The Importance of Consistency in Restaurant Business

A restaurant that has the right start-up has a bigger chance in success than those that start without proper planning.  However, the right start-up doesn’t guarantee success in the long run.  Besides continuous advertising and promotions, a restaurant needs to be consistent to achieve long-term success.  Without a dedication to consistency, failure is almost guaranteed.

To be successful, a restaurant needs to be consistent with:

  1. The Food
  2. The Service 

 

The Food

Most people go to restaurants to eat, to enjoy the food and to entertain their families and friends with the food served in the restaurants.  Regular customers will have expectations on how the food should taste in your restaurant.  Some even develop some kind of addiction to your famous Country Fried Chicken.  Imagine if one day your regular customers find their Country Fried Chicken have too much black pepper or saltier than the usual.  You may argue that you change your chef but the customers don’t care about it.  They come to satisfy their addictions to your Country Fried Chicken and disappointed to find that they eat something they are not familiar with.

I understand that chefs come and go in restaurant business.  However it doesn’t mean that the taste of your food has to change every time you change your chefs.  If you go to TGIFridays, Chili’s or McDonald’s, you can see how consistent their foods are.  I am sure they have changed their chefs more than they can remember.

The secrets to having consistent food are:

  • Standard Recipes

You must have standard recipes that shouldn’t be altered when the new chefs come in.

  • Solid Kitchen Procedures

Everyone has to implement the kitchen procedures religiously, from the cleaners, line cooks to executive chefs.

  • Proper Staff Training

Every new cooks or staffs should have proper training before being allowed to cook for customers.

  • Consistent Suppliers

The taste of tomato paste varied from one brand to another, so does the quality of your beef.  Changing suppliers mean changing the taste of the ingredients which will lead to changing the taste of your food.

 

The Service

Customers expect consistent service at all times because they don’t like unpleasant surprises. A consistent service means having uniformity in terms of speed, quality and courtesy in delivering the service to the customers, regardless of time and occasion.

Your customers will expect to be greeted the the same courtesy when they enter your restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  They will also expect their food to arrive after 15 minutes regardless whether or not your restaurant is having a full house or just serving two tables.

The consistency of service can be achieved when the restaurant has standard procedures that are followed by everyone in the organization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michelin Star

It was my dream to dine at a Michelin-star restaurant.  I am fascinated by the seriousness of food critics at Michelin in providing foodies a guide to have an over-the-top dining experience all over the world.

The Michelin Guide was started by the French tyre company to provide travellers a list of best restaurants and hotels in Europe.  Over the years, their “agents” travelled to countries outside Europe, resulting Michelin stars awarded to worthy restaurants in America and Asia.

For more than one hundred years, their food critics travel all over the world to award “Star(s)” to restaurants that provide exceptional dining experiences.  They award 1 to 3 stars based on the following criteria:

  • One star means the restaurant is very good in its category.
  • Two stars means the restaurant has excellent cooking and it worth detour.
  • Three stars means the restaurant provides exceptional cuisine that it worth a very special journey to dine there.

Michelin has been maintaining the secrecy of their agents that even their top managements never meet the agents. The agents are required to hide their identities from everyone including their parents, friends or relatives.  They are forbidden from talking to journalists and they are required to write extensive unbiased reports on their dining experiences.

On my last trip to Hongkong, I was fortunate to dine, not in 1 but, in 2 restaurants with Michelin Stars:

1.  Chilli Fagara

A small restaurant nestled on a hill of Lan Kwai Fong area specializing in a fiery hot Szechuan dishes. 

I had never dined in any Michelin-star restaurant before. So this restaurant was the place where I would lose my Michelin-virgin status. I dressed up as if I were going to my first date. I wore my high-heels to pump up my smart-casual dress….. only to find out that the restaurant is very casual.  Although I felt a bit embarrassed to take out my “spare flat shoes” from my huge handbag, I was glad I could ditch my high-heels while walking uphill on the steep pebble-stoned road.

I had Vegetarian Dumplings swimming in fiery hot chili oil topped with deep-fried red chillies.  My lips and tongue were instantly numbed by the heat from the chillies.  I pride myself as being a chilli addict but I had to accept defeat when I couldn’t finish the dumpling gravy.

My next dish was the real test tough… My friend ordered 2 portions of their signature dish of Chilli Crab.  The crabs were cut into smaller pieces, dusted with seasoned flour and deep fried before tossed into piles of fried chillies and garlic.  Although my tongue was still numb, I could taste the spicy, salty, sweet and creamy texture of the crab.  It has such a complex taste that I can’t describe.  I felt tortured by the heat from the chillies but I just couldn’t stop eating it.  I had to order extra steamed rice and water to calm my burning mouth.

Fortunately the next dish was very friendly.  We had the most exquisite tender crispy melt-in-my-mouth Beef in Onions and Ginger.  It was so nice that we had to order a second serving.

The whole dining experience was really interesting. It was a numbing experience.

2. Lei Garden

I didn’t know that this restaurant was awarded 1 Star by Michelin.  I found out about this only after I was back in KL, googling about restaurants in Hongkong (yes, it’s weird that I did that AFTER I came back from the trip.  I can’t understand why either…) 

We went into the restaurant at 1.45pm and we were told that the restaurant would be closed at 2.30pm.  We quickly ordered our lunch for fearing of being chased away while finishing our meals.  We had dim sum and soup as appetizers and ordered some beef, vegetables and noodles as mains. Most of the waiters didn’t speak English but they had one male waiter who did.  Since there was no explanation about the dish in the menu, we were clueless about what to order.  Fortunately the waiter was very patient, explaining and describing every item we pointed out in the menu.

The food arrived very fast and accordance to the right sequence : the soup and dim sum items arrived first while the rest arrived after we finished our dim sum. 

The Shrimp Har Kau won me over with its fresh, plump, juicy and sweet large prawns. Dipped the Har Kaw in chili oil and I could eat it forever. I also love their braised Chicken Feet.  The skin and tendon were so tender and detached from the bones, making such an enjoyable slurping moment. The gravy was very tasty that I couldn’t resist wiping it clean from the bowl. The Hongkong Tao Miao was so fresh and delicious.  I didn’t know vegetable could taste that good…!! A meat eater like me could be satisfied just by eating a whole bowl of Tao Miao (again… drizzled in chili oil) with steamed rice. That’s how good the Tao Miao was. It’s the ultimate guilt-free dish to meet my daily quota of eating greens.

Back in KL, when my husband asked me about the experience of losing my Michelin-virgin status, I didn’t know what to answer… It was good and interesting but it was not what I expected.  After reading about the process of awarding stars by Michelin, I had very high expectations.  I expected to be blown away not just satisfied.  But again, taste is a subjective matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Restaurant’s Worst Nightmare

Last Sunday I had breakfast at one of the hip breakfast joints in Bangsar.  I had planned to go there since 6 months ago but something always came up in the mornings that prevented me of going there.

I was very excited to taste “the real” croissants baked by a French baker. My friend swore the croissants and pastries were as good as those in Paris..!! 

I was pleasantly surprised to see the café..  It was love at the first sight.  The café looked like the one I saw in movies.  It looks very chic and cute. Since it was a warm morning, I opted to sit inside instead of al fresco.  I was glad to choose in-door dining as the café had an open kitchen where I could see all the actions from my chair. I could see the French chef baking some dough in their huge oven. 

Just two minutes after I sat down, the whole room turned dark.  I was a bit surprised but the light was back within a few seconds.  I thought it must be a little glitch.  While I was reading thru the menu, the light was off again.  The manager marched to the back of the restaurant, went to the control room and made a hand gesture to the other manager/owner.  Then the light was on again.  With the light on, I continued reading the menu. 

I decided to splurge by choosing an authentic French dish that I had never tried before. I really can’t remember the name of the dish but it was supposed to be smoked duck breast with egg and toast.  The description of the dish made me salivate. Unfortunately the dish was not available that morning because there was something wrong with the oven that prevented the chef to make bread. After scanning the menu, I changed my mind to have a lighter breakfast instead. I decided on a piece of Almond Croissant and a cup of Cappuccino. 

Right after I finished ordering, the light was out again.  This time, the manager switched off Air Conditioning unit.  Without AC, the room instantly become warmer. 

While waiting for my food to arrive, I looked around the café.  I envied the shiny copper pots and stainless steel pans hanging from the racks.  The spices and sugar looked so cute in reusable Bon Maman jars. 

Suddenly the light was out again… This time, the manager asked the chefs to switch off the salamander and the big oven. The chefs had to stop baking the half-cooked dough.  I could see the frustration on the chef’s face but he had no choice. With those 2 appliances down, the light was back on.

After waiting for a few minutes, the friendly waitress brought my beautiful Almond Croissant.  It was perfect… It was big, fat and chunky croissant topped with home-made almond paste and slivered almonds. I love the taste of the almond paste inside the croissant. It was very rich and smooth. 

When I took my second bite, suddenly the electricity tripped again.

As much as I was annoyed by the cafe’s electrical problem, I pitied the managers.  I had been in a similar situation before so I know how they felt.  I remember how panic and frustrated I was, not knowing what went wrong and how to fix it.

The next thing the manager did was to switch off the coffee machine.  Once the machine was off, the light was back.  Soon after that the waiter told me I couldn’t have my Cappuccino as the machine was switched off to save the tripping. I felt disappointed because I could already imagine how my croissant would taste with my cappuccino. But I also understand that there was nothing they could do.

The managers apologized to all the customers who sat inside the room. He didn’t charge anything for the food and beverages we had.  Everything that everyone had inside the room was free. Although I didn’t feel good eating for free, I applaud the good gesture from the managers.  I felt so bad for them. I wish I could help but my knowledge in electrical stuff is close to zero.

This experience is a reminder for everyone to engage an experienced electrician during renovation period.  While single-phase wiring is OK for a normal household, it is advisable to use three-phase wiring in commercial set up.  Three-phase wiring allows electricity load to be distributed evenly causing the current to be more stable. When something wrong happens, it allows the problem to be contained in just one area.

I didn’t know what happened in that café after I left but I hope their electrician came to fix the problem. It was Sunday morning at 8 o’clock.  Most electricians don’t work that early on Sunday.  Even if they do, it would take them at least an hour to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Waiter Training ala Gordon Ramsay

I used to hate Gordon Ramsay for his continuous swearing on TV.  However after knowing where he came from and how he accomplished his success, I understand him better.  I even understand him better after spending a few years interacting with chefs, waiters and restaurant managers.  There were times I really felt like swearing too…!!

In this video Gordon Ramsay shows that he is not only excellent in the kitchen but also in the “floor” operation.  This short video shows how a simple thing like writing down menu can take a waiter into a whole different level.

 

 

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Service Charge = Tips ?

When I lived in US, I used to grumble when I had to give tips in restaurants or shops. It is a custom in US to leave tips amounted 15% – 20% of the total bills unless the service is really bad. I grumbled because I felt that I was “forced” to use my brain to calculate the tips every time I dined out and I just don’t like to be forced into doing or giving something. Most of the time I didn’t feel like doing some mathematic calculations after meals but it would be super embarrassing to carry my calculator everywhere.

When I lived in Indonesia, most hotels and big restaurants have included 11% service charge in the bills, saving customers from crunching numbers and testing their mathematic skills. Smaller restaurants usually don’t include service charge in the bills but tipping is customary. Most people will leave decent amount of tips in restaurants for the waiters who serve them during their meals. Tipping is also common in salons, massage centres or any place that provide services. The tip is usually given directly to the person who gives the service and not to be shared with the rest of the employees. Because of this a lot of employees thrive to give the best service to their customers to gain tips. If you’ve ever been to Jakarta or Bandung or Bali… you will see smiling eager waiters waiting to serve you instead of the rude, sour-face and “tak-apa attitude” waiters that we encounter in Malaysia.

In Malaysia where I am living now, hotels and restaurants include 10% service charge in the bills. While I see some people leave tips on top of the service charge, tipping is not expected.

Before I joined F&B industry I always thought that the service charge I paid in restaurants was equal to tips. I thought that the service charge would go to the waiters who served me thus I didn’t leave additional tips.

After I worked in F&B outlets I found out that the service charges are not distributed to the waiters. Some of the practices that restaurants do with service charge:
1. Treat it as an additional income, staff don’t get anything.
2. Distribute 10% – 30% to the staff (waiters, cooks, chefs, cleaners) while keeping some for the company.
3. Keep it as “Bonus” that will be distributed at the end of the year to all employees, including administrative staff.
4. Distribute all of the service charge collected to the staff (waiters, cooks, chefs, cleaners) as Service Points.

After I know the practice, I become a big believer in giving tips on top of the service charge (only for the deserving staff). I regard tips as incentives to provide better service and as gestures of appreciation to waiters for providing me a pleasant dining experience. Having said that, I don’t believe in having tips pooled in 1 box and equally distributed to all the staff in the restaurant. This practice is like the Socialist or Communist practice whereby everyone will get equal distribution of wealth regardless on how much efforts or work he/she contributes to the society. I believe a lazy and rude waiter who always delivers wrong food to customers don’t deserve any tips collected by her/his peers who provide fast, efficient and friendly service to the customers.

While my belief may not be popular in Malaysia and some people will even roll their eyes upon reading this article, I firmly believe that if a waiter gets to keep the tips from the customers he/she serves, he/she will give the best service to his/her customers. Yes, of course he/she will be a bit disappointed when satisfied customers don’t leave tips on the table but he/she knows that at least he/she has a chance to get additional income if he/she really does his/her best.

I have seen a customer left RM100 tips to the waiter that served him during a Valentine diner. When the tip was distributed by his supervisor, I could see how disappointed his face was when he only received RM10 (not the RM100), the same amount with what his friend received. This particular friend was “busy” sending sms and playing with his handphone throughout the night while he was running back and forth carrying heavy dishes and trying to keep the customers entertained. Because the restaurant was running at a full house, his supervisor didn’t even notice his friend’s behaviour. When I tried to tell the supervisor on how unfair the practice was, his reply was : it’s the rule here, everyone gets equal treatment. I was furious because it was really demoralizing to the hard working waiter. If I were the hard working waiter, I would learn and be smart. I would put “equal” effort with the rest of non-performing waiters to get “equal” amount of tips. That’s equal treatment..!

I have also seen a customer left RM500 (yes… RM500) tips after a company function in a restaurant I used to work. I feel that it’s unfair if the amount was distributed equally when there were waiters who were absent that day (using the most commonly used excuse : MC). I know some waiters who “coincidently” fell sick when there were functions in the restaurant. Because of this, I believe the tips should be distributed only to everyone working on that particular function. Those who were on MC should be excluded on the tips distribution. Their tips should also be on “MC”

What do you think..? Do you think tipping will lead to better customer service?  Should it be distributed equally?

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Mothers in Restaurant Kitchens

I met a few restaurant owners whose mothers become chefs in their restaurants.  Most of the mothers cook excellent food and their children believe that they should share their mothers’ cooking with the rest of the world.  While I love the noble intention of having home-cooked meals in restaurants, I still believe that no matter how good the mothers are, they still need to have proper trainings on how to run a restaurant kitchen.

Cooking for family members in household kitchens is different from cooking for customers in commercial kitchens.  Cooking in commercial kitchen requires proper planning and procedures to ensure safety and efficiency.

The video bellow shows some basic requirements for cooking in restaurant kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Importance of The “Invisible Man”

When we go to a restaurant and ask for who is the chef, the name of Executive Chef will be mentioned.  However we all know that the Executive Chef is usually not the one who cook our dishes.  The function of Executive Chef is to manage the kitchen and its cooks to deliver great quality dishes at the right time.

While the real cooks (or usually called the line cooks) are the ones who burn their hands and toss the pans, they are hardly mentioned.  A lot of them go unnoticed in the restaurant business and some of them are not treated nicely.

A good owner and executive chef should know the importance of these line cooks as they are the ones who make diners smile.  They should be treated with respect and compassion because without them, the restaurants just can’t function.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Be The “Boss” In Restaurant Business

Being a restaurant owner is very different from what most people think.  Behind any successful restaurant is a passionate, dedicated and hardworking owner who knows the business inside out.  Restaurant owners should be ready to get their hands dirty when the waiters call in sick or when the cleaners decided to quit or when the restaurant manager is taking a leave.

Any restaurant owner should have in-depth knowledge of his/her restaurant operation, from the menu, the price, the cost, the suppliers and most importantly the customer profiles.  Restaurant owners should also be able to see the “big picture” of the whole restaurant operation so that they know how to create effective marketing programs.

A lot of restaurants fail because the owners leave the whole operations to their staff/managers.  When the staff and/or managers resign, owners have no clue on how to run the restaurants themselves.  This situation creates havoc and jeopardizes the whole operation.

Below is the video on how to be the “BOSS” in a restaurant business:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Run A Restaurant

Some people asked if the information in my ebook of “How To Open Your Restaurant in 8 Weeks” could be used for opening a restaurant outside of Malaysia.  I believe most of the information in my ebook is applicable for opening restaurants around the world, except for a few chapters that discuss about licenses.  Opening a restaurant in Malaysia requires different licenses from opening a restaurant in other country.

This gentleman in the video summarized a few chapters of my ebook and confirms that the information inside is applicable for any restaurant around the world:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creating the Right Ambiance

I am always excited when I see a new restaurant or café opens for business, especially when the new restaurant opens near my house.  Usually I would give it a month or so after the opening before I make a visit  and try their products.

There is a cute small bakery near my house that opened its door for business a month ago.  My husband managed to go there a few weeks ago after his carwash.   He noticed there was a basket of breads that had an unusual and interesting label on its display :  Cranberry and Walnut Wheat Country Loaf.  Knowing that I would love this combination, my husband bought a whole loaf for us to try at home.

Since  the bakery was only 5 minutes away from my house, the bread was still warm when I received it.  I took out my creamy French Lescure butter and a jar of homemade orange marmalade from the fridge.  The bread tasted heavenly… We ended up finishing the whole loaf as our “light lunch”

Last week my husband and I decided to go to the bakery and have our weekend breakfast there.  I was delighted to see the cute interior of the café.  It feels like a small café in European country side.  The cake display counter showcased the cutest cupcakes, fluffy mini croissants, scones and variety of chocolate cakes.  My mind was calculating on how much cash I had in my purse as I just couldn’t resist buying some of their cute cakes for my children at home.  I felt like buying everything inside the cake display..!!

At that time I regretted my carelessness of not bringing my trusty compact Casio camera. I know most people love to bring bulky DSLR Canon or Nikon camera but I love the simplicity and excellent picture quality of Casio.

There was only 1 table with 5 customers when we went there.  They were talking very loud in a language that I couldn’t  understand. I felt bad for the café operator as it really created a very unpleasant ambiance.

After waiting for 10 minutes, my toast with butter and jam arrived followed by a cup of perfectly brewed black coffee. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they actually serve the bread with my favourite Lescure butter.

As much as I tried to relax and enjoy my weekend breakfast, I couldn’t ignore the noise from the other table.  There was no other sound in the café other than the sound of people talking loudly and the sound of blender juicing my husband’s fresh orange juice. No soothing sound of music or piped-in chirping birds from the stereo system to make me feel like I was at the French Countryside.

As I was finishing my coffee, I saw  two of the “loud patrons” went inside the open kitchen.  They chatted with the bakers and gave some instructions.  One of them went to the juice station and delivered the orange juice to my husband.  To my horror I found out that they were actually the owners of the café..!!  They were there having breakfast with their 3 children who were supposed to run the café operation.

At that time I really feel like talking and advising them on the importance of ambiance in a café operation.  However my husband asked me to mind my own business as they would probably feel offended instead of being helped, so I kept my mouth shut.  While I kept my mouth idle, I made a mark in my head that I won’t be having breakfast there anymore.

Although the café had great products and nice interior design, their success was jeopardized by the owners’ ignorance of creating a pleasant ambiance for their customers.

Needless to say, we left the place as soon as we finished our last drop of coffee.  We didn’t even bother to try their pretty cakes and desserts.  But looking at the bright side, I saved my money by not buying their (used-to-be irresistible) cute cakes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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