Denis Troughton is the owner and general manager of the Belfast Coffee Company on Royal Avenue, Belfast. He says:
I've had the Belfast Coffee Company up and running for seven months now. I have no experience in the hospitality industry, so I'm new to all of this.
Before I opened the coffee shop, I'd worked in the car sales industry for 25 years. I was trained and worked for Mercedes Benz, but I still use the same principles when I'm running the shop; display, present and deliver the product. It's still all about closing the deal.
I first got the idea of opening the shop after a spell brokering cars for potential buyers. I had a bit of money saved up and I was interested in investing a bit of capital in a business.
I've always been a coffee drinker, so I decided to take the quantum leap and go into the café business.
I got a lot of help setting things up with the Special Beverage Group who supply my coffee. I've always had a discerning palate and appreciate quality food. I'm a real stickler for good service too.
One thing I've noticed about the change from the motor industry to this, is that the hospitality industry is a lot more labour intensive. We open at 7.30am and stay open until 9.00pm on Thursdays.
I think one of the reasons I enjoy this is because I'm a people person by nature. You have to be a people person in this industry.
If you have a ‘hate the world' attitude you're not going to last. You have to be able to handle customers, and my car sales experience gave me a really good grounding in customer service.
Getting the right people to work for you is very important. On a busy lunch hour I need people I can depend on. I like my staff to make eye contact with the customer when they come in the door. At lunchtime we have a five second rule. We don't let anyone stand waiting for five seconds or longer without at least acknowledging them.
My wife said I was mad in the head for opening a business in the middle of a recession, but we've held our own over the last seven months.
We put that down to having a very loyal clientèle, and that we present a good offer at lunchtime.
Our sandwiches are made fresh, on the spot, which can be tricky at times, but it's better than having packaged sandwiches on sale.
We do a lunch deal for £5.95. That's your lunch and a drink as well. If you're having lunch with a work colleague and you decide to buy theirs for them, £12 isn't a big ask. It's things like that I try to take into consideration.
Coffee is our biggest seller, but tea is still big. We give a free Lily O'Brien chocolate with every coffee, and that goes down a treat with the customers.
Our soup and sandwich deals are becoming more and more popular, as is our takeaway service. I think the recession has had more people taking food away. They don't have time to take a full lunch break any more.
I've also noticed that businesspeople are lunching later in the afternoon. It's down to them working through lunch, trying to cram as much in as possible, then realising midway through the afternoon that they're hungry.
Ninety nine per cent of our deserts are baked here, and I've noticed that people don't really eat them on a Monday or Tuesday. They try to save themselves for the end of the week. Then they start their diet again on Monday...”
The cafe customers
‘You can’t beat a stack of pancakes
’Denise O'Neil was having lunch with her friend, James Carothers. She says:
I'm a freelance music journalist working for BBC Radio Ulster and I'm just out for a bit of lunch with my friend James.
I'd get out to lunch twice a week, but I used to go every day. It just became too much.
I have a maximum spend of around £30 when going for lunch.
Today I've ordered pancakes. You just can't beat a big stack of pancakes at lunchtime.”
'We eat out three times a week'
Eileen McCann and Patricia Campbell from Belfast. They say:
We both work for First Choice Recruitment. We make it out to lunch about two or three times a week, it just depends, as it's quite time consuming,” says Eileen.
“If we don't have time for lunching out we tend to just get a takeaway sandwich.
Sometimes we go to places like the John Hewitt for lunch and a glass of wine. The maximum we'd spend is about £27 between the both of us.”
Patricia adds: “Today Eileen's having a sandwich, and I’ve gone for a crustini as I'm vegetarian.”
'We never pay more than £6 each'
Veronica Farrell and Marcella McCann from Belfast. They say:
Marcella says: “We both work at the University of Ulster campus nearby and have just come in for some lunch.
“We don't really get the chance to get out to lunch every day. Sometimes we'd just grab a sandwich in one of the cafés in the campus building. I'd say we'd probably go out for lunch about once or twice a week.”
Her colleague Veronica adds: “We never really pay more than about £6 each for lunch when eating out. If we were to get a takeaway lunch we'd not spend more than £3-5. Today, we've both gone for a Thai prawn salad.”