Like many great things in our life, they seem to come round when you least expect it. I have spent more than three decades in hospitality, worked in every position quite frankly, ‘pilar to post’ and viewed this business from many angles.
In my time I have been witness to the good, the bad and the downright genius, have championed many restaurants, hotels, bars and dedicated a big part of my career to private members clubs. I have assisted to create and curate experiences for establishments such as the Ivy, Le Caprice, Soho House, Bentley’s Sea Grill Harrods, J Sheekey’s, Scott’s, The Birley Clubs in Mayfair such as Mark’s Club, Bath & Racquets, Harry’s Bar and personal favourites George’s & Annabel’s to name a few.
I noticed that every great business had particular tell signs, from a simple operating system, a visionary leader, a forward thinking idea and I slowly started to see repeat patterns. I also saw many buisinesses resistant to change and fall victims to technology and what I like to refer to as ‘analysis paralysis’. I started Armani Hospitality simply to help a friend in a precarious situation, word of mouth took did the rest and changed my life also.
We start with your unique story, someone once told me that a business idea was not worth anything if you could not describe it in a sentence. Armani Hospitality helps people tell their story to their audience and engage more of the outside world. In theory sounds so simple, that is because much like a proverbial diet, we all feel we know what we need to do in order to keep on the right side of the scale however, the practical reality of doing this consistently, is a tricky task.
Finding the drumbeat of any business became my obsession and the more I manage to find it and ‘hear’ it loud and clear, the more addicted I get to the process. Someone may say that I am simply lucky, that ‘the stars align for me’ to them I say, that the more I do it….well the luckier I get!
“Turn your oddity into your most valuable commodity”
In every single project, I come across, what I can only describe as awkward individuals, they can be challenging for management, as invariably they always have their unique way of getting the job done or problem solving. I often see shortsighted managers, go the easy root and rid of them from their business strategy or label them as difficult and cast them, far too quickly in the ‘too hard basket’.
Whilst I do want things done yesterday and I move at a fast speed to achieve my objectives, I still subscribe to the ‘inspire’ rather than simply ‘rehire’ model in business. This is essentially because I have been told that I can have a short fuse and have been known to react upon my gut, so as I get older, give people the opportunity to redeem themselves. Secondly, experience has taught me that in many occassions ‘oddities’ have been known to hold within them special knowledge on the business and handled correctly can be poised to be some of the MOST valuable members of your growth strategy.
Examples of this was a night club hostess that went on to be one of the most valuable salespersons I have ever employed. A reservations gent, who’s obsessive compulsive nature, whilst a little worrying did the job incredibly well and looked after all the IT systems also and currently mentoring a mixologist with a incredible nack for numbers and percentages that will rival a chartered accountant. I see a promising F&B or even a finance director in him should he want to head in that direction.
People in your business are your greatest asset, they can honestly make or break the customer experience, they can make or break your business. I always urge owners to keep their eyes peeled for the tell signs of a square peg in a round limiting hole, give them room to explore and stretch. Note, if you expect more of people, trust me they will rise up to meet you, if you inspire and encourage them, they can often surprise you. These individuals, become some of your most loyal people, way beyond their employment and ambassadors like these attract more talent, so the circle continues…try it!
First we were dealing with ‘fast foods’ and now the ‘fast foodies’. I feel like my grandfather when I harp back to the ‘good ole days’, so I won’t. I simply note that change is inevitable, however, what is it really that is changing?
It is not only technology and produce that has changed in the restaurant business. It’s also the way that people patronage restaurants. It seems the days of discovering our favourite family haunt and sticking to it is quickly fading. The modern fickle diner is chasing the next best thing. They’re guided by the visits of the grand gourmands seeking their new culinary target and once satisfied, record it on social media and anxiously seek out another hit.
Like everything else, the restaurant industry is getting faster and rings familiar to what happened to other industries, such as music. No longer do songs stay at number one on the charts for 14 or 15 weeks. A three-week run at the top of the chart is considered a resounding success. There seems a voracious appetite to devour trends like the biblical locust and it’s quite unsettling.
The battle for survival takes place in a land we call London. Culinary counterfeits – known to the industry as ‘multiples’ – backed by money from our own pension funds are saturating the markets, attracting the Pokémon patrons and live under the constant threat of the home critic and even the TripAdvisor terrorists. Dotted between them, ethical food fighters try to prevail amongst the culinary chaos and noise. In order to survive, one needs income generated by proverbial ‘bums on seats’. As there’s a finite number of people in London town at any one given time, you need to rely on repeat or loyal clientele. Rents and rates reach fever pitch, as the landlords squeeze the ‘golden goose’ for every inch of profit inadvertently killing the business in many occasions.
The constant growth sees us all consuming from the same pool of talent slowly but surely creating an inevitable shortage of staff required to cook, prepare and serve your meal. Our industry is not a career that many revere or opt into as they once did. People often argue this with me. When was the last time that someone mentioned that their daughter or son was a waiter without following it with, they are working towards a career in something else? Many positions are filled by European nationals working their way to a better life. British participation seems mostly back of house office support or management and Brexit consequences could see more consequences, we wait patiently.
There is an influx of wannabe celebrity and TV chefs, which oddly now has become an aspiration. People often in interviews tell me that their five year plan is to become a celebrity chef. I’m not sure that I would rate that as an occupation, rather than a label afforded to chef that has successfully translated to television. My mother calls this the ‘Kardashian effect’. People think that enough social media followers can make you famous for doing nothing. Many fail to see that social media at that level can be as technical as an Olympic sport. Sadly sometimes it can indeed simply involve a bare breast or a cute kid repeating ‘Listen Linda’ over and over, oh my, what has become of us?
From someone who has dedicated thirty plus years in the industry, developing and protecting culinary institutions such as Bentley’s – incidentally celebrating a hundred years of trading this year – has become a specialised skill. Keeping our core ethos and shapeshifting to adapt to the market trends. Although their secret weapon, Michelin star Chef Richard Corrigan, devotes his life to traditional practices in the kitchen, he would be just as comfortable behind the editorial desk of a major broadsheet. I remember him trying to get us on board with Twitter, everyone dismissed it initially. The importance of social media, such as Twitter and Instagram, is now unquestionable.
People in the know understand that quality alone will not bring success as many of us talk openly of the Michelin accolades that can make a chef and finish the business. We have entered a new era in hospitality, a coming of age and now, in my opinion it is an ambitious and fickle eighteen year old.
To bring it back to my musical analogy, our industry feels that it is now in its teenage pop years. I believe that everything in life comes full circle and I know that there is a return to slow food, honest cooking and ethical eating. A lot of industry oldies are celebrated as classics and slowly noted on the lucrative hipster dance card. Only time will tell if we can still withstand the test of time in this brave new world.
CODE Quarterly | Issue 8 | Autumn 2016
Published on Sep 19, 2016
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton