Renowned for its beautiful garden setting, and delicious food, the Red Shed Palazzo at Drury, in rural southern Auckland, has won numerous awards over the years. Business to Business posed some questions to its owners, Paul and Kristina Smith, about the challenges of the hospitality sector, particularly in the wake of the recent lockdown.
How difficult was it to go into lockdown? Did you support the lockdown move?
It was difficult to budget or plan as we couldn’t know what business would look like afterwards. We actually closed the café on the Sunday prior then took a couple of days to ring suppliers and cancel our orders until further notice.
We absolutely agreed with a national lockdown. We needed to do this really fast for the health of all New Zealanders and the economy. Watching the rest of the world was terrifying and had we not locked down, our business would’ve been affected a great deal more.
What are the everyday challenges for you and hospitality as a whole?
When you’re in the food industry, you work to the philosophy of ‘a third, a third and a third’. Regardless of turnover, budgets must operate within the cost parameters of a third for labour, a third for food and a third for all other expenses. If you don’t, then you’ll go backwards – fast! Unfortunately, that often means trimming hours, trimming back what you buy and carefully calculating your operating capacity.
For now, it’s not about making a fortune (which is unlikely in any scenario!) but keeping our heads above water long enough to recover and be there when better times emerge. In making those careful calculations, we have decided on a five-day operating week – Wednesday to Sunday – for the time being, at least. This keeps everyone employed.
What do you love most about the hospitality industry?
We love the people; our customers make our day but hospitality can be challenging when you’re busy trying to run the café, organise private functions and prepare for weddings as we do. It’s a lot of work but it’s very rewarding.
What has been the key to your success?
Training, hard work, quality food, good staff and listening to what customers want; those things never change. Providing our patrons with a lovely garden setting is part of our success the rest comes down to serving fresh produced food, cooked to order on the premises together with service they appreciate. The weekly market also works a treat.
What is the best advice you would give to people starting out in the industry today?
We both understand going it alone is hard but two working together eases the load. Never go into owning a restaurant or a cafe thinking it will be easy or glamorous. It’s a lot of hard work and when others are relaxing and enjoying a nice weekend, restaurant owners and their teams are working long hours because that’s when they are busiest.
When things go wrong, you must be able to step up and get straight on to the problem and not let what’s happening behind the scenes impact on customers. Don’t jump into a venture before doing your research, and some training, too. Consistency in this industry is paramount – a great venue won’t work without great food, great service and people who know what they are doing.
What did you (personally) do during lockdown? Was there still ‘business’ you were able to attend to?
There was a huge amount of background work just in closing the business and planning ahead with no idea of what the future would hold. A week before re-opening, we went down to the cafe to tackle maintenance and gardening, something which always gets behind when you have a busy seven-day business.
How difficult was it to get back up and running when you first reopened?
At [alert] level 2, it was hard for everyone in hospitality as we have had to limit numbers. Luckily our cafe and gardens are very spacious and we can manage physical distancing very well. However, during winter, when patronage is generally down, it will be even more difficult, financially.
Especially if restrictions regarding number of diners in total, or per table, continue or return, how important is it for people to book in advance?
We recommend making a booking [when restrictions apply] but if it is quiet, we can take walk-ins too.
How much of getting back to business has been physical and how much is mental?
It’s both because the business is always evolving. Thinking about the unknown can be hard and, on the physical side, there is always work to do. Our weekly market is evolving and the outdoor seating areas require a lot of upkeep especially the greenhouse area where we have our more intimate weddings.
How vital has the wage subsidy been? Have you managed to retain all staff?
Thankfully, we have retained everyone. It has made a huge difference moving forward and it was wonderful to have all our experienced team members on board when we re-opened. We are very grateful for our long-standing staff; they are a large part of the business as we move forward. They support us and we support them.
How challenging has budgeting been and is it stressful going forward?
Very hard! Budgets, budgets, budgets, plan, plan, plan and no idea what the future will hold.