Sunday 14 July 2013

So we moved in… and then?

You may wonder what is it like to move into a brand-new restaurant and how do you start organizing yourself when all you see ahead is tasks to be done and people asking you what to do next. Well, in this entry I want to share with you what we have lived this couple of weeks and how are we are managing to keep the boat afloat.

Service team attacking their dining room for the first time
In theory the trick is to meticulously plan every step, although planning in the middle of so much activity is definitely a challenge, and so many things come up every other minute that plans vanish as we make them. For example, the first task to tackle seemed to be cleaning, although with what, where and when was not so easy to determine. Imagine a space still full of all types of workers (plumbers, electricians, aluminum specialists, glass contractors, painters, carpenters, etc.), all busy trying to finish up their jobs; on top of that, picture a restaurant made out of materials that look great but fragile and 50 people eager to jump on them and make them shine. We smelled trouble right away: if we armed our staff with all the cleaning tools we had, we would end up without cleaning tools and with a brand new restaurant seriously damaged. The solution? We got our management to coordinate with all the workers the status of their job, schedule when we could start cleaning and with what products to avoid any damage on the floors, glasses, doors, wood, etc.  Furthermore, we divided the team in smaller groups easier to manage. The next challenge we encountered was realizing that 50 people work pretty fast and jobs were completed faster than it took us to come up with new tasks… 

Briefing about receiving our first orders
A simultaneous challenge was the urgency of getting the office ready. We could no longer work from home as the cleaning and organizing required our full attention so we had to get the office at Cuca operative as soon as possible to start placing our first orders. In Bali every step is an adventure and trust me, to place an order is worth an entire novel.The system we had developed was straight forward: orders to be placed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 to 2pm and deliveries to be received Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 to 12pm. We were so naive…Just to give you an idea, we are working with 32 suppliers and each of them has to be contacted through a specific way (some only accept orders via sms, some via the phone, some via email...) and they deliver “when they are nearby”. Fifty per cent of the products we ordered were “indefinitely” out of stock (the suppliers had no idea of when they would be available) and it seems that most prices change daily (depending on the price of petrol, if it is Ramadan or any other seasonal festivity, and some other factors we fail to grasp). To cap it all, most of the suppliers did not understand the names of the products we wanted to order as we were using either the English or the Javanese name (apparently different from the Balinese one) and since our staff was not trained yet on the recipes, they could not help us to find the right translation. 
The "receiving" drama
This process was totally a gamble. We were so afraid about the products we were going to receive… So the moment arrived when the first product was delivered: grapes from Australia. Fantastic. Cuca uses exclusively Indonesian products… We looked at the label in disbelieve and just when we were about to lose it, the magic of Bali took place:  in the midst of our upset explanations to the supplier repeating that, as mentioned when we placed our order, all products delivered had to be local, he, without any bad gesture whatsoever, took the grapes back and said he would come back "some time later" with local grapes. Similar situations took place non-stop during the entire week. I would say that 60% of the suppliers got the product wrong but each of them had no problem taking it back and either bring the right one later or tell us where we could get what we were looking for. Unbelievable. 

So receiving was a major milestone for us:  we learned the local names, confirmed suppliers and get our chillers organized. While placing and receiving orders, we were moving all the equipment and utensils from the store rooms to Cuca to get everything ready for the next step: production. I must say this is a piece of cake for Kevin so, luckily for us, no drama on this field. 
Cooks reviewing production for the day

In the office, once we got over the ordering we focused on communication and human resource matters: keys (there were just everywhere!), phones, air conditioner timers, internet, shifts, staff catering, uniforms, laundry, etc. Hundred little things necessary to get started. Regarding the service, we continue facing challenges as there are still quite a few details to be completed so a final cleaning has not yet been possible. Furthermore, we did not want our furniture to be damaged with the works still taking place so we have not unpacked yet. Fortunately, we are almost done and next week our service team will be able to shine by making our dining room as pretty as we dreamed of. 

I must confess that I feel dizzy when I think of everything ahead of us but looking back I understand that the secret is to take a step at the time. Tomorrow: cocktail production and tasting!

Saturday 6 July 2013

Cuca miracle

This is the longest I have been silent since I started this blog but my excuse could not be more solid. These last few weeks have been extreme and made full use of all my time and neurons. However, they have been absolutely unforgettable. It is funny how aware Kevin and I are of these magical days. We live every minute fully conscious that this dream is slowly becoming true right in front of our astonished eyes.

There were countless steps that took us here and along this way we kind of forgot that we won many of the little fights that we picked on to accomplish each detail. One by one we painstakingly tackled so many tasks that after a while you stop seeing the forest and lose count of the trees. Now the trees are through the art of magic being delivered to our front door and we spend our days unwrapping, polishing, labeling, searching in our dream the spot where we had imagined them and finally placing them there. A bit more to the right, yes, there!

So I couldn't stop myself and here I am trying to share with you this mundane wonder. I am not talking about the grand opening, or our first guest. I mean an extremely intimate moment in which you plainly see how thousands of hours of your time and sweat start to make sense and images that were somewhere in your mind are now real and in front of you. Cuca is made of so many conversations, sleepless nights, arguments, loving contributions, late night decisions and even accidental discoveries that it is truly magic to see how all these unconnected events embrace each other to make up something that for us is nothing short of a miracle.

That is what we experienced a couple of evenings ago when after the whole day busy at the restaurant site fixing this and that we realized it was already dark outside and all our staff had left. Taking a break from the chaos, we went out to see for the first time an almost finished Cuca, beautifully lighted and glowing like a new-born star. Only then we saw the forest, not the trees, and the feeling of having made it to this point and seeing with our own eyes this piece of our hearts now out there, real and reachable, is something that we will never forget and will forever take with us.

The moral we learned: try hard enough, it is possible.

Monday 10 June 2013

Nomad Training

Since 80% of our time now is occupied with our new staff, I guess there is no better topic choice for this post than our staff training.

As in all businesses, the first weeks for new employees are spent learning about their new company and training how to perform the tasks required.  The great challenge in our case is to conduct this training without having a restaurant ready where we could meet all our staff at once and go through all the topics they need to know and master before we open. But as they say, a challenge always gives you an opportunity to be creative and that is what we are doing.

Training at home
The first two weeks with no other space the training had to be held at home so we decided to focus on a small group: our management team. We introduced them to Cuca, the concept, the philosophy, our values, etc. Next step was to start reviewing and developing the systems necessary for everyday operations. Our intention was for the key team to be involved in this step as they need to understand and agree with the structure of the restaurant to be able to genuinely embrace it and explain it to their teams as something they themselves believe in.

Exam at the beach
For the third week we managed to get a small meeting room so we divided all our staff in two groups (kitchen and service) and got our managers to train these two groups on the topics we had previously trained them on. Kitchen trained on Monday and Wednesday and Service on Tuesday and Thursday. They had a day off in between to be able to study what they had learned during the lesson days. Friday was a big day: exams for everyone to make sure they were assimilating the content given. Is it very obvious I have been a teacher before? :) You can’t believe how handy my experience comes in…

Since we did not have a space to put 45 people, we held the exam at the beach (oh Bali…. ) and once the examination was out of the way, we spent some time getting to know each other and teaching our staff techniques to work as a team through funny  games.  A well-deserved break after a week full of theoretical lessons.

The egg toss, one of the games we played to practice team-building
This week we face yet another challenge. Our contractor says we are still one week away from getting in the restaurant so how do we keep our staff motivated to continue learning without being able to practice? Remember that the type of persons working in hospitality are very active people, used to a quite physical job. To keep them sitting down in a room for very long while listening non-stop to someone’s speech will eventually stop being effective so we came out with a new plan for this week: we have rented a function room and set stations all around it. We will divide the class in groups that will rotate from station to station to meet a different leader who will explain one single topic for 30 minutes. When the gong goes off, the group rotates to a new station. In this way participants will be exposed to a new experience every 30 minutes: the space will change, the students will have to physically move, the teacher is different, the topic a new one. The idea is to keep the family awake!

Well, we have plenty of ideas for this week but we really hope we can finally have a restaurant for the next one as we are all eager to move in to our new home!