Good Morning Vietnam (part 6) by Shane Brierly

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th July 2011

Shane Brierly is a New Zealand born Executive Chef who spent most of his culinary career in Australia from the tender age of 18 which is many moons ago. Now old and grizzled, he loves the expat life and so far has worked in Dubai UAE, Kazakhstan, Thailand and Vietnam.

His website is chef-a-gogo.com which has photos, food & recipes from both his day to day cheffing  and also the more exotic side of his travels. Or follow him on twitter @chefshane.

Part 6 - Where is the love? To read Part 5 click here

G'day from very tropical, hot, sunny & busy Central Vietnam. Do you picture me bobbing in a seductive sea, entwined in the arms of a loved one as the sun turns into a red fiery orb, sinking beneath a row of coconut palms along a pristine white sand beach? That was my weekend.  The working week has been hectic though. We've been inundated with tourists, weekenders and function/conference guests all heading to Da Nang for the abundance of fun, sun, seafood and local adventure available right now. We've been through the run of 'Ghost town' vs. 110% occupancy ourselves and things have stabilised a bit now that we have a website up and running, we have a more defined market, and some solid product offerings with broadly recognised consistency and quality. We also have team that is more like a family or an army unit. I look around and realise that I care deeply about all of my people, and love being at work with them. They are motivated, perform well, and are just fun to be around. They also care for me, and each other. Busy periods run well with everybody respecting each other. Because they are friends who help each other and work together with a common goal. We smile, laugh, joke and nudge each other through the hectic, trying bits, and the mood bubbles over to guests who find that personal, friendly, welcoming, inclusive approach from almost all the staff they meet quite refreshing. We have "Love" in da house! Not that we are always comedians or buffoons. Far from it. There is a lot of skill, process, understanding being developed as well as the professional persona. But we get better results through being positive and open than we get through enforcing draconian policies and handbook regulations. Alongside our own "late blossoming" into a more stable (high) occupancy, we've lost a few staff to several large hotel pre-opening competitors. I'm now shocked at how few we actually lost, and at the quality of the ones we lost. The best ones generally weren't picked, and I expected to lose triple the number based on the salary bidding-war alone. Now stories are starting to emerge around Da Nang about the competitors and new openings. An old, established competitor has a stale product, very convenience based, quite old-fashioned and without innovation or variety. The management like it like that. The staff and guests don't. Many guests from there come to us, and lots of their staff are leaving out of frustration at a lack of respect, training, innovation, development. There is no care, love or passion. Just clinging to a faded glory, and feeling so complacent that they feel that after a decade they have nothing to improve or evolve. Great news for us! Another International brand competitor desperate for staff started a salary war to attract talent. Instead, they attracted staff motivated only by money. They imagined that cash was King. It often is, but it is not the only motivator. Their management also came in to copy our menus and service. As well as poaching staff during the visits. It does show everybody that they are not the all-powerful, professional, established brand that everyone thought them to be - just another struggling local property with no FB service, HR or food standards / direction yet. We're proud that they want to copy our successful breakfast and take staff that want to show them how we do what we do. We can evolve, retrain, create and inspire. We have that interest. That love. Another major local competitor over hired staff by continually increasing salaries, but failed to meet basic standards. Many staff were interested but then changed their minds or left after a short time due to disorganisation during interviews, offer process and starting employment. Also No equipment, no AC, no organisation, no communication, no systems and no ethics. They opened before they were ready, and already upset all their staff with dodgy contracts, mistruths, daily verbal and emotional abuse, swearing, unreasonable pressure, hours and a total lack of respect for their people. And changing basic employment conditions without notice, communication or reason. Like the Exec Chef coming back after work to find out he was now sharing his room. Both competitors approached us directly for our menus and prices in one convenient email so they could sit in their office make their menus & prices without any effort, creativity or consideration for their own target market. We spent 6 months developing ours based on our skills, clientele, resources and niche. Funny how many people in town are scared at the "competition", and turn them into big, scary, invincible boogey-men instead of the fragile new openings that they are, with the same teething problems that we all face. So what is the point of this post? It's more than money and process. It's about bringing a little love into where we work. Bringing some passion, compassion, skill, respect, integrity and care for others into the working environment and forming these values into a central skill set. That way you get to keep lots of loyal staff and give guests a feeling and experience that can't be bought with big brand names and lavish salary offers to all and sundry. We want to see everyone successful, working together and making Da Nang a strong, viable hospitality product. It's not a race. But the new companies are racing to the finish line, climbing over each other and leaving their wounded behind in their haste to 'succeed' They have to realise that it's not a finish line they race towards, but a starting line. And that one day, being a respectful community of professional hoteliers will be of more value and bring more business than being a batch of competitors wanting to win at any cost. And just be what you are. Be yourself. Be different. Have your own unique selling points. And have a great month.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th July 2011

Good Morning Vietnam (part 6) by Shane Brierly