Friday, September 21, 2007

Cafe growing pains

I wish there was someone I could talk to about the growing pains in running a cafe. One of the hardest things I've found is settling on the appropriate number of staff. At Bloom, we can go without customers for five days in a row and then on the sixth day, we'd have eight people turn up at the same time. How do I get the balance right? If I hire too many people, they'd be sitting around most of the time, bored out of their brains (although we do try to create new recipes when the cafe is quiet). If I hire too few people, we cannot cope with a sudden surge in customers. I guess this is what they mean by "scalability". How can I strike the right balance and ensure we are scalable?

Currently, Bloom has three cooks and two waiters (me included). I am lucky I also have Srey Roth, who used to be a co-manager at Sisters' cafe at the Russian Market. Roth works at the Bloom Bags shop at the Russian Market but she helps out at the cafe whenever I need her.

The cafe had its best and worst day yesterday. We were really lucky and had 20 people come in for lunch. We were all so excited as we were informed of their pending arrival the day before. They would also place their orders in the morning which would leave us enough time to prepare the food before their arrival. I had checked with the Bloom team that the six of us would be enough to cope with the numbers and they replied confidently, yes.

Unfortunately, a combination of factors led to a very unhappy situation--food was served very late, customers were not pleased, staff were harassed and tempers were fraying all around. I was very fortunate that most customers were very understanding and forgiving, but I felt like I had let them all down. I let the stress get to me and started bubbling when I had to apologise for the umpteenth time. Not good. I was told by a customer who returned today for lunch (yay! we didn't lose them all!), "We were all talking about you yesterday." I'm sure they were thinking, what's up with this woman? It's such a small matter, especially in a country like Cambodia, where there are many other things to be crying over.

I felt upset because we had let customers down and left them unhappy. Customers are everything to a business, especially a new one. We so desperately need good reviews and for customers to spread the word about Bloom. I keep thinking, we only have one chance, we can't screw it up. And yesterday I was convinced we did. It was very discouraging, and I kept wondering, when will we ever get things right?

The good thing is that most of the customers were really, really sweet about the whole thing. Twelve of them even returned today! I was very, very touched and really appreciated that they gave us an opportunity to try again. I cannot explain how much this means to Bloom--we hardly ever get the opportunity to practice serving a large number of customers at the same time. And this group of kind souls were willing to give us a second chance. They believed in us, and thankfully, things went much smoother today. We didn't let them down.

To the team from Peace Bridges, the Mennonite Central Committee and KHANA, thank you again from all of us at Bloom.


TooT said...

Hi again Diana, I ran a food outlet for over a year and knows intimately the manual part that goes with the work daily. Only difference is that here the labour costs are high, so we pretty much did everything ourselves. As for workers, lol, sometimes they turned up, sometimes ... lol ...

Diana Saw said...

Hey OT, thanks for the comments. I wonder if I can ask you some questions about running the cafe? I really am at my wits end. Can you send me an email at or leave me your email?
Thanks a million,


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