The world is an exciting and very fast paced place to be at present. You only have to look at the advances in equipment, technology and services over the last ten years to see this quite clearly. The advantage of having many years in this industry is that it gives you a historical perspective that clearly highlights how fast this industry really is moving.
Old, formal fine dining is dead
Take fine dining as an example. When I started as a consultant 35 years ago, a night at a top restaurant was a fairly staid, very formal affair with dishes served as complete meals — there were very few side dishes and the entrée, main, dessert menu structure reigned supreme. The best restaurants featured gueridon service, where a skilled waiter would wheel a special trolley to your table and prepare or cook dishes in front of the diners. Professional waiters would often spend 20 minutes at a table, presenting one dish as a spectacle.
I remember one restaurant I worked with had the waiters deftly filleting whole fish at the table with two forks whenever fish was ordered. I cannot imagine this happening today unless some brave soul was to charge $70 for the dish. Main courses were often brought to the table covered in cloches (those hemispherical, silver covers); and revealed all at once with one waiter to each cloche. The fact that we no longer see this kind of labour intensive service is an example of how the ratio between meal pricing and wage costs has changed over this relatively short period.
Kitchen equipment is evolving rapidly
Moving to the kitchen, have a think about how kitchen equipment has changed. 25 years ago you would not have seen water baths, combi ovens, robot coupes, blast chillers, dehydrators, induction cooktops, digital scales, docket printers or even the humble microwave in most kitchens. Chefs now have a wonderful array of toys to play with.
Also consider how computerisation has changed the industry. The great IT revolution started about the same time I started this business and soon effects were apparent in a number of areas of hospitality operations. The humble cash register (remember them?) soon made way for the POS system, which in turn provided statistical information to management that was unavailable to previous generations. The quest to use this information properly soon led to the demise of the old fashioned Maitre ‘d (Head Waiter) being leader of the front-of-house and replaced with the modern Restaurant Manager.
Customer tracking systems are a huge advance
Look at the reservation and table management software now being used in many restaurants. Full customer histories are now available, making the customisation of a dining experience to the guest’s needs so much easier. Think about how internet restaurant booking systems have evolved. Consider how guest feedback via mobile phone to web sites like Zomato and TripAdvisor are driving the industry today, by providing previously unavailable customer feedback.
Your office hasn’t been left out. Before the advent of modern accounting software, hospitality businesses often engaged a full service accounting practice to handle accounts and payroll. Now, with software like MYOB or Quicken, all your accountant should be doing is tax minimisation. Your correspondence is largely done by email, whereas 25 years ago it was all through the ‘snail mail’ post or by fax. You possibly have a colour laser printer and digital camera and can produce professional menus and point-of-sale merchandising such as tent cards and counter cards easily and cheaply.
If you’re like me you now have a smart phone that is synchronised with your computers and tablets and don’t carry a laptop any more. You can be reached wherever you are and can send messages to all or some of your staff at the press of a button. I use an Ipad as a mobile office.
From this you may get the impression that hospitality is a progressive industry and that these opportunities have been embraced when they become available, but I don’t believe this is so. Very few of the owners, managers or chefs who come through our training courses have any kind of system for evaluating new equipment, technology or services. Mostly they seem to rely on waiting for their colleagues in other business to try something and then maybe they’ll give it a go.
Get yourself to the trade shows
Progressive business operators have the regular discipline of scanning the trade magazines and attending the trade shows looking for opportunities to do things faster, cheaper or more effectively and grabbing those opportunities when they become available. They work on the principle that if they can grab an opportunity before their competition, it makes them more profitable or allows them cheaper pricing for the same products.
Are you keeping up with the times?