This article is part of our Brexit Survival Guide: Practical Tips for Hospitality Businesses series, and is written by Mark McCafferty, who is the Head of Operations at Saga Japanese Restaurants
One of our biggest challenges post Brexit has been stability and consumer confidence. When the pound dropped in value, many families stopped eating out as much. On top of that, prices on our menu have increased to cover the cost of more expensive imports, like sake.
In that situation, eating out becomes more of a luxury for families, so we’re trying to add more value in other ways, like service. We want our restaurants to feel like you’re in Japan. Our goal is to create a completely unique experience, so people are confident they’re getting the right experience for the money. By increasing our service levels in both back and front of house, we’ve been able to stand out from other restaurants.
One big move we made was to cut out the middleman for fish. We now go directly to our supplier in Billingsgate, and we’ll soon do that with meat and vegetables. This enables us to keep an eye on quality and our supply chain much easier. We’re lucky that we’re able to stay flexible and nimble, because we have a shallow decision making process. I firmly believe that a more agile business can adapt better to changing circumstances.
The other way we’re increasing our service levels is through technology. The right technology can create more efficiency in a business, but as a very customer focused industry, anything that drives a bigger wedge between you and the customer can be harmful.
For example, we tried an automated phone system to take bookings. For us, we thought it would save us eight hours a day on reception, but in the end customers were frustrated, which was harmful to us.
We have a mix of Western, Chinese and Japanese customers. Our Asian customers want waiters to simply take orders, but Western customers like to talk to their waitstaff a bit more. Given that, we decided to trial a Taiwanese technology that allows customers to tilt a piece of wood on the table, which sends a ping to a bracelet worn by waitstaff. That improves our response time, while adding elements of Japanese authenticity.
My advice to any restaurant post-Brexit is to lean into your strength. We make people’s days better, so focus on all the different angles of that, and we’ll emerge stronger as an industry.