What I've learnt: Thomas Pash
The CEO of the fast-growing Urban Purveyor Group talks about the importance of deep knowledge, and what the real secret sauce in the hospitality business is.
“I’ve loved the industry from the moment I got into it. My first hospitality job was when I was 14 at a ten-table Mexican restaurant. I was the cook, the server, and the janitor: you name it I did it. I was fortunate enough between starting out very young and being the CEO of a two-billion-dollar hospitality group by the age of 30 to touch on just about every position across the industry: from bartender to catering service manager.
I’ve worked with some pretty amazing groups from the beginning and was lucky they thought I was doing a good enough job to promote me at a relatively young age. By the time I was 18 I was the general manager of a large seafood restaurant that, in the early ’90s, was turning over $125,000 per week. At 22 I was managing my first 2000-room hotel.
No matter where people end up working, I think that everybody should spend time in the service and hospitality industry. It helps you to learn, identify and relate to human behaviour. It’s also gives you experience of handling stress in a fast-paced environment.
Over the years I’ve worked with some companies that were very good at what they do. Generally they had a very specific sequence of service and focused on taking care of the customer. One of the secrets I’ve learned is the importance of having a deep knowledge of your product, whether that’s menu items or catering options. Early on, some of the more rigorous training programs I went through encouraged a maniacal attention to a detailed product understanding. That’s stuck with me. Knowledge gives you credibility when you are talking to and taking care of a guest. It allows you and the rest of your team to take real pride in what you offer.
In many ways this industry is very simple; you need to control the various “cogs”. The rent “cog” is central and should be between five and eight percent of your sales. If you control your rent, labour, food and beverage “cogs” you can do very well out of it. If you lose site of one category or another, it’s typically an uphill battle.
Many people, when opening a new restaurant or bar, tend to limit themselves, thinking a small venue is easier to manage. Starting out small can really hurt you long term. Within the Urban Purveyor Group, a lot of our venues seem really big. Possibly too big from Monday to Wednesday, but it’s those peak days from Thursday to Sunday that make the business. That’s when the bulk of people are dining out and spending their money and that can really push the needle on making a profit. You don’t want to be turning people away on a Friday night because you’re constrained by size and number of seats at peak times. If you want to get big or maximise your opportunities in this industry it’s okay to think big and it’s okay to over-design or over-scale a venue because you really can benefit from that.
After going through business school and being a part of some wonderful companies, I’ve realised that all great companies are really service-based companies. Having a service-based approach will work for any business even if you are not in a service industry. People who grew up in hospitality understand service: they are not just looking after their guests; they’re serving each other.
A great thing about this industry: the feedback is immediate. If you ask for feedback from your customers you will get it. Whether it’s good or bad you can immediately implement a change or improvement. I’m a student of the industry; I study the competition. I look at who are doing things that are interesting. You can take ideas and incorporate them into your business the next day and get immediate feedback from your customers. See what the innovators are doing out there, then grab it and bring it back to your restaurant or bar. Go out and see what’s driving the customer, work out who is doing what is expected but also that little bit more. It’s that little more that really is the secret sauce of the industry.”