Friday Opinion – Hospitality

By | October 22, 2016


Friday Opinion – Hospitality

What I’ve learnt about hospitality in the name of research by Victoria Searl

In London, they say, you’re never more than three feet from a cool new restaurant or hipster cafe and, in the name of research, I’ve tested a load of them for you. Here are my findings:
Restaurants aren’t always about hospitality any more
I don’t believe in naming and shaming so I won’t, but a recent visit to a cool, “small plates-type” place in Covent Garden was so unwelcoming it left me feeling hugely embarrassed in front of the guest I’d suggested the venue to. Being rushed through a meal and then asked to stand in the doorway to finish an expensive bottle of wine – so they could turn tables faster – only left a bad taste in my mouth. I do, however, believe in shouting about great service, so thank you to Hawksmoor Covent Garden for rescuing the evening with its usual exceptional and effortless hospitality.
Operational excellence is a dark art to many independents
A place near me in south London sells amazing pancakes. In fact, I could murder a couple right now. Problem is, this uber-cool little all-day cafe has the worst operational set up I’ve seen, meaning only one ticket can be prepared at a time, putting an average 45-minute wait between me and those tasty breakfast treats. Another haunt of mine makes really good avocado on toast. Well, sometimes. The problem is the spec changes every visit. The accompanying egg varies from raw to hard-boiled, despite me stating a preference which is neither, and on my last visit I was treated to a thick layer of pickled something artfully strewn across the top. Consistently different isn’t the kind of consistent I’m looking for.
Many startups don’t have a fighting chance
A small, all-day restaurant near me has a wage bill that must eat every pound of profit it makes. This tiny space often has three people behind the counter, three in the kitchen and a very harassed-looking owner rushing around trying to hold it all together. Despite the abundance of help, I’ve still had to ask three times for the honey that goes with my French toast, and waited an age to pay at the end. I’ve given honest and helpful feedback when asked and been met with a blank stare. Clearly staff know they should be asking for feedback in an area full of locals, but have no idea what to do with it once they have an answer. It’s agonising to see a cafe or restaurant open then close within a few months because the owner’s love of food just hasn’t been enough to sustain an actual business.
Great hospitality is unbelievably powerful
There are all sorts of ways of getting great food now, the rise of Deliveroo has shown that restaurant-quality home eating, for example, has never been more accessible. But what a skilled home chef or a student on a mountain bike can’t provide is service, the bit that turns a meal into an experience and, when done really well, can leave you walking on air for days. This is infinitely more beneficial to your business than the “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” approach.
Consistency is key
Independents may actively try to distance themselves from the ways of the big chains, but customers are attracted to return because of the experience they’ve had and, while surprises may be exciting, they aren’t something you can rely on. Whatever type of business you’re in, brand loyalty is built on loving something – and knowing it will be exactly the same or better every time you try it.
There is much more to running a hospitality business than a love of food
Owners need to surround themselves with expertise and apply operational efficiencies – as long as they aren’t detrimental to the experience – wherever they can. Nothing remains the “cool new thing” for long, and it’s essential that the business is financially viable enough to sustain the regular reinvention so vital in today’s market.
Victoria Searl is a marketing and brand director with a passion for operations. She has worked for a number of sector companies, including Casual Dining Group –

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