System Folly

If you have been reading my past blogs, you will know that I am concerned at the current lack of basic general retail knowledge in our industry. We have forgotten why we do certain tasks on a daily basis and have become accustomed to letting our system drive these actions. They tell us when to do what activity – and if it is not done properly, most do not even know how to check it!

I had a very unusual experience this past weekend and one that I would like to share with you. Richard Griffin of Madame Zingara fame opened a new restaurant yesterday and asked a few family and friends to join them pre-opening to the public, so that they could have a practice round if you like, before selling directly to customers. Now those of you that know Richard, know that he is a wizard when coming to culinary skills, but more importantly, he is a genius in creating the right ambiance to suit his various clients and customer’s base. His staff are one of the best you will ever come across!

He bought a really great system to help him run the restaurant. So when I went there, I looked around and noticed that there was no system – and he had already served 60 breakfasts before 1100! So I sat and watched – his waiters took their orders on those old fashioned notepads, and they then, once the kitchen had the order, inserted these orders into a filing stack ( instead of having A-Z on it, there were table numbers).

When we finally left, we got the original slips of paper, with each page displaying a cost and then on the back, each page was tallied up – and this was the bill! In a rare break for Richard, as there were loads of people present, I asked him, why he was doing this, was there a problem with the new system? His answer to me was the following: “Whenever I open a new restaurant with new staff, I never use the system. I need my staff to understand the basics before they do anything electronic. That way if the system falls over, the business does not even skip a beat – it just carries on. More importantly it makes the waiter aware of the attention to detail that is required to give great customer service.”

So here is a young and yet very successful man, saying exactly the same as I have been saying for many years! The system is only as good as the person driving it and if you the retailer do not understand the basic mechanisms in retail – it could spell trouble. Always remember to go back to basics to check and recheck the system!

One last thing for this week – in my experience the very people setting up the reports, the configurations and tasks for these systems, have very little or no retail experience. And this is cause for concern. We then rely on the system developer to drive the system requirements – and their interests do not necessarily match that of the retailer.

If in doubt remember that old guy that ran the local Café around the corner from your home – his cigarette box and pencil stuck on top of his ear? Start doing the numbers manually – do they add up? That guy knew everything about his store, what was paid out by 1100 that morning, what was still due to be paid out and how much he had sold by 1200 that day.

Do you?

Take care out there

Jocelyn Daly

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