While Costa Rica has quickly embraced 21st century technology , along with assuming global business practices, there are still constant reminders across this great country of how business is different from Canada. Here’s a few of my observations:
1. More spontaneity, less planning. Take advantage of opportunities. If someone drives by in a truck selling fresh fish, buy some and then offer it as a special that night in your restaurant.
2. Work with what you have or what’s available. Make do. Care less about the brand and more about the price and availability of products. For the most part, customers don’t care if you offer a different brand of Savignon Blanc, three nights in a row. They only care if you have white wine.
3. Time off is a precious commodity. You don’t need to take full days off to feel refreshed. Walk to the beach and look at the sunset. Then come back and work.
4. Open when you feel like it, close when you want to. It’s not unusual to find business with no hours posted. The general attitude is that if a customer wants something, they’ll come back.
5. Use your talent or a passion. In the town where we stayed, there’s a small hotel owned by a Canadian couple. He was a national bbq competitor and winner in his Canadian home town prior to relocating to CR. He built a large pit in front of his property and now hosts prime rib nights, along with events that feature a variety of bbq dishes. There are plans for a bbq cook-off with guests from Canada.
6. Nothing is that urgent. It’s not unusual for it to take a day or two to get a response on emails or phone messages. You might even get forgotten about and then need to follow-up again. No one gets too upset if this happens. North Americans want instant response. It may not happen when you are here…get used to it. It’s healthy to slow down.
7. Build your community. In CR, friends and neighbors are everything. They bring you business, support you, your family and your business. They are, as Jimmy Buffet, says, “Your coconut telegraph.” They can help get the word out about your products, needs or events. When an entertainer comes to town, FB is only one method of getting the word out. The best one is still word of mouth. There is a fish truck and a bakery truck that passes through one beach town, sometimes weekly or not. No one really knows when they are coming so it is vital to let one of the restaurant or property managers know you want to buy something. It is guaranteed the truck will then show up!
8. Collaboration is vital. You never know when you might need a volunteer or an extra set of hands. People will step up. New Years Eve in one little hotel is a great example of this. The hotel had over 100 people booked and not enough staff. They put the call out and within an hour had enough volunteers, (both young and old), to pull off a highly successful event.
9. Cash is still king. The banks here still have huge line-ups where business owners and customers alike bring in huge amounts of cash.
10. Banks have a cashier designated solely for the disabled and for women!
11. Service charges. There is often a 10% service charge added to a bill but additional tipping goes a long way to creating great service, loyalty and being remembered. We give our security guards a little additional financial ‘thank you’. They are grateful.
12. Respect and friendliness go a long way. While our Spanish is still sketchy, we try to communicate and build relationships. Find out what you can about people and their stories. We met a server who had moved from an unsafe area of CR to raise his children. He narrowly missed being a part of a gang and wanted a better life for his family.