The Table Café celebrates their 11th year in business this summer. We caught up with Shaun who has been at the helm for a decade. We talk all things social, sustainability and the importance of the customer voice. Read on below….
Tell us a little about how and why you got started.
We truly believe that a restaurant can be at the heart of a neighborhood, we felt that The Table was perfectly positioned to play a big part in the regeneration of the community. When we started out that was a scary concept. I left a big restaurant, a 100-seater, a 24-hour bakery, all the resources a chef could ask for and essentially I left for a building site.
What is the single biggest challenge in running a restaurant?
Ah – Single is a tricky word here, can I have two?
Sure, I think we can allow that!
My first is the realisation that your restaurant is really built on the people, on your team. As a chef it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that food is a close second, but your people are make or break and I believe that’s true of any business. Everyone from the kitchen porter to the general manager carry the business. The other was when I realised that it is a numbers game, it’s black and white and it’s brutal for someone like me who is just so focussed on the food. I genuinely believe that if you don’t realise that early on it can break you. In fact that’s my single biggest piece of advice for any other business owners, get the best accountant you can find and hold on to them. Then make food that everyone involved is proud of.
Let’s talk social – what role does it play in your business?
I like to think I was an early adopter, I claimed our Yelp Business Page back in 2011 shortly after Yelp launched here in the UK. The way I see it social media is free exposure. Review sites and even blogs, they are the new marketing currency. We always keep an eye on the new channels but right now we are focussed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as Yelp for reviews.
How do you plan your social media content?
I think people really want a behind the scenes look at what’s happening. In the beginning I built up a twitter following because I mostly tweeted about the horrendous kitchen disasters we had. If it was a smoking oven, a broken coffee machine or if the building was falling down I was tweeting about it. It’s a fantastic way to easily shout about who you are and what you do. Just make sure you do it with honesty and integrity and be yourself.
How do you incorporate customer feedback with your team?
We have never been a feedback cards on table kind of place but customer feedback has been guiding us from the beginning. We interact with our customers everyday, so we talk and then we listen. Now we have online reviews they have become our eyes and ears too. At first, I was the stereotypical chef when I read a negative review – outraged, skeptical and probably shouting! Now, I can see how important the good and the bad reviews are. If you’re honest with yourself and you really try to listen you will see the trends in the feedback.
Any advice for business owners reading negative reviews?
Yes, take a breath and then get over yourself. Nine times out of ten people are not trying to be malicious, they are not your competitor and it’s not actually intended as a personal attack. Mostly, it’s because something happened to that person’s experience at your business. It may not be what you had planned or a regular occurrence but if you’re open to listening then you have a really powerful communication tool through Yelp and you can start a conversation with that customer. I always remember being told in the beginning that the reviews are a barometer, the only objective one you will always have – don’t worry about every single word but do make sure you’re listening.
Let’s talk food, what’s always in your fridge at home?
Anchovies, they are my signature… I sneak them into everything.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Mashed potato on hot buttered toast. For breakfast.
What do you think is the new trend to hit restaurants?
I think as a nation we are becoming better informed on the impact the food choices we make has on our health. I think calorie and macro counting is definitely coming to the mainstream. I’m on the fence about it to be honest; I believe food and eating are really collective moments of joy that you share with people so it’s hard for me to dissect it down that way.
Ok last question, If you were sitting here now with yourself 10 years ago, what would you say?
Don’t lose faith. Believe in yourself, you’re going to make mistakes and it’s going to be fine. Oh, and talk to each other. It doesn’t happen enough, go to your competition and ask questions, reach out to your heros. More often than not, those people that are the most successful are willing to help, you just have to ask.