Monday, December 3, 2012

We want to talk about it...

The one thing that has hit me in the face more than anything is people's opnion... 

Everyone has one and I guess that makes us different from our monkey-like cousins.  Opinions are great, but in 2012 it is so easy to not only have an opinion; but to share it with the rest of the world in a heartbeat or a click of your finger as the case may be.   The best part about it (so I have found out) is you can have an opinion now days and not have to necessarily own it, back it up or put your face to it - HOW COOL IS THAT?  It seems we are creating a world of people who can share their opinion and then run away before having to answer to it. 

I have sat on this blog for a couple of months wondering if I should publish.  Knowing it would be controversial.  It might be it might not and maybe I have just become completely paranoid, so here goes. 

Recently there has been a lot of talk about social media bullying.  I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I would cop any of that.  I think I am a pretty nice person and I run a business with nothing but good intention.  So let's break it down...

...if you have read my blog from 3 months before I opened Mister Close you would note that I came from a corporate background, wished to "live the dream" and to have a cafe that would do one thing and one thing only "Make people Happy".  I never set out to give my customers a shit experience, give them horrible food/coffee or rude service.  I never invested half my home into a business that would make people so angry at what I have created they would jump online and give me and what I have created a serving.  Don't get me wrong - I get social media, I am a player in social media and I enjoy social media.  In fact I use socail media to communicate with my customers.  However I never realised it was creating a generation of people that use this channel of communication to say what ever they like, let it do whatever damage it needs to do - but then never own the comment.  Kind of like having a one sided conversation or an argument you will always win because no one is there to rebut and if they do you simply don't answer.

Let me just interject my own blog for a second with two important points:
  1. I am by no means suggesting everyone is like this - it has been an overwhelming observation I have made since opening the business, but has occured more recently in a few ways
  2. This blog is purely a vehicle for me to diarise my observations, feelings and thoughts of what it is like changing your entire life's outlook and moving from corporate world to cafe world.  So I am not having a whinge, nor am I being a victim - purely making comment on my observations. 
Ok - so I have laid the ground work (hopefully I am not writing too much like a bowl of spaghetti, which my year 11 English teacher Mrs Tuckerman  dubbed my writing skills as) Mrs Tuckerman - there's a good name for a cafe, but I digress...

I have the upmost respect for most food bloggers.  You know your shit.  You research, you understand the industry, you understand food.  Mostly you go to a venue more than once and cast your blog on your collective experiences.  You also understand that a cafe is a huge moveable part - sometimes you can be struck with a comedy of errors and usually you don't judge on that bad day (because all businesses have them), so you return and give them another go.  Your blogs are informed and you take care.  --- disclosure over---

I love constructive feedback.  In fact I love all feedback I have the opportunity to respond to - the good, the bad, he ugly. It all assists me in running my business to the best level I can.

Trust me - there is nothing more I appreciate and love than someone letting me know their thoughts on an experience they have had at Mister Close.  The biggest gift I can get from a customer apart from a  hug (oh, stop it!) is an email letting me know a negative or a positive.  I am reasonable enough a person to know that no matter how hard my team and I try, that sometimes someone is not going to have the experience we intended.  When I get that email though, it gives me an opportunity to understand what happened.  I can ask questions, I can try to rectify the situation or even give explanation as to why it happened and have a conversation.   Most of all I can give thanks because they took time out of their day to let me know.  Afterall, it is my business, it is my baby and it is what I care most about in the world (apart from my partner, dogs and close family of course...  ahem). 

No one has ever gone into business and especially a hospitality based one wanting to give their customers a really crap time, serve them food that tastes like dirt and make their customers feel like poo.   I am not thin skinned (well, certainly not any more).  Go ahead let your opinion be known - but if you have had such a bad experience then let the cafe or restaurant owner know (like in the old days).  Or if you do wack it on Urbanspoon, Yelp, foursquare, twitter, facebook or the dozens of other platforms out there at least pay us the courtesy that if we question you about it and want more informaion so we can fix the problems - that you answer us.  We can't possibly know what goes on all the time, nor can we be on top of every staff person.  It is all just manners really, or has Social Media successfully ripped those out of society along with communication skills? 

I live by the sword and will die by the sword.  I use social media and so I know the rules that go along with it.   I just want to have an opportunity to have a conversation about it so we can become better.  I think every small business would.  Small being the operative word.  The owner of the place is most likely the person paying the wages, serving behind the counter, doing the social media and working so hard to keep their labour of love going   

No matter what I want every customer to have a great experience.  It mortifies me when they don't. And so the world has once again changed...  I think I now understand.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What it's really like to run a cafe (sort of)...

It has been 19 months since I left my corporate career behind and 14 months since Mister Close was born.  I have never looked back, but I really miss my old life at times.  Don't get me wrong I love what I do, but the one thing I miss is security.  Some of my staff (often) ask me "are you ok" or "you look a little stressed".  The reason I do look like that is that I bloody am.  I am stressed and I am worried.  Everything about a small business is worrying and if you aren't worried then you shouldn't be in business (well you probably won't be in a year's time).  Now I am on this side of the fence I completely get it.  I kind of did from a hospitality point of view, but certianly not from someone who own a cafe.  It comes from all directions.  I work on the floor a lot.  I like working on the floor - it connects me with my customers, it re-affirms to me why I do what I do.  I love working on the floor and I love my business.

However when you own a cafe it is like you are twirling 100 plates or playing 28 different cow bells to ensure you deliver the perfect tune.  Not only am I constantly thinking if the staff are friendly enough, serving efficiently; but is the food quality up to scratch and is it being presented well. Who is watching both our doors, why are the customers waiting for their takeaway coffee for longer than 5 minutes, shit a piece of equipment isn't working, the Point of Sale is playing up, the website hasn't been updated, a staff member is sick, some dickface just annonomously slagged us off on Urbanspoon, but doesn't have the balls to reply to my heartfelt plea for more information so I can grow and improve my business.  Don't get me wrong - I love it, but this is just a tiny example of what can happen in my head in one hour.  Not forgetting the landlords still can't provide enough heat, catering needs to go out, someone stuffed up the bread order, our back door won't work, the internal grease trap needs emptying, someone didn't tell me we needed detergent (agghhhh), what on earth is the Chef serving up (oh, that's ok it's their lunch).  Are our food costs ok, are staff going home when we aren't busy, do we have enough staff when are busy all of a sudden and where the hell did those 20 people wanting a table just come from.  All the while you have to have this face that says "Hi, welcome to Mister Close".  Maybe I shouldn't be working front of house so much, but I kind of have to at the moment and again I love it.

I didn't have a manual, we are not a franchise with structures and procedures for every little situation, but I think working it out is the fun bit.  Every day is different and that is what makes hospitality so good - that and making people happy.  Yeah I really like that bit.  That is why I went into business. 

I also went into business to be part of the community.  Being part of the Melbourne International Film Festival and being part of Cafe Smart helping homeless people is just the start.  That stuff is cool. 

Strange, but no matter how much I thought I prepared myself I had no idea of the complexities of running a cafe.  No shit says anyone who owns a cafe.  Now, as a customer when I say hi to the owner of a cafe, I know exactly what is going through his or her head (unless they are pissed and then of course anything could be going through their head).

LOVE WHAT I DO...  but it is hard. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Birthday Dear Mister Close

Ok, so it has been ages since I last posted anything on the Blog.  The Blog that was meant to give me a creative outlet and continue my narrative on opening a cafe from scratch. The fact is I have just been far too buggered with trying to keep dear Mister Close afloat and my mind took a trip to stress town, climbed a few tall buildings (looked down quite a lot) and probably had a few drinks in between just to numb everything around it. No, I haven't turned into an alcoholic (yet) and my Dad always did tell me you aren't one til you put whiskey on your cereal (hmmm, what about your home made bircher - the mind wanders).
I am back, feeling great and so damn happy. One year is a bloody big thing in small business world (50% fail in the first year). I am so thankful for so much, I have learnt more in a year than I have in 10 and I am truly humbled on a daily basis of how lucky I am. So, as I celebrate one of the biggest milestones in my life (no not my 40th, or my first grey hair you know where or even the fact that half my staff just found out that Snuffelupagus is an imaginary friend of Big Bird’s) I now reflect back on what I have learnt. Not just about opening and running a cafe, delving back into the world of hospitality or running a small business in 2012; but about human behaviour - I find it fascinating. Not so much that I want to go back to Uni and study psychology, but just observationally what people do. I have always been a people watcher and in fact when I retire I would be most happy perched on a bench seat in DisneyLand or somewhere a wide collection of the community hang out...  Heaven. 

Anyhoo – so what have I learnt?  I am so glad you asked:

·         That most people when getting up from a table drag their chair on the ground and then hardly ever push it back in.  Usually males do this at a ratio of 5 to 1. 

·         When entering a cafe (and more specifically Mister Close) people always gravitate towards the dirty tables when there are plenty of clean ones around them.  I like to call this my own little phenomenon.  Perhaps it only happens at Mister Close – but it is truly mind boggling.  “Oooh this place looks nice darl, why don’t we take a seat.  Oh look, let’s sit at the really dirty table – it looks much more comfortable than the others”

·         I can always tell when it is holiday time because people order Mugs of Chino, not cups (“because we are on holidays”) MUGS. I still don’t know what one is, but I hope they are happy when we give them one of those large frothy coffees with chocolate on top.

·         Having a liquor license does not turn you into a millionaire. 

·         When the local “crazy” people walk past – simply don’t engage and they never stop to annoy you.  They may abuse ten of your customers waiting for a coffee, but they won’t touch us.

·         Hospitality continues to be the most rewarding thing I have ever done.  Strange really as many hate it.  I truly love making people happy, feel comfortable and spoiling them with good food (and wine wouldn’t hurt either).  However it is the hardest thing I have ever done – I guess with pain always comes pleasure... doesn’t it.

·         It doesn’t matter how big that A-frame is that says “Please wait to be seated” people will always walk past it.

·         You have to become thick skinned because when you put your business in the public forum everyone is a critic.  I think the one business that most people think they know most about or want to critique is a cafe – everyone is an expert.  You don’t see an Urbanspoon for Immigration areas of airports, 7 Elevens or parking ticket inspectors.  So taking everything on as feedback and learning to ignore the twats who base their “Valued opinion” on one visit. 

·         We have the best customers in the world (perhaps not better than Tattslotto customers who have just won $25 million dollars, but close). 

Happy Birthday Mister Close.  You have consumed me, digested me and spat me out again, but I love you for it.  We have so much more to do with each other and I can’t wait to see you grow.  Getting this far is a triumph and one I am truly proud of.  To keep customers happy, employees stable and paid, food and coffee consistent, food bloggers amused, tweeters tweeting, lords leaping, mortgage paying is like twirling plates with a blind fold on.  The secret is love.  When you wake up at 5.30 every morning and catch the poo train into the city and you feel at home every time you walk into something you have created it just follows you all day.  Friday May 25, we celebrate – there is much to celebrate and for that I am eternally grateful and feel like the luckiest guy alive. 

Who woudl have thought we could turn this...

 Into this...

Thank you dear customers, thank you Mister Close team, thanks family, friends and Ian...  we did it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Human Behaviour - just try to figure it out!

Three months in now and the one thing that just baffles us daily is On Mass Human Behaviour, or the abbreviated version for it... F.U.C.T.   Running a business is certainly a challenge - blah blah blah, everyone knows that.  Staffing, food costs, service, food variety and quality and the list laboriously goes on and on.  However the one thing that has completely blind sided me is human behaviour.  I am not talking about the guy that comes down to us on day one and tells us we need heating (um der), or the person who tells us that we need more staff because their is a line of people waiting to get a seat (no, that would be more chairs sir), or the lady who orders her takeaway, pays for it then vanishes into thin air, or even the people who sit on a beautifully made latte for over an hour and keep sipping it while engrossed in what their i-phone has to offer them that day - no, none of that.  In fact that human behaviour keeps us going, keeps us smiling and keeps us fascinated. 

I am more talking about how on mass people (or customers as the case may be) do things that affect our business.  People who have nothing to do with each other, but all act the same at the same time.  So, what I mean is that now we are three months in and it is time to take stock.  You have to work on trimming the fat so to speak and make sure you don't have much wastage.  That means wasting food, keeping food costs down, keeping staff costs down so that you have the right staff without compromising service and so you don't have too many on that it sends you broke.  Of course I analyse weekly our takings, customer satisfaction, what sells and what doesn't and why no one seems to like sparkling blackcurrant juice.  After this long you get a feel for the days and the ebbs and flows they bring.  However just when you think you have got it HUMAN BEHAVIOUR kicks in (or F.U.C.T).  So here are some examples that have me baffled:
  • Our mornings go up and down with coffee.  One moment you can look up and no one is around for about 30 minutes and then all at once, people come from everywhere and all of a sudden within 2 minutes we have 15 coffee lovers waiting for their liquid gold to be crafted and 20 people have just come and taken a seat in the cafe.  These people don't know each other (some do), but all of a sudden they descend on Mister C at once.
  • Same as leaving - all of a sudden 8 tables of people can get up and leave.  It is like I have just said something that has offended them all (which can happen once but not all the time).  So one minute we have piece and harmony with a bit of Dolly Parton singing "Here you come again" in the background and then next we have 12 people waiting at the register to pay.
  • Our weeks have been steady and thankfully people like what we do, but I just don't get how one week every day can be above average in takings, while the next week every single day will be below average.  Not just one day up and one day down, but the whole week - what?  I don't get it.
  • One week we receive 9 catering orders, the next none.
  • One day my hair will be perfect the next it clearly isn't.
  • One day we sell out of the salads and nothing else while the next day we sell out of all the sandwiches, or even more bizarrely we sell out of a different kind of sandwich each day.
It keeps us on our toes and we certainly do not take anything for granted.  Especially our point of sale system.  Who would have thought that a little cafe would be so reliant on three screens, two printers and some software.  My world is so small now and you psycho analyse everything you do.  Are these differing forms of behaviour anything to do with us?  I don't think so, it is just this weird connection that people have with each other - synchronicity between each other.  I am not going to get all on new-age on you, but there is something in it...

Why isn't our takeaway that big today?  What did we do wrong?  Is the food tasty, do people like what we do?  Did I not smile enough .  Are we too expensive or too cheap.  Is our coffee grind right today - does no one like brussell sprouts and can anyone cope with Peter's singing all the time.  All we can do is continue to work our guts out and try our hardest.  Most of all that each day we do the best we can do.  Ok, don't mean to get all weird, but it is true. 

Once again - we thank our customers for all their feedback, support, suggestions and care in what we are trying to build.  We are truly grateful and will always remain humble.  Oh Mister C - I love you but you do my head in sometimes.  There, I'm done, now for something sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Two Months in - yipee we haven't lost our marbles

Ok, so everyone told me running a cafe would be hard.  That the margins are tight (to sometimes non-existent) and that staff would be your main worry (other than paying the bills and mortgage of course).... um yep on all our accounts.  However the buzz of being back in hospitality confirms that I personally have done the right thing - I just now have to make sure that it works commercially. 

Pete and I are so overwhelmed with all the wonderful feedback we are receiving from our incredible customers.  We turn every constructive comment into a point to make change and we honestly couldn't be happier with how Mister C is going.  What we need to do now is make sure we give our customers what they want - however, sometimes they don't know what they want.  So for example we have created a make your own muesli bar to give people a healthy breaky on the go - will it work or not.  Who knows until tomorrow, but you just have to keep trying until you hit the right spot.  We have brought on a pastry chef - Mel, and she is incredible - the sweets coming out of our kitchen are ridiculous.  Where do we go from here? How do we increase trade in our quiet times, afford to get more seats in our licensed areas and how do we service more people faster.  It is non stop... I no dream of taking endless differing coffee orders, I had a massage today and I couldn't stop thinking about baristas and then there is the all important challenge to create a great culture.  Peter and I love our staff and they are a great team, they are good people, they care about what we do, our food and Mister C.  For that we are eternally grateful...

Biggest buzz was meeting Mr Close, our year 8 teacher and his wife Diana.  Remarkably he hasn't changed a bit, he looked exactly the same (and the same as the logo) except he is naturally grey.  He was very pleased at what we had created and although it isn't a shrine to him, we have certainly used a memory and person from our past to name our business - so it was pretty cool. 

This is a pretty straight blog account, because that is how I am feeling right now.  Did I do the right thing to give up a wonderful, job and stable lifestyle?  that I have risked much of what we own?  That I have completely changed track at the age of 41 and I don't know what the future will behold?  Abso-fucking-loutley.... this is the most incredible thing I have ever done and although very hard right now (due to being out of work for much longer than expected and the build being about 30% extra) it is the most satisfying feeling in the world to hear customers happy with what we have done.  Hospitality is very very hard but pleasing people makes up for it.  Thank you Mister Close, I think I am in love.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Where did our first month go?

Ok, so they say time goes faster as you get older; but that is truly ridiculous.  Mister Close has been open a month - WOW, what a ride.  Driven by adrenaline and perhaps quite a bit of our yum coffee Pete and I have been putting in massive days, 6 day weeks and working a little on the 7th day.  We have just had to.  I don't think we have been naive going into this as we fully expected that we needed to pull to work this hard.  However when your friends and family tell you constantly you look tired you know it is catching up with you.  We have put everything we possibly can into Mister Close and thankfully our customers are really enjoying what we have to offer. 

You live by the sword and you die by the sword!  We have invested a great deal of time to be openly communicative through this blog, facebook, twitter and of course appearing on reviewer sites.  What we are trying to get our head around is the instant slamming or praise you get from social media.  We are desperate to make MC work and we ask for feedback constantly.  What hurts is when people slam you and seem to do it personally.  Anyone who has owned their own business will know how hard it is to get it off the ground and it isn't new news that over a third of businesses fail in the first year.  The difference in 2011 is that when you come home from a 12 hour day, pick up your kids from day care, get back on the tram and then log into a reviewer site to read some pretty harsh comments it would have to be the most horrible feeling in the world.  Personally we hate seeing any business fail, so why would others enjoy slamming small businesses.  No constructive comments or guidance, just personal opinion and attacks on what you build.  We take every comment seriously and meet every time we hear a negative thing said about our food, service or experience.  It is that important that we ensure consistency in everything we do.  We do have to toughen up and perhaps a little bit more sleep and time will build up our resilience to cope with harsh nonconstructive opinion. 

At the same time social media has been really helpful.  We can quickly respond to people's comments, we can communicate instantly with our market and we can stay on track with what they are liking and not liking. 

So July is almost here, new financial year and we are opening Sundays - 7 days a week.   A big step but we have an awesome team in place to handle it.  A month in we have learnt heaps.  We are just so appreciative that our customers like what we are doing and the best s yet to come.  Pete and I just need balance now. 

We contacted our school and Mr Close has contacted us - we look forward to feeding him very soon.

Thanks to all for welcoming us so well - we are humbled, proud and a little tired, - but we really love what we are doing. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting it Right!

So here we are...  day 10!  What a ride and when it all opened the main overriding emotion Pete and I felt (apart from exhaustion) was pride.  um, yep I know exhaustion isn't an emotion  - but it is was the main thing that consumed us last week.  We are blessed with fantastic staff and we are loving our customers.  We love our space and are still working on heating ( we are making head way), gas (who knows what is happening there) and a few small things.  We are sticking to our guns and are going to produce good food from good produce.  No we won't serve 1 litre coffees, doughnuts, fried food, made to order sandwiches or sushi - we leave that to those who do it best.  What we want to keep doing is surprising our customers with food, service, coffee and an environment that makes them feel good. We believe we can do that, we believe that is what people deserve and want.  Why shouldn't every meal be a great meal?

The biggest thing for us now is to listen to our customers, hear their suggestions and try our best to exceed their expectations.  Personally I am loving being back in hospitality.  Sure I miss the stability of working for a company, regular hours and income - but the adrenaline of running your own cafe is all consuming.  To have taken this plunge is such an awesome feeling.  Peter is a true inspiration and I am so very proud of him for taking this plunge with me.  He is a damn good operator and I am in awe of my mate of 28 years. Now it is time for us to "get it right"... to build a reputation, set our standard and keep ensuring we meet or exceed it.  We really believe we can do that - we just now need all our customers to help us achieve it by being honest and letting us please them. 

Mister Close - he feels good, he looks great, he is tasting super and we just love him.  And yes, we contacted our old school today to let him know.

Thank you to all our customers, friends and dear family - we made it.  It is now time for us to get it right.