I’M scared of running a restaurant, coffee shop or eatery. I’m so scared that I’ll only do it if I am the person cooking, cleaning, and serving customers. Me, myselef.
It’s been a dream of mine for a long, long time – owning a profitable enough eatery that I can live off it doing all the other stuff that I enjoy.
Sitting on the terrace at the Taste Budz of the Capital Shoppers City Mall in Ntinda and swatting away numerous houseflies settled it for me.
Even as I chose the location I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it, but I needed somewhere to sit and wait till my next meeting nearby. I was quite certain I wouldn’t be enjoying any food here, so I planned to drink just a pot of spiced black tea with honey (I’m also cheap like that).
So I took up position, slapped open the Macbook Pro and watched the waiting staff watching me through the grimy window. It was a public holiday, and they were mostly chilling – some seated at a table chatting and texting while one of them folded up those little thin serviettes into triangles.
Three others were behind the counter chatting and moving things about for some reason that the person who invested money in this venture might not have included in the Staff Manual or books of accounts.
This is one reason I am afraid of owning such a business. I cannot imagine paying rent, electricity bills, internet costs (there is a paper glued to the window here that says ‘Free WiFi’), food costs, staff salaries and so on and so forth, then having just one customer sit at the tables at 1100hrs on a public holiday.
(In your mind, reader, change tense now because I am doing so here)
A minute in, a chap walks up to me slowly with a worn menu card and generally mumbles something as if unsure whether I am a customer or…(I don’t know what else I could be).
“Do you have black tea? Spiced?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, toying with the menu card.
“Please give me one black tea. Spiced.”
I know that the menu is not impressive but now that there is Free WiFi I feel it would only be fair for me to appear to be spending good money here.
So I ask for it.
He must be intelligent, because he appears surprised and tries to hand it to me but I pretend to be busy with the laptop and gesture to the table so he places it there.
Nothing to report, except that I check for my hand sanitiser and find comfort that it is present before I handle the menu card.
That’s another thing I’m scared of. I cannot imagine owning a restaurant and then getting told my menu cards are fake, with their laminated plastic covering and funny spellings. Then supposing these things are so expensive that restaurant owners can only change them once every twenty years or so? These might be things that non-restaurant owners don’t know and only discover after investing in the business. Then people start talking about your entire family because the menu cards at your restaurant are so old and sticky and worn and dirty and smelly.
I am also scared of being a restaurant owner getting sued for spreading some deadly disease by way of a bacteria infested menu card that I placed in the hands of a customer.
A few minutes later, I gesture to him and ask for the Free WiFi. He puts his hands together as if to rub off some of the bacteria from the menu card he had picked up and says, “I don’t know the code.”
He seems upset by this lack of knowledge – as would I be, if I were him.
“But it says there that you offer Free WiFi.”
“They don’t allow us to know the code.”
I look at him silently for a bit so that we can both spend some time thinking about this situation rather than brainstorming or arguing.
Eventually he figures out a solution.
“Let me call someone to give it to you.”
He returns with the black tea, presumably spiced, and sugar. All in those metallic contraptions that must be the cornerstone of some empire somewhere that convinced Ugandans that this is proper etiquette.
When did we start using these damn things and when will we realise we need to destroy them all? Why do those tea pots NEVER pour out tea properly? How come we all know this but still use them? What were the manufacturers thinking when they made them? Where are they made anyway? <— Five W’s and H. Tick.
“Please give me honey instead?”
“We don’t have honey,” the fellow says, and makes to leave.
“I don’t take sugar with my tea, so please get me honey,” I say with a firmness that normally works with the children and people who expect to be paid in exchange for goods and services. He was clearly neither of the above.
He looks at me as if I am being dense and decides to explain a little further, so as to clear out any doubts and confusion on my part.
“We normally get the honey from upstairs but it is closed. Those people haven’t come yet.”
My confusion deepens because whereas I am vaguely aware that there is an upstairs section to this Mall and perhaps even to this restaurant itself, I see no reason for this detail to be shared with me.
“Then I have to cancel the tea.”
He looks at the teapot, cup and sugar arrangement briefly, then at me. Then he leaves.
He turns back.
“Seriously – please get me honey instead of sugar, or take back the tea. And don’t take long because if it cools and you bring honey I still can’t drink it.”
He leaves and returns two minutes later with a fresh, non-uniformed employee. Not likely the Manager, but clearly higher up the ladder – maybe from upstairs?
She doesn’t have honey in her hands and comes right up to me before I realise that this is the custodian of the Free WiFi code (Taste110). At this point I enter into a moral dilemma – if they don’t bring me the honey I will send back the tea; will I still be entitled to the Free WiFi?
I debate for a few seconds then take the path of the Christian. She understands me quite well, exchanges a look with the waiter, then they walk off together for a few seconds.
She returns with a small piece of paper bearing the Free WiFi code (Taste110). The waiter follows closely behind her and removes the metallic tea pot, sugar bowl, and the cup and saucer.
I am scared of running a restaurant where they do that – spend my investment while not bothering much to get a return on it. I am scared of having employees who allow a customer to sit on the chairs, use the electricity and space, and EVEN the ‘Free WiFi’ without trying too hard to get some money out of his pocket.
These things really scare me. To think that I could be the owner of this place, which is about 200 metres away from the Capital Shopper’s Supermarket that sells honey at about Ushs5,000 a jar, yet have employees withdraw tea and sugar from a paying customer…
I fear to imagine being the owner of that restaurant – what did they do with the tea that had been brewed? How do they recover the cost of heating the pot of water involved?
The fears continue to rise as I log on and start typing out this lengthy review, and somebody else walks in, taking up a seat on the verandah. Within one minute a different waiter walks over in that slow, hesitant way we tend to use when employed in such jobs. He moves faster than my waiter, and seems more awake. They talk a little bit and a menu card is placed in the customer’s hands.
Eventually, the customer asks for a soda and hands over a Ushs50,000 note right away. I can’t be the restaurant owner who doesn’t get feedback from the staff about how people keep looking at the menu but they don’t order.
Or maybe it was just a slow morning with picky, stingy customers?
I still feel a little bad about using the ‘Free WiFi’ so I call this more sprightly looking waiter and ask for a bottle. He brings me my bottle – Dasani – and places it on the table.
I probably wouldn’t have used a glass if it had been placed on the table, but I feel a little slighted that none is offered.
Ripping the kaveera off the top of the bottle makes me gag as it is DEFINITELY SMELLING OF SOMETHING UNHYGIENIC!
I push it away and take another sniff and indeed, I feel like calling up the people at NEMA…or UNBS. A friend comes over to say hi and I ask him to smell the bottle. He is aghast. The waiter appears to notice, and comes over to check (marks given for that). I ask him to smell the bottle as well – “Nothing.”
“THAT smells okay to you?!”
I am at such a low point in my life that I can’t raise a tantrum, so I smile and bid my friend farewell.
And the waiter shocks me with: “I can get you another bottle if you want.”
Courtesy. Politeness. Attentiveness to the needs of a customer. Why is this surprising? Astonishing? Downright shocking?
I would hate to be a restaurant owner where my staff’s courtesy is a surprise. It’s hard being an entrepreneur sometimes…too many times. Especially in the food business – I’ll only do it if I am the person cooking, cleaning, and serving customers. Me, myselef.