I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to tender for a new site this week in central London – part of the plan is to go in as partner with a well-established chef restaurateur… and for the first time probably with external investors. Around the same time that we were putting finishing touches to the presentation to the landlord we received a long list of detailed due-diligence questions from our prospective investors. The investors seem to have a good sense of what a chef does and therefore what my pitch partner brings to the table but they seemed less sure of the point of me. ‘What does Nick do?’ was one of their questions. As we drew toward the end of quite an eventful week I couldn’t help but chuckle as I worked on the answers to their questions and, as one of the aims of this blog on our website is to provide access to our business and a real sense of what it is like inside the pub, I thought I would share with you some of the rhythms of this particular week:
Monday starts before I get to work. Just as I am leaving home I get a call from my GM – there has been an incident at the pub. A member of the public has entered the building before 9am, coming into an empty premises which was briefly unattended by our kitchen porter who opens the doors as first in, and has injured themself. An ambulance and police are in attendance the injured person is being taken to hospital. Jump on bike and cycle to work quite quickly. When I get there we talk through what has happened and any implications, write up an incident report, notify the council and insurers – everyone is a bit shaken but pleased to hear that the precautionary visit to hospital proves just that and the injured party is ok and discharged. Normal Monday business of a full stocktake, timesheets, banking, providing details on the week to the accountants, drinks ordering, team meeting of front of house and kitchen are caught up with. Quite a busy evening service.
Tuesday is pitch day, swing by the pub to make sure everything is ok and prep all the presentations, menus, winelists etc. Make the presentation which goes quite well – it is an exciting opportunity and it is always thrilling to lay out a vision for a new place and talk with passion and belief about what you think you can do. At the same time we talk a bit about our existing businesses and it is a great opportunity to be reminded how much I love what I do, why I do it and how proud I am of my team and what they achieve.
Wednesday spend two and a half hours with Islington council Health and Safety team briefing them in fine detail about the nature of the event – this provides an opportunity for them to ask us about every aspect of our health and safety training, policies, procedures, to ask for and review documentation, records, files…. Payroll has been processed so needs to be checked, drinks are delivered from Monday’s ordering spree. Future events need to be planned, menus set – medium term thinking always throws up a to do list for me. We’ve had a number of painting, maintenance and wiring tasks done but there is a little shortlist that got missed out and needs chasing up on. Some people turn up to try and sell me a self contained mini brewery that we can install in the cellar – apparently we can make our own beer for some tiny amount of money and sell it for £4 a pint thus delivering huge margins. But would the beer be better than what we currently buy in on rotation from multiple fantastic expert brewers I ask? How would this machine deliver a better customer experience? Seems to befuddle the salespeople that that is the primary concern.
Thursday. Process payroll – the very most important thing I do, I think the number of times I have paid someone a different amount to what is shown on their payslip is less than two. Early evening I get a call that one of our best known restaurant reviewers is going to swing by – I don’t expect a review but it is nice that this person is checking in on Gina’s settling in. I’ve arranged to meet with a friend to talk through her birthday party she’s holding at the pub in a couple of weeks so I am not going to be free to look after our guest. It is right to leave it to my staff and carry on. Feedback on the food is that it wasn’t all fabulous and I think the specific feedback is probably spot on – the dish discussed isn’t quite right and was new on that evening. An opportunity missed which is a shame although my delight in Gina isn’t affected and I am unconcerned for the general direction – I think our food is interesting, rewarding and consistent at the moment.
Friday we get a strange email, one of those occasional ones that seems to carry an implied threat or invite compensation – ‘can you tell me the name of your manager I want to write a review of a recent experience’ – I check OpenTable and there are no new bad reviews and I am gratified to see that the recent run is pretty strong really reflecting our determination this year to drive up the quality and consistency of our guests experiences.
I need to quickly grab Gina when she is in to talk about last night’s feedback and the slight tweaks needed to a couple of dishes. This is the most difficult thing I do – the head chef’s role is as a creative person and I am not yet confident that my enthusiasm for and knowledge of food makes me obviously qualified to communicate effectively in this area. As a leader of creative people you look to provide guidance, motivation, encouragement but I don’t think instruction. At the same time the kitchen needs to receive constructive feedback on how dishes work at the table. Gina is receptive as of course I knew she would be, early days in our working relationship.
Friday it is baking in the pub, hot and humid and there is a limit to what we can do to cool things down or make it less crowded. We have a new starter and a trial shifter in and a very busy Friday night pub, plenty of drinkers and a very busy garden. 8pm I get a very strange message – we have a temporary agency chef in this week as staff are on holiday and Gina has not yet fully settled her team. This temp chef has decided on the spur of the moment to walk out on the shift taking offence to being asked what to do by his Head Chef. I go up to the kitchen and ask him if he isn’t going to work to leave the building while we try to work out how to deal with the pretty full ticket rail and chattering kitchen printer. The temp asks me to sign his timesheet so he can get paid which I decline to do saying I will talk to his agency. He is obviously a little stressed and unhinged and he is also about half as big as me again, two inches from my face. The kitchen is full of hot liquids, heavy and sharp implements. I ask him to leave again and he continues to be abusive and threatening so I call the police who say they may be an hour. After another half hour of abusing and threatening me he goes off to get dressed and leaves the building. His last words are that if he doesn’t get paid he is coming back to get his money but not in a nice way. Another of our chefs arrives in a taxi, the break on taking food orders is lifted and mostly people are fed in a timely manner, the show goes on. We move everyone in from outside and shut all the windows as required by our licence and policed by our neighbours. Because the relative humidity is around 90% and the temperature in the 90s rivulets of sweat are just pouring off everyone but especially staff. I take 10 minutes out to sit in the beer cellar and cool down – friends drop in to say hi which is nice. Staff chat – ‘it’s been quite a week’ I say, “two weeks”, ‘why what happened last week’, “well there was the burglary”….jeez that seems like a lifetime ago…
At the same time each of Monday to Friday this week has been one of the top two busiest days of the year so far for that day of the week – so I’ve poured a few drinks, taken a few food orders, restocked some fridges, cleared some tables, scraped some plates, taken some bookings, seated some customers, corrected some mistakes, soothed a few frettled customers, posted too many pictures on Instagram, tweeted too much personal stuff, spent time with suppliers …
Sunday we have a staff meeting pre-service to prep for. Our new head chef Gina is doing great things in the kitchen and our front of house really are the most lovely, kind and rewarding group of people we have assembled. But there are always a few things that can be improved; ideas for better engagement with customers, thoughts on how they can make the very most of their opportunity to take care of people, areas where standards need a little nudge back in the right direction. We might also mention that we have a date booked for our summer staff party at MeatMission and no that doesn’t mean we can shut for three days for them to recover. Then there are the 200 plus people we will feed and water – I absolutely love Sundays in the pub, the most rewarding and convivial of services most perfectly suited to what it is that we offer.
This isn’t, thankfully, a standard week but, it turns out….. there is generally something going on for Nick to do…