They say the third time’s the charm. Last week, we joined hundreds of people at the third BFM Enterprise Takeaway event, and we were not disappointed! Themed L.O.V.E to stand for Labour, Operations, Vendors, and Expansion, the radio station brought together people of various stages and positions in F&B to shed some light on the inner workings of the industry.
Here are the key takeaways that we love:
BFM Enterprise Takeaway #1: Labour
On labouring over food, the passion on stage was palpable. Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016 Chef Margarita Forés taps into her maternal instinct to nurture people with food, which gives her a sense of fulfilment. In agreement was Chef Isadora Chai, whose goal is to keep people happy. She revels in the immediate responses she gets, and the happiness and satisfaction of others fuels her passion further.
A humorous discussion took place over staffing. Chef Kevin Cherkas, owner of Cuca in Bali, Indonesia, says one of the mistakes he made is trying to hire the best. And trying to put the best together in a team ended with disastrous results. This created an unhealthy sense of competition amongst the team members that was detrimental for the work environment. He has since changed the interview process – he aims to find great people who can be trained, even if they’ve never had any experience in a culinary environment. Now, everyone works as a community and helps each other out in their responsibilities. Chef Isadora echoes this in her style of creating a “tribal culture” in her kitchen, where everyone has a strong sense of ownership over the restaurant’s success. She also already envisions the career path of every recruit – even dishwashers, because she herself started out as one!
For Chef Margarita, the leader is as good as the weakest link in the team. She doesn’t believe that there are roles that are smaller than others, and works towards creating a team who thinks like her and makes decisions like her. This is how she can delegate with peace of mind, having a variety of restaurants to manage.
myBurgerLab is known for their relatively young crew, which co-founder Renyi says is a deliberate decision as the environment needs to be sustained with high energy. “F&B is draining and stressful,” he admits, commenting later on that turnover is high. So their strategy is to create an attractive environment that their staff will go on to recommend friends to replace them when they leave. Empowering your team with decision-making authority is also important to instill a passion for serving customers.
Azhar Darbi of McDonald’s cautions restauranteurs from focusing too much on the customer until they forget about their employees. Unhappy employees will not be able to serve customers satisfactorily! Their needs are very important, and it is the employer’s duty to create value – both long-term and short-term. He cites their productivity-based incentive, where staff can share in the profits if their outlet does well, via bonuses or company activities.
BFM Enterprise Takeaway #2: Operations
Ben Gregoire of Creative Kitchen Planners advises aspiring restauranteurs to be practical and stay focused. It is important to do what you can afford while maintaining a balance. Don’t sacrifice the efficiency of your kitchen because you were too caught up in making the decor Instagram-worthy! One money saving technique is floor planning, both for your customers as well as your staff. Work with the existing design of the space, not against it. On equipment, spend what you can afford on good-quality ones, as they will last you longer. You don’t need to go for the cream of the crop – the key is to stick to your budgets and work with what you have in a smart way.
John Wu of iETCO agrees – while it is ideal to invest in energy-efficient equipment, these can be more expensive. The fundamental question is whether your equipment is being used the right way. Training is important to ensure that your staff knows how to use all of the equipment. If they don’t, they might end up overusing it, or wasting energy unnecessarily by committing simple mistakes like turning all the lights on long before the first customers step into your premises. Start by keeping track of your monthly bills so you can review by making comparisons. However, bills will not tell you where your energy is being used, so you will still need to be quite the drill sergeant to ensure that your SOPs are constantly adhered to!
Kent Chua of Rhombus advocates implementing your plans in phases and stages, especially for those with small budgets. An example is mobile apps – while it is a trend now, they will not be well-received unless it actually gives value to the customer. He shared his own experience of trying too hard to save money by installing a toilet in his restaurant washroom meant for domestic use. He ended up having to fork out much more than he managed to “save” having to unclog the toilet every day, repipe his washroom, and install a new unit. On space planning, Kent elaborates by saying that entrepreneurs need to think even for their chefs and how much the chef needs to move around to get utensils. A well-planned kitchen is a life-saver during rush hours, where every second counts! His main advice to save money is to create an open, communicative environment and listen to your staff members’ feedback, because they are the ones who spend the most time in your restaurant, doing the ground work.
From the technology side, it has certainly helped Jonathan Weins of dahmakan! A close monitoring and analysis of data has enabled them to keep food waste below 5% as they are able to forecast order volumes. He says there’s a lot of data that can be used to improve service by engaging with your customers.
BFM Enterprise Takeaway #3: Vendors
“Trust is everything in business,” says Jasen Lee of Degayo, particularly in reference to the relationship between business owners and their suppliers. Suppliers, according to him, can make or break your business. It is possible for a good supplier to help you grow your business, if you work together to achieve a common goal.
Josh Green of Southern Rock Seafood practises just that. He supplies seafood to restaurants, but the supply may vary depending on the fishermen’s catches. So he creates a “fisherman’s basket” for his clients, so he can manage their expectations on what sort of menu they can offer their customers. He also recommends new ingredients so that restaurants can improve on their dishes.
BFM Enterprise Takeaway #4: Expansion
Mark Kenny Douglas of Mark’s Food Solutions believes that expansion is inevitable to survive. He recommends a minimum growth of 20% a year just to sustain your business, as operational costs such as rental and ingredients will go up. However, expansion doesn’t just mean opening new outlets. It can also refer to sustainability – your ability to cope with higher demands. He likens expanding to climbing from mountain to mountain, starting again at the base each time.
Caroline Lai, owner of The Good Batch and 3 other outlets in Damansara Uptown, says that there are pros and cons of having all of them in the same vicinity. While they can share costs and they can rotate the staff to keep thing exciting, it’s also a challenge to ensure that all the outlets are conceptually different enough so that they don’t “eat into” each other’s market. The benefits of being able to second your staff is that long-serving staff members can become complacent, and a fresh pair of eyes at your outlet could help you identify problems that are happening right under your nose!
In a previous session. Renyi of myBurgerLab says that they have not expanded for 1.5 years. He admits that they are not ready to expand – not without losing the culture they have created for their staff. Complementing his comments, Chef Margarita poses this question when it comes to having to shut a restaurant down, “Is it just my ego that I want to keep something going?”
Tongue-in-Chic was a media partner of BFM Enterprise Takeaway.
Images courtesy of BFM Radio.
Want more insights into the F&B industry? Check out our one-on-one interview with Jessica Li of Dah Makan here!