Being there. It’s the key to how fast we can grow.

This Autumn, Cucina opened another 7 restaurants, bringing our total number of UK school contracts to 37. Do you know, we could quite feasibly have opened another 50 restaurants this year, not just 7. So why didn’t we? Simple. If we did, we could no longer be Cucina.

When the Head Teacher of one of our schools arrived on the floor recently, he seemed quite blown away by the fact that he was standing there talking to the MD of the company. He wasn’t expecting that. Many of our new schools don’t expect me or the other Directors to have such a hands-on approach. But our presence in every new school is absolutely vital to the way we work and the way we grow as a company.

When Cucina first takes over at a school, the incumbent team has a real mountain to climb. They must start making food from scratch when they’re used to buying it in. And they must produce three times as much food as they did before, working three times as hard as they did before, all for the same money. That’s a real pain barrier to go through. And I need to be there to help them through it.

Sometimes it takes a while for the penny to drop, but before long the team realises that there’s no hierarchy with us, or standing on ceremony. To put it another way, we’re task-oriented, rather than role-oriented. If something needs doing, somebody will do it, and that somebody may well be me. When we ask people to work harder to make more food or serve more customers, we’re not making them do it in isolation. We are all doing this for the benefit of the kids. It’s the effort of team, and we’re all a part of that, me as much as anyone else.

Then when the wheels are in motion, the team begins to see what it’s doing for customers on a daily basis. Feedback starts rolling in and people begin to understand the Cucina way. They start believing in it. And they start to enjoy delivering it. At this point I can start to take a step back.

This is a process and it can’t be hurried. And it can’t be achieved with 50 openings a year.

Let me use another analogy. Many companies will go into a new contract and start with the new team at a floor 1, aiming to eventually get them up through 2,3, and 4 to finish at floor 5. But while they’re still at level 2, along comes the next opening and so this one never gets above level 2 – better than where they started, but nowhere near the potential.

Our approach on the other hand, is stay with a team till they’re at floor 5, by which time the team responsible for service has the tools and training to deliver, long after we are gone.

Doing it this way is the more painful path. And it does put limitations on the rate at which you can grow. Which is why so many companies choose not to follow it. But it’s essential for us, and it’s the reason we only ever open the number of contracts we can handle. As that clever Mr Shakespeare once put it: “Wisely and slow, they stumble who run fast.”

Till next time,


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