Enas El Masry

To pick your boss and not your job is a timeless piece of advice that is often taken for granted while job hunting. At face value, managers are solely considered -by their teams and institutions- personnel who cater to managing workflow and driving results. The overlooked truth is that managers must also tune in to their teams’ needs, capacities, and aspirations to utilize their talent for their personal and professional benefit as well as the workplace’s business goals.

Looking past the specifics of different industries, it’s easy to see that good managers share traits like empathy, patience, clear communication, and leading by example. A perfect embodiment for this persona is Majd Khawam, former restaurant manager at The Cuts Urban Kitchen.

Majd’s story begins like many others: at the very bottom. As a hospitality management student in Lebanon, Majd sought out jobs that complemented his studies. Beginning with occasional catering jobs, his extracurricular pursuits soon earned him a fixed runner’s position. Before he had graduated, Majd was hired at The Spoonteller in Lebanon where he spent six years as a waiter then supervisor.

Straight out of college, he was hired by Inma Kuwait as a restaurant manager - the job which took him to Saudi Arabia. Despite being a fresh graduate, Majd brought with him not only a rich experience in the F&B industry but also an insightful perspective into what it means to work as a restaurant staff.

“No one in this industry starts [their career] as a manager,” says Majd. “There’s a lot that you should know before being handed a restaurant to manage.

“My journey allowed me to experience the candid and the subtle aspects of each role. What to do, what not to do, how to deal with your employees and team, how to build and gain their trust, and how to maintain teamwork,” explains Majd. “Each element plays a great part in the overall performance of the restaurant. If you hire someone from outside the industry as a manager, it would be very hard for them to understand the needs of the team, simply because they can’t imagine how a waiter, for example, feels.”

Having been in everyone’s shoes at one point in his life, Majd was very keen on not allowing the fear culture into his team. Describing it as “neither healthy nor productive,” he replaced fear with empathy, compassion, listening, and giving chances. In order to gain his team’s trust as a leader, setting an example was of prime importance. “It’s very important to be able to do the work yourself; to exhibit it to your staff so they can learn from you. If the manager can do it, so can we,” he adds.

However, it takes more than managing people compassionately to run a successful restaurant. After all, a successful restaurant needs to make a profit to survive and grow. As far as Majd was concerned, waste management and cost control were on top of his restaurant management priorities. “As a restaurant manager, you keep an eye on the service for the most part, but also on the kitchen,” he explains.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of the global food production goes to waste annually, amounting to about $940bn in economic loss on both domestic and business fronts. For restaurants, some sources estimate this loss at around $24,000 each year for every single branch. While waste management is essential to all restaurants to curb loss and increase profit, it is critically important for restaurants - like The Cuts Urban Kitchen - who rely exclusively on high-quality imported ingredients.

“Our biggest challenge was having enough stock of each ingredient and always sourcing it from different suppliers,” says Majd. “Most restaurants stock up to three options of each ingredient, but [at The Cuts], we sometimes have up to six variables to guarantee we never run out of the quality ingredients that are core to our upscale service.”

Over-stocking is a sure way for restaurants to throw hard-earned money down the drain. To minimize wastage, restaurant managers must meticulously identify the amounts needed of each ingredient, their frequency of consumption, and their shelf life.

Properly calculated stock management can, however, help a restaurant survive a global pandemic the way it helped The Cuts. As soon as COVID-19 was announced a global pandemic and long before any lockdown was in place, the restaurant management proceeded with its precautionary measures and stocked up on its hard-to-source ingredients.

“We anticipated the situation to develop this way but we never thought it would be this intense,” recalls Majd. “We built a sufficient stock of all the ingredients that are hard to get. But seeing that the size of business went down by maybe 60%, the ingredients we had stocked up saw us through the pandemic, the lockdown, and the restrictions on imports.”

Assuming a restaurant achieves expert-level accuracy in waste management, cost control, and fine-tuning its operations, does that guarantee its success? According to Majd, not entirely.

Every restaurant goes through a cycle that indefinitely goes from initial launch to peak success and then eventual decline. The inevitable question is: How do you stay at the peak for as long as possible?

“The market will eventually get bored no matter how special and high quality your offering is,” explains Majd. “Once you reach the peak, you must keep introducing new offers or items on the menu to stay fresh. It’s an ongoing process but it will keep your customers coming back.”

To shake the lockdown-induced rust, The Cuts Urban Kitchen introduced a new section on its menu called Limited Release where new items are constantly being offered, only to replace their predecessors. With every new item release, a massive social media marketing campaign is launched, allowing the brand to stay relevant and exciting to the market.

Today, The Cuts looks forward to expanding across the country with a new branch in Riyadh - an aspiration that even investors from outside the company share. “We’ve been approached many times with requests for buying our franchise,” says Majd, but with a brand like The Cuts, the restaurant owners are quite selective about the investors they are willing to sell the franchise to. “It has to be someone experienced from within the industry who shares the same mindset and vision for the brand.”

But who could possibly make The Cut?

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