August 17, 2018

Forecasting... Who needs it? (Spoiler: I do.) (#22)

There's a mantra in the food services industry that essentially says regardless of how long you have been in the industry, regardless of the records you have kept from past years about holidays, events, or weather patterns, and irrespective of your choice of crystal ball, tarot cards or tea leaves, you simply cannot predict how crowded (or not!) your place will be from day to day.

Thankfully, I am new to the industry, have no previous records and stopped listening to prognostications ever since my Magic 8 Ball answered, "Sources Say Yes" when I asked if I would retain a full head of hair well into my 40's.  So - mantra-schmantra - week after week, day after day, I have analyzed and scrutinized the numbers. Because things make SO much more sense when past performance IS indicative of future results!

Well, there's apparently a reason something becomes a mantra and not just a whimsical saying... wait for it... you're about to witness a rare event, like Haley's comet... I. Was. Wrong. (or, ahem, May. Have. Been.) One might as well try to forecast the number of yards Tom Brady will have in the 2019 Super Bowl.

The part of this job I despise the most is when I ramp up our service and kitchen staff in anticipation of a big night - only to have to smile awkwardly at my bored staff and embarrassingly shrug my shoulders and say, "Soooorrry."  Luckily, most veteran employees just say, "that's the nature of this business." But I think they're just being nice. I do take some solace by strolling down the street and slyly "checking out" my competition by looking through windows, secretly hoping they're doing just slightly less business than me (hey, it's a small neighborhood - I don't wish them ill)... which brings me to my story.

Among the many other mantras and old wives' tales of the restaurant industry is the thought that "all months beginning with 'J' are slow" - like ep-ic-ly slow (Wait, I thought it was impossible to predict? - Ack! Conflicting mantras!). But, a few Sundays back, I had made reservations for my ex-wife and some of her friends for brunch (yes, we're still close). I left word with the gang that she'd be there (guaranteeing VIP treatment, of course!) as I was out of town. As brunch time neared, I got a text from her saying, "Is something going on? The line is around the corner." Having completely put work out of my mind and having forgotten what day it was or to what she possibly could have been referring, my carefully crafted reply was, "Huh?" Well, it turned out it was the World Cup Finals and that, as well as brunch, started at 11AM - with apparently very hungry fans. I believe the technical, industry term for the brunch service was... a "shit show." Of course, we managed to get through in one piece and the following week... we were ready. And we had a very robust brunch! Yes! Score! Forecasting works! The tide had turned (digression: odd saying, no? Have you ever described an ocean tide as 'turning'?)! The word about our fantastic brunch was out! And then... the following week, we were slow again. Huh? How? Is there a "Go Brunch/No-Go Brunch" Facebook group everyone knows about but me? What the Fahrvergnügen!

For those of you that don't know, I have a slight forecasting obsession. It might actually be a spreadsheet obsession, but for the sake of wrapping this up, let's call it a forecasting one. I had always questioned the notion of forecasting, but gradually throughout my business career I came around to the much-accepted side of "it's essential!" (Actually, if you are in business - especially software or professional services - try asking your colleagues why forecasting is needed, and see if you get responses that generally reduce to, "because you're just supposed to!"). Well, now I'm in an industry where it is nearly impossible to forecast.  Can you imagine the frustration? Well, maybe if you're a huge nerd you can. I feel lost. Alone. What am I to do?! 

Hmmm... except challenge all of you to come on down to Wit's End and let's discuss the pros and cons of forecasting! :-)  I can tell you about this spreadsheet I made... it's amazing. If you think I'm joking... you don't know me that well yet.

Well, thanks for commiserating... I hope everyone is enjoying their waning summer...


August 1, 2018

And Now... We Brunch. (#21)

I opened a bar.

There are times it still hasn't sunk in, but then I wake up at 10AM (juuust kidding - more like 9:30) and remember this has really happened (and then I freak out and start thinking about all the things I need to get done... so I do the natural thing; I roll over and go back to sleep).

The best part is that it seems that people like it. They really, really like it! But enough channeling of Sally Field. Thanks to your help (well, some of you anyways), we are now in the running to be the "Best Brunch in Cambridge!" How did I get here?! I'm not exactly sure - it's been a whirlwind (no, not a drunken whirlwind). But never had I imagined that I would need to make decisions around topics like:

- Straws: Should we try to make and use bacon straws?
- Celery: A bloody mary must? Or a relic of old?
- French Toast: Too "normal?" Is French Toast Casserole as good?
- Custard: Is that really what you call the batter you dip French Toast in? (yes, lots of french toast questions)
- Biscuits: Can they really be that hard to make good?

Where'd the "bar" part go?

Don't get me wrong, there is a still a substantial "drinks" component to a brunch done right (i.e., our brunch). We have more choices of bloody marys, mimosas, bellinis and shandys than I can keep up with (luckily, my bartenders can)! I do sometimes wonder if we've gone over the top as one could spend hours at Wit's End tasting, evaluating and debating all of these drinks... hey... genius! And I take solace in F. Scott Fitzgerald's insight: "Too much of anything is a bad thing, but too much champagne is just right." (note: insert Prosecco for Champagne... but the idea is the same).

Well, the "Best Brunch" voting has ended and now we wait. For a few weeks. I'm trying to post more, so I hope you'll hear from me before the results are announced. Feel free to direct me in what you might be interested in hearing about. I have stories of employee retention, operations, processes gone awry, food (the good, bad and ugly), menus, games, preparedness, reviews, first dates and split checks (this is a hardly understandable practice - to me - I think this might be my next blog entry), technology and spreadsheets, food ordering, work schedules, crazy customers and more.  Leave some comments and let me know what might pique your interest!

But until then, I'll be cooking brunch (totally kidding, no way I could do that)!