at Rutters will patiently explain that things like quantities, costings, margins and stuff like that have been carefully worked out based on certain assumptions and when the goalposts get moved (the extra diners being likened to those goalposts) it throws the calculations out a bit.

Rearranged table

And while this planning and costing procedure may generally be known about, what is probably not so well known is that ‘table planning’ is more of a science. I didn’t know and was intrigued to find that there is a Doctoral Thesis on “Managing Restaurant Tables using Constraint Programming” available to read and download from the internet. I had no idea that arranging tables to achieve optimum profitability was so involved. The 275 page paper goes into great detail on all types of aspects of table management – even to the extent that various mathematical algorithms are suggested in order to achieve optimum “critical mass” so to speak (does anyone remember the blogpost about being a chef and knowing algebra?). Mathematics seems to have taken an even greater role in the table-management arena.

Some folk have easier solutions to overcrowding, though. They chuck the big blokes out! That sounds very harsh, but for Jack Burton (not sure whether he has a doctorate or not) this is the only solution. His pub, The Nutshell, in Bury St Edmunds is officially the smallest in Britain and when his regular customer, Adam Thurkettle arrives he takes up the space of four normal sized people. So when the place starts getting crowded, Adam gets the boot. Jack and Adam have an understanding – Adam comes and makes his presence felt when things are not quite so hectic, and Jack always welcomes him and makes him feel at home. That way the place is always full. In 6ft 7inch Adam’s words, “I love the Nutshell and the regulars are a great bunch – but not many can get in after I arrive … my size can be a handicap when I prop up the bar.”

Not much maths needed to sort out the seating arrangements in Bury St Edmonds then.