Cube & Star owner Mark Turner's aim in the first few months of 2006 was to reduce staff costs, and this month he has certainly achieved that. Following his decision last month to switch the operation from a restaurant and lounge bar to a lounge bar and club, changes in the staff structure have meant a substantial reduction in staff costs to just 20% compared with 55% in January, 44% in February and 34% in March.
"We do need more bar staff so the figure will rise, but the target over the next six to eight weeks is a consistent 22%," says Turner. There are a few new faces among the team. Lillian Gravel has come on board as general manager and Sally Wilkes has joined as sales and events manager.
Although Turner fancied taking on the role of head bartender himself, a particularly busy night where customers were three deep at the bar and shouting for five Mojitos, two white Russians and the rest gave him second thoughts. "It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. I was a great bartender when I was 21 but I think I've had my day," he confesses. So the hunt is on for someone to fill that role.
Besides the new staff, Helen Geng remains in the role of accounts controller and there are two full-time and three part-time bartenders, two bar backs, two part-time waitresses and, in the kitchen, a junior chef and a kitchen porter. The reduction in kitchen staff reflects a much reduced demand for food now the focus of the operation has changed and food sales have dropped from 20% to about 5% of total revenue.
Although he expected the figure to be slightly higher, Turner is pleased with the way things are working out overall. "We're doing the same level of sales as in November but with less than half the staff costs and greatly reduced food costs," he says. "The whole experience has taught me so much. For a restaurant and bar to work together, it's got to be in the right area. Location is a key point and I didn't research the area. We've made the transition to being a bar and it's really turning around now. We're much more involved in the music scene and running successful events. I should have done it a year ago."
His most valuable lesson has been the importance of getting good staff. "It's difficult to get people who are passionate and will buy into your vision, but it's the most important thing in building a successful business," he says.
While some customers have expressed disappointment at the closure of the restaurant, Turner says it hasn't driven them away. "They still come back and enjoy the atmosphere so the clientele hasn't really changed," he says. "And there are more people coming in now. We get new customers every day."
There were a few hangovers from being a restaurant that have only just gone, such as taking reservations. "We were still taking bookings and that meant closing off floor space to walk-ins, so that had to stop," says Turner.
Within the last couple of weeks he has implemented an initiative he calls "aperitivo", which worked well in Malecon, a bar he owned in Rome until a compulsory purchase order forced him to sell up. The kitchen prepares tasty snacks, such as breaded lamb rump with aïoli, which are set out as a complimentary mini buffet from 6-8pm. "It's instead of a happy hour," says Turner. "Like a cocktail party after work. There's not a lot of food cost involved and it can encourage people to order food once they've tried it."
Cube & Star
- Address 39a Hoxton Square, London N1 6SU [map]
- Owner Mark Turner
- Opened May 2005
- Staff costs 20%
- April sales £50,000