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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?

GDPR.

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!

The perfect hotel breakfast

As a catering and hospitality consultant, and in my different roles as a food and beverage advisor, I help companies ranging from small B&Bs to huge university campuses nail their menus. For some reason, getting the breakfast offering can prove tricky, and I’m currently working with several hotels to reimagine and refine theirs.

So, what makes the perfect hotel breakfast?

I know what mine is – a huge fry up, a mound of toast and a steaming mug of good old English tea. I am a growing boy after all.

For leisure guests, breakfast might be the highlight of their stay. Usually accustomed to a quick bowl of cereal or slice of toast, they savour the prospect of being able to sit down and enjoy a more relaxed breakfast, with plenty of choice. I’ve visited 5* resorts where chefs carve slices from fresh salmon, make stacks of pancakes to your exact specifications and serve up breakfasts from around the world. No guest at a smaller, family run hotel would expect such a lavish offering, but they would like to choose between their usual Cornflakes and toast or the treat of a full English. With a bit more effort but no extra cost, allow guests to choose how they’d like their eggs cooked.

Both business guests and tourists love sampling local produce, so make the most of yours. In Scotland they can try haggis and black pudding, then give soda farls and potato bread a go in Northern Ireland. Warm English muffins are the ultimate comfort food, and how about some Penclawdd cockles and laverbread cake when in Wales? Award-winning sausages and bacon are always an attractive proposition, and much can be made of the provenance of local jams, breads, eggs and sauces.

By including local produce on your menu, you’re also demonstrating your environmental and ethical awareness. Buying from local producers and suppliers means you’re cutting down on those all-important food miles and supporting your local economy.

While most guests focus on the food offering, drinks are just as important, so ensure you offer a great range of hot and cold options. Delicious fruit juices always go down a treat, and a variety of teas is just as appealing as different styles of coffee. Decaffeinated options are a must, and don’t overlook a simple jug of fresh water with lemon.

Make sure all dietary requirements are catered for. There are now plenty of tasty vegetarian and vegan options so no excuses there! And rather than simply complying with allergen legislation, go above and beyond for your guests with food allergies and intolerances. Offer a range of lactose-free milks, such as soy, almond and rice, and who would guess that waffles with raspberry lemon syrup, creamy banana porridge, and, hash browns with Gruyère & pancetta are all gluten free!

In reality, there is no perfect hotel breakfast. So as long as you design your menu with your guests’ expectations and requirements in mind and use good quality local ingredients, you really can’t go wrong.

Victus Consultancy can help you perfect your food & beverage offering. Please call us on 07732 454 639 or email andrew@victusconsultancy.co.uk for more information.

Are we a foodie nation?

Michelin-starred and celebrated chef Angela Hartnett recently claimed that Britain still lacks a genuine food culture, and that we’re still nowhere near being a foodie nation.

She adds that eating well in the UK is all about money, that we don’t make time to shop, cook or eat and we lack respect for food.

Is she right?

I used to live and work in Toulouse, the fourth largest city in arguably the culinary capital of the world, France. I was a chef in some incredible restaurants, where staff and customers alike shared a love of well-prepared, beautiful presented, delicious food. So far, so similar to any good restaurant in the UK. It’s outside the restaurant environment that the different attitude to food is so noticeable.

Take a look at your typical French town. As independently owned butchers, cheesemakers and bakeries disappear from the UK’s high streets, they are still prominent in even the smallest towns in France. And they’re filled with people – average people, not well-heeled foodies – asking about the best cuts, trying new delicacies and being advised how best to serve their cakes. The same people support their twice-weekly local markets, which are an integral part of life and no big deal. These same markets would be promoted as “Artisan Farmers’ Markets” here in the UK, with people coming far and wide to buy overpriced pies, pulled pork and pastries. Locally sourced, organic produce is more affordable in France, and furthermore, it’s expected. Sub-standard doesn’t cut it! The care, attention and respect shown for food is astounding.

I used to spend time with a fellow chef in the small village where he lived. He was appalled by the Brits’ attitude to food, calling what he saw them eat as “just grub to fill their stomachs rather than food to be savoured and enjoyed”. He told me that when the one and only hotel in his village changed their lunchtime offering to more of a fast food, self-service affair, there was an outcry, especially from the workmen who relished their 2-hour lunch break, relaxing over a 3-course lunch washed down with local wine. No £3.95 lunch deal for them. “A la poubelle” they would probably scoff!

Eating at your desk in France is a distinct no-no. A proper lunch with colleagues is the norm, and a key part of workplace socialising. Both the mental and physical health benefits of eating a proper meal away from your desk are well documented, but are simply not part of British culture.

The French don’t eat much less than us, and their diet is famously rich in butter, sugar and fat. But they eat in a more respectful, healthy way. They don’t snack – there’s no need to when you’ve eaten a hearty lunch or dinner, and they certainly don’t eat in the street. Restaurants close at 2pm, and it can be almost impossible to find a casual eatery after this time apart from in the biggest cities. No mid-afternoon coffee and cake for them!

This is not a specialist patisserie – just a chain store in a French shopping centre!

So are things at least improving in the UK? Images of parents handing their children chips through the school gates after the implementation of healthy eating policies are sadly still recent, but the artisan food movement has taken hold in the UK, and we’re celebrating chefs and great cooking more than ever. Some of our produce is world famous – I’m thinking great exports like Scottish salmon, whisky, gin and Welsh lamb, and we have a lot to be proud of.

We in the hospitality and catering world can help facilitate change by using local products wherever possible, and shouting about it. Let’s not be embarrassed to charge fair prices for home produced dishes and let’s be proud of the provenance of our food. Let’s make every eating experience as enjoyable as possible by using the best quality ingredients, being creative and providing fantastic customer service.

But I feel it will take a few generations for the population as a whole to care more about food, and, sadly, I’m not sure that a genuine food culture will ever be part of our national psyche.

 

Victus is available to talk about key industry topics or lead panel discussions and debates at industry events and conferences. Please call us on 07732 454 639 or email andrew@victusconsultancy.co.uk for more information.

 

 

 

When is a plate not a plate?

A few days ago a restaurant in Birmingham was fined £50,000 for serving food on wooden boards.

Now, before you all start panicking and hiding any wooden serving dishes you may have, these particular ones had been linked to an alleged food poisoning outbreak. An inspection and hygiene improvement notice followed, but two months later the restaurant was still using the damaged, “incapable of being cleaned” boards.

Many eateries are finding unusual, novel ways to serve food, but aside from health and hygiene concerns, are the days of “plates not plates” over? Tennis rackets, trowels, mini shopping trolleys, even flat caps and slippers have all been derided in a backlash to this trend of curtailing crockery. Articles like “29 Hilariously Stupid Things Restaurants have Used In Place of Plates” and a Twitter account which declares “WeWantPlate” are dedicated to deriding the trend.

In my opinion, it’s vital to recognise that there’s a time and place for serving up dishes on unusual tableware. A selection of cheese and meats with chunks of bread can be beautifully presented on a (hygenic) rustic wooden or slate board. A full breakfast served on a spade, however? Most of us would conjure up images of mud and dirt, enough to put even the most strong-stomached off our food.

Unless it’s something that is wonderful and fits with the occasion or environment, I can’t remember any of the plates or dishes my meals have been served on. As a foodie, I focus on the main event, and don’t want any distractions. There’s nothing wrong with clean, white crockery and silver cutlery – as long as there are no off-putting chips or marks.

But if you have a funky restaurant, then funky dishes and glassware would be expected. Your tableware should be determined by your business. There has been some resurgence in vintage style glassware and tableware, and this certainly works well in establishments with a distinct historical feel. The increasing demand by health-conscious guests for smaller portions has meant a rise in providing smaller plates, and high-end eateries should never abandon crystal glasses. But I’d suggest that the most F&B managers should focus on tableware which is:

  • Good quality
  • Durable – and it’s worth spending extra for longevity
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to store
  • Shock proof
  • Under warranty

That’s not to say you can’t have some fun. Brightly coloured tea pots always look great, and if you’re a themed restaurant, then you need to play to and enhance that theme. Napkins and flowers add flourish and flair and can reflect the tone of your eatery, the season and your brand.

Most importantly though, first impressions count; so ensure all service staff know how to set a table to make it look as attractive as possible, regardless of whether your tableware reflects the latest trends, is simple and classy or traditional.

And, for goodness sake, make sure whatever you’re serving your food on has been cleaned properly!

What we’re up to in 2018

With a mix of consultancy work for single and multi-site catering and hospitality companies, compering industry expos, presenting at awards ceremonies, facilitating discussion panels, keynote speaking engagements and the tremendously difficult task of judging some of the best food and drink in the UK, 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year.

We still do have availability, so please give us a buzz on 07732 454 639 for a no-strings chat.