A bit of perspective on restaurant training

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In my role as a professional management trainer and public speaker I sometimes get asked to take a stab at predicting future training needs for different hospitality and tourism industry segments. I suppose some of my answers in the past haven’t been terribly helpful, because I’ve responded with a few vague generalities and a bit of gesticulation to cover a lack of coherent thought on the subject.

Try asking me now and you’ll get quite a different response. Now I’ll pontificate with the beady gaze and self confidence of someone who thinks he knows what he is talking about. The change has been brought about by the need to consider the whole subject carefully and do some research in order to complete my next five year business plan. I’ve completed a sort of national restaurant training needs analysis, if you like. Our aim was to work out what short training courses to develop over the next few years in order to appeal to the needs of our rather colourful and fairly cynical client base.

Of course I’m not going to share all of my trade secrets with you but I am willing to point out the three main factors you will need to take into account when you plan your training over the next few years. We’ll take them one at a time:

Restaurants are getting larger

The same economic factors that have lead to the gradual disappearance of the corner milk bar and the corner butcher, in favour of the Seven Elevens, Food Pluses and the meat section in your local supermarket, are slowly making small restaurants unviable. Fifteen years ago you could have opened a 45 seat restaurant and been fairly comfortable. Now you will struggle— restaurants on average are getting bigger.

The bigger they get the more structure they need. Beyond about 100 seats they become too difficult for a couple of people to run in the traditional benevolent dictatorship manner and they need to be structured in a more workable fashion. When you get to about 200 seats restaurants have to be broken down into smaller work units and run by a team of supervisors or the owners’ life becomes a misery. Put simply, in the future the owners and managers of larger restaurants will need management skills as a priority over technical skills.

Restaurants are harder to run profitably

The main expenses in a restaurant operation—labour, food and beverage—have risen markedly over the last ten years while the prices restaurants can charge have not kept pace. This is due to over-supply of restaurant seats and the necessity to remain competitive in the market place. Profits have been eroded to the point where a sizeable portion of the industry are finding themselves struggling financially. Restaurants are definitely not a good investment right now.

The days are gone where you can blunder through your first undercapitalised restaurant or cafe, making lots of mistakes, and expect to survive. Ten years ago all you needed was a bit of flair, a willingness to work outrageous hours and a positive attitude. Making a profit was fairly easy to organise. Now you need to know how to market your business, how to sell and merchandise, how to control labour costs, how to control f&b costs and generally how to perform the miracle of the loaves and fishes with money.

Restaurant standards are getting higher

We’re now part of a global village due to advances in transport and communication. It’s well recognised that the average member of the dining public is far better educated and well travelled than they were in the past. You’ve now got to deliver extremely strong perceptions of both quality and value for money—at the same time—in order to survive.

In short, you and your staff have to know your stuff and be absolutely consistent in your performance. A growing percentage of restaurant and cafe customers expect food that looks like the photos in Vogue Entertainment and a waiter who’s able to deliver a knowledgeable discourse on the food, the wine, the vineyard and the winemaker. This can be a bit tricky to organise.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, it means that our industry has undergone quite a change over the last few years and I believe that it will continue to change at a rapid rate for the foreseeable future. Put simply, this industry is driven by the laws of supply and demand. There are too many restaurants and not enough customers; and there are not enough skilled staff and salaries have become too high.

If you want to prosper in this environment, you’d better be skilled at working on your business rather than in it, and you’d better also be able to take advantage of all the new technology available that can help you. If you don’t, and the place down the road does, they’ll take all your customers from you.

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