Josh consults with BAM companies in the Food and Beverage (F&B) Industry in both the USA and Asia, helping them be more effective in their operations. As part of our hospitality industry series, we asked him to share with us some of his expertise in café and restaurant management.
You are obviously very passionate about the culinary arts, why is that and what does it have to do with business as mission?
I am very passionate about the power of food. When you prepare food for people there is always the potential to create moments that people might remember forever. Flavours play a big part in both memory making and memory retrieving. Special occasions are often connected to food and flavours can pull on the emotions. Food has the power to be an icebreaker, a community builder, even a context for enemies to sit down at a table together. Those involved in food preparation and service have the power of food at their fingertips – not to mention people’s lives in their hands when it comes to matters of food safety and hygiene!
To me, for all these reasons and others, the restaurant industry is so important in the missions community. Serving food and beverages meets people’s needs and has the potential to create special memories. Food breaks down barriers and gives you access to people that you would never otherwise be able to meet. So many times in the Bible Jesus was eating and drinking with the people that he was trying to minister to. We can also minister in the context of a meal, or when we are preparing that meal. The kitchen can be a place of high pressure, and there is a great camaraderie. People will see who you really are when you are under pressure to deliver great dishes and great service. You can show them what the Kingdom of God is really about in the midst of that.
Where do you see BAM practitioners running into trouble with cafés and restaurants?
The hospitality industry has a low barrier to entry because you can often start small and there is a familiarity to it. Someone might be a good cook, or love baking, or enjoy making the perfect coffee and they are familiar with the idea of cafés and restaurants. This makes the prospect of starting a café or restaurant feel less daunting, a relatively ‘easy’ business to get into.
However, the skills needed to start and manage a business are different from the technical skill of preparing food and drinks. You need to be able to do both in your company. You’ll need the systems and structures in place, to not only make a great product and deliver a great service, but to do that day in and day out and be able to make money doing it. Often people have gaps in the skills or knowledge to be able to run their café or restaurant effectively. My role is to come alongside the business team and try and figure out where the ball is being dropped and how to fix that.
What are some common mistakes you see BAMers making?
Most mistakes I see fall into one of two areas: One is brand confidence and the other is a lack of systems.
On brand confidence, café owners or restaurateurs may have the skills to prepare food or to manage the operations, but they are reticent about marketing and building their brand. Building a following of loyal customers who believe in your product, who love your service, and will recommend you to others is critical in the hospitality industry.
Likewise, good systems are critical for cafés and restaurants. For instance one of the biggest killers for a restaurant business is managing waste. Owners spend money buying ingredients, but they may not realise just how much of that money goes into the garbage in food waste.
Pricing and portion control is another critical area. You have to understand exactly how much a dish is going to cost to make and therefore how much you need to sell it for – and that needs to be consistent and measurable. Otherwise you will not be able to pay for your ingredients and cover staffing and other overheads such as rent, utilities, taxes etc.
Even such a simple consideration as to where you place equipment in a kitchen, or the layout of the dining room, can make an enormous difference to the efficiency of the business. If your chefs only have to take 10 steps instead of 90 to fetch everything they need to assemble a dish, that is going to make a tremendous difference to operations.
What are some of the solutions you bring to BAMers in order to help them run their hospitality companies more effectively?
A lack of brand confidence and marketing can stem from a lack of clarity on what makes their business unique and original and therefore why people should want to eat or drink there. I help people think about their motivation; what got them started and what is the unique spot where their abilities and passions come together. Then I help them think about how to sell that, how to tell that story and build their brand.
Cafés and restaurants require many systems in place to run well. Everything from staff scheduling to management of inventory to recipe consistency should have a system. Systems will help you give your customers a great experience on a consistent basis.
Can you unpack a few of these critical systems for us?
Having a daily prep list, a list of ingredients of that need to be prepared daily, is a key system you’ll need in place. What does the kitchen crew do when they come in? How many watermelons will need chopping and to what size? You start to get prep lists in place by making a detailed recording of the inventory that you used last week, and the week before, etc., taking note of fluctuations across the week. This should give you an average amount of ingredients you used and on what days. This average becomes your baseline for food preparation for a normal Monday, or a normal Saturday, for instance. You’ll get to know that you need to dice 15 tomatoes, grate a block of cheese and make 2kg of dough on a Tuesday. From there, with experience, you can start to anticipate fluctuations for seasons, holidays and even the weather forecast. The idea is that you prepare just enough ingredients to make assembling dishes efficient, while also reducing waste.
For recipe management and portion control, you’ll need to work out the cost of each ingredient in a dish, right down to the pinch of salt. From there you will know the cost of the total dish and therefore how much to charge. As a general rule of thumb, you should sell the dish to the customer at triple the cost of ingredients (at the very minimum) in order to cover business expenses. Doing due diligence in sourcing ingredients is part of this process. Can you consistently get your ingredients at a high enough quality at a low enough price for each menu item? Then you should have a system for managing recipes and creating dishes, a manual that chefs or servers refer to in order to know how a dish is made, how big the portions should be, and how a dish or drink should be presented.
On the customer service end, you’ll need a system for serving customers as effectively as possible. What are your customer service standards? How long should it take between taking orders and serving food? How should the servers and kitchen communicate with each other? How often should a server revisit a table to check on guests? What is the process for paying? And so on.
How would you encourage someone starting out in the hospitality industry?
I think a restaurant or café adds a lot to a community. It can be place for people to experience incredible flavours and a place to build relationships, a space to meet and make memories. Excellent dishes and excellent service are in themselves glorifying to God. In addition, a cafe or restaurant can bring so many other benefits: employment, relationships, essential services, a place to belong, a place of influence to bring people together. Hospitality companies have so much potential to integrate business and mission together.
My advice would be to make sure it is something you are really passionate about doing. Hours can be long, with many challenges along the way to smooth operations. Don’t get started unless you really love preparing food and serving people and that gives you life. Build a team around you that are going to complement your strengths. You can’t be good at everything, so find others who will cover your weaker areas and make sure everyone on the team is very clear about their role.
With thanks to Josh in conversation with Jo Plummer.
Josh has a passion for the culinary arts and to see well run BAM companies bringing spiritual, social and economic transformation in the nations. Josh consults to hospitality companies around the world, you may get in contact with him about his services via the BAM office.
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.