Sunday, 10 May 2009

Menus by design...

I recently came across the following article "Menus by design" that makes some very interesting reading. It is by Nick Lander a venerated writer in the Financial Times and he hits the nail on the head with his comments.

For me the main bug bear I have with so many menus is the spelling mistakes often found within. With todays use computers to type/write a menu and the easy use of spell checking to correct them it is still amazing how many mistakes you will find. Simple grammar and misuse of culinary terms often abound.

It is however Mr Lander's opening comment that really does hit home "Menus are the financial and marketing lifeblood of any restaurant" It should be the first thing to entice your customer in to your establishment and it reflects and sells the skills of your kitchen and will be the first point of sale for the front of house staff - so why not a bit more design?

Friday, 8 May 2009

chefs & business, do they mix?

By Gary Witchalls, Chef Patron, The Mole Inn, Toot Baldon, Oxfordshire

I was asked to pen a viewpoint for “Fishbones” the chefs net blog and was told that it should be something dear to my own heart, I was also given some possible subject matters deemed relevant to the world of chefs and their profession.

As it happened, one of those suggested topics was also one that is close to my own heart and asks the question "Chefs and business, do they mix?"The answer, of course, is yes. The real question is "Do they mix well?" and "well" must surely be defined by percentages of successful combinations of this mix.

The answer then becomes, by definition, no.I would suppose that most, when asked this question, would immediately think of the Chef who chooses to open their own business.

There are, of course, many success stories of chefs who have done this, the most obvious of which must surely be Marco Pierre White. His achievements should make every chef feel proud of their profession, but his diversity of skills is rare and for every success story, we hear of many, many failures.

The primary reason for this being the chefs lack of business acumen, or the lack of foresight to obtain sound business advice from outside sources. This surely highlights the absence of real importance given to this subject throughout a chefs training and development.

Aside from the self-employed chef, there is the more common and much larger sector of our Industry that requires employed senior chefs to have business knowledge.

It is in this area I feel that the industry is greatly falling down.

Of course, a chefs' primary function is as a craftsman who will hopefully posses the passion and devotion required to orchestrate the production of great food, and it is extremely important that the chefs and the industry alike do not loose sight of this. However, this function forms part of a service that is provided solely for one reason - to be a successful and financially viable business.

Take away the latter reason and you have nothing there for the former function anyway.Head chefs are expected to posses the business skills required to manage budgets, staff, fuel economy, maintenance, and much more besides. Yet chefs are given cursory training to achieve this. It is incredible, to me at least, that employers do not appear to realise that this lack of development with their staff is actually costing them money.

More often than not chefs are given a few basic lessons on food costing, and many senior chefs do not even know how to perform this most basic of business skills, and then left to stumble along, hopefully having the self-motivation and drive to develop themselves.

Chefs are a proud breed and many, who are too embarrassed to admit that they do not posses this knowledge, work on the "I've got the feel if a dish is making money" principal. Luck and ignorance from both the chef and employer will often allow this principal to carry a chef throughout their career without the understanding of true business results or potential.

For me, a true passion is the single greatest attribute a chef can posses, for passion will often drive the chef to develop skills throughout their duties which will later encompass a knowledge of business success and an understanding of the customer needs. Again, the industry frequently only pays lip service to the need for passion.

Passion can be trained into chefs and few are born with a natural passion, which comes totally from within.The development of a chef's business understanding and passion should crucially start from their very first training provider and be continued by employers throughout their careers.

It is accepted, and indeed expected, that junior chefs are given training in basic food production, why can this not include the introduction (with equal commitment) of basic business skills?, or the training which can be given to help develop a passion?

I am not placing the whole industry under one umbrella, as there are those few special training establishments and employers whose efforts are to be applauded. But until the industry as a whole wakes up to the inefficiency of a chef's business training, to expect chefs to posses business knowledge is - to put it in chefs' words - bollocks.

© the chefs net 2009