There were tremendous learning over the eight years in running such an F&B unit. We can categorize the learning into three broad categories: (a) starting up, (b) building the team and (c) running a sustainable F&B business.
Starting up was a big thing.
We totally under-estimated the challenges of running an F&B business. It was after all, our first true-blue business.
So, what did we missed out on? There were several more but here are some key ones:
- School canteen is more than a distribution point - we need to have the capability to provide food from our own kitchen.
- Layout and design of the kitchen is important, including the layout of the canteen counter front-facing the customers.
- School canteen is a captive market. This will literally can become 90% of your business revenue and income. Second point to add is that variety of meals matter.
- We need to know more than just our market size but demographics of our market - i.e. demographics of our students, seasonality of the education programs in the school, etc
So what we lack in F&B operating experience, we made up with our passion and commitment to make things work, and of course, blood, sweat and tears.
Building the team
In a school canteen business, three core roles to fill are cook/chef, cashier and back-up cook/chef (who also works as kitchen assistant). Supporting these core roles could be permanent part-timers to man the cashier and double up as service staffs to clear the plates.
There is an element of luck here as job advertisements posted on different days attract different types of candidates. We took a while to fill our permanent cook/chef role.
Running a sustainable business
Once you set up the foundation and with necessary team in place, the business will not fly. It's about forming a culture to glue these team members together.