Reinventing Your Reception Business During Covid-19 | Your SocialChef

On episode 12 of the Your SocialChef Show, I talked to Jude De Silva of The Grand Receptions and discussed how they reinvented their reception business during Covid.

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Interview highlights:

0:47 – 5:16 The Effects of Covid-19 on Reception Businesses
5: 17 – 10:33 Reinventing the Business
10:34 – 13:57 Importance of Promoting and Advertising
13:58 – 16:00 Advice to Business Owners


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Jude: Hi Mark.

Mark: How are you mate? Thank you for coming live with us today. Jude’s been in the business and the reception business here, he owned it. He owns three major reception centres around Victoria, one in Wantirna South, one in Mulgrave, and the new one is Lincoln. The Rolls-Royce of reception centres. Jude, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and then your businesses?

The Effects of Covid-19 on Reception Businesses

Jude: Yes, indeed Mark well, I’m an engineer by profession to start with. I’m not in hospitality, but I love what I do. So I came across the first venue 15 years ago, which was The Grand on Cathies in Wantirna South. And then we evolved since then into The Grand on the Princess in Mulgrave and the recent acquisition, the Lincoln of Toorak in Toorak.

Having said that we’d done a lot of things that have, we’ve got a great team to start with. You’re only as good as your team, to start with. We do a lot of functions with the schools. We do 106 events, no sorry 106 schools, roughly, which is about 200 plus events with just the schools market in Melbourne, which are debutantes, foremost graduations, etcetera. And then we also have a wedding market, which is pretty much any community in Melbourne, which is and that’s pretty, yeah, that’s what we used to do until the 7th of March when everything had to come to a standstill.

Mark: That’s crazy, that’s crazy. So I could imagine, the size of the crisis that you’ve experienced back then is phenomenal.

So what, what did you end up doing? Like, I know a lot of reception owners that just went home. They closed the doors and went home, and then I would like to share something before you continue. Somehow you need to figure out a way to keep people buying from your business.

Otherwise, if considering COVID-19 will take a while for us to overcome it, it will be very hard to bring people back in and then remember your business, remember to buy from you, remember to support you. So it’s very important to be active right now today. So can you tell us a little bit more about that? What did you do?

Jude: Okay, firstly, well, we had all three venues, oh sorry, two venues completely booked out The Grand on Cathies and the Grand on Princess in Mulgrave for the next 18 months. The Lincoln of Toorak in a recent acquisition, we had it at about 60% capacity. So the first thing we did was to categorise all our clients into ABCD, and that was to, because we predominantly ask our functions of it, events with schools, having the duty of care and so forth. We gave them priority in rescheduling their events, we took some of the dinner dances that we used to have, the social gatherings, which is the mindset. Whenever we come out of it, they’re not going to be the right mindset to execute functions.

So what we did was we put them on hold, and we locked in the prices for this year, for next year as well, and gave them dates for next year, giving room for dates for this year, whenever the schools and the weddings can come back on again.

So category A was our events with schools and category B was weddings because they’re ready to go whenever the government says that we are good to open up again. So number one is that yes, it was, we had a cash flow mapped out for the year in March, and it all came to a standstill, and we had a great following, an organic following, to be honest with you with over a hundred thousand people coming through our doors every year. And what we decided to do was to capture that market again.

So I put my hand out and say, listen, whatever we do, we’ve got to be good at it. That’s the trick to reinventing yourself.

So I’ve been looking up on social media and thank the Lord that I came across, a gentleman called Mark Khoder, and I asked him for help. And we had the opportunity to have a chat, and so we can all make my whole idea work, to keep our team together. And all we have is 11 full-time staff and 90 casual staff. But what I wanted to do was to keep the nine, sorry, the 11 full-time staff together, whenever we decide to reopen, whenever the government decides to reopen that we are still together. So the only way I could do that is to keep them at our venues and our team. So what we decided to do was takeout business.

Mark: Takeout business.

Reinventing the Business

Jude: Takeout business. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at. We’re also looking at other things that would probably use our assets and really looking at what we can do with it. But at this point in time, it’s takeout so that people are bringing The Grand to home because at the end of the day, people have to eat and we’d love to give off amazing chefs a go with regards to offering the great food that we offer to people’s homes.

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: So that’s what we reinvented ourselves with. So we started with The Grand on Cathies somewhat four weeks ago now, Mark

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: And you’ve just helped us launch the Mulgrave venue just today. So, and we’re going to see how that goes. So the idea is, yeah, it takes time, but it takes commitment.

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: And as Mark you, as you know, you can’t clap with one hand, and you’re only as good as a team and having Mark, sorry, having you onboard Mark is a blessing.

Mark: Thank you, thank you, Jude, I appreciate it. We love clients like yourself too, on top of their game, they get it done, there’s no joking mocking around you. We would just get out there and make things done. Jude, why are we running from two locations instead of one?

Jude: Well, We have the resources to, well, firstly it’s important to get the right product out there, so we mastered that at The Grand on Cathies in Wantirna South. So it took us about three to four weeks because doing takeout is a totally different business. We know we should do 3, 4,000 meals a week, and now we’re doing, not even a fraction, but a decimal point of what we used to do.

Mark: That’s right

Jude: So getting yourself organised and be proud of the progress that was put out there and getting some feedback from the clients was the way to go. So we mastered that aspect of it for the first three to four weeks, and then we were ready to come up with another Mulgrave. And then we got another reach out here too. So Mulgrave being more in a public area, as opposed to the Cathie’s lane venue, it’s more residential, it’s got more organisations that are still in business. So hoping that we can get into another market segment so to speak.

Mark: That’s right, that’s right. I would like to add to this is if you’ve got the resources and the locations to test your concepts and what you’re trying to offer, it’s a blessing because you’ve got more space, more resources to test to put out there your concepts.

And you’re not just locked in with one location. And the other thing that I really like about your concept, you did not come to the market with just one concept and saying, look this is what we’re doing, and this is the menu, and that’s what it is. You’ve got the international menu, international concept, ethnic concept and the weekend specials. And I personally believe it’s a wonderful way to come in and test stuff because you know what, four weeks from now, you can come back with data, and you can say, the international business has gone doing very well for us. We don’t don’t really care about the ethnic business anymore. Or the ethnic business is doing very well for us. We don’t care about the international concept anymore, but in terms of specials and keep people excited about what you are bringing on, or the mud crab, Mother’s Day this is the ribs, all of that stuff I really, really love this work, Jude and I have to see more out of it now. And I’m sure we will, I’m sure we will.

Jude: Thank you, Mark. Well, Melbourne’s got such a diverse ethnic background that you have to try a few different things and see which one sticks. There is no map already sorry, no roadmap as such that works. So what we’ve done is we’ve tried, we bought the Lincoln chefs, they’re the award-winning chefs. So we bought them into The Grand venues and did the gourmet menu, so to speak. And then we got the Sri Lankan chefs, doing the Sri Lankan menus. And of course, the ribs had been a real hit, the beef and pork ribs, and the mud crab offers, and so forth and so forth. It’s seeing traction and what I’m finding is that the ribs had great reviews and a great following for it. So what we decided to do is keep it every weekend. It seems to work. We never used to have ribs on our menus at The Grand before, but we thought we’d try something new, something unique, something that you can cook at home, right. But you can still have those flavours that you used to go to a restaurant enjoy. So mud crab, something which is for Mother’s day, we all have moms, everyone treats our moms, and that’s what it’s all about. Giving them something to experience. It’s just not about the food, it’s what they experience and the flavours and making sure that our chefs can give you that experience, which is more important.

Mark: Grand at home.

Jude: Exactly, absolutely, absolutely Mark

Importance of Promoting and Advertising

Mark: How do you currently promote and advertise what you’re executing at your venues?

Jude: Mark that’s a tricky one in the sense that I’m an introvert usually on my day to day basis, but however, I’ve decided to put some video clips of what our specials are for the week for example.

For example, it could be beef and pork ribs. It could be the mud crabs, it could be lamb shanks. It could be the gnocchi. And what we do is I come out there, I’m not a great public speaker, to be honest with you, but I can do a one to one. And what I decided to do was just get one of my staff to use his iPhone and record the specials for the week. And it seems to get amazing traction, just them putting a menu out there when you have a live, not a live feed, sorry, but just a video clip and, put it out there on Facebook, it seems to really work. It seems to get some people really interested and when you get reviews saying that, Oh your ribs are fantastic and they post it Facebook and so forth next week it intends doubling the order and then we’ve got some great stuff, we’ve got Clara. And what she does is on a Wednesday, she would send out the specials for the week, right. And, and we have a database that we’re creating now, right. for, takeout menus or takeaway menus. So it’s trying to do something different. I mean, not everything works, but whatever works, we try to keep it. That’s the trick to it, yeah.

Mark: That’s right, that’s right. So, this is what I love about you. Yes, you do have us helping out with advertising and marketing and ideas and collaboration, all of that, but you’re not just handing it to someone and saying, “That’s it I have nothing to do with it.” You go on your personal profile. You put the videos up. You make those videos on an ongoing basis. You talk about your offering, and you’re helping out, and this is what I really, really love about you. And then not only that you, part of Facebook groups, local Facebook groups, but I’m also pretty sure every single man and woman in the area knows about Jude, right by now.

Jude: It’s not a great face, only a mum could love. But at the end of the day, I want a message out there.

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: At this time we gotta think, do things differently.

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: You can’t be in a comfort zone at this stage. I mean, let’s put it this way. I was blessed in going after whatever I wanted and getting it. And this time I had to really look at what is important. You know what people say. You have to make sure that whatever you want, you make sure that you give it 1000% and whatever you do, that’s what I do with everything in your life. So what I always tell my staff, let me get this right. How do you do one thing is how we do everything. So whatever you do you do with purpose, you look at what the future has to hold. Because what, when COVID is all done and dusted, hopefully, sooner than later, we can continue with these options. So we’re looking at reinventing ourselves all the time. It’s another revenue stream. So whatever we do now, we master it. That’s, what it’s all about.

Advice to Business Owners

Mark: That’s right, and this is absolutely golden. Jude before we wrap it up, what is the last advice or other advice that you would like to share before we finish off this Facebook live?

Jude: Well if I can say one thing is the government of Australia has done an amazing job with keeping jobs on and so forth. You got to remember one thing, that you run your own business, the government doesn’t. So what is important for you to do is to do whatever it takes for your own business. Don’t cave in whatever the government does, but I need anyone out there to do whatever it is for your business, to keep it afloat, right? And, and don’t settle for whatever the news is all about. I mean, I don’t put the news on anymore, to be honest with you, right. Because there’s nothing good out there.

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: But I just rather focus on my business, and what can I think of? What do I have to do? For example, one small idea, which is outside the food aspect of it. We’ve got 500 car spaces between two out of the three venues. So what I’ve done is I’ve gone and spoken to Hertz, the Thrifty and so forth and said, “Listen, I’m sure that you guys are hurting. I’ve got 500 car spots. Would you be interested in parking your cars at my venues?” Something like that. I’m just thinking outside the square, whatever your business is, work, make sure that you get the best out of it. So the government is good at what they do, but we know our business more than anyone else.

Mark: You got to take control or lose control. That’s what I call it.

Jude: Well, lose control is something that is for, I’ve worked too hard for the last 15 years Mark, to let it go now.

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: I’ll do whatever it takes to keep this business alive.

Mark: That’s right.

Jude: And, not let it go no matter what. COVID or no matter what.

Mark: You’ve done a very good job already, mate. You’ve done a very good job, so I salute you.

Jude: Thank you, Mark, thank you for your encouragement and you’ve been a blessing, thank you so much.

Mark: No problem, no problem Jude. Thank you very much for being on the call.

Jude: Thank you, Mark God bless, take care.