£100 + 1 good idea: how atypical solutions deliver optimal outcomes.

The Story... The Puzzle... The Plan... The Results...


London, 2007, I was employed by a Private Members Club and Hospitality Group as their Barista Trainer across their twelve venues around the UK - it was an ideal role for me - I love to teach, I could travel and thoroughly enjoyed working with new people.

About a month into the role, the Operations Manager (O.M) sat me down to explain that over the last 6-12 months the company had experienced a down-trend in revenue which was consistent with all of their venues UK wide. In response the business effected two standard reactions:

  • Reduce costs, ie: wage costs

  • Leverage assets, ie: increase coffee sales (why I was hired).

After these changes, revenue had again spiked downward, so the decision was made;

I could be made redundant or be placed at their Notting Hill venue until my position became viable again. I opted to work at Notting Hill.

Relegated to a glorified bar tender,

it gave me plenty of time to think about how I ended up here… and how to solve it.

A consistent decline in revenue nationwide seems unlikely to occur without a definitive reason; so what was the origin before it had snowballed to this point?

Since Notting Hill was one of their marquee venues, I recognised the symptoms would most likely be found here as well.



The Story... The Puzzle... The Plan... The Results...

There are a few key points worth examining:

Morale/Culture: Staff were justifiably demoralised: the venue had reduced staff and remaining hours. Friends had lost jobs, trust had been broken, why should the staff care if the company didn’t?

Staff: Circa. 2004, Poland had been accepted to the E.U. By 2006-2007, London was in the midst of the ‘Polish Wave’.

Friction: Generally, the hiring of Polish staff presented no issues; they were professional and worked hard... however... when it came to another round of drinks or ordering dessert, the clientele started to meet some friction,

What seems obvious, but doesn't appear on the spreadsheet,

is that English was a second (sometimes third) language.

In hospitality, friction results in: “Let’s get a nightcap at the pub down the road”.

If friction is consistent, this results in: “Let’s try a new place all together”.

In my assessment, this is what attributed to the initial dip in revenue.

Multiply this by twelve venues, all operating breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a majority of Polish floor staff and we start to paint a more accurate picture.

Compound: In response to this dip, the standard process of 'reduce costs + leverage assets' compounded the issue they were attempting to solve.

The arbitrary laying off of (mostly Polish) staff by a posh London Members Club, unwittingly left a smell of Anti-Polish sentiment, a sentiment mirroring the cultural backlash to the ‘Polish Wave’ in the UK at the time.

Macro: For this organisation F&B were the ‘bread and butter’ offerings - their business model was designed around annual memberships and renewals.

If F&B was collectively trending down, it would indicate current members were spending less time and less cash on site.

Should this continue, do we suppose existing members are more or less likely

to refer their peers, or renew their memberships?

Failure to accurately diagnose this issue would result in a more critical situation within six months when renewals start to churn - this is what was at risk, including the attraction of potential, future members.

Before I break down my solution, could you design a solution that would effectively address revenue, employee culture, public relations, micro and macro conditions, considering that standard LINEAR process was ineffective.

If you chose to outsource this to a consultancy... what budget would you assign them and by what deadline?




Let's go...



The Story... The Puzzle... The Plan... The Results...

What I developed was a force multiplier to address all of these issues.

For the next month I proposed to run a complimentary English class

for any staff that wanted to attend.

The GM was skeptical, citing to the staffs ‘attitude problem’ and that they could already speak English. I made it clear that it would cost them nothing, I don't need anything and I’m basically volunteering my time.

Tuesday was our quietest day: I ran two, one-hour, sessions either side of the shift change, focusing on conversational English tailored towards service, little things like...

“Fancy one more for the road”?

As opposed to…

“You want anything else”?

No budget and no resources, what started as a one month trial, turned to a regular weekly program, as kitchen and floor staff all joined in, even coming in on their days off and staying for both sessions.

The staff felt like the company was valuing them - they returned this investment by bringing their enthusiasm and personality onto the floor - clientele found hosts they could engage with.



The Story... The Puzzle... The Plan... The Results...

By end of the following quarter, Notting Hill reported a 200% increase in F&B and staff turnover reduced to almost zero - while revenue is always a solid metric to track, reducing staff turnover is of massive benefit to any organisation.

A zero-cost, sustainable, scalable, solution that stabilised revenue, positively impacted employee culture and was proactive towards retaining Memberships.

By all accounts, an optimal solution.

I had proposed we leverage the marketing/PR angle of: "Company embraces Polish wave, immigration is great for business”... which would have worked wonders to counter the regular monthly scandals.

Even if my assessment was incorrect or if the initiative had failed, we would have trialled the sessions for four Tuesdays and it would have cost the organisation nothing.

What had it cost?

One staff member for two hours, once per week, approximately £100. Estimated ROI is approximated at 1 : 1000.

What was your solution?

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Christopher. S. Sellers is an Expert on Creativity + Innovation

Founder + Director of Black Bulb Creative