Monday, April 6, 2015

Big Risk in the Restaurant Business!

We did it! My five primary division media classes launched their one-day-only restaurants! Even though I'm sure our sales took a hit in some markets from having five restaurants in a two-week period, the learning we accumulated during that time, and the powerful follow-up conversations we'll have in the near future made it worth it. Here's a summary of each restaurant, with some photos and some key reflections.

Day 1
Monday, March 23, 2015
Sugar Shark (Dessert Restaurant)
Room 117 (Grade 1)

Yes, it was so busy that I didn't even get a chance to take photos! The parent volunteers (Christine & Jovie & Candy) were absolutely wonderful. They baked cookies with small teams of children prior to our grand opening, while a small team worked with me to set up the dine-in area.

Our big goal was to try and replicate an authentic dining experience in a restaurant as close as possible. The first element we had to discard, after this experience, was the dining-in area. We were only able to seat 10 in the area the children chose for their location and it took us an hour to set up, and although it was adorable to hear our hostess check her map and tell customers "I'm sorry but we're full. Can I put you on the waiting list? Or would you like take-out?", it caused a lot of backlog.

The classroom teacher joined us to help the cashiers, thank goodness! The students were engaged and helpful, especially some of our waiters, who played their roles well. Unfortunately, this restaurant made the smallest profit. I'm planning to do some integrated math/media classes to examine why we made such a small amount. I suspect it had to do with all our expenses, from the uniforms to the cookie ingredients. We still have ice cream left over, so we plan on re-opening Sugar Shark to try and increase our sales.

Day 2
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Ms. Singh's Super Good Food (Hamburger Restaurant)
Room 115 (Grade 2)

Adults managing the boiling pots and deep fryer

Waiters making a delivery

Many orders on their way!

Hurrying with a late order

Can something be a disaster and a roaring success simultaneously? We reduced the number of items we sold (another lesson learned from Sugar Shark) to just three, but our next biggest lesson we learned from this restaurant was to insist on pre-orders. It was chaos! I was worried because we had fewer parent volunteers - actually, none, or more accurately, none until one got conscripted when he showed up to have lunch with his daughter. I had to collect my husband (and our deep fryer) from home at recess and drive back to school to ensure I had some help. My staff was WONDERFUL. They saw me faltering and many of them gave up their recesses and prep times to help me cook food, organize orders, supervise children, and so much more. Even though we suddenly had an influx of adult help, we were overwhelmed with the amount of orders. We vowed NO FRIES in the future, because we could not keep up with the demand. In fact, we ran out of food and one of our amazing ECEs had to run to the grocery store to buy more hot dogs, buns, and french fries. We also learned it was important to prepare as many of the meals in advance as was possible and  identify who was going home for lunch and who was staying. Some poor students did not get served their lunches until after 1:00 p.m.! My poor husband had an absolutely miserable time - he stood glued to the deep fryer for three hours straight (10:45-1:45) while the children pestered him with questions about when the fries would be ready. We made a huge profit, but our customer satisfaction was at an all-time low: one of the waiters reported hearing a fellow student mutter that this was Ms. Singh's Super BAD Food. Still, it was a huge learning experience and the other restaurants benefited from the lessons learned here.

Day 3
Friday, March 27, 2015
Merry Chickendy (Chicken Restaurant)
Room 112 (Grade 2)

Taking orders using class-created codes

Preparing the chicken burgers

Washing the dishes after closing time

Vacuuming the floor is part of restaurant work too! 

What a difference a couple of days makes! We took pre-orders for Friday's restaurant on Wednesday, so we knew exactly how many chicken burgers and chicken nuggets to buy. We replaced fries with pre-made potato chips, a simpler option. We also made some other changes based on the hectic time prior. Even though students had assigned jobs (e.g. waiters, cooks), we insisted that everyone help with delivery, one plate at a time- that way, no one sat around and did nothing for extended periods of time. We also moved our headquarters to the library, on the main floor, instead of the staff room on the second floor. Even though the library now smells of cooking oil (because we cooked nuggets in the deep fryer and chicken burgers in the oven upstairs and transported them), it reduced travel time significantly. We had two moms come to help (Diana and Mrs. I) and they were great. We were actually finished distributing all the food by 12:15 p.m., which in a way was a shame because the grown sister, sister's boyfriend and mother of one of the students came by to visit the restaurant and we were already done! We did not make as much money as on Day 2, but customer satisfaction was high. Several students came up to me to say how tasty the chicken burgers were and one raved "I'd give Merry Chickeny and 4 1/2 out of 5 star rating" (which has tempted me to teach how to write restaurant reviews to the junior division children).

Day 4
Monday, March 30, 2015
Pizza Power (Pizza Restaurant)
Room 116 (Grade 1-2)

Ingredients ready for our student chefs

Parent helpers busy organizing orders

Cheese or pepperoni?

Delivering an order

Spectacular failures can be quite inspirational. The classroom teacher in Room 116 became very involved with this project, especially after seeing me wild-eyed and frantic the week before. I didn't want to inconvenience any of the class teachers, who had no say in the participation of their students; in fact, I tried to arrange a double-period prep for them so they'd get some benefit (as well as the profit). However, this teacher gave up her double prep to help arrange this. She bought the ingredients, coordinated the parent volunteers (M's mom, M's dad, N's mom and T's mom) and had everything ready for the children. Everyone was involved with making food and delivering it; we did not stress individual jobs. We highlighted the names of the children going home for lunch and had those orders delivered well before the 11:30 a.m. start of lunch. What could have been a major flub was averted by some students with excellent memories: when we got word that the kindergarten students had no pizzas, one of our waiters / delivery personnel reported that the kindergarten teachers had asked them to lock the deliveries in her room on her desk. Sure enough, there they were and the kindergarteners ate on time. The class teacher calculated perfectly and had just enough food to give some to her hard workers. The pizza restaurant made the second largest profit margin - they sold less, but the cost of supplies was lower than the burger joint.

Day 5
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Mr. Royalty (fancy pasta restaurant)
Room 114 (Grade 3)

Is there such a thing as "restaurant fatigue"? Our pasta restaurant has the second lowest amount of sales and profit. I realized how much of an impact seeing the other classes more often had on promotion and sales. (I only see the Grade 3s twice a week, for library and media. I see the Grade 1s and 2s for library, media, and two periods of dance/drama, which in the weeks leading up to the restaurant launch, I switched to extra media classes.) There were fewer posters and no announcements on the PA for Mr. Royalty. We still took pre-orders at recess the day before, but there was a much smaller crowd. Thank goodness we were able to persuade the students that their original idea of an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant might be too costly! I was secretly grateful for a small amount of customers, as it was only me and the classroom teacher (who knew a lot more about cooking spaghetti than I did) as the adult supervisors for most of the time. D's grandmother came near the end, with beef patties for the staff and the offer to manage the student dishwashers. (I took photos but haven't uploaded them to my computer yet.) We also learned from all five restaurants that it was crucial to have letters sent home to the parents of our youngest children, alerting them to the menu options and prices. This was hard to do, as the students were calculating the prices so close to the day of the restaurants. Some intrepid early primary teachers made their own letters, or asked classes (like Pizza Power) to make letters to go home. One kindergarten teacher even translated the note into Chinese so more of our parents could read it. We also needed to be more sensitive when buying ingredients - like advertising if our chicken was halaal or checking for gluten alternatives. All the parent volunteers were so supportive and kept saying things like "Next year, you'll know exactly what to do". I had to alert them that this would probably be the only year for our restaurants. We did learn a lot, but I like creating original major projects, like last year's super hero costumes, and the media marketing tie-ins to movies from the year before.

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