What you learn from serving Pizza ..
Recently I had an interview with a lovely lady and friend Aideen Ni Riada, on ‘How to boost your creativity’ ~ She’s awesome!) – I was telling her about how I got into the restaurant business even though my dream had been to become a writer and illustrator and ultimately to make people smile.
The subject we were discussing was creativity and as I spoke I realized that I had in fact being doing that – ‘making people smile’ – through my food and the experience they gained in my restaurants.
This got me thinking about creativity and my belief is that often a lot of these creative skills overlap – and not just in the obvious ways such as art, writing, music and cooking but also in your life skills. If your good at creating you possibly have a lot of ideas and are therefore very right brain thinking in your approach to life. If your good at singing you probably have a good ear and are a good listener. I was good at observing, whether a piece of still art or a moving form like a martial one or in fact… people.
For me, our chat reaffirmed that building relationships is also an art form and something which can be nurtured and cultivated. Good manners, listening abilities, empathy and communication skills are in fact all an art.
Somebody once asked me, when I first started down the Coaching route …‘But what would you know about coaching? You just served Pizza!’
Mmmm.. well of course I did gain some new qualifications and trained with the best in the field of NLP and Hypnosis before I started out on this new route but.. let’s put this aside for a moment. Had I really just served ‘Pizza’? (Of course you know that’s an understatement, as I had two Italian restaurants and a Fine Dining one).
So what experience did I actually have under my belt?
20 years of experience in Start-ups and opening and running my own businesses. 20 years of experience in dealing with people, both my customers and my staff. 20 years of coaching, mentoring and motivating people.
I believe that Customer Service experience should be compulsory for everyone starting out in life! It teaches you patience, empathy and understanding. You learn good interpersonal skills, how to read body language, how to take constructive criticism, how to keep calm and appease, satisfy, listen, multi task and how to solve problems.
So what happened when I could no longer solve the problem? What happened to me in 2009 when I closed the doors on my businesses and life as I knew it?
I’m being frank and honest with you. Yes, I lost my way for a short while. Yes, I felt down and at my depths of despair. Yes, I suddenly did not know who I was anymore or what my life was about. Yes, I felt the mask was off and the vulnerable little girl was on show again – lost, confused and not knowing where she belonged.
So what did I do? I got back up of course. I dusted myself off and started again. I took with me the one thing that I still had. My fight and my experience – Because the way I see it is, failure is only an opportunity to deliver again but this time more wisely…
In fact, I had not ‘failed’… I had simply ‘learnt’.
Here is what else I learnt…
What you want to be doing is not necessarily what you should be doing! – Sorry but so many people say to me ‘Oh, I want to get into the restaurant business! I had a dinner party the other night and all my friends tell me I would be super at it!‘ Mmmm… or ‘I love cooking so I want to open a restaurant!‘ Just think about it. If you want to cook then become a Chef. If you want to run a business then run a business. Which leads me to my second point.
Ask the experts! – Get advice from people who have done whatever you are thinking of doing. Get as much information as you can. Educate yourself and be prepared. Knowledge gives you power and choices.
No one is indispensable – Neither you or any of your staff. Remember this and it will keep you grounded. I spent my first years in business believing only I could do the job properly, so I would do it all and hence none of it really ‘properly’. Delegate! Then when I started delegating I would stress believing only this person could do this job as well and what if I lost them? Of course when the time came for them to move on, the business continued. Set up structures and systems so someone else can do it if need be. Don’t panic. There are plenty more fish in the sea.
Don’t get a big head! – Think like a staff member not a boss. I had always been my own boss. When this stopped and I had to go looking for work in 2009, a whole new world opened up. I learnt a new perspective. Ask yourself how would you feel in their shoes, what would you do, would you be happy? Talk to your staff and team. Be real.
Get a support network & have a back-up plan – You need support! Friends, mentors, peers, supporters. Find them, they are out there. Ask for help and find the right resources in case you hit a rough patch. Get financial backers if you can and have a clear plan in place for what you will do if you come up with an obstacle. As they say..fail to plan and plan to fail.
Relationships are key! – Give your customers an experience. More than they came for – over deliver! Have your customer leave feeling surprised at the value for money they received. This does NOT necessarily mean ‘cheap’! Another lesson I learnt. Treat your staff well. Primarily with lots of communication, even if constructive. Ignoring them is the worst mistake you can make. Give them clear objectives and allow them a sense of accountability and autonomy.
Work on your business not in your business! – My accountant at one point said I was a busy fool and yes I was. All the time in my business, meeting, greeting, helping, etc etc. and not enough time planning, projecting and analyzing. Make sure you have a balance! It’s crucial. Knowing what I know now I would do things very differently. I would work on social media, plan in advance, do books projections, advertise plans, build loyalty and brand with loyalty cards, mailing lists etc and keep building relationships and possible joint venture opportunities. Hind sight is great! 🙂
Know what the customer needs but also what they want – Take a Restaurant,the customer may need a healthy meal but may want a pizza. Know your client, demographics and location. Get to know this very very well. It is essential. When they walk through your door they already have a strong idea of what they want. Be careful you don’t sabotage your chances by giving them something else. This leads me onto the next point.
Know your brand! – Clearly and precisely. Have an identity and keep it so simple that you know every aspect to it. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, it simply doesn’t work! Believe me I tried. The customers perception is your reality. Decide on your product, message and ultimate end result and stick to it. ….. however….
Keep an open mind and Know when to quit and move on. – If what you are doing is not working analyse it and adapt. It may be the time, the area, the newest fad. Keep an open mind and try new things..but also…know when its time to move on. Staying until the bitter end and hoping for a miracle is not the answer either. I did that and it cost me a lot more than simply money. It takes courage to acknowledge the end of something and to come to terms with it. Accept it for what it was, learn the lessons and move on. You are now stronger, smarter and wiser.
Mostly… Do what you love – If you don’t know what that is ..yet, than do things. Get out there and have a go, try new things, get experiences, live. If your lucky enough to know what you love, what gives you goosebumps than get out there and do it!
When I was struggling with my business, just before it closed, that was the worst time for me. I was stressed and afraid, not knowing what I would do or how I would survive. Now, after closing I know that the fear of closing was worse than the actual reality. Yes I lost material things, yes I lost money but I gained far more. What I gained far outweighed the loss. I gained experience, knowledge, a new perspective and the insight that brought.
Mostly, I regained myself, the true me, the strong, brave little girl who is ready to take on the world and make it smile! Now…. I am smiling again. I hope you are too.
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