Thoughts on… our way of thinking

31Jul12

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If you’re new to the Town Mill Bakery and our ethos then it’s probably a good idea to let you know how it all works… and why we do things this way.

 Our bakery restaurants are made up of five distinct brands: breakfast, lunch, tea, supper and our shop. We don’t do all-day-breakfasts, cake in the morning or scones for supper and we never will, no matter how many times people come in asking for it.

 Why we say ‘no’

The thing is, we say ‘no’ a lot, but not just to be difficult or lazy. We think ‘no’ can be a really useful word.

 For example, no we don’t have Coca Cola, we serve fresh apple juice, because no matter which one of our restaurants you are visiting you can pretty much guarantee that there’s an apple orchard within a 20-mile radius producing gallons of the stuff.

 No, we don’t have highchairs because we believe that if your child is too tiny to sit up on their own they should sit on your lap. Even if they’re not too small they can still sit on your lap. My wife’s Italian and there are no high chairs in restaurants her part of Italy.

 And no, we don’t sell marmalade, we have local jams – and will continue to do so until oranges are grown in this country.

 Saying ‘no’ is what defines us as people, but also as a business. If you say ‘yes’ all the time then no one knows your limits, or the shape of you. Saying ‘no’ sets clear distinctions between what you can expect to eat in our restaurants at different times of the day, which is:

 Breakfast (every day from 8.30am until noon-ish) which is all about toast, croissants and other pastries plus our jam and peanut butter, our own butter, boiled eggs and muesli. In winter there’s also porridge, and in summer there’s yoghurt and fruit.

 Lunch (12.30pm-ish until 2.30pm or until we run out) will always be some kind of hearty soup or stew in winter, and salads in summer, using fresh, seasonal ingredients.

 Tea (2.30pm until 4.30pm-ish) is cakes and scones with our own butter and jam, all made right here and emerging from the oven piping hot from half two in the afternoon.

 Supper (Monday to Saturday from 5pm until 8pm in August only) is our pizzas, based on the trusty margherita with whatever seasonal topping we fancy using that day.

 It’s like this: if you went to stay with a friend for the weekend you’d have breakfast food at breakfast, lunch at lunchtime, tea and cakes in the afternoon if you were lucky, and then a totally different meal in the evening. That’s just the way families at home think and operate.

.Why we sell our own stuff, and no one else ever will

Our shop is stocked only with what we’ve made ourselves, or what we’ve asked specially chosen craftspeople and producers to make for us – things we like and know exactly where they’ve come from.

 For example, our coffee beans and ground coffee are blended and roasted exclusively for us by Nigel at the Dorset Coffee Company. His expertise means that he selects and roasts every single coffee by hand, using his highly-honed senses of sight, sound, smell and taste to give each blend its own distinctive flavour and aroma. In turn, our barristas need to be experts in making the perfect cup of coffee, as well as being to tell our customers exactly where the coffee comes from, and why we favour that particular blend.

 Lots of the food products we sell in our shop will be things that we’ve made too much of that day, so you have the chance to buy what’s left over. We are happy to put our name on them because we know what’s in them because we made them fresh ourselves from proper ingredients. You’ll never see any of our products being sold anywhere else, because that’s the dark, murky world that necessitates mass production and leads to compromising on quality, value and taste – something we absolutely won’t do.

 Why we let people pay as they leave

Back in the 1990s BT ran its famous ‘It’s good to talk’ campaign, which is where I first came across the phenomenon of making friends and building relationships by reciprocating confidences.

 If you don’t trust people by sharing confidences you’ll only be acquaintances but never friends. From the playground to the workplace and the nursing home, telling one person a secret shows them that you trust them, and opens the door for them to trust you with a secret of their own, which is how friendships are born.

 That’s how we see it with our brand. By working out your bill by asking you to tell us what you’ve had to eat and drink we feel we’re creating a solid relationship that goes beyond just being a transaction and can become a friendship. It’s nothing to do with an honesty policy; it’s about reciprocating confidences, and that’s what defines us and sets us apart from the Costas, the Starbucks and even the River Cottages. I don’t have to tell you that no matter how many times you eat in River Cottage you won’t become friends with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

 It’s not about doing things for our convenience

Conventional wisdom has it that the food business should be operationally led to maximise profits and enable rapid growth. This means using low-skilled workers at the point of customer contact who need only use the most basic of equipment to heat up and serve pre-prepared food and drink with the minimum time, effort and skill.

 This is not how we like to do things. We have a reputation for freshness and flavour, and we didn’t get that by batch cooking. Whatever we are making is prepared fresh each day by our expert staff who we’ve trained ourselves – some of whom joined us as apprentices – and set their own standards. We don’t make huge vats of things that will last all week because that would be doing something purely for our own convenience, and that’s not what we’re about.

 And we don’t give our dishes fancy names. Pizza is pizza, jam is jam (not compote) and it’s a Swiss roll, not a roulade. We are all about being straightforward and straight talking. We want to give you food you recognise, at the proper times of day, made in small quantities that promote freshness and quality, and served in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

 Yes, this kind of quality might be harder work and cost more, but we believe people can tell the difference and should strive to seek out value over price where they can afford it because, sadly (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) the consumer age has left too many people knowing the price of everything but the value of fuck all.

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2 Responses to “Thoughts on… our way of thinking”

  1. Fantastic blog entry, thank you – really great to see someone who understands and values their brand and has the courage to stick to it. No wonder you have “Fans and friends” rather than “Customers and Clients”

  2. Brilliant blog post – I couldn’t agree more. Keep sticking to your guns and carry on building relationships ahead of a quick buck. Just one thing though – where on earth do find strawberries the size of a human head? That cake looks enormous…


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