Ballymaloe Day 60: The business of food

(Updated November 2020)

It’s sometimes hard to believe how much goes into the Ballymaloe Cookery School course. If I could actually condense the course onto paper I feel like it would easily hit the 500-page mark.

This week we’ve had two days in a row outside of the kitchen, and today we were back focusing on the various aspects of food business with Blathnaid Bergin also known as the “Restaurant Advisor”.

On the 12 week course, we have two days with Blathnaid and she’s a woman who knows her stuff.

One of the most interesting tasks we got to do today was look at the large chains like Starbucks, and analyse what they’re doing with their models.

Personally, I’m not a fan of Starbucks at all, but I can see that they’ve something that for them works and obviously has an attraction for certain customers. As they say, whatever floats your boat.

Blathnaid’s days are very much focused in on both group work as well as theory, and we had to find solutions to management problems, as well as things like food costing. Come theory days, the bright side is that we don’t have to cook our elevenses or lunch, so at the break, we can actually sit back and enjoy helpings without the rush.

On the menu for starters, we had a spicy hot soup with galangal, which despite my sort-of inability to fully appreciate hot spice I actually found quite tasty.

For mains, as usual we had a wonderful display of colourful dishes which caught my eye, including a halloumi salad, spiced beef and hake covered in bubbling cheese.

I recently told my other half that I may be coming back to him with a bit of belly and he mused that I was getting my money’s worth so (I think he’s a keeper).

Sophie on lunch duty

For a change of scene, we had our second half of the day in the dining room where we hobbled in and plonked ourselves into our seats.

All about the legalities of cafés, catering and future employment, even though I would’ve enjoyed four days in the kitchen, it was great to learn all about the business side of things because there are many aspects that you need to consider.

Feeling rather drained from the amount of information I was taking in (and the fact that everyone seems to be suffering from the week nine blues), I was content when 5pm came around.

As a special treat, John Wilson of the Irish Times came to host a wine talk and tasting and I was lucky to nab a spot in Ballymaloe House for a dinner. More on that tomorrow.

Some random things I learned today from Blathnaid:

  • When starting a food business you need to hire people who actually like people. Who wants to see someone in a café with a depressed look on their face?
  • Have an accountant who has the experience of the food sector.
  • Some things you have to do before you open a business:
    • Register with revenue
    • Purchase a good cash register to comply with Cash Register Law
    • Register with Environment Health Officer (a very important step to do before anything else)
    • The fire officer is the only government agent who can keep your business closed if it doesn’t comply with fire regulations – so make sure if you’re buying premises that you can get with a fire certificate in hand. Don’t take someone’s word for it.
    • You must have a written working safety statement.

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