I was idly flicking through some social media postings from friends working abroad this morning and reminiscing about travelling when the first customer came in. I served the pint and was handed a rather wet ten pound note extricated from an equally wet wallet. As I walked to the till the words I least wanted, or expected, to hear came over my shoulder “sorry that’s piss”. As I washed my hands, thoroughly, I couldn’t help but think how different life has become in such a short space of time.
This is just one of the day-to-day challenges of a publican. Last night I acted as mediator between a customer and the local kebab shop. In trying to correct an order error made by his girlfriend my customer became frustrated and annoyed on the phone but it was ok because “they know me”. After pointing out that he had used his girlfriend’s cell and not mentioned his name at any point I could just see realisation dawning before the spark was extinguished with “Ah but they will recognise me when I collect it”. It took a further debate to confirm that it was better that they recognised you before they had cooked and wrapped your food and the tone of the resultant call was, I hope, far more conducive to a healthy meal.
I had a strange conversation with a customer this week initiated, as many are, by the long hours I work. Firstly I had to point out that ‘it’s great because you are a workaholic’ is not a line that any partner has ever used as far as I recall but then we got onto the ‘what ifs’. Most of you will be familiar with the what ifs, they are a series of internal challenges whose purpose is to prevent you ever doing anything. If you ask the question ‘what if’ enough times about any given challenge you will convince yourself that the risk is too high and the task should not be commenced.
This guy’s particular ‘what ifs’ were about my personal availability since the business is inextricably linked to me. As an inveterate single person there is no partner or family to step in if I am unwell and this challenge seemed to perplex this guy. What would happen if I were to break my leg or become incapacitated in some other way? The answer, which he just couldn’t grasp, was “I don’t know”. I don’t have a contingency manual planning for every eventuality, I pretty much just wing it.
The other ‘what if’ that our man had can be condensed into return on investment (ROI) and more specifically the ROI on the various tasks planned. Would opening up the main bar pay for itself in the long run? was the second bar viable? would a very limited food offer recoup the costs of the kitchen? Again the answer of “I have no idea” perplexed him. In this trade, as with so many, there is no simple ROI calculation or business case, the business is like an all-consuming boulder hurtling along. The business cannot stand still, investment is essential both to turnaround past neglect and to build capability and develop the offer. In a lot of cases you cannot simply look at a task and calculate the pay back period for that investment, it doesn’t work like that the value is in the whole rather than the part.
So next time you ask yourself ‘what if’ just remember that it isn’t having the answer that gets things moving its simply not asking the question.