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The seasonal game of highs and lows

As the end of 2019 approaches, this is the busiest time of year for many working in catering and hospitality. 

For us, December and January are the quietest months. But the quieter months are very valuable to us. We use this time to reflect on our successes and failures during the year, and planning and preparation are vital.

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As a team, it is important to plan and forecast for the coming year. We will be working on the business as opposed to working flat out in the business: an important but subtle difference. 

When your quiet time comes, draw breath, review and plan for what lies ahead. Make sure management is ready for a radical change in pace. Pro-actively gearing an operation up or down is a skill, and it’s essential to ensure costs are managed and the team are on the ball no matter how slow trade is. 

We find managing our low season more challenging than when our busy season kicks in, as the café runs non-stop like a well-oiled machine. Whether you own a restaurant, hotel or café; you really need to know when your low season is coming so that you can be well prepared. When your downtime does come, make sure to be good to yourself and take a break and switch off. This means when you come back to the business you will be fresh and on top of your game, rather than being tired and overworked. 

The coming year with all its uncertainty is going to need quality management to navigate it successfully. Develop your team to be the best managers and leaders they can be. At the café, we use our low season to carry out PDR’s (Personal Development Reviews) or appraisals as they are often called. 

The PDR feeds into the team members’ individual training plans. We use many different training and development techniques to ensure all staff members have the right tools to meet their goals. We are strong advocates of the Modern Apprenticeship Programme (SVQ/NVQ), I really do advise putting both junior and senior members of the team through this qualification. 

We augment the Modern Apprenticeship by mentoring our candidates through a tailor-made project thus giving them an opportunity to apply their learning whilst completing the modules. The projects are invaluable learning experiences and add real value to the business. 

The future is going to play best for those that have stopped, taken stock and made hard decisions. Cut deadwood or put a stop on capital spend that is not necessary. Head into 2020 with a fresh head and a detailed plan in place. 

Hit the ground running and lead from the front. This is important for mapping out a plan for your business and your team’s future, just like I have mapped out the journey I plan to take you through with these articles over the next few months.

We only close for four days a year, three at Christmas to give our hard-working team a break and one day for maintenance. We’ll make time to relax together as a team because celebrating success is as important for all of us working in hospitality and catering as it is for the thousands of people we serve in our hotels, restaurants, pubs and catering businesses over Christmas. Have a good one and see you in 2020!


By Sarah Heward

Sarah Heward is co-founder of The Real Food Café in Tyndrum, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in Scotland. The rural café welcomes some 200,000 customers a year.

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