For The Love of Food.
Before joining hospitality solutions company, Conor Kenny & Associates, I had the great pleasure of working for 10 years with Marco Pierre White, a 3 Michelin star Chef, and famous for ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ the ITV celebrity cooking programme. Naturally, this was a roller coaster of high energy, adventure and experience. More importantly, it confirmed my love of all things food, customer service, and how we influence the guest experience. Previously, I was privileged to work with the very best names in the business, including the Roux Brothers at Le Gavaroche. My return to Ireland brought me alongside the elite, The Clarence, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and the late Dr.Tony Ryan’s ‘Village at Lyons’ It was a hugely enjoyable journey and two clear lessons stood out for me as I embark on the next chapter of this epic hospitality voyage. Firstly, no matter who or where, the lessons remain the same. Serve simple food, at good value, in an honest, non-pretentious and cheerful way. If you are a rural tiny pub that can be a simple, but superb, sandwich. If you are the suburban super pub, the same lessons still apply.The second lesson? Is that I learnt that I love to teach and want to bring all that expertise home to Ireland. It’s why I have jumped over the table and found my new mission which is to share those lessons with you.
Plain Ugly Food
Ten years of food excellence came crashing down on a first visit to a new Kerry pub. The food was not bad, it was dreadful. Not only that, but everything that surrounded the eating experience was ugly. It made me angry and it made me think. Simply, it did not need to be this way. A little knowledge, a little learning, a sprinkling of training, some added innovation, a smattering of warmth, welcome and honesty, would have gone a long way.
It was both the problem and the opportunity. If this was the ‘norm’ then there sure was ‘opportunity’.
The Wounded Tiger
The dying Celtic Tiger will bring new and fresh challenges. Simply, you must improve or you will die. In his book ‘Can You Manage?’ Ivor Kenny makes a powerful point. He says; “A business is not like a human being, it does not die naturally, it dies from neglect” A tightening market needs an equal adjustment by The Publican if he is to stand out from the crowd. The sad reality is that most average food, in most average pubs, is in the majority, but it is most definitely not in demand! Customers will swiftly abandon ‘average’ in search of ‘value’ if you step up to the mark, you will prevail, if you don’t, you will fail.
The Honesty Bar!
Most Pubs, and Pub owners, do not really understand food. Fair enough, why should they? Who would have taught them? Many Pub owners resist food as an ‘inconvenience’. Plenty of Managers are afraid of food (and even Chefs too!) but just as I don’t know how to pull the perfect pint, so too, I can assume? You are not food experts? However, that’s not going to pay the wages, a change of direction, attitude and energy just might. Firstly, accept what you do not know and seek help, expertise and advice, it’s good to talk! Secondly, embrace the need for good pub food, it’s potential to grow your business, and invest in that new knowledge, skill and expertise. If you really begin to understand what your customers want, and then give it to them, you are half way there. The alternative is not very pretty.
Simple Success Stories
In our company, we don’t like the word ‘consultancy’ we prefer ‘solutions’ in fact, we prefer ‘unique solutions for unique problems’. All around the country there are several simple success stories. There are pubs, and people, who have embraced the new reality, the new demands and the new dynamics, we are lucky, our work is usually at the invitation of progressive pubs, progressive people and progressive owners. For example, the next time you visit Galway check out The Huntsman Inn. Quietly, without fuss, they have taken a suburban pub and made into an iconic place for food. In Donegal, The Blaney family have made it into an art form. In Mayo, 24 year old Aoife Byrne is reinventing that legendary pub ‘The Beaten Path’
The list goes on, and so too does their success.
The Ten Commandments.
A successful redirection of your food business is not just about ‘one thing’ it is about several things being done, parallel, that will be 1% better in hundreds of ways to your competitor. However, as a starting point, you must consider these fundamental questions;
1. Your position in the market place. What is it? What are you famous for? Who are your competitors? Can we deliver what we promise and stand out from the crowd? – If not, begin to define it.
2. What are you? A Restaurant? Bistro, Café or Brasserie? Or, do you know and are you true to that? – If you (honestly) don’t know, work on understanding the difference, and then define it.
3. Does our food and beverage proposition reflect the décor? You know, right proposition requires the right design cues, codes and messages – design assists atmosphere, make sure yours does too.
4. What exactly is it that makes you stand out from the crowd? – If you don’t know, ask your guests
5. Do you offer fresh local produce and represent good value for money? – Check out those great little success stories and learn why they are successful.
6. Can you offer a large choice and still make money? – If you don’t know the answer, look at your measures for cost control.
7. Why are you only busy on a Friday/Saturday night? – Check out weekday wonders and see why they are busy.
8. Does your chef run the show? Are we a team? – Don’t have an opinion, get the facts.
9. Are we ready for change and to motivate ourselves and our business? – Make change your culture, not a project.
10. Communication is the key to all things consistent. Do you train, train and train again? Success stories do, and daily! – If you don’t train, learn, teach and inspire, your competitors certainly will.
There was a time when the owner might ask you to apologise or leave. That has changed, so too have customers, pubs, and the demands of day to day living. During the filming of Hell’s Kitchen, there was a much mentioned ‘Marco moment’ The guest had been complaining. I listened. The guest complained again and insisted Marco was informed, I still listened. They insisted again. I told them that I did not think that was a good idea. They insisted and persisted. I went to Marco. From deep under his dark eyes, he looked menacingly in their direction. Calmly he said “Nick, they have two choices, apologise or leave” They left! If you are Marco Pierre White, with 3 Michelin stars, you can get away with that. If you are not, you won’t. But, beware, today’s customer is far more challenging, sophisticated and value conscious. The next time, it might just be you that is asked to apologise!