Friday, August 22, 2008

Fab Job Interview - Being A Tea Room Owner

I got an interesting request for an interview for Fab Jobs.

Julie Moran contacted me for an upcoming book that she is writing about being a Tea Room Owner. It got me to thinking and I wanted to share with others that might be interested in the inside life of owning a Tearoom. I can't wait to read what she writes as she interviews other tearoom owners for their responses.


I am very excited to have the opportunity to share my perspective on being a tearoom owner. If you want to succeed in this business, if you really want this FAB JOB, only you in the end can make it happen for yourself. Nobody is going to do the work and build a business for you!

First off, I would highly recommend interning at a tearoom before you decide to get your business cards made up and pick out a logo. I would HIGHLY suggest working in the FOOD INDUSTRY before you start out on this journey to gain a respect that this is not just serving tea in a relaxing environment and saying "aaahh". That is what we want our customers to feel but behind the scenes and in the kitchen its a whole other world. Speaking of serving food: I think that if you have never been a server whether fast food, restaurant, or catered parties you probably should rethink this as a vocation. This is a service industry....we are the staff and we work HARD to make memories for other people.

I laugh to myself each time anyone exclaims to me, "You're a tearoom owner....that must be so relaxing...and sooo much fun!" To be honest...its not just one big tea party. But it is rewarding and fulfilling doing what you were made to do. I am a person who strongly believes in callings (my father is a retired pastor) so I spent alot of time on my knees before signing the dotted line on the lease and the loan at the bank.

Now to answer your questions:

1. Please briefly describe your typical day, from preparing to open your tearoom to closing.
We are opened 11-3pm Tues - Saturday. I usually get up and start working on the computer in my kitchen before ever leaving for work. I'm an early bird...I built my own website and am in charge of updates, blogs, etc. We have 3 boys ages 12, 10 and 6 so this job can be done with a family. We are also the in-house caterer where my parents co-own wedding chapel and gardens Walnut Creek Wedding Chapel and Coles Garden (I also take care of both of their websites and a blog. There are no normal work till the job is done. My husband and I never complain when its summer and we are doing about 20 weddings a month along with all of the tearoom events. We're always joking that we're like squirrels saving up for the winter months. Our slower months are November and January. I spoke with a tearoom owner in California at the World Tea Expo and she said January is a very busy for them so I guess alot of it is weather related. I spend alot of time visiting with customers and building relationships during tearoom hours. You can't say enough about customer relations. I wear many hats when we book a dress up tea party in the Rose Cottage I become the Tea Lady in all my antique clothes orchestrating these all-inclusive parties. I am in charge of retail, ordering, display and inventory. I am also in charge of payroll and accts payable. We have over 20 employees and I leave the kitchen to my husband and our chefs. If they need me and get overloaded I can help out there but mostly I'm the front man. If we have a night event at our location or an off-site event to cater it can be late into the evening before we call it a day.

2. What do you find most rewarding about operating a tea room? We believe that it is a ministry to people's I would say the people make this job worth all the effort...both the customer and our employees, which are like family. You get a real sense of community here.

3. What do you wish you had known before you started your tearoom business? There will always be surprises...broken down refrigerators, employees calling in, rising food costs, ice storms, unpredicatable sales, customer issues, minimum wage increases. If you are wanting safe and predicatable this is not the road for you. If you like challenges and change, being your own boss and finding creative solutions welcome to TEA LAND.

4. What educational background and/or work experience would you recommend that a person seeking to open a tearoom obtain before starting his or her business? My husband has a degree in Marketing and I have a degree in Liberal Arts. We both worked for corporate America in the travel industry (American Airlines and Hertz). I did alot of catering both tea parties (birthday parties) and women's groups for churches before ever taking the big step to open up a tearoom. Get your feet wet by interning at a tearoom, for a caterer or start out taking the parties to people's homes before you sign a lease and spend the big bucks to make sure you enjoy serving others. My husband kept his full time job until May 2006 to supplement income so we could pay our staff well and not worry about paying our personal bills until the tearoom got strong enough to support our family.

5. What POS system do you use (assuming you are happy with the one you currently use)? We just updated all of our computers to VISTA and we got a touch-screen up front. Amigo is our POS system. I've also talked with other tearoom owners who used Quickbooks POS to start out.

6. How and why did you choose your tearoom's location (ie what were the most important factors in your decision? Can you offer any tips or advice on choosing a good location? I just spoke on this in Las Vegas at the World Tea Expo 2008 about expanding beyond the traditional concept of a 30-seat tearoom to a Tea Event Center with multiple party rooms. We have 14,000 square feet with a grand staircase. Alot of tearoom owners are failing today because they can't generate enough income to make it on 30 seats with shortened hours. I would say don't limit yourself. We have great parking so a tour bus can pull up and unload a whole group. We have pull up parking so older customers don't have to walk a long way. We have an elevator for easy access upstairs to our Queen's Room and Rose Cottage. Alot of people make the mistake of seeing a real cute Victorian house and say oh, wouldn't it make a wonderful location for a tearoom without checking on building codes and handicapped requirements for bathrooms etc.

7. What licenses or permits were you required to obtain before opening your business? Did you encounter any particular difficulties (eg with the building dept, health or fire dept etc) prior to opening your tearoom? State sales tax, restaurant license from the city, food operator's license from the county health dept, Health dept, fire department. There are always issues but everyone was really excited to see us move into their community so they wanted to help make it successful by giving up steps to take to make it happen. Kitchens are the hardest part....lots of requirements and codes...we just did it step by step.

8. Do you have any tips on hiring and/or training good employees? We interview everyone...I get a gut feeling and usually if I follow always works out when hiring people? Most of our employees have been with us from the beginning. We pay good and we have a staff manual. My husband and I are always here and I think that also makes a difference. You lead by example. My manager, Ashlie, has been with me long enough that I would trust her completely to act on my behalf and make a decision the way I would want. She is like my daughter and I have known her all of her life. It really is so important to hire the right person because I've made a couple of bad hires and we all felt changed the dynamics of the whole tearoom.

9. Do you have any marketing or promotion tips or ideas that have worked particularly well for you? NEWSLETTERS AND BLOG. Connects the customer directly to you and what is going on. It makes them feel a part of your brand. We have customers that save all of their newsletters. I would also say market original item to sell (ie cookbooks, tea mugs with our logo, tea shirts, we just had a portrait done by the artist Susan Rios that we will sell to our customers in Sept) they want to take a piece of us home with them and we try to help them recreate the tea experience. We sell 50 loose leaf teas and we are always doing samples for customers to try new types.

10. Please briefly list or describe the standard general terms for new business owners in purchasing wholesale teas. When we first opened with 18 teas on our tea list. Metropolitan Teas really helped guide us through the process of having a wide variety of interesting teas. We have since added other vendors and more teas. Most tea merchants will let you start out with 30 days net but I always just used my cc to establish good relationships. I use my debit card almost 95% of the time and pay cash.

11. Are there standard profit margins or standard markups in tea service on tea and/or foods commonly served with tea? Our standard markup on all retail is this if it is wholesale at $5.00 I'm going to at least get $10.00 for the item sometimes more depending on the product. I try to keep our food cost at 25-27% anything under 30% is considered good in the food industry. We are not typical though because of all our catering and lunches. Our tea service upstairs is based on what our market will bare in this part of the country. You can charge $29.99 for a full afternoon tea on both coasts but in the middle of the country I charge $19.99 for a full tea. You have to know your customer and be sensitive. We get $24.99 per child for our tea parties in the Rose Cottage.

12. What words of encouragement would you give someone who dreams of opening a tearoom? What's the best advice you would give that person? Don't give the first year specifically it is so hard and you wonder if you were crazy to ever embark on this journey....but it is so worth it. Just make up your mind that no matter what, you will find a way to make it work. I didn't really want to cater outside when we first began but it has been icing on the cake to our bottom line. With each step in the journey the next step was revealed. I started out in a trailer taking the party to the girl's home the first year and operating a booth out of an antique mall where I sold teas and tea accoutrements. I started this business in 1996 and we didn't open the full service tearoom until April 2003. Each step prepared me for the next large move and God has not let us down yet. NEVER GIVE UP!

Thanks for letting me share....can't wait to see what you write after interviewing others in the industry.

Proverbs 24:27 "Put first things first. Prepare your work outside and get it ready for yourself in the field; and afterward build your house and establish a home."

No comments: