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.

While mom’s cooking is the best and keeping your mother in the restaurant’s kitchen seems to be the perfect idea, you need to equip her with basic knowledge of restaurant kitchen operation.

Provide her with kitchen equipment meant for restaurants, not household items.  Carefully select the stoves, chillers, blenders, pots and pans suitable for commercial kitchen to ease her work. Most importantly, give her good and reliable kitchen staff who can run the kitchen independently when your mother needs a break.

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?

Restaurant Issue : Increasing Your Customer’s Spending

I eat out a lot and when I do, I am usually prepared to spend good money for something I like.  As a mother of 2 young daughters who inherit my love for food, I have to be financially ready whenever I take them out for a meal. While I don’t carry a lot of cash, I have my credit cards anywhere I go.  By using credit cards, I don’t need to make numerous trips to ATMs.  I can also collect credit card points that can be exchanged for free meals in various fancy restaurants.

A few weeks ago, I went to a cafe for dinner with my daughters.  All of us were hungry and the menu looked good. We had two types of appetizers, three main dishes and three desserts.  The waiter was very efficient and friendly.  While waiting for our food, I looked around the cafe and I couldn’t see any credit card sticker on the door.  I started to panic. I called the waiter and ask if they accept credit card.  He said no.  I only had RM 60 in my purse and I knew the meal would cost more than that.  I told him that I didn’t carry much cash.  He told me there was an ATM across the street.  Reluctantly I left my two young kids unattended in the restaurant, brazed mad drivers who refused to let me cross safely and go to the ATM… Only to find that the machine was out of order.

I went back to the restaurant and told the waiter to cancel a few dishes.  Embarrassingly I apologized to him for not bringing enough cash. Fortunately he was cool with it.  He said I was not the first one to experience this.  Many customers didn’t have enough cash and had to cancel the orders.

At the end, the three of us shared two main dishes washed down with glasses of ice water.

I was ready to spend more than RM100 for the meal but I had to settle for less than RM60.  The cafe’s potential sales was reduced by 40%.  In a small way, that cafe had inconvenienced its customers.  The whole dining experience was “difficult”.

Imagine if the cafe had credit card machine.  It could definitely increase its sales.  With the current security issue, many people avoid carrying a lot of cash.  Most of my friends carry less than RM100 in their wallets.  They pay everything using credit cards too.

If your menu has meals priced over RM20 per dish, I suggest you to have credit card machines in your restaurant.  If American Express (Amex) commission is too high, you should at least accept Visa and Mastercard. It would be even better if you can accept debit cards too.

lady holding credit card

By accepting credit cards, you save your customers from embarrassment of not having enough cash.  You provide hassle-free and pleasant dining experience to your customers.  Instead of searching for ATMs, your customers can channel their energy to enjoy the food and your restaurants.






How to Make Your Customers Remember YOU

Customers in F&B industry are one of the most unforgiving people.  When they are served with bad food and bad service, they will remember it forever.  Not only they will never come back, they will spread the news to their friends and families. Even worse…. they can post it on the social media and ask strangers to boycott the restaurant.

Social media is like a double-edge sword for your restaurant business.  It can serve you as an excellent marketing tool but it can also destroy you with bad publicity.

However, when customers enjoy good (not excellent) food with average service, they tend to forget the name of the restaurants.  Have you ever heard people say,”I had this nice chicken sandwich at this mall but I forget the name of the cafe”?

Unless the food and service are excellent and they frequent the place, most people do not remember the names of the restaurants they dine in.

If your restaurant has the good food and great service, don’t you want your customers to remember and recommend it to their peers?

How to make them remember your restaurant?

By increasing the number of times your customers see your restaurant name.

1. Make the restaurant name visible at the entrance.

Yes, you have a signboard above your premise but walk-in customers can’t see it. The signboard is a few meters above their heads.  Make your brand visible by displaying it at the customers’ eye-level. You can put stickers, signboard, or bunting near the door or at the window.

2. The restaurant name should be visible from the inside of the restaurant.

This is the real story.  I was walking in a mall when I saw this interesting restaurant.  I decided to go in and try.  A few minutes after I sat down, my friend called me and asked where I was.  I told her that I was at 1Utama mall.  She said that she was also there and she wanted to join me for lunch.  She asked me where I was. I didn’t know… I tried to look at the menu.  It didn’t mention the name of the restaurant.  I looked around the place to find its name, I didn’t see any.  I had to go out and looked up at the signboard above the door to find the name of the restaurant.

Imagine if my friend didn’t call.  I wouldn’t remember the name of the restaurant.

The visibility of the restaurant name can be achieved by putting it on the menu, printing it on the staff uniforms, printing it on sticker and stick it at cash register, making it part of the interior decoration, printing it on the plates, etc. They are numerous ways you can do to make your customers see your restaurant name.  The more frequent they see it, the more likely they remember your restaurant name.

3. Print the restaurant name on the take away boxes or bags.

Sometimes customers take away food for their friends or colleagues.  If the friends happen to like the food very much, they will ask where he/she bought the take away.  If he/she was rushing and just bought food from any restaurant in the mall, very likely he/she won’t remember the name of the restaurant.  By having the restaurant name and address printed in take away boxes n bags, people can see where the food was purchased.  And if they like it, they can easily locate the restaurant and pay a visit.

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoy this post as much as I was writing it. Have a great day my friends…

Restaurant Frauds

As in other retail business, restaurant business is also prone to thefts and frauds.  Most restaurant owners encounter employee theft or cheating customer at one time or another.  No matter how well you think you know your employees or your customers, there is always a possibility of theft. Very often thefts are committed by unsuspecting employees. The person that owner least suspect is usually the one who commits the thefts.

Businesses nationwide suffer billions of dollars every year due to employee fraud and theft and the numbers are increasing.  Larger business can absorb a loss better than small business.  A lot of restaurant businesses are made bankrupt by thefts and frauds because owners fail to detect and act on the problems in a timely manner. Most employee theft comes to the attention of the employer when it is too late. Early detection is necessary to prevent huge losses.

Most big organizations have internal audit departments that create a system to prevent or lessen frauds in the company.  Most small businesses like restaurants or cafes often don’t allocate any resource for anti-fraud measures.  Because of that, restaurant owners are prone to be the victims of frauds and thefts.

The most powerful tool to prevent frauds from happening is by having a system that will deter the employees on committing any fraud.  Most frauds and thefts are committed when the employees know that the chance of getting caught is small.

While most common restaurant thefts are committed by employees, there are a lot of fraud cases committed by people outside of the organization.  Frauds committed by outsiders are mostly robberies, burglaries, credit card frauds, suppliers charging prices higher than what has been agreed, non-paying customers and stealing customers.

Below is the video on restaurant robbery caught by CCTV in Subang Jaya

restaurant theft in subang jaya

While restaurant robbery doesn’t happen as often as employee thefts, it can damage your restaurant reputation.  Customers will avoid your restaurant when they don’t feel safe dining over there.

When you open a restaurant, implement some safety measures on fraud prevention since day one.  Don’t wait until your audited report shows huge operating loses.

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.








Increasing Efficiency

A lot of problems in the workplaces, marriages and other relationships arise from miscommunication. In restaurant business, miscommunication causes chaos in the kitchen, undelivered supplies from suppliers, arguments among employees, missing orders, unhappy customers and eventually lower profits for the company.

A lot of managers and owners complain that their staff don’t listen to the instructions and totally ignore their warnings.  The manager has put a memo on the notice board in the office and assume all employees saw the memo.  The reality is that employees spend most of their time in the restaurant and don’t go to the office at all unless they really need something done there.  One employee who goes to the office, notices the memo and passes the message to another employee but he mumbles when he talks so most staff just ignore him.

The current technology has allowed staff to have faster and more efficient communications among each other.  Gone are the days when memo is posted on a notice board.  Everyone relies on their hand phones to read messages, news, search for new recipes and make important notes. With the price of smart phones becoming more affordable, managers can utilize group messaging in conveying their messages by setting up Whatsapp, Telegram, Blackberry or WeChat Group.

Based on a survey, text messaging is more efficient and effective because text messages are read almost instantly.  It is very unlikely the staff will miss the messages. Since the messages are automatically stored in the hand phone, the staff can always come back, recheck and follow up on the messages at the later time.

Managers can use the group messaging not only to give instructions but also to congratulate outstanding employees, to send motivational quotes, to share the company strategy (or even some jokes) and to get feedback from the staff. This form of communication will reduce the gaps between staff from different departments.  With better communication, misunderstanding will be lessen and staff will work with clearer direction.

text on hp

Setting Standards

A few years ago I had some “interesting” experiences with foreign staff in one of my client’s restaurant.  At that time I was involved in the kitchen preparation of opening the restaurant.  I am no chef and I don’t have any professional training on kitchen but I do have years of experience cooking in the kitchen so I know the standard of cleanliness in the kitchen.

My client hired cooks from a foreign country.  He tested their food, liked what they cooked for him, processed their employment visas and brought them to Malaysia.  I tried the food too and they were fantastic.  I really believed they were the right people to run the kitchen of my client’s new restaurant.

When I went to the kitchen during trial period, I was shocked to find assorted flour lying inside open containers on the floor.  I saw baby cockroaches inside the cabinets.  The floor was wet because of melted ice cubes, dripping from the chiller counter.  The vegetables were piled at the back alleys, uncovered, waiting to be chopped.  The meats were left in open aluminium containers near the door, making friends with the buzzing flies.

dirty kitchen


I called the cooks and showed them what I saw.  ALL of them gave me blank faces.  They didn’t understand why I was furious.  I told them that the kitchen was dirty, the food was not supposed to be uncovered, the flour should not be on the floor.  They insisted that the kitchen was clean…!! They said they mopped the floor in the morning, they cleaned the wall, they scrubbed the sink and they wiped all the spills from the tables.

I was speechless… I didn’t know what to say.  Yes, the floor was mopped, the walls were cleaned and I didn’t see any spill of sauces on the tables.  But there were so many things they needed to do before they could say the kitchen was clean.

After taking a lot of deep breaths and glasses of ice water, I sat with them and explained the meaning of clean in this country.  Cleanliness standard in our country is different from their country.  It was partly my fault for assuming that we had the same standard.  I didn’t set a clear standard.  My standard was vague and can be easily misunderstood.

Fortunately, those cooks had great attitudes.  Instead of offended, they were willing to learn and improve.  I set some measurable standards of cleanliness for them. I gave them some check list.  I also told them about some “punishments” if they didn’t follow the set standards.

Examples of clear standards:

1.  All meat should not be left in room temperature more than 15 minutes.

2. All food should be covered.

3.  All perishables should be stored in a chiller with temperature no more than 10 degrees.

4. Kitchen Floors should be scrubbed with soap and wiped clean after closing.

clean kitchen

I assumed those basic things were common knowledge that chefs understand and practice.  Apparently that’s not the case.

So, set your standard crystal clear.

Set clear and measurable standards, not only for the kitchen but also for the floor operation.  Write down the check list about clean toilet as standard cleanliness about toilet varies tremendously. Write down the check list for your waiters.  If you want them to smile or to greet customers with good morning/afternoon/evening… write it down to the details.

You will be surprised to find your standard is totally different from the staff’s.

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:

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.