As Clapham House Group took the decision to put Tootsies into administration this week, a panel of restaurant experts has revealed the only way to survive the recession is by training staff, concentrating on loyal customers, and closing at quiet times.
In a panel debate at The Restaurant Show 2009, Bob Cotton, chairman of the British Hospitality Association, said the recession was far from over for restaurateurs, and if they wanted to survive they needed to concentrate on the basic business principal of reducing overheads.
“You should always focus on your busy nights over the quiet ones,” Cotton said. “You’re better off saving money by shutting down on quiet days and getting people to spend more money on busy ones.
"In order to do that, businesses need to spend more money on the skills of the people they employ, so waiters know how to encourage customers to spend more, and chefs are able to use cheaper cuts of meat. Training is the last thing you should be cutting back on at the moment."
Although fellow debaters David Gibson of Gibson Business Infrastructures, Peter Illic of Little Bay Restaurants, Will Smith of Arbutus and Wild Honey and Tristan Welch of Launceston Place, disagreed with Cotton’s advice to close restaurants at quiet times to reduce costs, all agreed that cutting staff training budgets could be fatal to a business.
“Good food is nothing without good service,” said Welch. “It’s important to have that extra level of training of your staff. The upselling of wine and cheese plates are where we make our profits. It’s about gaining the trust of the customer.”
Smith said that when looking for front of house staff in his restaurants, he wanted to see waiters have a friendly, convivial approach to diners.
"Staff should welcome customers as if it was into their own home," he said. "We look for staff who use their intelligence when working on the floor."
Gibson suggested appointing an existing member of staff as an in-house trainer, empowering them to motivate and improve their peers' skills, instead of hiring an external professional to do the job.