“I see how much this business makes at the end of the night. So why can’t you pay me more?!” Recently we heard frustration from a Head of People faced with this frequent murmuring of discontent. Why, they wondered, couldn’t the staff members understand that that closing figure, which looks like an enormous figure, isn’t just cash in the owners’ pocket. There’s rent to pay, rates, utilities… all those little things that don’t even get considered like waste removal… and where do they think the raw ingredients come from? You know how the old adage goes: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  But how about, instead of taking away that little knowledge, we start giving our teams a lot of knowledge? You might just find that the danger disappears – and in its place is an empowerment and understanding that has lasting positive impact on your business and your teams.
The brilliant Raj Markandoo of Bubala tells us why transparency is so transformative, and gives you the tools to implement this approach in your own teams. 

When operators hear the words transparency, our first thought can often go to the financials – and we naturally become quite guarded in our response. We ask ourselves some crucial questions such as, “why do they want to know this?”; “am I at liberty to tell them?”; and “what use will this be?”

And with good reason. We work in an industry in which the vast majority of businesses are privately owned with no public forum or obligation to report sales performance. What does divulging that bottom line convey, without the appropriate context? Those figures often don’t account for future growth, preventative planning, or reflect the conservative outlook it takes to preserve a financially sustainable model. The topic is complicated enough for those in decision-making positions; why trickle that burden down the ranks if it isn’t wholly necessary?

And yet, hospitality-focused firms like Prysm Finance and Viewpoint Accountants have, of late, recognised the value of sharing their financial reports anonymously, providing essential insight into industry trends. At Bubala, we strongly believe that true transparency is fundamental, and that it needs to encompass all aspects of our operations – including financial performance and beyond. This includes decision-making, the setting of company goals, and engagement with our team. We create a more inclusive and collaborative environment by fostering open communication and involving every team member in these processes. At Bubala, transparency means more than just presenting numbers; it means sharing our vision, listening to our team’s insights, and continuously striving towards improvement, together.

Financial Performance

On a monthly basis we take our restaurants’ leadership teams through our management accounts; we start with our gross income and explore the outgoings in key areas such as COGS, labour, property and other expenses. We use a budget guide, openly discuss opportunities for improvement, and explore goals for the coming month. The leadership teams also come together quarterly to discuss what’s working in each site, and where something could be adopted.

Within the sites themselves, we streamlined the financial reporting by utilising Tenzo, which team members can each access to see how we perform against key metrics such as sales, spend per guest, COGS, discounts and labour. Getting the team engaged seems to encourage them to want to better understand the financial aspect of the business. We also provide clear information on job descriptions and their corresponding pay ranges, for all roles in our restaurants, to minimise salary confusion and discussion.

Changes to tronc legislation are scheduled for October, and many operators will need to adapt. One key change is the right for employees to access tronc collection and distribution information. To proactively address this, we have begun producing a monthly report detailing tronc activities and providing additional context on any surplus collected. When questions arise we aim to address them within legal boundaries.

Making Decisions

As we continue to grow, we are constantly looking at ways to adapt and expand our operation. Like many other businesses, we have adapted by addressing our opening hours and adjusting them to keep up with customer demand.

We opened our second restaurant in Soho in July 2022. We initially held off on opening on Sundays, but it was very much part of our future plans. By 2023 it felt like the right time to open Sunday lunches – we made an announcement through Workplace and informed senior management, which gave us buy-in from senior managers…but not from the wider team. Ultimately the team wanted more engagement throughout the decision-making process, along with the opportunity to raise concerns and questions.

Fast forward to April 2024, and we had a second opportunity to improve our communication flow. After almost 5 years from when we first opened the doors of Bubala, we ventured into unknown territory: Sunday nights. We had recently extended our opening hours by just one hour on Sundays, finding that there was a huge appetite for 5pm bookings, whilst our 4pm bookings seriously dropped off. We determined that our guests wanted later dining hours, and when we considered the continued rising costs of goods and labour, we knew that extending our hours was the right move for our business, too.

Learning from our previous experience, we decided that speaking with our senior managers was the right first port of call. We then made the announcement, but this time we contextualised the reasons behind this proposed change of hours and the benefits it would have on the team; increased service charge, short shifts on Sundays, and of course, the financial benefit for the business – increased revenue from more covers. We then created a space – a forum of sorts – where the team-wide impact could be discussed. The team felt they could voice their opinions and the change was much better received.

Setting Company Goals

Each year at Bubala we ask our team to participate in an anonymous engagement survey. Once the data has been collected, we present our findings to everyone in an in-person meeting, highlighting action points for the remainder of the year. This has allowed us to make informed choices regarding workshops, training, feedback, and communications. Our community meetings which occur on a quarterly basis allow us to measure progress on our action points, and add to our list of company goals. If there are any action points we haven’t addressed, we discuss them openly to explore why – along with what we can do to compromise or if there’s something to return to in the future. This has seen constant growth and evolution since we first introduced the format 12 months ago, and we are continually impressed by the input from everyone – it has enabled us to be a better business.

In addition to our engagement survey and community meetings, we also have a suggestion form and an anonymous reporting form for the team to report any suggestions or grievances, about anything! This is then sent to our external HR consultant for guidance on solutions…the aim is to create a 360 feedback model – we want them to feel heard, and we’ll answer all suggestions and share them with the team in a weekly message.

Our advice?

  • Plan and prepare what level of financial transparency you feel confident and comfortable sharing and who that information can be shared with. It can feel exposing, but the benefits greatly outweigh the negatives: your teams will feel empowered and inspired to reach your financial targets. Reporting platforms such as Tenzo can support this, although there are associated costs – an Excel flash report is a good, affordable alternative.
  • Regular meetings with management to go over action points are essential, and communication needs to be at the heart of it all. Buy-in from the team at all levels is paramount and whilst there’s no fixed way of doing this, it’s important to stay flexible and adapt responses when something isn’t working.
  • Technology such as Workplace and Slack are great for facilitating communication, and they have the added advantage of separating work and personal life! We encourage the team to use features such as ‘do not disturb’ and to avoid using personal WhatsApp or emails for work matters. That being said, face-to-face and group meetings remain an essential part of our processes!
  • Annual engagement surveys, reports, and suggestion forms help us gather insight and opinion from our staff on a regular basis and in an accessible way, keeping everyone involved in our growth journey. Google Forms is our preferred platform, user-friendly and easy to extract data – we then jump to Canva to present that data in an engaging way.

Transparency is more than just a buzzword at Bubala; it’s the cornerstone of our ethos. By embracing open communication, involving our team in decision-making, and setting clear, collective goals, we aim to cultivate an environment where everyone feels valued and engaged. We acknowledge that we don’t always get it right but are committed to learning and improving together. As we continue to grow and adapt, we remain dedicated to these principles, ensuring that every voice is heard and every team member is empowered – this makes for a resilient and forward-thinking organisation.

Raj Markandoo is the Operations Manager of Bubala, a busy multi-site restaurant group in Central London. He uses his lived experience to drive change from within the hospitality industry. He is an advocate of improving workplace culture by active listening, participation and leading with actions.

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