Mind your own business

Are you, like me in a business where you get people telling you how to do your job? From pricing on the menu to the contents of the dishes, from sourcing of our food to how we cook it, we get enough advice to write a book (now there’s a thought). It doesn’t really wind me up though because we all do it. I used to do it before I had a restaurant. I’d sit and watch waiters and restaurant managers and tell myself that I could do so much better; that it was obvious where they were going wrong.

It’s so easy being a spectator. Just listen to the advice given out from the terraces of a football match. Everyone’s an expert. And they’re usually wrong. As I said: just listen to the advice given out from the terraces . . . .

So it was with some trepidation that I approached a talk I’d been asked to give, advising small local food producers how to sell to, and supply, restaurants. Of course, I understand what restaurants need, or at least what our restaurant needs, but it’s not my job to tell people how they should be running their businesses. But that’s what I did. And I did it with some confidence because I picked on a few things that are common to all businesses who are dependent on repeat business from their customers, just like ours.

Number one: answer the phone. This may seem obvious to everyone but it’s amazing how many small businesses just let a phone ring due to the fact that the sole proprietor is otherwise engaged. Ok, but in this technological age it’s not beyond the wit of man to put an answer phone in place for those times the business owner’s on his tractor, in a meeting or already on the phone. Or the toilet.

But even if you’ve been clever enough to use an automated answer service, you frequently still get the “Welcome to the BT answer blah, blah, blah”. Why not a proper message? Imagine if I greeted everyone who called the restaurant with “Welcome to 18 Claypath, Durham DH1 1RH. The person you want is busy doing something more important at present. Please leave a message”. It appears that the sole business owner is not putting himself in the shoes of the people who may be trying to buy things off him. It’s an indication of how little he may be thinking about his customers which isn’t really good enough. It’d be so much better if you hear “Hiya. Charlie’s on his tractor right now sorting out some lovely veg for you to buy. He probably can’t hear his mobile so please leave a message and he’ll phone you back within the hour”. It might be doing the same job as the previous message but it proves he’s thought about who might be calling trying to do business with him.

So that brings me onto the second easy one: understand your customer’s business. I get really disappointed when specialist food suppliers call in trying to sell very specific items which have little to do with our business. We’re a British restaurant for goodness sake, so you’re wasting your time trying to sell us Italian salami. There are clues plastered all over our walls even to the extent of us having a map of the British Isles we designed, made up of the names of dishes from within our islands, bang in front of you when you walk in. It still doesn’t stop salesmen coming in and asking if we’d like to stock their 20 different types of olives. It’s almost as frustrating as the energy salespeople who invariably phone during lunchtime and are usually dismissed with the response: “Do you know you’re phoning a restaurant at lunchtime? No? Well you should”. I have a very short-tempered colleague.

And three? Well that’s really all I said. Think about who you’re selling to and try to understand their needs. I can’t stress enough how important that is, especially when you’re running a restaurant.

Oh, and of course, answer the damn phone.

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