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!