From the front line: TINSTAFL

From the front line: TINSTAFL

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household where both of the parents were self-employed. Mum owned a catering business/sandwich shop and dad was a chartered accountant. It was a perfect grounding for my future life as a business owner. On one hand I had to learn to moderate the free flow of delicious leftover pies and cakes from the shop to my belly; on the other to appreciate who was ultimately paying for them!

Emblazoned on the wall behind my Dad’s office desk was a simple white sign printed with a big blue word ‘TINSTAFL’, and beneath ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’. He explained to me while I was annoying him one day after school that “someone always pays”.

One of the things that excites a lot of potential hospitality business owners is getting complimentary meals in your own business (and impressing your friends while eating your complimentary meals). After all, as the big boss, you’re the one paying for the delicious products and the staff serving them.

Some forgo the meals and just grab a cookie here, a free cup of coffee there, or maybe even carve a slice off the fresh banana bread as it emerges from the oven. Others are more brazen, filling up takeaway bags of sandwiches, salads, cakes and bottles of artisanal sodas – perhaps even grabbing a case of wine to enjoy with friends!

Nothing too controversial with the big boss exercising sovereignty over their dominion… I’m sure we’ve all taken the liberty within our own businesses. But have you ever paused to reflect on how your employees view this behaviour when they see it? Is this the example that you wish to set in your business?

Extending the example, how about if you take bites out of the cash drawer? Either skimming the excess cash from the weekly banking (you know, mistakes happen) or grabbing £50 out of the till for ‘personal expenses’. Your employees notice.

It goes with out saying but I’ll say it here: your actions influence your employees far more than any rules, regulations, standards, employee manuals, training days and discipline can ever do. You cannot expect, in the big bad world of business, for a clichés like ‘do as I say, not as I do’ to translate into well-behaved, honest employees.

Being the leader in the small world of your restaurant means that everything about you including your mood, your dress, your character, your values and work habits impacts on the culture of your business. If you expect high standards from your staff, you have to set a good example by following these high standards yourself.

If one of your coffee shop’s rules is to never nibble, you and your managers must toe the company line as well. Complimentary meals are ok – but always make sure that they are input into your till and always reported and accounted for the in the daily report.

One restaurant owning friend of mine takes a 50% discount when lunching at his own place and then pays the balance with his credit card. It doesn’t matter that the card is probably paid by the business. What his staff sees is that TINSTAFL – There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

Oh and of course – never steal from your own restaurant. That’s one example you simply can’t afford for your staff to copy!