Salon de thé success creates time management crisis
At the start of the summer we thought we had the time to do everything. We had plans for after school kids activities, and evening classes. We started to buy resources, and we had a vague plan to cover the costs by serving afternoon tea.
Left to ourselves, we would never have considered anything like what became our salon de thé.
We were given the chance to do something three times a week, for the whole of August. We were so keen to establish ourselves in the village that we just ran with it. We became completely swept up in the benefits, which in the end had less to do with money and everything to do with familiarity and friendship.
Sometimes even good and healthy things become addictive. Almost everything became secondary to our obligations on the square.
We fell back into a cycle we thought we’d put behind us. It was like having a day job again. We were up early, away from the house at work, and came home tired and worried about plans for tomorrow.
On the bright side these were summer mornings. We had good company and we relished the compliments for Jacqueline’s cooking.
On the other hand we lost whole afternoons shopping for stock and ingredients in the strip lit hangars of the “grandes surfaces” (local hypermarkets) and Jacqueline spent long days and worked into the night baking.
Our days were packed and we lost track of time.
The Inevitable Result of Failing to Plan Ahead
Suddenly in the mornings we were greeting parents and children on their way to school.
“La rentrée” is a pivotal point in the French year. It’s literally “the return to school”. I’ve seen it translated as the equivalent of the American “fall”, but it’s actually the border between summer and autumn. It signals the end of the holidays and the return to work.
The rentrée is also the start of the year for any “association loi de 1901“, the legal structure used by most French activity or hobby clubs and charities. Most villages have a “foire” or “matinée des associations“, a club recruitment fair when the associations advertise for new members.
This was our first year so we weren’t just hoping to top up our membership list, we were starting from scratch.
We’d been so focussed on the day to day running of the salon de thé, we suddenly found ourselves four days away from our village “mat des assocs” completely unprepared. We had no recruitment material, and no clear plan for any activities.
Burning the candle at both ends
Life became a mad blur to make up for everything we hadn’t done in the previous two months.
Jacqueline tried to create some bake-free breathing room on Friday and cooked all day and night on Thursday.
I threw all my creative energy at promotional material.
I’d designed a banner to hang behind our recruitment stand.
We also our second, bright fund-raising idea to promote. We’d been told, as it turned out not entirely accurately, that autumn would be a great time to organise a “vide grenier” – literally, “empty your attic” – the French version of a car boot sale. We planned to organise one at the end of September, four weeks away, and needed to get the word out, which meant a poster.
Yes, we have no banner
We wanted the banner printed on trade-show style fabric. Online print-house Vistaprint was the cheapest option but we’d missed their free delivery window and their web site seemed to have been designed to hide all other costs and lead times.
I tried Vistaprint’s online customer service live chat and was told to place the order and see what came up.
Worst. Customer. Service. Ever.
Or so I thought.
Jacqueline found a local graphic design company, Sudetic, who were able to print banners. They wouldn’t quote on the phone which should have ring alarm bells, but we were tired and desperate so we snatched an hour out of our precious time and drove over.
I’m not sure if the woman in their office just assumed all foreigners travel with wads of cash in their impossibly deep pockets, or if she smelled blood in the water and thought we’d take any offer. She looked at and design and pulled a ridiculous price out of the air, which she could have done on the phone and saved us trip.
We just left, angry at the time she’d wasted.
Jacqueline baked past midnight on Thursday to give us what we thought were enough cakes for the salon de thé on Friday and Saturday morning. Friday, turned out to be one of those days when the cakes were all so popular they sold out. Another long night of baking loomed.
We still had no information flyers for potential members.
We spent Friday afternoon trying to write the flyers. In French. The team at the town hall offered some quality control on the written language. I updated the final draft on the computer then made the run to the copy shop while Jacqueline pushed on with fresh cakes for Saturday.
By eleven in the evening, exhausted, we had to call it a day.
The Night Before the Morning After
On Saturday we were up early again. It was quiet in the square, so with the benefit of hindsight the mad baking rush had been in vain.
For the whole summer we were the only people to use the shed on the Promenade. We’d been able to leave all our cups, cutlery and coffee machines there. Closing up the salon de thé, even at the weekend, had meant doing the washing up, throwing a dust-sheet over our tableware and turning off the fridge
The shed is a community resource and we had to clear it for the catering for the association fair on Sunday, so everything had to be packed away securely. More time we couldn’t afford to spend.
There was no rest for the wicked once we got home, either.
I had an idea that I could generate some interest in a creative computer class, and left it to the last minute to find and test some video to play on my laptop on Sunday morning. At least the hard work for this everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink showreel was already done:
Jacqueline was also determined that neither the faceless customer staff at Vistaprint or the gouging office manager at Sudetic would have the last laugh about our banner.
When she finished a detailed handout about our classes, that we could hand out if we were too busy to talk to everyone, she turned her attention to my banner design.
At midnight, using our ageing Epson inkjet, she exploded the graphic into a nine-piece jigsaw of A4 sheets. On the floor, surrounded by paper and armed with our A4 laminator and guillotine, she then painstakingly shaved off overlaps and built a monument to sleep-deprived determination.