When we have our classes to either help people get into the frozen dessert business or help people grow their existing business, it’s pretty hard to select a single demographic as to who our average attendee is.
If I had to narrow down one single group of people who are wanting to leave their own jobs and get into the ice cream business it would probably be those in the IT (Information technology or computing) industry. I do not know the “ins and outs” this industry, but as technology advances and the old timers in IT slowly phase-out, there is a feeling that these folks want to do something that is a little more fun than “crunching the numbers”, so to speak.
At least that’s what they tell me.
I always get a little concerned about someone wanting to join the food service industry and in particular our segment of it, because of the sheer workload that the food service industry requires of its employees and operators. I honestly don’t think, unless anyone has had this experience, that you can really be prepared for what it is like to run your own food or ice cream business
I certainly did not. After a period of policing for 13 years I figured that I was ready for the rigors of opening an ice cream shop. I highly underestimated how much work went into food service and I very quickly realized that this industry is not for the faint hearted.
I went from a job that paid me a regular salary, and on top of that, a 2 and a 1/2 time overtime rate for any work done one minute past my eight hour shift. Also, throw in six weeks annual leave and as many sick days as I wanted to take and I think (apart from the odd punch-ups, extreme paperwork and number of other unsavory duties) I had it pretty well.
I remember sitting down after the first week of our first shop opening in Australia and thinking “What have I done?” I will say it again – The food service industry is not for the faint hearted. I think I averaged about 18 hours a day on that first week and, to tell you the truth, I was just about ready to put my uniform back on and go wrestle some late-night patrons of an Irish Tavern again for a living.
We operated two stores and a food truck in Australia before moving to the United States and starting my career as an educator and trainer in the frozen dessert industry. We opened another location in St. Louis Missouri and operated that for four years. Even though this industry has long hours, particularly on the weekends and the evenings, I still look back with fondness on the stores that we operated. I spend most of my time now in education and training as well as consulting. But every now and again I get the chance to get back behind the counter and put some of my theories into practice. I think it’s important as a consultant or coach to keep your skills fresh and keep some skin in the game.
I had this opportunity a couple of weeks ago while working with a client in the Southern US. I have been working with this company for quite some time to get their first location up and running and part of that process was being there for the opening week.
Some of the biggest challenges in certain parts of the US is find, training and keeping good employees. (Insert shameless plug here – I wrote a book on the subject which seems to help a lot of people who read it – www.hopelesstohero.com)
It seemed as though a percentage of the employees that were interviewed, hired and trained found it hard to actually show up for their shifts for one reason or another. I found myself in a situation where on a busy Friday night it was only myself (as the consultant) and one other employee operating the front counter and drive-through of this new and busy food location.
Now getting into the food service business after you’ve been out is kind of like having another baby. You look back in the fondness of the good times and the sheer joy of that moment of delivery and the first couple of months. Thankfully the human mind sometimes blocks out the pain and anguish and sleepless nights of the whole process.
Similarly, I remembered with fondness the joy of customer interaction and making great ice cream products and bringing smiles to people’s faces. The human mind helped me forget chocolate shake explosions at the blender and finger cramping after scoping over 100 cones in a short amount of time.
I can honestly say that Friday night I probably worked as hard as I ever have in the ice cream business. I bring this up for number of reasons. I think it is essential for business owners (if you do not do so already) to work in your business occasionally on Friday or Saturday nights or your other peak periods. I think sometimes we can get into a comfortable state where we work easier shifts and don’t challenge ourselves to where it’s really busy.
I also think that we can sometimes under appreciate the sheer work load that our employees experience and the expertise in which they execute their duties. It certainly made me appreciate more those employees that work hard and efficiently on these busy shifts.
Another benefit is to gain an appreciation for what is not working well in our places of business. For example, I under estimated the sheer amount of milkshakes we were making, particularly through the drive through. Every time I had to reach under the counter to grab a container of milk made me think that this process needs to be much more streamlined and efficient. We instigated a refrigerated milk pump on the counter which cut our production time in half for this particular product. The ability to trim minutes (sometime seconds) off a procedure that happens hundreds of times a day can be a huge boon to your business and help your employees become much more efficient in their speed of service.
At the end of the shift I collapsed in a booth with a sigh of relief and made a few notes as to some of the things that need to be done differently in this location. I don’t think I would have had that appreciation if it weren’t for this busy Friday night.
Why is this relevant now? We are coming up to the silly season folks. Our volumes will be picking up in large measure very soon. I think it is important; No…..essential for us as owners and operators to work some of these busy Friday and Saturday shifts (if we don’t already). Not only do we get a better appreciation for our business, but also for our customers and our employees.
One more thing. Although I am not the owner of this establishment I had many many comments about how it was nice to see the owner working the busy shift. I guess when people see an old fat guy working at a food establishment they assume him to be the owner. I think customers appreciate, as a business owner, you being there to help. Working the day shift Monday through Wednesday doesn’t keep you in contact with your regular evening and weekend customers.
There were a lot of very positive comments about how the business runs and the quality of our products. There were also some comments about how our business could be better or suggestions on different types of flavors or menu items. Our employees working these shifts are so busy, that they will often listen to these comments or suggestions but rarely pass them on. Not for the lack of wanting to but, simply acknowledging the comment, and moving to the next customer is really all they can do.
I think you will find that after working a couple of these busy shifts you will look at your business, your employees and your customers in a new light. Now granted there are probably many of you reading who already work these shifts and are wondering what kind of “Nancy Boys” are not working these shifts.
Well, as business owners we come in all shapes, sizes and commitments. For some, this ice cream business is a secondary source of income and these owners rarely work any other shift than an evening or weekend shift. Some have commitments with family or other obligations which limit their availability to commit more time.
Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, my suggestion to you is to live a couple of shifts in the shoes of your busiest employees. The short term pain and anguish will result in long term improvements on many levels.
Keep on Scoopin.
The Ice Cream Bloke