It doesn’t have to be a “gong” …

Well, the New Year’s Honours have been announced and while there will be many happy recipients the question is always raised as to why this or that one didn’t get an honour. Some have even questioned that there are far too many honours dished out than there were in the past. It seems that these days one just has to be a good sportsman or have had a career in showbiz that it almost guarantees some kind of gong. Many would take issue with this, citing all those people who have contributed to charities and the betterment of their fellow man. And they’d be right, but we don’t seem to hear too much about THOSE recipients. The main media focus is on those with fame and who are in the spotlight.

WaiterWaitressThere are a whole phalanx of waiters and kitchen staff who may be considered more deserving of a New Year Honour than some existing recipients  – they also serve, they battle the elements to get to their work-station, they have to contend with all manner of challenges and conflicts in order to deliver whatever goods or services they have chosen to be involved with. They are also unsung heroes to millions of patrons and customers. They’re just not famous. They’re not the public face of the restaurants or the establishment that they represent, but that doesn’t make them any less important or deserving.

And Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers are in much the same place – they contribute to the success and the smooth running of the establishments that they represent. Yet they are the “backroom boys” unseen and unsung heroes that keep the wheels grinding, the business profitable and the customer informed. When Michelin Star chefs talk about their successes it’s not often they acknowledge the blokes that keep their pans clean, nor those who keep their stock in order and contribute to their profitablility.

So with 2014 looming, stocktakers, servers and backroom folk should take a well earned bow and be recipients of “honorary” awards for services rendered to their industry over the years. They have had to swallow hard and smile when customers have proven to be unreasonable. They’ve had to rearrange the tables to accommodate the large party of eleven when only 5 had booked. They’ve had to explain all the menu items when the customers were too lazy to read what was there in black and white in front of them. They’ve had to contend with the demanding tables, the fussy orders and the demeaning comments and be left exhausted at the end of the ordeal with a tip amount of “zero.”

What would be truly special is that if all those patrons of all the pubs, restaurants, clubs and hostelries across the land would honour those who serve them in 2014 with the respect, goodwill and kindness that Rutters and the team wish others at this time of the year – they may be just as deserving as those receiving Honours from Her Majesty. The “honour” even though it may not be a gong, surely would be appreciated just as much.

My night before Christmas …

It was the night before Christmas and all through MY house
Nothing was peaceful because of the spouse,
Her  lists they were growing longer and the wishes more trite,
I wondered if I’d ever I’d begin to get things right.
The mission was to hit the shops quite early
But luck would have it that traffic was all churly
The trains were delayed and the storm was a-brewing
There wasn’t a hope I’d achieve what I’d aimed to be doing
And snug back at home the spouse and the kids
Were blissfully unaware of me hitting the skids
“Pick paper, and tape and don’t forget tinsel and lights
And fruit, and butter, and cream, and other delights”
But laden with packets, I toiled through the chaos and noise
To make my way home to peace my home should deploy
But entering in, all burdened and breathless
The kids were all crying and the wife niggly and restless
“How could you?” she said on asking what was ailing
“Did you think Christmas would just be plain sailing?”
She went on to tell me that in spite of all my efforts
She sent me out with the list of only half the presents
So back into the storm with muffler, gloves and a beanie
And the list, now complete, tucked away quite securely
I tarried a while as I passed the local warm pub, I said “GOOD”
And decided I needed something to warm my cold mood
Eventually I made it home with the list, not filled, mind
I ran through my excuses but they were a “blind”
It was still tucked away in my pocket,
And the wife? Well, she gave me a rocket!
But as I settled down by the fire with the family
I was home and safe with the people I love
And Rutters and the team wish the same to you it’s clear
Safety, love, happiness and good health during this time of the year!

(with apologies to Major Henry Livingston Jr. 1748-1828)

Break with tradition! How about resolutions all year long?

Rutters logoWho ever heard of taking stock before due time? And isn’t it traditional to do it at New Year? But  sometimes circumstances dictate that things are done differently. Take Alastair Cook for instance, he and the team have gone into the change room needing to look at their business plan for the next phase of their activities. This out of necessity (and almost a desperation) at losing the treasured urn in Perth in dramatic form with the manager, the coach and the members of the group evaluating what has gone before, where they want to be and what to do to get there.

Jon Rutter and his professionals do much the same things with their teams of players. They look back on what’s happened too and work with their clients to strategize the next stage of an overall business plan to achieve an end result. “The Ashes” of their particular field – a Michelin star, a higher rating in a tourist guide, an endorsement by a renowned chef, a glowing review by a food critic or even becoming “the place to be” for celebrities to hang out!

But successful businessmen will tell those who want to stretch beyond where they find themselves that only doing an annual “stocktake” at the end of each year in the form of a series of new year’s resolutions is a bit like relying on Mystic Meg or Camelot … a very remote chance of hitting the jackpot but not always a sure thing! Those individuals with the operations that seem to always be leading the pack will quietly tell those who care to listen that their “position” is due to constant motion so that they are never still, never satisfied, never complacent, always ready to learn and re-evaluate.

The golfer Gary Player, on being questioned about his golfing success and skill said that the more he practised the luckier he got. Another South African golfer, Ernie Els after winning a championship, accepting the trophy and winner’s cheque was seen heading to the practice tee with his coach and proceeded to hit 500 balls before retiring to the shower and the celebrations. On being questioned why, told the interviewer that he wasn’t totally satisfied with his technique and wanted to correct it while it was still fresh in his memory. Stock taking?

In this competitive world of “hospitality” whether it’s an upmarket hotel, an exclusive club, a restaurant chain or an ice cream van at Blackpool, no one is in it to be just mediocre. No one wants to be in the same position today as they were a year ago because that’s really just going backwards. From the customer perspective that’s boring and it’s probably unprofitable too. The business owner, together with his stocktaking team would be well advised to assess and revise strategy, tactics and execution in order to be ahead of the opposition. In order to be feted and to receive the accolades of customers and peers alike. It is inconceivable that anyone works so that they can fail. Setbacks can and do occur but it’s the stocking process that identifies and then remedies the shortcomings that’d keeps the business rolling forward.

So let’s hope Alistair Cook and the lads have the type of “stocktakers” a good restaurant has … The type who can pick them up from a setback and work out the right process to recover lost ground and then ultimately recover their statu – Custodians of The Ashes! The “Michelin Star” of the cricket world! The Aussies did. After their dismal performances in England a few months ago,  general opinion had them capitulating again and England retaining The Ashes till the next time at least.

Team Oz didn’t wait till the traditional time of year to reassess, they bucked convention and called the professionals together, took stock, and acted.   It seems that a three-month reassessment worked for them. If it works in the cricket world, why not hospitality? Or indeed, any industry? Old Year’s eve may be too late for that “resolution” …

It would be unfortunate to be caught on a sticky wicket with ever widening cracks appearing, making the task of batting even more and more difficult.

Fun in the Dip … but Stockton-on-Tees’ tree is pitiful!

Image: Rutters

Image: Rutters

There’s a lot going on at this time of the year. In just about every corner of the land there are twinkling lights, decorations, Christmassy music … and in The Dip, street markets, dancing and the opportunity to make your own mincemeat. Rutters pushed their spreadsheets and calculators aside for a day to join in the community effort to support their neighbourhood. And by all accounts it was a roaring success!

And while the good folk of Hollingdean were having fun and enjoying themselves, bear a thought for the residents in Stockton-on-Tees whose Council did away with the town’s 40-foot spruce and replaced it with a pathetic cone that has earned it the dubious description of being “the worst tree in England!” Shame, the townsfolk are understandably feeling a bit bleak and Alex Moore’s article that included a few photos illustrates why. Ebenezer Scrooge must have moved the 250 miles from his counting house in London.

Even further away than Scrooge from his old stamping grounds of the darkrooms and newspaper offices in London, Darryn (Mr Paparazzi) Lyons was snapped recently in the mayoral regalia of Geelong, Australia where he has been elected mayor of his birthplace. He even dyed his trademark Mohawk white in order to blend in with and match the outfit. Someone unkindly suggested that at a cursory glance he could easily be mistaken for a large badger with a gold chain.

Another, possibly more respected photographer, Arthur Edwards, has been reflecting on some the more memorable images that he has taken over the years, many of them of the Royal Family. Who can forget his photo of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge dancing in carefree manner in Tuvalu after their own paparazzi incident in France (pics that Arthur didn’t take, incidentally), or the one of the Queen looking very happy at Epsom? It seems that this type of thing happens at this time of the year – the pulling out of old albums, sorting the best pics and then reflecting on the whys, whens, and wheres of each one (and if Uncle Dick is due to visit for Christmas Day and he hasn’t been around for a while, best to dig out an old snap so it’s easier to recognize him).

Following on from Rutters blog from October 23rd when the Fighting Talk issue was raised over food wastage from the major supermarkets and who was to blame, well it’s reared its head again. Tesco are now firmly laying the blame on the consumers as to the reason that they, Tesco, chuck so much produce away! Yes, it’s the consumer’s fault for being so fussy. Mr Simister of Tesco said that they would try to persuade customers to buy misshapen fruits and vegetables. That’s a comforting tactic. So when you pop off to the supermarket to buy your Brussels sprouts or carrots or potatoes for Christmas dinner, listen carefully to the shop assistants who will be doing their very best to convince you to buy the oval sprouts and the crooked carrots. Maybe they’ll convince you that there is more flavour trapped in the curves than there is in the straight ones.

It’s reassuring to know that Tesco is placing the responsibility on each consumer to be less fussy in the build-up to Christmas.

Dining in the sky with diamonds (and a seatbelt) …

Image: Colin Brough

Image: Colin Brough

It is probably de rigeur to attend the restaurant in the sky when it comes to town. This extravagant example of the “peripatetic food wagon” has been doing the rounds over the last few years.

Major cities in the Middle East, the Americas, Africa, Australasia and Europe have seen the vertically portable arrangement swaying gently above their streets. This is one of those places where dinner is definitely different. There are 22 places around the table with the central boardwalk reserved for the staff who prepare and serve the three course meal plus drinks to guests who plainly need a head for heights. The whole table is raised into the air above the city and well-heeled diners get a birds-eye view from 40 or so metres. Meals are mostly pre-prepared and then finished off in a convection oven in the “kitchen” – no open flames or that type of cooking is permitted (health and safety issues, it seems), so crépes won’t be on any menu!

The good news for restaurateurs is that this whole apparatus can be rented. Stocktakers can be instructed by their clients to factor the costs in to their calculations for the new year. Well, summer, actually because even though you can pay a bit extra for some heating to be included, the open air nature of this beast will probably meet its match in the English winter. So for the chef who wants to give his guests that special experience, he can bank on £12,500 for the five hour junket. This of course includes everything – the campaign planning, risk assessments, hire of the table, the crane, the crew and management who set up everything and then break it down (no pun intended) and also the £10m public liability insurance. All the host will have to provide is the food, the serving staff and the guests.

It would be recommended that guests be carefully selected. Those with vertigo or incontinence issues should probably best stay home. While it is quite fine for guests to leave the table to visit the little boy or girl’s room during the meal, the lowering and raising of the table each time could grate on the other guests when they’re trying to get the perfect shot on their camera-phone and suddenly they lose their vantage point angle because someone ‘needs to go.’

And if Malcolm Walker happened to be a guest at one of these soirées he’d be the first to suggest using products from his Iceland chain. And for the attending stocktaker, factoring in Mr Walker’s products could keep the costs of the whole event down to below 14K. His company’s products would also help the kitchen staff in their preparations too. A lot of dishes could just be bunged in the microwave in situ, 40m up!

People shouldn’t be surprised if there’s an extra name on the Christmas cards they get this year. An interesting survey shows that one in four dog owners add the name of their pet on to the cards they send out. I suppose because animals and our pets are considered part of the family.

So it would be quite normal to get one from Jon Rutter signed “from Jon, all the Rutters team and Unique Billy.”