Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Small business dilemma

If you are a small business owner you might understand this dilemma.

Today I got a call from my youngest child’s school to let me know that he is feeling ill.
Now my wife, who also works full time took three days off last week to look after our middle child who suffered from the same thing going around the school as the youngest one is today.

So it was my turn to do the looking after, no problem.

However Wednesday is the day of the week that I am particularly vulnerable as I have a new kitchen staff member that is in training, so if I’m not there, who oversees the kitchen?

I had to make a choice.

Close the kitchen and limit the cafes offering to coffee and cake or take a deep breath and leave the cooking to our newest kitchen team member who has limited experience in a la carte cooking.

The stakes were high. People are now coming to the café with some mighty expectations and I have to remind myself that we are and always have been a café not a restaurant despite those expectations. Not an excuse, just a realization of what we are and what we are not.

If I closed, potentially many people would have been disappointed and the two parties booked would have had to find alternative venues at short notice, causing them much grief. Also I would be sending a clear message to the staff that I dont think they are capable of coping.

Or stay open and risk it all going pear shaped.

I took a deep breath.

I decided to stay open; the show must go on, rationalizing that my new kitchen staff member would cope and that they would rise to the occasion.

We had a couple of tables booked which is sometimes a gauge that we might be busy though that’s not ever a true indicator. We contacted to inform them that I would not be there as I had a family issue to attend to immediately- I thought this a good strategy as it will inform our guests prior to their arrival that we will not be operating on all four cylinders, therefore giving them the option to perhaps re-book should they be inclined.

But for the walk-ins we didn’t have the luxury of this approach and they will judge us as they see fit.

I deliberate to close the kitchen early if I am alerted by the staff that they are not coping. Even though I called several times, the crew said they were OK.

The way these things tend to go, it was a busy day. Gulp.

For the record and by all accounts, my new staff member held their nerve, battled on and did their best-which is all I could ask or expect. I am very happy that they did so well and thanked them accordingly. Sometimes it’s best to be blooded by experience rather than being fully protected until deemed ready.

Meanwhile I sit housebound worried about my child and worried about any possible negative experiences at the cafe today.

The dilemma for me is: Will the customers be as understanding of our situation?


Hazel said...

a tough one Steve. I'm terrible at delegation and hate to leave a task to someone else- but sometimes it's the only way they can step up a level.
Hope your little one is feeling better soon - and that you don't catch it!

claire said...

Brilliant blog post, Steve. I don't envy you your dilemma... it's stories like this that make me feel I could never be a good small business owner... entrepreneurialism terrifies me.

But very glad to hear it went well, all things considered, and I hope your son feels better soon.

Your presence on the twitters is missed! xo

neil said...

Funny, I was just talking about this situation with a person I trained and as he said, it was either sink or swim. It's when you find out about your staff.

Anyway, another mate came up with an answer. Cctv + speakers connected to the internet. You could quite easily keep a paternal eye on things from home.

Thermomixer said...

Hopefully - with good front of house.

Know what it's like! Everybody else takes a sickie if they sneeze, but I have to front up or suffer financially.

Maybe some of those Mastachef rejects could come & help ........ ruin your business? Nah, scratch that idea.

Rita said...

The fact that you've written this post goes a long way towards illustrating that you actually DO care - about both (your ill child, and your cafe).
A huge dilemma, but I think you made the right choice, and great that it all turned out fine too. Maybe a baptism of fire for the new recruit but, hey, that's hospitality, isn't it? If they survived today, maybe the future looks way rosier.

Anonymous said...

You did the right thing.
Looked after your family first.
You demonstrated that you believe in the staff.
You didn't let the punters down.
You adroitly made arrangements for the incoming customers.
You also recognized that even though its your cafe-It's not always about you, even if you pay all the bills LOL!
Well done Stevo!

steve said...

Hi Hazel-I know what you mean about delegation but unless you do it you are forever trapped & no one else ever gets a go. Thanks for you thoughts, he's hopefully on the mend.

Hi Claire-Thanks for stopping by. I suppose its a common conundrum for small operators and demonstrates what a millstone being a sole trader can be if you are not able to work

Hi Neil-Yes the old 'baptism of fire' scenario. Sometimes its the only way, crash or crash through as they say.
Whilst I understand the CCTV logic, something about them changes the whole atmosphere in any workplace and historically I never liked being under the microscope

G'day Thermomix, yes its a universal truth that when you've got some skin in the game you'll always have more ownnership. Having said that I'm lucky with whom I have working at the cafe.
I'll politely pass on the masterchef contestants!

Hi Rita, nice to hear from you. Yes after yesterday the future does look rosier.

Hi anon-thanks for the support!

thebrewerswife said...

Just another week of running a small business and being an involved parent of small children. Encapsulates the pull in all directions. Thanks