My typical working day - I start off with a production plan and an admin plan, where I am actually in the kitchen producing our full range of macaroons, marshmallows, cakes etc during the day with my really cool and talented team of chefs till about 15:00 and then I get on with dealing with the admin and shop management tasks till I drop (which is shortly before dinner). However, on each day I am also faced with a set of surprise problems and puzzles which sometimes derails me off my plans.
Laura's got her head stuck in a whisk...standard chef problem
Last week there was a derailment in plans which meant I got to the shop three hours late, all flustered and raggedy from fatigue, hunger and stress. And then to add to that...I had the most curious visitor pop in. Now, the majority of people are absolutely lovely, and most of our customers are a pleasure to serve. It is always great to interact with them, and their feedback is invaluable - it is what has helped us evolve and grow our business. We freakin' love all the good feedback regarding our products and service. And as good as good feedback feels, it's the bad and the ugly that I obsess over, and it is this obsession that helps us keep assessing and implementing much needed improvements.
Our new window display full of CAKE!
Enter: Most Curious Visitor. She stepped in while I was about to close up having rushed in like a hot mess from the kitchen. She looked around and seemed to take an interest in the macarons and I jumped up to describe our latest flavour - Muchly Matcha, 'it's an unusual smokey, vanilla-ey flavour that really is surp..'.
'Yes, I know', visitor interrupts me mid-sentence.
Me: 'Oh, you do? Have you had it before?'.
Visitor: 'Yes, I sell them too at my café up the road'
It took me a good few seconds to recall exactly which café, and embarrassingly it was one that we've never been to nor intend to visit, but like most normal people in such situations...I faked it - 'Ooohh! Yes, of course! It's so cute!' in my most genuine voice. It actually is kinda cute from the outside, in your local greasy spoon sorta way, but of course it's Kensington dah'ling, where even the greasy spoon serves macaroons. 'Do you make the macaroons yourself?'
Visitor: 'Of course not, no, we buy them from [enter mass-market-wholesaler-name]. Same as these. But I sell them for £1. They are exactly the same but you are charging a lot more.'
Nothing about this woman's manner particularly irked me until she said that. What she said was so worrying for three reasons:
1) Wholesalers have no incentive to use quality ingredients - their main objective is to keep costs as low as possible to allow for the largest margins as possible as both the wholesaler and their customer, eg: random Kensington café, have to make their respective margins on the product. Sadly, the only one losing out here is the end consumer where they are getting low value on a low quality product as the middle-man and the producer make their margins.
2) The glaringly obvious fact that she could not tell the difference between the product SHE sold and the product WE sell highlighted how out of touch she was with her own business and product knowledge.
3) She was just plain bitter-nasty. There, I said it, and I feel so much better for it!
Shocker doesn't end there though. As I tried to reassure her that they were definitely not the same product as xyz-wholesaler does not use fine chocolate ganache fillings or real fruit and natural flavourings, she interrupted again with,
Naïve I may be on many fronts, but I sure as 'ell ain't gonna trust someone who has just admitted that she doesn't believe people care about quality. I consider myself part of the general public and I very much care. It saddened me deeply to see and hear first-hand that there are café/deli/restaurant owners out there who think customers don't care. And it worried me sick that I've built a business based on the premise that customers DO care - if this woman is right, am I the crazy one?! Is this all for nothing?
Premium grade Matcha green tea, fluffy sponge with real dairy butter, Belgian chocolate and crushed walnuts in a BEAUTIFUL cupcake
With my head spinning in self-doubt and hunger I say cheerio to her through the most forced smile ever and I can sense she's not had enough. She was literally frothing for more.
There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey
PS: Please do not take this as a Kensington-wide cafe slating. There are some LOVELY cafes in Kensington - Candella is really sweet, as is Café Monde, where the owners seem to actually care that people care :)