Boss it like Sisto

“Thank you for making us your staff members as part of your life.”

“You always looked after us like family.”

“You always said to have fun at work because we all worked so hard.”

“The world is a better place for having Sisto in it. He was one of the greats.”

These are just some of the incredible tributes that have poured in for Sisto Malaspina, co-owner of the famed Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar in Melbourne, since he was killed in the terror attack near his café a few months ago. His staff and customers alike were heartbroken when he died. He clearly inspired love, loyalty and respect.

I’ve been reading a lot about Sisto – how he was born in a small town in Italy, the youngest of six children. How he immigrated to Australia to start a new life in the early 60s. How, with his friend Nino Pangrazio, he took over Pellegrini’s in 1974 and transformed it into an Melbourne institution. And how he befriended each and every one of his customers.

And I’ve been thinking… what was it about this Italian immigrant that earned him so much love and respect from his customers? Why was he held in such high regard that his funeral, which took place in Australia’s biggest church, was attended by not just his local customers but also the actors, top business people, footballers and MPs who were drawn to his small but cosy corner café?

This is what I’ve found out:

Sisto had great business sense: He bought the oldest café in Melbourne, located close to the Victorian parliament, which was already an institution, then made even more popular among the city’s movers and shakers.

He was a trail-blazer: By installing one of the first espresso machines in Melbourne, he paved the way for the city’s incredible coffee culture.

He loved what he did: I often say that hospitality can’t be taught, that it’s innate. You have to live, sleep, breathe hospitality if you want to be successful in this tough, tough industry. And Sisto embodied that. In his own, inimitable words: “I enjoy what I do. People say, ‘I didn’t choose, I was chosen’. I wasn’t chosen, I was born into it.”

He was true to his roots and always did what he did best: Sisto seems to have been utterly unaffected by passing trends and fads. Pellegrini’s is a throw back to a 1950’s diner and still serves the same, pure, simple home-cooking that it has done over the past 100 years. He didn’t even change his coffee blend.

He understood that a café is more than a café and a cup of coffee is more than a cup of coffee: A good café is a place of warmth, comfort, relaxation and respite. A great one brings joy on otherwise dark days. Again, in his own words: “Our coffee is more than nourishment to the body, it’s nourishment to the soul. You come to Pellegrini’s, you sit in the corner for a moment of reflection, a moment of joy, celebration.”

He was an all-round decent human being: With his flamboyant dress sense, theatrical manner and charisma, Sisto was a big character. But he was also warm, funny, kind, welcoming and greeted everyone with a genuine smile.

He was a great boss: It’s obvious, given the quotes at the top of this page, that Sisto cared about his staff and treated them like family. It seems he went above and beyond being just a boss. He was a friend, mentor and adviser.

What a man.

So, from one café owner to another, this, Signore, is my tribute to you.

Hospitality start ups – how to avoid your dream turning into a nightmare!

It takes a special kind of person to start a business; entrepreneurial, brave, visionary, gutsy, determined and go-getting. And it takes a hero to start a hospitality business – who else could take on the challenge of long hours, demanding customers, scary on-line reviews, small profit margins and all the rest?

So, you’ve been dreaming about it, have bitten the bullet and are now turning your idea of a funky artisan coffee shop, high-end cocktail bar, themed restaurant, boutique hotel or cool bistro into reality. You know there will be stumbling blocks along the way, but how will you face them? And who will help you to overcome them?

Victus has worked on a number of start up projects, from specialist coffee shops and Italian restaurants to small island hotels and farm shop/cafés. And we see the same thing happening time and again: owners getting caught up in the excitement of all the sexy things like building work, branding, marketing, procurement, product tasting and menu creation to the detriment of three key elements essential to a hospitality start up:

1. Legislation
I know, yawn, right? So unsexy, too many i’s to dot and t’s to cross, too many forms to complete when there’s so much else going on. BUT SO IMPORTANT! Have you thought of:

  • Building regulations approval?
  • Annex II of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation No.1169/2011?
  • EU Regulations 852/2004?
  • Health & hygiene certificates?
  • EHO standards?
  • Premises & personal alcohol licensing?
  • Cold storage & acrylamide policies?

2. Staff
I’m not for a minute suggesting anyone would overlook employing staff, but what’s the plan once they’ve accepted the offer? Do you have:

  • Terms & conditions of employment?
  • Full job description?
  • Induction plan?
  • Staff manual explaining uniform policy, expected levels of behaviour, who to contact when they’re unwell, food & drink allowance…?
  • Ongoing training & induction programme?

3. Never underestimate the commitment required
Getting a business up and running is the easy bit. Keeping it going is a lot harder! Before starting out, you must be 100% sure that you have the emotional as well as financial ability to turn your fledgling business into a success. How will you cope with your day-to-day life changing? Losing sleep? Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Not being able to dedicate as much time as you would like to friends and family? Do you have the energy to grow and develop your business, long after the initial excitement and novelty have worn off?

Yes, starting your own company is hugely exciting – do everything you can to avoid these pitfalls and it could stay that way!

Victus can help you get your start up idea of the ground and make sure you hit the ground running. We can also support you as you grow and develop your business, offering anything from practical advice to a sympathetic ear. Please call us on 07732 454 639 or email for more information.

Top 5 tips for booking a speaker at your next business event

I love speaking and presenting. I love standing up in front of an audience and delivering relevant messages to the right people. But when a client gets in touch saying “We need a motivational speaker to fill a space in our event programme. Can you help?”, my heart sinks.

Using a speaker should never be about beefing up your event or conference programme. Book a speaker solely on that basis and you waste both time and money….and risk losing your audience.

So before committing to a speaker, I would always recommend reflecting on five key points:

1. Decide if you really need a speaker
There’s no point in booking a speaker for the sake of it; because you think it is the done thing or there’s a gap you need to fill. However, if:

~ You need a specialist to talk about a hot topic
~ Morale is low and you need to gee up the audience
~ You need someone to highlight or tie together key messages

~ You need to inject knowledge or humour into your programme

Then, yes! A speaker can work wonders.

2. Define your aims & objectives

Clarify the messages of your business event, then ensure your speaker has the experience, knowledge and personality to align with and elevate these themes. Provide as clear a brief as possible and make sure your speaker fully understands your expectations and can demonstrate how s/he will fulfil them.

3. Beware the “set speech”
Some speakers roll out the same old same old at every event without any thought to the context to the event they’re speaking at. What they have to say might be hugely interesting and entertaining, but won’t be tailored to the mission, vision and values of your company or the specific messages of your event.


4. Understand your audience
Know your audience and you can better choose a speaker who can connect with them… and who they in turn can relate to. The diversity: age, race, gender balance, seniority, nationality and even expectations of the delegates all play a part in how well they will receive and engage with the speaker.

5. Do your homework
Has your preferred speaker been successful at similar events? Can they provide relevant case studies and testimonials? Are they credible?

Spend time considering the above and evaluating your options, and your audience will better engaged, better informed… and more grateful!

Victus Consultancy is a knowledgeable, passionate and entertaining presenterspeaker and host. He is available to talk and present at, compere and host hospitality and catering events throughout the UK and further afield, subject to availability. Contact us for additional information:T: 07732 454 639 E: 

Top 5 tips for catering for customers with allergens

Once again, examples of the catering industry’s inability to deal with their customers’ special dietary requirements have hit front page news. And once again, this inattentiveness and lack of care have resulted in tragic and totally avoidable loss of life.

I believe passionately that eating out should be a relaxed, enjoyable experience for everyone. Whether your customers have made decisions about their diet for religious, health or ethical reasons, or they must be careful about what they eat due to allergies, they should have the ability to choose from a variety of interesting dishes, safe in the knowledge that their requirements are not being compromised.

This can’t be underestimated, especially when misinformation or lack of information can lead to discomfort, anaphylaxis and even death.

So what can you do to protect your customers, and yourself?

1. Understand. Do you truly understand the nature of food allergies, disorders and intolerances? Do you know what eating the wrong food may do to someone? Coeliac disease, for example, despite being on the rise, is still not always fully understood. It’s not an allergy but rather a serious autoimmune disorder where gluten damages the gut and prevents the absorption of nutrients from food, leading to a range of uncomfortable, painful symptoms. Understand this and you’ll make sure you protect your customers who require gluten free dishes.

2. Train. Make sure each and every member of your front of house and kitchen team is aware of:

  • The 14 allergens
  • Which dishes on your menu contain which allergens
  • The repercussions of a customer eating the wrong thing

Misinformation and cross-contamination simply must not and cannot happen.

3. Label. All allergens must be listed using an easy to understand system. This includes labelling on pre-packaged items and anything you can help yourself to, such as cakes. Similarly, allergens on menus, daily special sheets and chalkboards should be clearly specified.

4. Communicate. It seems simple but can be so easy to get wrong. Make sure that your have a fail-safe system for communicating between customers, front of house staff and kitchen. There should be clarity and no ambiguity. It’s also worth having an “allergen expert” available on each shift to offer additional knowledge and reassurance to other staff and customers alike.

5. Create. Eating out must be safe, but also pleasurable. You can have great fun creating imaginative, delicious dishes which appeal to everyone’s taste buds and imagination, not just customers with special requirements. Gluten free gâteaux CAN be light and fluffy, scones CAN be made dairy free and there are now fantastic options for vegan “sausages” and “burgers”.

Contact Victus today to find out how we can help you manage allergens. As food and beverage specialists, we can also help you source great ingredients and products to create delicious FreeFrom dishes to ensure a great dining experience for ALL your customers!

Trust in talent, not qualifications

While many students celebrate recent exam success and prepare to start their dream university course or career, others are licking their wounds and pondering their next move. Disappointing results may seem devastating, world-ending, catastrophic. The future may seem bleak and hopeless. So how I wish I could shake each and every one of these crushed, desperate souls and tell them “IT REALLY DOESN”T MATTER!!”.

Now clearly there are some professions that depend on fantastic exam results. Who, after all, wants to be operated on by a surgeon or dentist without the proper qualifications? Or flown by a pilot who hasn’t passed all their training? But there are many, many jobs out there that depend so much more on personality, natural talent, attitude and motivation than top grades.

Let’s look at some of the world’s best known business leaders:

  • Richard Branson – dropped out of school aged 16
  • Steve Jobs – dropped out of college after 6 months
  • Henry Ford – born into abject poverty and only went to school for 8 years
  • Andrew Carnegie – left school aged 13 to work in a factory
  • Walt Disney – dropped out of school aged 16 to join the army, but was rejected for being underage

Failures? I think not.

Hospitality is one of those industries where the right people, rather than the right qualifications, matter most. My uncle, an Oxford Don, is utterly incapable of retrieving spaghetti from a pan and dishing it into two bowls. He’s the last person on earth I’d employ. Yet some of my very best members of staff have few or no formal qualifications. What they do have is an innate sense of hospitality, a genuine love of and interest in people, natural charisma and charm, and an absolute determination to acquire all the skills they need to perform their jobs to the very best of their ability. They are talented in what they do, and no amount of qualifications would ever change that.

Victus Consultancy is passionate about recruiting, training & developing catering and hospitality industry teams. We love to recognise, nurture and develop talent. Contact us if you’d like an industry expert to help you attract, retain, coach and mentor the very best people for the benefit of both your business and your customers.

Who comes first – staff or customers?

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Everyone knows the importance of providing excellent customer service. But how do you approach your staff? Do you treat them as well as, or even better than, your customers?

If you look after, respect and genuinely care for your people, then more often than not they will not disappoint you and certainly not leave you. We are in the service industry and we as an industry must recognise talent, embrace it, encourage and nurture it as much as possible.

One of my business heroes, Richard Branson, believes that business are more likely to to succeed when they invest time and effort in creating a winning team. After all, you need your team to buy into your dream, share your vision and help you turn your ambitions into reality.

So it amazes, and saddens, me that there are so many businesses out there that forget that their staff are key to everything. Too many businesses invest millions in their systems, IT, equipment, the state of the art this and the most trendy that… then forget to invest in their people.

“If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

It really is that simple. A staff member who feels valued and appreciated will in turn offer you, and your customers, their best. A customer who has been well looked after by a well-trained, professional staff member with the right attitude will return and recommend you to others. And each and every business needs customers.

If a business has the right foundations in place regarding their people, then success will follow.


Victus Consultancy are experts in training, coaching and mentoring new recruits as well as established members of staff.

Please call us on 07732 454639 for an informal, no commitment chat.

Are you serving the perfect coffee?

Customers are becoming increasingly discerning about the standard of their coffee, with many travelling far and wide to find a café or coffee shop that makes theirs just the way they like it.
You get this, so you’ve researched and sourced the perfect coffee beans. You’re kitted out with some great equipment and funky mugs. You’ve added every type of coffee to your menu, from Espresso to Cappuccino and Latte to Mochachino. And you haven’t forgotten catering for customers with different dietary requirements by offering different milk options. But is the end result as good as it could be?
Barista schools and institutes are popping up all over the country, and you could send your staff to one of their training courses. There are also plenty of on-line options, which are cheaper but offer no “hands-on” training. You could even check out some videos on You Tube! My preferred option is to invest in a barista trainer or speciality consultant to come to your coffee shop or café. This way, staff receive more tailored training using the equipment they’re used to.
Sessions could include:
  • Background information – coffee growing, harvesting & roasting
  • Freshness & packaging
  • Espressos & pulling shots
  • Making the perfect lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos etc
  • Adding flavours & syrups
  • Steaming milk to perfection
  • Latte art – adding the final flourish
  • Cleaning & maintenance

Once this training is complete, your newly skilled staff could in turn provide training for other and new team members, minimising future costs and creating a development opportunity for everyone.

A little training and investment goes a long way to ensure you become famous for your coffee, and a destination rather than simply a convenient place to stop!


Victus Consultancy is passionate about encouraging best practice and excellent customer service in the catering and hospitality industry. Contact us on 07732 454 639 if you’d like an industry expert to help you provide the very best experience possible for your customers.

Are you a destination – or just a convenience?

Do your customers pop in for a bacon roll because they happen to be passing by? Or are they staying in one of your rooms because you happen to be in the right location? Maybe you’re the only restaurant in town or the simply the nearest place to sit and have coffee and cake?

Now think of a very different scenario.

I spent last weekend in a beautiful guest house. I travelled 125 miles to a part of the country I had no reason to go to. I wasn’t going to a wedding or a party. There was no hill I wanted to climb or visitor attraction I wanted to see. No train, plane or ferry to catch. I wasn’t visiting friends. I went there purely because I wanted to experience this award-winning guest house that I heard so much about for myself.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve spoken about “moments of truth” in a previous blog, and there were plenty over the weekend to create a memorable experience: the warmth of the welcome by two wonderfully interesting and engaging hosts; the pot of fresh tea and scones just out of the oven on the patio; eggs procured from the chickens in the garden for breakfast, served with local sausages, bacon and jam, along with stories about the suppliers. The room was tastefully decorated with a nod rather than scream to Scottish history and heritage, and thoughtful touches here and there that made me stop and think. This is a place that has become a destination, a place that people will want to make the effort to experience for themselves.

Of course, everyone needs their “bread and butter” customers; the passers-by, the locals, the regulars. But what could you do to expand the geographical reach of your audience, widen the geographical area of your customers?

  • Apply for (and win!) awards. The process will help you focus on what you need to do better, and to do more of what you do best
  • Apply for accreditations – a fantastic way to get professional feedback and to benchmark your business
  • Enure you have unique selling points to stand apart from the crowd
  • Use social media; Make your pages interesting, quirky and engaging. Shout about your USPs and run “like and share” competitions to spread the word
  • Get into guide books, particularly those which have “Best of…” section
  • Get the press interested – it’s incredible what a magazine article can achieve

Get the above right and this is what you could achieve…

Are you nailing your marketing?


Yup, the new General Data Protection Regulation law is upon us and I imagine that, like me, you’ve been knee deep in marketing permission emails, list deletion, policy writing, document securing, staff training and marketing strategy re-hauls.

I also imagine that you took a sharp intake of breath when you realised that you’d lose up to 95% of the marketing list you’ve meticulously put together over many years. All those networking events. All those “drop your card in the bowl” competitions. I share your pain.

But, and I have to admit it has taken me many months to come up with a “but”, the arrival of GDPR is a fantastic opportunity to take stock of your marketing approach and shake it up. It should make each and every business ask themselves:

  • Does our marketing work?
  • Are we targeting the right people?
  • Are we getting across the right message?
  • Are we delivering these messages effectively?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we do more of?

For the past few years I’ve relied heavily on e-marketing platforms like MailChimp. There’s a lot to commend them – they’re often free, you can use their templates or customise them to make them your own. It’s a relatively easy process. But it’s still time consuming, and the reports with the open and click-through rates can be depressing, and it can be hard of keeping the lists up to date, with bounce backs, all data, unsubscribes, cleaned data etc. All that work, and for what? Hand on heart, when is that last time I won any business through an e-marketing campaign? The problem is, too many people are inundated with too many emails. I personally have multiple email accounts and my customers, staff and suppliers take priority, leaving little time to scrawl through the social and promotions tabs.

Conversely, social media has multiple benefits. Users choose to “like” or “follow” you, they can opt out at any time and you can instantly see what’s working and what’s not by the level of engagement. They already buy into what you do, and they’re likely to share your posts to like-minded people, expanding your fan base further. Who, in the history of e-marketing, has ever forwarded an e-shot to all their friends?

I feel that social media works particularly well for hospitality businesses, especially small ones, as what we offer is emotive and experiential, making it easier to connect with customers on-line. You can post pictures of delicious food, members of staff, quirky decor, new table settings, bedrooms you’d never want to leave, your facade, awards, certifications – it only takes a little imagination to never run out of compelling images and ideas.

It’s simple and quick to post, but you need to take time to analysis what’s resonating with users and what isn’t. Just when I thought pictures of handmade artisan cakes were a winner on Instagram, I posted a picture of a tray of peppers roasting and got double the amount of likes. A Facebook post with a photo of the facade of one of my coffee shops prompted heart-warming stories of how much the building meant to people. Conversely, a picture of a delicious looking, home-made gluten-free cake prompted a comment about why can’t they also be dairy free.

Take time to reply to these comments as they provide another fantastic opportunity to engage with comments. I’ve received a few comments about lack of vegan choices, so I  looked for more, and more interesting, options, resulting in a much happier, and still loyal, customer, as well as a sharp reminder to me to never stay still and get complacent.

While you’re busying away on social media, never forget to market within your business itself. You’ve already attracted customers who want to be there, so make the most of the opportunity. Use blackboards, table talkers, flyers and posters, as appropriate, to shout about what else you do, up-and-coming events and promotions. Let customers know about the provenance of your food, drink, soaps, fabrics and anything else with a story behind it. Recruit and train your staff so they are a brilliant face of your business. And do whatever you do fantastically well.

It’s all marketing. And if you do it properly, it all works.


Victus Consultancy has thirty years of experience in the hospitality and catering industry. We can help you with all aspects of running a hospitality business such as marketing to present your brand to create a strong, positive impression. Simply call us now on 07732 454 639 for a no-obligation chat.

Hospitality: Innate? Cultural? Universal?

I’ve spent a lot of time in London recently, presenting at trade shows, delivering workshops and consulting for a small chain of boutique hotels. London’s not my home turf, but I love spending time in the big smoke, checking out all the latest eating and drinking eateries and trends. But there’s a place I look forward to going back to time and time again. It’s a small, funky café in Camden which does a few things amazing well – silky, smooth coffee and irresistible homemade cakes.

I walk in at the end of a long day, already salivating at the thought of the treats that lay ahead.

“Oh, I’m so hot, my back’s killing me and I can’t wait to go home”.

I hadn’t even opened my mouth and this is what I was greeted with. I felt as welcome as a scraggly hair in a bacon roll. Experience ruined. Utter deflation. Any anticipation knocked on the head. I muttered my order then slinked off into a corner. The server had cheered up a little by the time she came over with my coffee and cake, but it was too late.

For me, as I imagine for most people, going out to eat isn’t simply about the food and drink. I want an experience – I want to feel welcome, looked after. I want to sit in interesting surroundings and feel the warmth of the atmosphere and a sense of belonging even though I know no-one. Even going to grab a quick takeaway cuppa can be made enjoyable by a bit of banter with the staff.

I don’t think this is too much to ask, and I would expect to be treated courteously and professionally no-matter where in the world I was going out to eat.

Yet the rudeness of waiters in Paris is legendary. Indeed, it was with some mirth when earlier this week I read about the waiter who was fired from a restaurant in Vancouver for being “aggressive, rude and disrespectful”. His excuse? His behaviour wasn’t out of line – he’s just French. How can being treated rudely elevate any experience? It can’t. I understand that some nationalities – I’m thinking German, South African and indeed French –  have a tendency to be more direct and I can accept that. But I’m struggling to think of any culture which promotes or tolerates out and out rudeness.

I bang on about recruiting on personality rather than experience. You can teach skills but you can’t teach that magic, innate sense of hospitality. For me, you either have it or you don’t. Almost equally annoying as a lack of hospitality is taught, unnatural hospitality with a fake smile and forced, painful conversation.

A genuine welcome, appropriate interaction, great chat if I’m up for it and being left alone when I’m not are all crucial ingredients of true hospitality. So, the next time you ever feel like complaining to a customer, suck it up buttercup and simply give a heartfelt “hello”.

Even if you don’t have an innate sense of hospitality, surely you can’t get that wrong!

Victus Consultancy helps catering and hospitality businesseses achieve their potential. We guide, advise and support new, budding and more experienced business owners with all elements of your business, such as staff training & development, food and beverage consultation and allergens.

Victus also has a great reputation as a speaker, presenter and compere at industry events and conferences.

Give us a buzz on 07732 454639 for a quick chat and we can take it from there!