As promised, we have discussed the grievances you raised at the meeting on Tuesday and wanted to respond like this in order avoid lengthy WhatsApp messages. We will use this platform for other notices too when they are lengthy or involve to the whole group and need to be in a place where we can access them easily.
First off, thank you for being upfront and voicing your concerns - we appreciate the open communication and dialogue that this allows. Secondly, we acknowledge that there is some validity to what you have said and it’s something that we do take seriously. We care deeply about your experiences as individuals in the company and we want you to feel valued.
To summarise what was discussed:
You mentioned that you are unhappy about how certain issues have been dealt with
You have concerns about how this is affecting staff morale
You are concerned about how the changes in the toasties is affecting your customer interactions
Just to get the third point out of the way first - we are conscious of this and while we would prefer not to have made the changes it is a matter of cost, where the financial loss on the avocados was just huge and this was really hard to manage because of the wastage. Likewise with the rocket - we were seeing quite a bit of wastage there as well as having difficulties in keeping it looking nice and fresh at the market; you guys are aware of this. We are going to look into how we can try and bring the avocado story back because we are aware of how popular it makes the toasties but for now please could you explain to the customers that we are having an issue with getting supply of ripe avo in that quantity and we are trying to address it but that is also why we have dropped our price. We won’t be swapping out toasties for laffa on a regular basis - this was just a one-off to see if any complaints were raised by the other middle eastern stall.
Thank you for thinking about this and bringing to light that it is affecting the customer experience.
We wanted to begin by giving a bit of context to how we think we have come to this point. As you are aware, we started the company 6 year ago and in the beginning things were quite informal. Over time we developed better systems and were able to grow and establish ourselves as a small but great catering brand because we were particular about the way in which we did things. We then got to the stage where we were able to have several teams out at the same time and while this was wonderful it also came with it’s challenges. It was at this stage that we implemented a fines system for items and processes that were left off the checklists for each event. We tried this out for a while but after some time you made it clear that you felt it was an unfair system and it made the work environment difficult. We agreed to drop the fines system and try without it, rather implementing a bonus system to incentivise you instead. This did have a positive impact and made a considerable difference for quite some time, during which we were happy to spend this extra money as it helped you to keep your heads in the game.
However, things seemed to start to slide back which is why, for example, we wanted to implement the dropbox system - so that we could track items and try and regain a tighter control of the operations. Since having done this in the last few months, we have become aware of the scale to which consumable items are being lost and/or broken. These items may seem small and insignificant to you - a lighter, a pen, a light bulb - but be assured that the quantities we are going through add up to a lot of money being lost. To give you a clearer understanding, in the last four months we have lost between R5000 - R6000 of consumable items and ingredients PER MONTH due to accidental breakage or carelessness. Over a year this adds up to well over R60 000. That is R60K that we literally are throwing away. Now, while we are aware that mistakes do happen we cannot be expected to foot this bill. As we have explained, the country is in a recession and we are JUST managing to keep our heads above water. We are a very small company and the entire financial risk of this business resides with us so we have got to count all our pennies. We are sure you can understand that. The new systems that are in place are there to assist us in managing this loss but also to help you to stay on top of things. We know that when we are busy things can easily fall between the cracks and our systems are there as tools to help avoid this as far as possible.
Now, we should probably have explained this to you guys more clearly so as to help you understand why we have to have more rigorous systems. We also acknowledge that at times issues could have been dealt with in a better way. It has been a pressured and emotional year, resulting in sometimes emotional responses but as your leaders we should not have allowed this to get in the way of our interactions with you. We do however feel that it has often been necessary to come down on you guys hard and as the owners of the company that is our prerogative. We hope and believe that we are reasonable people, we have always listened to your concerns and tried our best to make things better for everyone involved but we also need to safeguard the company. As an example, when it comes to something like a customer overhearing a really terrible homophobic comment made by one of our staff we are fully entitled to exercise the full might of the law and threaten those involved with disciplinary proceedings. To put it in a different light, if for example someone on the team made a racist remark, would you not expect us to react as strongly? Discrimination against a person because they are different in some way is still discrimination, whether or not you feel it is right, and it is not an area on which we are willing to soften our stance. In fact we are under no obligation to explain ourselves to you in this regard because at the end of the day it is our company and our ethics, however in the spirit of open communication and open mindedness we are addressing it openly here. So we stand firm on this and would like to reiterate that in many cases we do need to come down on you guys to make it clear what it and what is not acceptable, whether it’s an issue of ethics or of following proper procedure.
Having taken some time to consider everything, what we feel is that this has actually highlighted some serious concerns for us. At the end of the day, this is first and foremost a business. It is our business that we have built from the ground up. It is our livelihood and our responsibility - it is also the livelihood of many other people as you yourselves are aware. Therefore we feel we are fully entitled to run it as we see fit and do whatever is necessary to ensure that things happen as they should. We will always be open to discussions about how things can be improved and if there are areas where we are not displaying sound leadership then we will do our best to remedy that. But ultimately we need you guys to be able to listen to our criticisms and requests and take accountability for your actions. That is what will be expected of you in any work environment. From where we sit it seems like most of you understand this but there are clearly some people who feel this is asking too much. So, let us be quite clear when we say that this is not a stage for politics or personal drama - let’s keep things professional and focus on the business at hand. This brings us to point 2.
We were very sad to hear that your morale is low at the moment because we feel very responsible for your experience with the company. Our staff always have and continue to be extremely important to us. So while we think it is fair to say that the work environment is a two way street and depends on what you bring to the table just as much as what we bring, we would like to see if there’s a way we can find some solutions together as to how to improve matters.
We'd like to start out with the promise that we will try to manage our own approach towards disciplinary issues and to be as level-headed and fair as possible, with the understanding that at times we do need to crack down. Aside from this and in order to provide a bit of extra support in this regard we feel it’s important to make it clear who the Tutto veterans are that you can call on for advice.
At this stage this includes the following people, in no particular order:
Over the years all of these people have racked up thousands of hours of work with Tutto for and/or have professional qualifications in the food industry. This makes them the most experienced members of the markets and events team and they have our complete trust when it comes to overseeing this area of work. Please see any constructive criticism that they give you as being something you should take on board as it can only help you. You should view this as a really fantastic resource for support - working alongside experienced people is always the best way to learn.
As a next step we would like to invite you guys to put forward any suggestions as to how you feel we can improve our systems and make things better for you so that we can get back to a place of positive vibes. We know it is going to be a process but we are definitely willing to put in the work it will require so please do let us know what ideas you may have.
Look forward to hearing what you guys think.
Dan and Clem