Developing a concept with blood, sweat and expertise
By Paul Sarlas, Founder/CEO at Savvy IQ Hospitality Consultants
Growing up in a family who owned and operated a fast food business, I spent most of my early years working in the family business; from weekend shifts during school term and remembering my school holidays as days in the shop rather than on the beach. Unknowingly I was learning valuable lessons in business operations and management.
When completing high school, I continued to work in the family business for some time, whilst studying part time to obtain the theoretical techniques in business which I felt were missing. I finally moved away from the family business and began developing a career in the hotel industry, focusing on F&B. With the ten years of experience I gained, my life savings, and a loan from the bank which my parents were kind enough to guarantee, I decided to open my first café.
Having a strong eagerness to succeed, an entrepreneurial approach, much motivation, lots of hard work and initiative, the small café business grew to a company of twelve restaurants, cafes and retail over a six year period. Three restaurants were accoladed with a one hat rating (Michelin star equivalent in Australia), which I was most proud of. In a quick paragraph, it sounds quite simple, however there were so many factors to obtaining this achievement and success; a great team, an open mindedness, many long hours and stress and most importantly, creative ideas.
I later sold the company, and utilised my education, sixteen years hospitality experience and proven track record, to spend the next ten years travelling the world and working in some of the m ost amazing cities at senior level for some great company's.
The past ten years has been much about advising and strategizing for companies and individuals; implementing, developing and creating cool concepts globally; and managing organisations with many talented individuals. Savvy IQ (the consulting company I founded), creates concepts and advises in operations on a regular basis to many restaurant groups, hotel chains and small and large businesses. After much advising and a long pause in self-employment, I decided to step back into ownership and implement everything I have been mentoring others. Hence the birth of Bao & Bing in Marylebone, London.
I discovered an Italian deli/cafe in Marylebone that was on the market which I managed to turn it into a Taiwanese restaurant in just under ten weeks; which was a challenge to say the least. Now with three weeks of trading, we have been blessed with success and the feedback has been amazing. Everyone is rav ing about the food, the service is on par, the ambience (lighting and music) is exciting and we have created a cool, fun vibe in a neighbourhood that was crying out for something different. The systems (POS, HR, Cost control etc) all running perfectly. The social media is exciting and the reviews have been great. So why is that so? The idea, passion and hunger to succeed was there, coupled with personally touching all aspects of the concept; from design, food, uniforms, lighting, music choice, strategy, IT etc etc....... And all on a budget!
Where are we now? We are developing phase two of our menu. Adding our specials that will launch in the new year; creating our secret menu dish which is revealed to guests with a code word written in Mandarin on a light-box on the wall; planning the launch of our prosecco bao brunch; And in the first quarter of 2019, we will launch our breakfast offering. Constant innovation, development and creativity.
Creativity breeds excitement and innovation. Constant development and the need to keep touching the business personally.
How did we create Bao & Bing?
First of all was to let the creativity flow. I had to develop a concept where the gap in the market existed. The need to consider a cuisine that is well renowned for its flavours; and above all, develop a price point so that the venue could become an affordable everyday dining experience; whilst considering a simplified model for operations, cost management and scalability.
Ideas were thrown around our 'Savvy IQ think tank', from Cuban, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Indian; and then together we redefined every cuisine idea to specific localised regions of each country. But then it came to me! I travel to Taiwan regularly, I love the food, I love the culture and I am passionate about the country. Most probably heavily influenced from the beautiful Taiwanese girl I married ten years ago, who I now have two fun loving kids with. Now it was time to develop the idea further and create the concept.
To begin, I considered a simple formula many of you may know and one I have lived by: Good food, good service, fun ambience all at the right price.
So here are some points on how to develop and create ideas.
Write ideas down straight away when they come to mind. In this day and age where we carry our smartphones everywhere, we can take pictures, write notes and record ideas. I have lost so many ideas in my time; and am reminded of them after I see it again a second time round; most times it's too late to use. I now tend to use Pinterest to grab ideas for lighting, finishes, décor, food and beverage; And I look at what attracts me to a picture and constantly update my boards. So begin the concept creation by collating as many inspirations as possible through your travels, the internet or any other form that inspires you.
In Bao & Bing, we have a 'Bingo Wh eel'. When your bill arrives, the customer picks a number between 1 and 90 for the chance to have the check on the house. Was it my idea? No. I noted a similar game in an Italian concept during my travels in Beirut. The restaurant used a container with 90 balls, and the game was called tombola. The numbers were shaken in a container and you had a chance to have the meal on the house. it was all very subtle when the waiter came about and there was no real impact from this great offering. My part was document this great idea, for a potential later use.
So what did we do differently? We made it a little more exciting. We invite the guests to come to the bar where the Bingo wheel is sitting in top of an old stereo and ask them to pick a number between 1 and 90. When the customer comes to the bar, we turn on the stereo to play an old Taiwanese song (quite loudly to gain attention of the other guests) and slowly spin the wheel. I have never seen so many people happy to see the bill arrive!
Stop doing the same thing over and over. Focus on doing something different. Not to say you should not practice and implement everything you have learnt or been taught. However, as I previously mentioned my initiation into the hospitality industry was through my parents business. I soon realised after working in the hotel industry and studying management, that there were many ways my parents could have of improved their business model. Not to say they were not successful, but they did the same thing day in day out for so many years and could have possibly grown their business further if they perhaps made some changes.
Look at the success stories in life and in business and put together a pool of items that will make your concept successful. Ideas are always recycled, amended and perfected. But there is always a starting point that sparks the idea.
Use people around you to bounce ideas. At Savvy IQ, we have a regular think ta nk on ideas for different focuses. Be it concept creation, marketing, IT systems, business development or just a general catch up as to how we can do things better. In these meetings I have been the developer of many bad ideas; however, around a group of talented people, we have turned an initial not so good idea into an amazing idea. Sometimes it requires a spark to get things going. Everyone involved in generating ideas should know everything about the brief. Do not hold anything back and be transparent. Even if there's something that you think is not relevant, it still should bel included to get ideas moving.
Read magazines, articles and industry news. Reading is the best way for creating new thoughts and stimulating great ideas. I constantly read and I subscribe to many publications. Even when I am time poor, I make an effort to skim through magazines or articles on the web. I have added business books to my routine over the years, which has helped me learn more and expand my way of thinking. Try and make time for reading. I am just as guilty as the next person with distraction of social media. However, put a pause on the social media an you'll find plenty of thought stimulation with a book.
Paul Sarlas was born in Sydney, Australia and was exposed to the hospitality industry from a young age, growing up in a family that owned and operated cafes and restaurants. Paul began his career in the family business, working in all aspects of the restaurant industry, whilst studying commercial cookery to become a qualified chef.More from Paul Sarlas