Written by Andrew D’Aprano, part of the Nicole Gervasi Team
March 2020 began the heightened use of the C word, Covid-19.
The world’s economy was shut down almost overnight and the pandemic had confronted the hospitality industry with a huge challenge. Those that know me, the title of this article is obvious; for those that are new to me, I was a multiple restaurant and cafe owner from the age of 18.
By early 20s, I purchased a corner block, developed three townhouses and it was the beginning of both my longstanding hospitality career and build of my investment portfolio.
There’s a correlation between purchasing your first piece of real estate and the menu at the restaurant if you pay close attention to what is being said. Let’s say one day you sit at a fine dining establishment, pouring over a very complex menu, not sure what to order. You ask the waiter for a recommendation. Naturally you think they will suggest the most expensive item in the place and will probably never tell you if a particular dish is good or not, especially the priciest plates.
However, every so often you come across a waiter who is willing to tell it like it is. You might ask about a particular dish and they will tell you maybe its not a good idea but here is an alternative. Something special happens at that exact moment. The customer begins to trust the waiter. The waiter is not just giving the all great sales pitch.
This is how I choose to operate.
Hospitality is one the largest industries in the world. Actually, it’s the biggest employer globally. Given the 24/7 nature of the business and that vast competition within, excellent leadership and customer service are critical for success. Some of the industry’s best practices can be adopted by real estate.
Since COVID19, almost all restaurants, including mine, were asked to limit their operations to only take-outs. It just didn’t give justice to our chefs, our staff and everything we had successfully built over the years. The entire culture of Melbourne’s food industry had resorted to whatever you could fit in a brown paper uber bag.
During this time we powered on with pick-up and delivery; dining rooms became holding bays for piles of takeaway containers and staff morphed into packers & drivers.
The anecdotal evidence saw Australian restaurant revenue decline by 68 – 90 per cent. The only option was to take our best selling item and turn it to online wholesale – which still successfully operates today and is family run. Its the only way I could still feel connected to our customers and provide the best quality food in their homes as a ready made meal.
Closure was never going to be as simple as switching off the lights and re-opening the doors out of this pandemic.
Things stop working when they stop being used. Fridges don’t like being turned off for a period of time – they might need new gas, a bit of attention. Stove pilots don’t relight. Seals dry out on cool room doors and dishwashers, so you get leaks. Everything is designed to be used frequently.
Along with coaxing fridges back to life, I was rethinking almost everything – smaller menus, shorter wine lists, longer opening hours, mandate checklists to ensure workplace processes minimise contact and maximise hygiene. Staff need to be trained in new systems, whether its operating temperature guns to screen guests for fever or explaining new menu structures.
This phase felt, somewhat, like I was starting a new business again. And I had already built many. It was my time to turn to something new – but not foreign – Property. I always knew Real Estate, I had a family full of property conversation served at the dinner table growing up.
You learn more being a waiter than you do in any other job. Whats great is you have your territory. Its your responsibility. Its your table. Its your counter. That sugar has got to be filled. Being a server is the best way to learn about sales.
You learn to banish the word NO. The job is to solve a problem, and if you cant, offer alternatives.
Even as an owner, you will always be on the frontline – and pick up the trash if needed. We are not scared of issues that come in everyday business. The best owners in the hospitality see no job to big or small. You will never see a true hospitality professional pass by spilt food on the floor – whether that food is physical or literal.
Its the ability to get that coffee right away so they don’t have to ask for it. Its knowing what they ordered last time. That kind of attention to the details.
The best job you could have to prepare for entrepreneurship is walk on the other side of the counter and serve people.
If you ever waited tables in a fast-paced upscale restaurant, then you know that it is very very hard work. I learned and know how to treat people. I learned and know how to create loyal customers who would wait hours just to sit in my section or later in my restaurants & cafe.
What does any of this have to do with real estate? Well for me, Everything.
It’s not surprising, both feeding people and helping put a roof over their heads fall under the broad heading of being hospitable. Neither selling real estate nor running a restaurant is for the faint hearted.
Plus, who knows how to multitask better than a restauranteur – the 5 plate carry, keeping balance in the kitchen, different timing on the pass while keeping every customer happy – No easy task. This is not unlike being an agent.
Plus, who knows patience better than a restauranteur – every shift there is something that tested patience. A meal sent back, babycinos knocked on the floor, lines at the door. Taking a deep breath went along away – listen, smile and keep moving. And, similarly, any agent will tell you, there are many opportunities to breathe deeply every day.
Plus, who knows the power of expectation management better than a restauranteur. When the kitchen is running behind, the hard conversation to appease the guest. As an agent, every aspect of the job involves expectation management. The more information you share and the more preconceptions that can be addressed up front, the better the experience for everyone.
Plus, who knows how to negotiate an upsell better than a restauranteur. An extra glass of red to suit that steak, how about a tiramisu to finish off your evening. As an agent, you always need to listen and spot the upsell opportunities, the benefits of those ever strong follow up questions to get the best result.
Last but certainly not least, who knows the neighbourhood needs better than the person that’s served you locally for 22 years.