Have you ever had an experience that you weren’t expecting? One that aligns with your vision of the world and encourages you to question what you’ve been doing.
This is what happened when I walked into the Breakfast Club café in Brighton just a few weeks ago. Having never heard of BC, I had no expectations but as we stood outside waiting to be seated I got a great vibe. Perhaps it was the guy who was managing the door or the family in front who were wax lyricaling about the food… I don’t know. What I do know is that I was pleasantly surprised when we were taken to a booth that seated four or six people. There were just two of us. My ‘traditional’ hospitality training told me this was madness – why weren’t they maximising bums on seats?
A chap arrived to take our order, friendly and unassuming. We’d only been in the place for a few minutes but my initial vibes kept getting stronger. There was just something rather lovely about this place.
As a firm believer that a values based culture is the route to successful business, I was excited because it felt like I’d tripped over a fantastic example. Whilst waiting for our breakfast to arrive we went online to find out more and what we discovered didn’t disappoint. The website is an honest rendition of the journey Jonathan and Ali, the founders, have been on. It also gives a clear indication of what’s important to them – looking after their team and doing good in the wider community. The messages are clear, simple and authentic and somehow this translated absolutely into what I was experiencing.
We were so blown away by our visit that we returned the following morning and having confirmed that the initial experience wasn’t a one-off, I contacted Jonathan, who kindly agreed to meet with me.
I now want to bottle Jonathan’s thinking and give it to every university catering team in the country, imploring them to listen to what he’s saying because honestly it may just make you think about things differently. Now, I am not saying that there aren’t teams out there doing what Jonathan and the team at BC are doing; however, I do believe that there are a lot of us who aren’t. Here’s just some of what Jonathan and Ali believe:
1. Hospitality is about taking care of people
Everyone at BC has a desire to do this, whether they are front of house, in the kitchen or part of HQ. When asked how they recruit the right people, Jonathan says there’s no plan, it’s just snowballed as they’ve grown. It’s not about recruiting clones but about finding people who want to take care of others and who share BC’s belief about doing good. As an outsider I can see that perhaps, without even knowing it, they are so clear about why they do what they do and what’s important to them it’s easy for people to decide whether or not they want to be part of BC.
2. It’s all about the people
For Jonathan and Ali it starts with their team. They believe that if they take care of their team, their team will take care of their customers. I asked Jonathan how they ensure the team give great service. Unsurprisingly it isn’t about service standards, although of course there are some. It’s far more about creating the right environment so that the team can flourish at what they do. Part of a new recruit’s training is to spend shifts observing other team members, how they work, identifying what they like about what they do and then talking about it.
3. Focus on what you’re good at and commercial success will come
Jonathan admits that bottom line profit for him is not a key driver, although he is keen to point out you do need to consider it because, like all of us, he has bills to pay and mouths to feed. However he also believes that if you focus on what you’re good at the rest will come.
Chatting with Jonathan it is clear that he is very proud of all the BC team has achieved, but he is also quick to add that it really isn’t very different to other catering companies. I would beg to differ and I certainly believe that there is much our sector can learn from operations such as his. Whilst Jonathan may not even have realised it, what I noticed above all else is how BC’s success is down to Jonathan and his leadership. Whilst I haven’t met Ali, I’m pretty sure that her approach would reflect Jonathan’s. It’s clear that Jonathan totally believes in what he is doing; he walks the walk and talks the talk. A very humble person, he talks about humility; he is thankful to the people who give up their time to come and work at BC and he is thankful to the customers who are willing to wait an hour an a half for a table and then spend their hard earned cash on buying breakfast. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?
So what would happen if we adopted the same approach?
Well perhaps when we are refurbishing an outlet or creating a new one, we’d spend as much time thinking about the experience we want to create as the facilities and product offer. As a catering department we’d be clear about our values and ensuring that we recruit people that share our beliefs and finally we’d create environments that enable people to thrive.
What do you think? I can already hear the reasons, which would stop us from doing this (to be honest I had some as I was writing this blog) but actually change doesn’t happen from doing what we’ve always done. Change comes from challenging the status quo, being brave and most importantly being true to ourselves and what we believe and, if our colleagues could see we were doing this with the ultimate aim of improving the life of our students how could we not get the green light?
Having worked in Universities for over 18 years, Mel Loizou set up Fish Climb Trees in 2015, to help individuals and teams working in HE achieve their goals and fulfil their potential, using a fusion of coaching, consultancy, training and facilitation. Mel’s approach is reflective of the Albert Einstein quote that inspired her company name ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will spend its whole life believing its stupid’.