Neil Morrison, owner of Macgochans in Tobermory on Mull, The Lochside in Bowmore on Islay and The Benleva in Drumnadrochit, is the 2017 SLTN Entrepreneur of the Year and winner of the SLTN Independent Pub of the Year award for Macgochans in 2014 and 2017. In a trade career spanning more than 20 years he has run venues across Scotland, including Glasgow and Edinburgh. Here he offers no-nonsense, practical advice to SLTN readers on operational issues.
Click on questions below to show answers.
A: That’s not a dilemma. A dilemma is waking up in Sweden after a night out in Edinburgh; a dilemma is throwing your airplane bag on the conveyor belt and realising your passport is in the side pocket. What you have, my friend, is a problem. Remember sometimes the attraction is more appealing than the real thing. Make a choice but be mindful the wife could be away with more than half your business if her knife skills are up to kitchen standard!
A: It’s Mystic Meg not Mystic Morrison you want to be speaking to! Welcome to the world of management. There is no crystal ball when it comes to this stuff, however make sure and keep records of rotas against income on a weekly basis/graph so you’re well prepared. Also make sure you are keeping active percentages on a rolling calculator so you can adjust to suit. Year one you will just need to set yourself budgets and try and work as best you can to suit the income. Year two you will have actual weekly figures to staff for and you can make slight adjustments to suit.
A: Train him and he may leave or don’t train him and he ends up staying! Staff can make or break any business so it is essential to train them to their highest ability. Concentrate on in-house training first, take this guy under your wing for a while and teach him what you know as he has obviously shown an interest. Then when you feel he can learn more from outsourced trainers speak to the brand owners as they will be happy to bulk train your staff in their portfolio for free.
A: It’s not all quaffing wine and acting like King Dingaling… well for the first few years anyway! Small hotels are a lifestyle choice so wave goodbye to your 9 to 5 and say hello to 24-hour customer care. I would suggest you pick up hotel shifts at night and see if you’re passionate about the business. Be honest with the owner and ask them to train you up in all departments; this way you will get a reality check regarding its ups and downs. If you’re still serious then start looking around. You’re safer getting involved with a trusted partner who knows the industry. You also need to be very careful about what and where you buy. I’d recommend a failed or struggling unit in a good location. That way you have room for growth and you would get a good deal on the property.
A: Paul, get your finger out and get the beer garden sorted! A few decent wooden benches or outside seating with brollies from suppliers will get you going. Remember and adjust your operating plan and all that jazz but you don’t have to spend a fortune to test the water and with the tropical summers we get in Scotland you will not have to wait long before you see a return on your investment. The most important part, however, is getting the staff to treat this as an extension of the pub and service this properly with regards to table service and cleanliness.
A: I’m sure we have all been in wee Pedro’s shoes from one time to another and I can imagine that Pedro feels rather disgusted with himself the following day when he sobers up and the flashbacks start! It might be worth stocking some doggy beer and you should see a dramatic improvement in Pedro’s behaviour and less attention being given to your customers’ legs.
A: You’re overstaffed! If you feel the need for three staff members then you need to put one behind the bar, one on the floor meeting and seating guests and the other floating between the tables and the bar. Split them up and make sure the bar person knows to focus only on the bar customers. Remember, the situations you see in your experienced eyes are totally different to what your staff will see. Train, train and retrain. There is no such thing as common sense in this game.
A: Live music thrives on the Uists so I’d say you’ll have an easy job getting great bands and showcasing them to the locals, although I’d aim for Calum Kennedy rather than Carl Cox. You will, however, find the drinking culture in the Hebrides very similar to that on Ibiza… with the exception of bottled water, so watch you don’t overstock this in your new venue!
A: TripAdvisor can be one of the most useful tools out there to keep staff concentrating on exceeding customer expectations. Yes, there can be awkward customers; however they tend to be unimpressed with their first impressions of the venue and, after this, it’s just a fault-finding mission for the rest of their visit. The benefit of this is that you know they are disgruntled early on, giving you or your team ample time to rectify the situation. Make sure complaints are dealt with by you or a senior member of your team; and remember to never get defensive when dealing with a complaint – you should be on the customer’s side straight away and do everything in your power to make sure they leave with a good impression of the venue. Regarding the above, be sure to respond to the complaint by being humble – customers understand that every venue can have an off night so an honest explanation of this tends to work best.
A: Oh I’d get your wife to approach this one! Ask her to say to Fred, lets call him Fred for argument’s sake, ‘Fred, is that you smelling today, you normally smell so fresh’ (wife needs to smile and possibly touch his shoulder when talking) and hopefully he’ll take the hint. Or get him some shower gel for his birthday! Failing that, a more blunt approach is required – ‘Fred, you’re stinking and we’re getting complaints from other customers’. If you’re not comfortable approaching this then you can retain your six to eight pints a day sales but could be losing thousands from food sales and putting off other customers. The sooner you address this the better. On a serious note, I’d also maybe enquire about his home situation as he possibly needs support.
A: Go hard or go home Betty! You said the area is busy and you obviously bought the hotel to make some real money. Look at what the current offer in the area is, ie. food, price point, quality, etc. and see if there is either room for improvement or a gap in the market for a new style that still fits the customer base. Do your homework and create a menu for YOUR hotel. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be simple food as long as it’s cooked and presented well. Don’t be dictated to by a chef as they rarely have a future investment in your business and they can come and go from one season to the next. Your hotel, your menu, your customers, your future!