Please return Your Messages...  A light-hearted look at the way we communicate today!  In this day and age of lightning fast communication and the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time, it seems like many of us have lost the ability, the will, or maybe just the organizational ability to return messages. This is just common courtesy.  So, please don’t be that guy [gal]! It only takes a little effort. Start by organizing your messages in some kind of a system.  Creating structure to the way that you deal with them can instantly ensure improved communications. I know that with many people, it’s not for lack of good intentions, but things just get lost in the shuffle. With that being said, the goal should be to respond to every email, or message, by the end of the day every day.  Obviously, that does not mean unsolicited emails, but messages that need and deserve a response should be responded to promptly. This can only help you to be more efficient and will go a long way with friends, family, and business associates.  There are many ways to do this, but here is one I like: One of the easiest ways to organize emails is to mark them Unread if you still need to address them, put on the calendar, think about later, or in some other way needs further attention. Read them and then swipe to mark “Unread”. Make your Unread message your priority mailbox: In fact, it is the only one that you really need. That way, you’re only looking at your Unread messages in your inbox, and they will stand out above the rest. Any messages that are Unread are the ones that you need to do something with. Then, when you have a minute to grab a coffee, take a quick break and answer them. This is simple and straight forward.    Some people just delete messages they don’t need leaving only the follow up ones in their mailbox, and some people archive messages that have been dealt with. The main thing is that you have some kind of system other than hoping that you will remember.  Hope is not a strategy!   Text messages can be a little bit more difficult, because generally they go away once you’ve looked at them and there is not a way to mark Unread.  The best way seems to be to only glance at the notification, if you can read enough of it, and save it unopened until you have time to deal with it. Of course, you can ask Siri to send you reminders very easily!   There are lots of ways to do it; the most important thing is to do something.  Please respond to your messages; it shouldn’t matter how important, or busy you are. It is simply professional and polite.  Russ Blakeborough is an F&B Consultant and Life Coach. For more information, please visit his website at:  www.focus-fb.com  

A light-hearted look at the way we communicate today!

In this day and age of lightning fast communication and the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time, it seems like many of us have lost the ability, the will, or maybe just the organizational ability to return messages. This is just common courtesy.


      A Place to Chill – Your Hotel Lobby  It is a growing trend to move food and beverage out into the lobby space, and these are the three reasons why.  Ambiance I’m sure you have all been to hotels where the lobby is dull, quiet, and uninviting. And I know you realize this does not create a memorable atmosphere. Giving activity and sound to your lobby enhances the ambiance and gives it a feeling of warmth and vibrancy. Many travelers are on the road and find the prospect of sitting alone in a hotel room daunting, but often don’t have too many choices. What’s worse than sitting in a hotel room by yourself in a strange city?  By making your lobby inviting, you can add value to the guests and bring them back.  Feeling of Connectivity When guests enjoy their stay and look forward to coming back, this only helps your hotel’s reputation, which in turn, helps occupancies and revenues. Get your guests out into the lobby. Let them enjoy mixing or “chillaxing”.  Maybe they want to read, work, chat, or just watch a show while having a bite to eat and a beverage, but if you provide a fun, safe, and vibrant atmosphere, they can do this and still feel connected with the world.    Revenue Not only will you have additional rooms revenue, you will have the food and beverage revenues associated with this activity. If you have tantalizing food that people want, and you can present it fast, fresh, and smelling good, this is only going to promote more sales, which equals happy guests and increased revenue. People that stay in and enjoy this exciting lobby experience, won’t venture out to unknown local restaurants. It all just makes sense!   As discussed, this all adds up to an increase in revenue and in repeat business. So, eliminate all the reasons why you don’t want to, or can’t do it, but instead focus on a plan to start it soon, and do it well! This will pay off.     For help with your lobby concept and operational hurdles, please contact Russ Blakeborough, at russ.blakeborough@focus-fb.com                 

It is a growing trend to move food and beverage out into the lobby space, and these are the three reasons why.

Ambiance 
I’m sure you have all been to hotels where the lobby is dull, quiet, and uninviting. And I know you realize this does not create a memorable atmosphere. Giving activity and sound to your lobby enhances the ambiance and gives it a feeling of warmth and vibrancy. Many travelers are on the road and find the prospect of sitting alone in a hotel room daunting, but often don’t have too many choices. What’s worse than sitting in a hotel room by yourself in a strange city?  By making your lobby inviting, you can add value to the guests and bring them back.

      Staying on Top of your Social Media Reviews      Every restaurant will have some negative reviews; it’s just the business that we are in. I am sure that you speak to many happy guests every day. However, when someone is looking for somewhere to eat, either passing through on a road-trip or maybe even one of your neighbors, with information at our fingertips these days, they tend to look to the voice of the people [the new word of mouth] to find out what people really think and if they would go back.  How does this work?  It is imperative that you read, respond, and take action to correct any on-going and repetitive comments. You can’t just ignore these, and here is the reason: People look at your overall rating first and will consider which restaurant to choose starting at the top down, usually by price category and general location first.  Then they take a look at the next 1-2 pages of comments and decide if they want to visit. Real people understand that not everybody will love you, and so they tend to look at several [5-8] to get an idea.  Then they decide.  Are you one of the chosen? This is why you need lots of good comments to off-set any occasional bad reviews. This pushes the negative reviews to the back pages.  Take a look at your restaurant reviews as a team and decide if you would eat there based on what you find.   So, with that being said, who is watching your social media and responding to all the reviews? How can you stay on top of this? One way is to get the  very  happy people to speak up, not just the unhappy.  Are you handing out cards or inviting your happy guests to comment? This is one way that can help you get good reviews at the top or on the first pages.  How do we stay on top of this?  Someone should respond to all negative comments. This shows the public that you care. If there are occasional negative reviews, people see that you are working to correct issues and care about the feedback that they give you. Just good business sense, right? However, often our pride gets in the way. “They don’t know what they are talking about”, or “people love our food” are some of the comments that we will say to defend our pride! This doesn’t help. Listen to the truth of what real people who have no axe to grind are saying. Then, show some empathy in your responses and also some sense of humor.  The plan should include your Trip Advisor score, Yelp score, Zagat, Facebook, and Open Table at a minimum. What are the top three things people are saying about you? What is good and what needs work? Only then can you make a plan to correct.  Find a team member that has a passion for Social Media  Someone should review comments every day; assign someone a half hour to do this. Find someone on your team who has a passion for it. Also use the team on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and post something daily if you can. A quick picture of one of your entrees, people having fun, awesome cocktails, specials or events keeps people connected and makes you relevant.  You want to be seen as a fun and engaging place to go. Let people know that your restaurant is a great place to be.  Track and share your comments with your staff, and of course, use discretion and common sense about not singling anyone out.  This is not an opportunity to bash your team, but instead, to bring them together to solve issues. They do care as they want to make money, too, and be proud of where they work!     Lastly, always ensure that these comments don’t get you and the team down. Take time to talk about the positives and enjoy those, but you have to address the negative ones. You will find that this really does pay off. Reputation equals revenue, and after all, that’s a big part of why we are all here!  For help and direction in managing your social media presence, please contact russ.blakeborough@focus-fb.com.   

Every restaurant will have some negative reviews; it’s just the business that we are in. I am sure that you speak to many happy guests every day. However, when someone is looking for somewhere to eat, either passing through on a road-trip or maybe even one of your neighbors, with information at our fingertips these days, they tend to look to the voice of the people [the new word of mouth] to find out what people really think and if they would go back.

      Cultivating Culinary Creativity         It can be hard to get the best out of the team, but working hand-in-hand with the culinary team and the Executive Chef is key. How do you establish an environment where creativity is celebrated, consistency is a large focus, and the customer is always the first priority?  Having been an Executive Chef for many years, I must admit that there were definitely times when my ego got in the way! However, I did learn a few things over the years. Here are some of them:     Encourage Creativity     Many operators end up shutting down the Chefs by not allowing creativity and freedom, either out of fear of what will happen or a loss of control.  Some are allowed to completely  rule the roost,  which is not always good for the customer experience! Finding a good balance is important. Talk about this with your Chef and kitchen team to make sure that everyone is on the same page as to why we are here, what are the goals, and what the business models looks like. Explain how important this is and how the culinary team is a  major part of your success.     If everyone helps create the big picture and helps establish style and culture, then each person will be vested in coloring inside the lines of that brand. In other words, allowing freedom within a framework – a wide berth – in which creativity is supported and encouraged!     Work as a Team     As mentioned, the kitchen is a huge part of your success. How many operations include the culinary team in planning meetings and decision making? “Oh, they are not interested in that kind of stuff’ is some of what I have heard – but that is not always [or even often] the case.     Debate as a team what type of restaurant you are going to be or what you aspire to be? What is the style of the service? What is the style of food?  What do we want to be known and remembered for? Additionally, explore what styles your team enjoys and what they do best. This way, it can be incorporated into your concept. If able, allow their style to grow and develop.     Bring your Chefs into  all  your meetings. Encourage (even insist) participation and involvement in all front-of-house issues, meetings and policy setting. A great Chef can be such a strong influence on the team as a whole, and this will help them to understand and see all points of view. However,  do not  let the kitchen dictate the rules and policies. I see this happening often to the detriment of our guests! “We don’t do substitutes”, or “we don’t split plates”, or “they can’t have that; it’s not on the menu” are all examples of where this can go wrong. Rather, work as a team to create acceptable rules from a guest experience side of things.     Evaluate your talent needs     Do you have the right Chef for the job? Chefs can be stronger creatively, or managerially; ideally they are both!  Do you have an artful and ever-changing menu with huge expectations of creativity and have a kitchen manager in place? Or, do you have great food, where everyone follows the recipe, without much new creativity, and need someone strong and organized to make sure that it is done correctly. If that’s the case, the creative type Chef may not work. Many are looking for the creative, exciting personality of a Chef who will be the life and the character of the restaurant. While this is great, it doesn’t always have to be the case, depending on your expectations.     Getting the right combination to fit your needs is key: There are many who are really good at both.  If you have a Chef that fits the personality of your restaurant, then take good care of him/her, and count your blessings!        Celebrate your Chef     Lastly, put your Chef on a pedestal and make a big deal of him/her. Do it with social media, online, press, and also in the dining room – a great Chef should be the focal/selling point of the restaurant, and If they have the personality, encourage them to get involved in the dining room to visit tables and receive feedback [good and bad]!     In conclusion remember the 6C’s:  Cultivating Culinary Creativity makes for Constantly Cheerful Customers! Create the right climate in your restaurant by ensuring involvement, great communication, and strong support of the Culinary team.     Russ Blakeborough with Focus F&B is always happy to help find top-notch culinary staff or evaluate your current kitchen climate.   

Cultivating Culinary Creativity

It can be hard to get the best out of the team, but working hand-in-hand with the culinary team and the Executive Chef is key. How do you establish an environment where creativity is celebrated, consistency is a large focus, and the customer is always the first priority?  Having been an Executive Chef for many years, I must admit that there were definitely times when my ego got in the way! However, I did learn a few things over the years. Here are some of them:

      The 7 Daily Habits of a Great Hotel Leader           Being a great hotel leader requires many skills. There is a lot to learn, little time to learn it, and often no-one to learn it from. Remembering these 7 helpful habits as you enter the daily whirlwind of hotel life, may bring you some respite.      Keep a positive attitude all the time.      Your attitude is infectious. Your team will mirror your confidence and attitude.      Blame Yourself.      It is all in your control. Don’t blame others: not guests, Corporate, your boss, or your staff. As a manager or leader, you have control. Try a different way; ask yourself: “How can I approach this differently?”      Walk a mile in his/her shoes.     Easy to say, but when was the last time you took an order, served an order, ran a shift, did closing paperwork, cleaned the kitchen? Understanding what your team goes through is key.      Trust your team.      Have 100% trust in your team.  However, make sure you put systems and controls in place so you can confidently enjoy trusting the team.      Put your staff on a pedestal.      Treat them  very  well and with the highest regard. They are your life-blood; do not take them for granted. Celebrate them! Focus on the top 20% of performers, not the bottom 20%.      Create a consistent, disciplined work environment.      Everyone should know the guidelines and rules. They need to be consistently and un-emotionally upheld to everyone. When you have this in place everyone will know that there is equity & accountability. Then you can all have fun!      Remember, you work for them.       Remember the upside-down pyramid. The team is on the front line doing the  actual  job. You are there to make sure that they have everything they need. That means emotional and physical support, supplies, proper scheduling, etc. Your job is to take care of your team and make sure that they are happy!        Thinking with this simple shift in mind-set, can and will, make your job so much less stressful!     For team leadership coaching, contact Russ Blakeborough at: russ.blakeborough@focus-fb.com.               

Being a great hotel leader requires many skills. There is a lot to learn, little time to learn it, and often no-one to learn it from. Remembering these 7 helpful habits as you enter the daily whirlwind of hotel life, may bring you some respite.


Keep a positive attitude all the time.     Your attitude is infectious. Your team will mirror your confidence and attitude.

      Top Ten Reasons to use a Restaurant Consultant      1.      Restaurant Success  2.      Concept change  3.      Increase revenues  4.      Change course  5.      Save money  6.      2nd opinion  7.      Evaluate systems  8.      Establish culture  9.      Training of teams  10.  Assist with projects     Bringing in an outside consultant can be a difficult decision. Some the reasons that people do not use one are: personal pride, the expense, and not really understanding what a restaurant consultant does to help the operation. Let’s talk about these three areas.     Personal Pride  The types of people that tend to get into the hotel or restaurant business are usually very creative individuals that are entrepreneurs with a strong passion for creating and delivering great food and beverage. Part of being successful in this business is based on having the pride and determination that is needed to make it happen. Hiring a consultant does not in any way diminish your accomplishments, the success, and the skills that you have.  Rather, it brings in an outside opinion, one that is emotionally unattached, can add to your skills, and can help you assess just where you are, and in turn help develop a plan to get you where you want to be.     The Expense  This can range based on the job needs, but usually is from $1,500 – $3,000.  This may seem like a lot at first glance, but compared to the difference it can make, the service can often pay for itself in just 1-3 months. Increasing revenues and cost savings can continue for years and even multiply to pay off tenfold or more.     What does a Consultant do?  A good consultant can help with all areas of your operation. This ranges from creating a new concept or developing the current one, evaluating food quality, menus, service, pricing, expenses, marketing, staff training and more. A good consultant will work with you and your style, and work within your parameters and framework of ideas to discover ways to make you more money.     Given these facts, consider talking to a consultant on the phone. This can allow you the chance to talk in detail about how it works, and review your operational needs so that you are well equipped to make a sound business decision. Most would be happy to do so without any expense or commitment.     For more information on Focus F&B Consulting, and to set up your complimentary consultation, please email:  russ.blakeborough@focus-fb.com    

Bringing in an outside consultant can be a difficult decision. Some the reasons that people do not use one are: personal pride, the expense, and not really understanding what a restaurant consultant does to help the operation. Let’s talk about these three areas.


Personal Pride

The types of people that tend to get into the hotel or restaurant business are usually very creative individuals that are entrepreneurs with a strong passion for creating and delivering great food and beverage. Part of being successful in this business is based on having the pride and determination that is needed to make it happen. Hiring a consultant does not in any way diminish your accomplishments, the success, and the skills that you have.  Rather, it brings in an outside opinion, one that is emotionally unattached, can add to your skills, and can help you assess just where you are, and in turn help develop a plan to get you where you want to be.


      Hospitality - An Honorable Profession      When I first started in the Hospitality Industry, I really had no idea what I was getting into and what is was all about. This was all back in the UK. I had started helping out at the local hotel, just to make a little extra money for the summer. First, I helped set rooms for meetings, laying dance floor and setting chairs, and then moved into the kitchen. I was fascinated by all of this; it seemed exciting and glamorous. Soon after, my Chef encouraged me to go to school, and “Voila”, I was hooked!     I went to further my learning in Germany, and as I look back, I remember being impressed with how seriously everyone took their jobs.  They were proud of their honorable profession and revered for their skills. They were truly passionate about what they did. In many ways that passion is what inspired me to grow and continue in this career.     It was also around this time that I began to recognize that restaurant work was an honorable profession. The servers took their jobs seriously, and went to school for it.  This was a  career  for them.  The culinary team were also some of the best professionals that I have worked with. They lived, breathed, and dreamed about their jobs. Not many industries allow you to have so much fun, travel the world, grow organically from the bottom to the top, and build a career in which are fulfilled, never bored, and are very well rewarded for the privilege?     The more I inserted myself into this lifestyle of a career, the more I realized how the work I did fulfilled me in a way that I couldn’t see in the  normal  world. I loved the sense of a community, servicing others, and being passionate about the food, beverage, and service that we sold. I saw how coaching managers and training servers made a difference in guest’s lives and in ours.     It was also around this time that I began to see that restaurant work was an honorable profession. It was a job I was learning to enjoy from the inside out.     My questions is this: How do we get some of this passion back into our industry?  How do we create that pride and culture of hospitality that is seems rare these days?     I would love to create some discussion and synergy around this question. Does it start at high school, college, or do we need to instill this at the hotel [and restaurant] level? How do we create better training programs? Do we need to offer better, and more, apprenticeship programs? We have a severe issue and it makes me wonder where our next generation of hospitality workers is going to come from?     Essentially, I think it starts with us. Starting conversations that inspire the youth of today. We need to work with our regional teams, owners, local schools, and business leaders to create dialog. Does it take hotels and restaurants getting together and creating a campaign to sell the dream, or paint the picture of what a fun career this can be? How can we eliminate dull and boring environments and get back some of that entrepreneurial spirit? Are we able to make hotels the place to be?  Their restaurants the place in town to get the  best  food in town?     I would love to invite comments and feedback. We need to start now to build the future of proud hotels leaders. We need to build layers of the staff of tomorrow that will take this honorable profession seriously and help elevate it back to the type of job it once was—a job that people are proud to do and where everyone is excited and proud to get a job in the industry.        Russ Blakeborough is a 30-year hotel F&B leader, who now runs Focus F&B consulting.   www.focus-fb.com    

When I first started in the Hospitality Industry, I really had no idea what I was getting into and what is was all about. This was all back in the UK. I had started helping out at the local hotel, just to make a little extra money for the summer. First, I helped set rooms for meetings, laying dance floor and setting chairs, and then moved into the kitchen. I was fascinated by all of this; it seemed exciting and glamorous. Soon after, my Chef encouraged me to go to school, and “Voila”, I was hooked!


      It’s the Main Thing!      Who has time to really sit back and evaluate and consider what our guests really think about our operation? The one, into which I put some much of my blood, sweat and tears. The one that I spend more time at, more than I do with my family. What are my kid’s names again? All kidding aside, I think we have all fallen into this trap at some time or other.  Let’s remember the reason we are open, and why we have jobs. The  main thing  is happy customers.   What is the need of the  main thing ? They want a great stay, great food, with great service, and a memorable experience. This goes for whether they are eating for a need, or dining for pleasure, staying for business or a fun weekend getaway, it is still the same. The  main thing  is making people happy.  Take a look at your Yelp comments, or TripAdvisor, Open Table, what are customers there saying about their experience? Talk to some of your customers [this shouldn’t be a novel concept] and ask why they come back [or not]. Are they eating there because it is convenient, or are they driving out of their way because you have something special?  Going through the motions of keeping the restaurant going every day, is a lot of work, but it shouldn’t overshadow the  main thing.  The  main thing,  really the only thing, is happy customers! The  main thing  will keep your restaurant open. Without them it is only a matter of time before you see the dreaded  For Sale  sign out front!  I work with many hotels, restaurants, and individuals, and this would be true in most. It can be said for any business category, or even in life in general. Recognizing the  Main Thing  is so important, take a look at yours today.           Russ Blakeborough is a Hospitality Consultant with Focus F&B   Call us, we can help. Our three-day visit you will get a full report of what is going well and where you can improve, along with a step-by-step strategic plan on how to get there.   912.312.2919  www.focus-fb.com   

Who has time to really sit back and evaluate and consider what our guests really think about our operation? The one, into which I put some much of my blood, sweat and tears. The one that I spend more time at, more than I do with my family. What are my kid’s names again? All kidding aside, I think we have all fallen into this trap at some time or other.