Mary Jane Flanagan

Brook/Flanagan Family Album

My name is Mary Jane Flanagan (MJ, nee Brook) I am the youngest child of four children (though no spring chicken any more!) Even though we did not have a lot of money my parents were unbelievably cool and glamorous, their New Year’s Eve parties were legendary in the 60’s and 70’s.  We would often be at the top of the stairs with our parents friends children watching everyone through the bannisters. Did you ever do that?

My elder brothers and sister’s music tastes rubbed off on me along with my dads love of Jazz, Swing and the Great American songbook.

This album represents all our tastes and although sadly mum and dad died many years ago I know they would have met this pandemic with their usual pragmatism, humour and love.

Track 1 for my dad Frank Sinatra – you make me feel so young

We lived in a house with a “posh” front room where on Sunday’s dad would read the papers and listen to his record collection I would often sit on the floor next to him playing. 

This  record is the one he always pulled out first, the master himself, Frank Sinatra singing You Make me feel so young. He and my uncle Clive loved Sinatra we would often visit Clive in his pub in Richmond and I would fall asleep on a bench covered in a coat with the sounds of the rat pack and Streisand sending me off to sleep. Him, my mum and their friends would dance until the early hours and I never woke up once! That’s probably why I love the music as much as they did.

Track 2 for my eldest brother Don SuperTramp – Bloody Well Right

My eldest brother Don lives locally so we see each other often, he has taken over the reigns as head of the family and looks after all of us. 

When I was younger my brothers would sneak in to the posh room and play their albums which would cause my dad’s eyes to roll no doubt like many parents through the ages. I remember my brother Don, 6 years older than me, putting on Supertramp’s Bloody Well right …….dad looked up from his paper and said dryly…… it didn’t take them long to write that song, to which 10 year old me replied “you’re bloody well right dad” and we all collapsed in laughter.

Track 3  for my mum Van Morrison – Have I told you lately that I love you

Mum would cook the Sunday roast whilst this was going on, she was a great cook her apple pies were spectacular. She’d have the radio on in the kitchen and would turn it up loudly whenever her favourite records came on. Every thing from Danny Boy to Rod Steward though I particularly remember her liking Van Morrison’s Have I told you lately that I love you.

Track 4 for my brother Kevin  David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

My brother Kevin was more of a Bowie fan which you would hear very loudly from their bedroom. Bowie’s music and wonderful lyrics have seeped into my soul making him one of my favourite artists too. My brother was very tall, lanky and had a similar haircut, so looked like him though he never wore the Ziggy Stardust makeup. 

Kevin started working in casinos from age 18 then around the globe from the London to the Bahamas then to Vegas (what a life!) he has now retired and has come back home and is shielding at the moment so I know he’ll love hearing David Bowie singing Ziggy Stardust.

Track 5 for my sister Karen Stevie Wonder – Master Blaster 

We moved to Brighton in 1976, it was glorious I remember going to the beach everyday and swimming every early evening all through the long hot summer. My sister Karen was very pretty and 3 years older than me so I idolised her and as I got older was forever wanting to tag along to parties and discos, like most younger siblings do, she was very good as she would drag me with her even though she’d had moved into her own flat. This record sums up some of those memories especially a disco we would attend on the A23.

Track 6 for my husband Mick Don Henley – Come rain or come shine

Mick and I have been married for 20 years, and it has certainly been a case of sunshine and rain especially given the last events of the last year. He has put up with my mad plans and schemes, brought me down to earth when I needed him to and supports me when I need a boost. A carpenter he has renovated our very old home and made it a stunning place to live. 

Track 7 for me, you and all the listeners George Ezra – Shotgun

Finally me, I own a management consultancy and training company and like many had been hit pretty hard at the beginning of the pandemic with income down 90%, luckily things are slowly recovering and I am hopeful for the future.

Over the years I have made many playlists usually connected to holidays. A road trip through California several years ago had a particularly brilliant soundtrack and I still remember driving down Ventura highway listening to Ventura highway.

Mick and I have a son James in his first year at Nottingham university. For his birthday this year we brought him his first record player and a collection of “classic” albums from Pink Floyd to Oasis and the Police to the Arctic Monkeys and also of course some Bowie. 

There are so many records I could have chosen as the last one however I though I would choose something which I know will fill people with hope and remind them we will travel, eat out, stay in hotels, visit the theatre, hug and have fun again.

Incase you’re wondering what I am doing whilst listening to this I am laughing, crying and dancing around the kitchen, thinking about the sun on my back and all the adventures we are still to have as I make the Sunday Roast whilst my husband reads the paper…. somethings never change. 

Hospitality professionals are born not made.

Hospitality professionals are born not made, it’s in our soul, ( which is why we often hire for attitude not skill ) and why would we choose to work when everybody else is enjoying themselves. The truth is we love it, even now, as a keynote speaker and hospitality consultant I still miss the buzz of a rocking Friday night at All Bar One where we were full to the gills, the place to be seen and your eyes had to be everywhere anticipating customer needs before they even realised they needed it themselves.

During lockdown this has proved even more evident, despite not knowing whether there will be a business to return to hotels, restaurants and pubs have been serving the community, from accommodating the homeless and key workers to providing food to the community and hospitals. Many furloughed teams have chosen to volunteer as part of this.

My personal experience during lockdown has been extraordinary, as you can imagine being in such a in person facing role working with facilities and hospitality, business has fallen off a cliff, so I have been trying to keep my business in the public eye and give back by offering free training to those that want to use this time to improve their skills or be inspired. This is in addition to supporting some of the more vulnerable in my community by doing their shopping & baking treats.

My hospitality family have been there every step of the way, emailing me to ask what they can do to help support and promote me and my business.

Throughout my career I have had the privilege to work with many creative intelligent and guest focused people. From bar backs to KP’s, the most important and NOT unskilled team members read my blog here, chefs, reception teams and GM’s. A hotel is often a reflection of the leadership. Read my blog hospitality leadership here

When I decided having spoken to Sheetal from the Institute of Hospitality to run an instagram takeover day I had no idea of the work involved, being me though, I decided to give it 100% and create the best experience I could for students, furloughed teams and industry professionals. We created 45 posts over 8 hours (by the way the average is 10) with each one taking an average of 15 minutes, from live chats, to cocktail making lessons, a skillsbootcamp live, a 30 minute inspiring training session on how to stand up and stand out for those looking for jobs, top tips, book recommendations, blogs and interviews with some of the industries best known role models. Their Instagram followers increased by 11.6% (the average increase in followers for an instagram takeover is 2.1%)

This is where the generosity and kindness of our industry really stood out, I approached my client base and those I did not know but had admired from afar and asked them to answer 3 of 5 questions in 3 minutes in a prerecorded video and send it to me to post through the day. I had no idea just how brilliant they would be, infact the response has been so good I am going to continue the series and post them on my own site, expand it to other industries and add them to my YouTube channel.

These hotel GM’s, consultants, owners, restauranteurs and HRD’s despite working incredibly hard at their day job, not only willingly gave their time but did it with verve and relish. Their words of wisdom, top tips and stories are incredibly helpful and inspiring take a listen to them here

What astonished me most however was how those I did not even know stepped up, messaging me on the day to offer encouragement and positive texts, retweets and reposts, to contacting me over the last few days, along with my other clients to enquire what other projects I have and if they can help me.

I have a confession to make, one of those people was Robert Richardson, The general Manager of The Grand Folkestone who is a hotelier I have admired for some time due to the number of awards his hotel and people team are winning, and when I saw him at an event last year could not pluck up the courage to go and introduce myself. Top tip, take an deep breath and always go and say hello because he, like so many others I know is one of the nicest guys in the industry. Focused with a huge dose of common sense, and a genuine people person.

The great thing about running your own business is that when you get to a certain point you only have to work with people you like, on projects you can be passionate about. I also have a rule of thumb when deciding whether to work with them, would I want to go and have a drink with them? I can honestly say everyone of the I interviewees we have had and those to come I would definitely have a drink or five with and one day the hugs I am know for.

So thank you to Robert Richardson, Chris Archambault, Joanne Taylor stagg, Janene Pretorius, Jon Dawson, Sean Wheeler, Wendy Bartlett, Robbie Bargh, Peter Ducker, Katharine Gourley, Arian Roehrle & Rachael Stevens. Also to those whose you have not heard yet, follow me on Instagram to find out who… we have a stunning line up.

Service industry workers, Unskilled or Unsung heroes? You decide. (A quick read)

I am sure many of you have sat back in your seat after a wonderful meal and said “right at this moment life doesn’t get better than this.”, without a second thought to the kitchen porters, cleaners, commis and waiters that made it happen.

Perhaps having had to endure the morning commute on your clean train, that first cup of coffee has been your saviour, yet you cannot recall the name of the always positive person who served it to you.

As you sit down at your clean desk having got to your floor because the lights and the lifts worked, you don’t even notice the bin has been emptied. You visit the pristine bathrooms but have probably never acknowledged the housekeeping teams that arrived an hour before you, and will leave hours after you, to ensure your workplace is a pleasurable environment conducive to you and your company achieving results.

Our service teams help the business do business and our people thrive

The legion of hardworking, committed, often lower paid employees are the army of workers who help business do business and people have fun. From facilities and service contractors, hospitality to infrastructure these teams are often overlooked and undervalued because they are not “fee earners” or the “glory boys & girls” as I like to call them.

Kitchen porters are the real rock stars of the kitchen

Priti Patel have you ever spent 8 hours in a hot kitchen wash up area in a basement … I thought not, because if you had, you would not label our KP’s as “unskilled”. Ask the brilliant Jay Rayner; he decided to take on the role for his article in 2015  and concluded that our kitchen porters are rockstars.

Michel Roux explains all meals start and end with the kitchen porter, no matter how well the food is cooked or how many Michelin stars the chef has. If the plate is dirty, it gets sent back.

Do not believe this legion of saviours are uneducated, often it is simply that they use the position to gain their first role while they learn English and then move up the ladder, or because it is flexible enough to work around their studies.

Escoffier, widely proclaimed as the god of chefs, revered his KP’s, often seeing and nurturing their talent. With his most famous kitchen porter, who he later promoted to pastry chef at The Carlton hotel, being Ho chi Minh who sadly had to leave in order to pursue his political ambitions and honour his country. Unskilled…uneducated..? I don’t think so.

The Rock is one of the most popular actors of our time, he also did a stint as a kitchen porter, saying it built character and is probably why he treats people so well today.

Ester Mcvey why aren’t you shouting about the value and worth of waitresses? I seem to remember you were a pretty good one once when I worked with you at Tuttons in Covent Garden.

As a nation we need to start valuing our service teams not taking them for-granted.

The reality is that in this country we do not value our service teams, acknowledge their worth and most importantly their contribution to our economy and overall well-being. Consequently people do not want to join service industries or do these roles, whatever the wage, believing the roles are beneath them. If the government believes the economically inactive within the population should undertake these jobs, perhaps they should start by valuing and singing the praises of these unsung heroes themselves.

Luckily other nations do not have the same negative bias, they view the service industry as an honourable profession, as we all should, that takes a unique skill set to master. It is these groups that have helped our service industries survive, taking on the roles that our home grown teams don’t want to do.

I have loved and continue to love my career in hospitality despite being discouraged to enter it at school.

From a young age I decided hospitality was the career for me despite being discouraged at school, which still happens all too often today. I started waitressing on Brighton seafront age 15, and having worked in hotels, bars, restaurants and Clubs for several decades, I may have worked damn hard but I have also had, and continue to have, a lot of fun. I have learnt valuable life skills, built my confidence, worked my way up to MD and am now the owner of my own business. I travel the globe and meet amazing people who inspire me, many of whom are kitchen porters, cleaners, waiters, receptionists, security teams and chefs. Yet we are not shouting enough about the benefits of our service industries.

How much are you prepared to pay for your meal or coffee?

The government tells us to pay these “unskilled” workers more and reduce hours. We are doing that; wages within hospitality and facilities have increased by an average 4-10% year on year since 2000, with kitchen increases being on average 14.8% year on year. According to some reports, 38% increase in bar wages, reduced hours and four day weeks have become the norm in kitchens on most hospitality rotas and split shifts are dying out increasing wage costs still further along with food costs, rent, rates and insurance, yet the cost of dining out has not increased at the same rate. The maths do not stack up, these steadily increasing costs across the board mean businesses simply cannot afford to stay afloat.

How much are you prepared to pay for your meal or coffee? How many of you use vouchers and discount codes to offset the cost of a meal or stay?

We have 800,000 vacancies across our industry if you fancy a career change Priti Patel.

Do you honestly think by stopping the the flow of overseas workers and their ability to take on “unskilled” roles it will suddenly mean the UK’s unemployed will be queuing at hospitality’s door? Of course not. It will take years for our nation to understand the value and benefits of working in the service industry and what joy can be gained from “making someone’s day”.

In the meantime Priti Patel, we have a few vacancies, about 800,000, if you’ve ever thought of a career change…. but do you have the right skillset? Empathy, tact, commitment, organisation, patience & people skills just to name a few ……we don’t just hire anybody!

Don’t leave it too late before you start to value our unsung heroes.

Only when you can no longer eat out or get your morning coffee because your favourite eaterie or local coffee shop has closed down due to rising costs or lack of employees, or you have to clean your own desk and empty your own bins at work…. will you then start to realise you underestimated the positive contribution these teams make to your day to day well-being and their contribution to the economy. If you do, great, but by then it will be too late.


Mary Jane Flanagan MBPsS Fitol

CEO mjinspire ltd

Hospitality & Facilities champion


Rock and ready to go

When you work within the hospitality industry it’s always interesting to visit a hotel or restaurant at shift change, their gaps in service, processes and people skills always stand out. Even the best can get it wrong resulting in guests not returning or lousy reviews across the myriad of sites. Guests don’t understand that there is a weak link in service when handovers, late arrivals and last-minute absences are exposed. ( along with just after opening and just before closing these are the service danger zones that leaders should seek to reduce ensuring a consistently exceptional service for every guest, every time. )

It was with trepidation, therefore, I decided to pop into the Hard Rock Hotel London to see how the service and standards were at this crucial time of day.

I was pleasantly surprised, particularly as over the last few years I have noticed a decline in the eye contact floor teams give unless they are in front of you. I believe this is one of the downsides of technology, people are so used to looking down at their phone they have lost the habit of looking up and scanning the room. Though it was busy but not rammed, team members smiled at me as I wandered around looking at the memorabilia, illustrating they had been trained to look up, notice and engage in conversation ( not just acknowledge ).

Whilst wandering around I saw three teambriefs / handovers being conducted, unobtrusive yet obviously hitting the point, whilst those finishing their shift remained focused on the guests arriving.

Bars were being set up for a busy evening, banter (always appropriate but adding to the atmosphere ) appeared to be happening between team members as they switched over. It was calm, controlled yet still had the Hard Rock hallmark.

Francesco gave me his full attention, despite only arriving at work 20 minutes earlier, offering suggestions, subtly upselling ( nicely done! ) and delivering an excellent drink.

The Hard Rock is known for its exceptional customer service and the highest standards, however, in the past, I haven’t always received this in other countries. London was different they were spot on, I’m impressed. This can not be achieved by only delivering preopening training or induction, they have obviously kept the message alive and maintained momentum through delivering exceptional teambriefs.

If I walked into your restaurant or hotel between 4:30-5:30 what service would I receive? Unless it is consistently excellent I suggest you send your managers and supervisors to the mjinspire skillsbootcamp – 90 minutes of Inspiring learning with practical tips and tools they can immediately bring back to the workplace and use.

Click here for the schedule

The Teambrief skillsbootcamp takes place on the 14th August 2019 in Central London 10:30-12.

As for the Hard Rock hotel they were rock and ready to go.


Teenagers aren’t lazy they just need sense of purpose

Watching my 17 year old son James and his team prepare for The Gibraltar Cup, where 8 troops of Royal Marine Cadets who have fought hard to win their regional competitions are put through their paces to find the best of the best (Kings Squad), I am reminded of the negative comments I hear on a daily basis about ‘the new generation’

Apparently Gen Z and Me..llennials have no commitment or staying power, they lack respect & want to run the show. They spend all their time in front of a computer and don’t want to get out and experience things. Really! Because that’s not what I see.

This is the third time his troop have had the opportunity to represent Zulu Company, their purpose made clear and expectations reinforced. Each time they have all put their heart & soul into perfecting their performance. Last time, as the only troop to represent the national cadet force in the presence of their Major General Prince Harry and before that at The National Drill competition – they won! ( it’s the first time they had entered )

They have forgone nights out, parties and trained every weekend, most week nights sometimes in pouring rain and had to fit preparations around exam revision, school work and other commitments.

If you ask them if it is worth they’ll tell you absolutely.  When asked why, James and his teammates replied……

“We are in this together, we don’t want to let our team, our troop, our troop Sergeant, our Commanding Officer ( ExFalklands Veteran Sergeant Woods – one of the best role model’s I have encountered) or Zulu company down.

James went on to say they have thrown everything at us, we are so grateful.  We have received visits by commanding officers from other troops who have competed in the Gib Cup giving us advice and tips to practice weekends with lots of tough talk combined with encouragement.

This post from Zulu company gives an example of how they have been motivated:

James and his troop have been given a purpose they believe in, that they want to fight for and aim to win. It has given them a team spirit like no other and although not all are equally as strong, James explained “we’ll get them through, me at the front, Ross at the back, Carl in the middle with strength dotted through the line, we have one or two novices and if I have to I’ll carry their day sacks with my own to make sure they keep up on the runs. We won’t let anyone go unsupported, we’ve got this.”

They face three days of challenges in Lympstone, the home of The Royal Marines, testing their assault, map reading, teamwork, fitness and corp knowledge. Their final test will be ‘bottom field’ where they have to climb over, under and through water, mud, ropes, walls, hauling logs up hills and every assault course challenge you can imagine…… Whilst carrying full billy cans. He explained “it is not about being the quickest, it’s about completing the course as a team, having fun, ensuring we don’t leave a man or woman behind and that we get them through it….I can’t wait.

I don’t know anything about the other troops that are competing, so not sure if we’ll win but we will give it our best shot everything we’ve got.”

All their Preparation, hard work, grit and determination however paid off as they have just become the the holders of the Gibraltar cup, it was close, they won by only one point which shows how high the level of commitment is across all the troops that took part.

He did admit that once this is over he may well catch up on those parties he has been missing and who can blame him or his team mates.

All of his troop both male and female are aged between 15-17, love Xbox and can be stroppy at times but when they are given a purpose they believe in, the support to achieve it and the belief they can they rise to the challenge they are as committed and focused as the most engaged team members.

So next time you question the commitment of your ‘new generation’ ask yourself how you give them purpose? and whether you foster a belief in their abilities and allow them to flourish?

The Royal Marine Cadets are always looking for donations and grants to help fund all the activities they take part in. The cadets come from all walks of life, it is incredibly inclusive and gives the cadets leadership, communication, teamwork and problem solving skills. They foster a high level of respect and build their confidence skills alongside physical activities that gets them outside and fit.

DM me if you have some funds or grants you would like to offer them.

If I could have given this hotel an extra star I would have.

My least favourite hotels are guest factories, they can be any star rating, in any Country and from any chain or independent.

The interactions are transactional with little thought given to the fact that they are dealing with a person and everyone is “just doing their job”

Although you can train procedures you cannot make people care, you can only hope you hire the ones that do, but it’s incredibly hard to ensure every team member in every interaction shows genuine empathy.

I believe that the quality of the service is driven from the top and can only be created when the Ownership, GM and senior team not only show they care, they create an environment where the team are allowed to show they care too. We know that if teams are not treated well they will never treat the guests, customers and each other well

What does show you care look like?

It is the small things, the little touches that show they have heard you and think of a way to make it even better.

It is in the way they remember you and the authenticity of their smile.

The Iberostar Grand Mencey live it and breathe it

I have been staying at The 5 star Iberostar Grand Mencey in Santa Cruz Tenerife for the last 4 days and despite booking a third party “deal” online, (usually I prefer to book directly, thereby getting a better room and service). It made no difference where the booking originated from they delivered consistently extraordinary service to every guest obviously, caring is part of this hotels’ DNA.

How do they do it? I asked a few questions

David Gomez the GM understands the importance of motivating and empowering his team. He trusts them and let’s them get on with the job says Christina Zenker the Asst manager. She explained that family values lie at the heart of not just the hotel but the Iberostar brand. The owners often visit the hotel making sure they speak to every team member, recognise their contribution and thanking them. This is why the team want to deliver the best experience for the guest, they feel proud to work for the hotel and the owners.

She explained it has not been easy to achieve this level of service, integrating the existing long service 40 years + team with the young vibrant newbies has been a challenge but through team building, senior leadership mentorship, ensuring departments heads are responsible for their people not HR and lots of motivation they have created the ‘one team’ that other hotels can only hope for.

The hotel

The hotel was originally built in the 1950’s but refurbished to a high spec, reopening on the 11.11.11 which means there is an old school grandeur yet the facilities are top notch, but as we know beautiful high spec hotels can often fail when they do not offer a level of service to match the surroundings. I have stayed in stunning hotels where the team are too cool for school and think their very presence is enough.


A simple enough request of ordering taxis to take us to and from the beach ( paid by the hotel ) is taken to the next level when she hands us some large thick towels and says you’ll need these. The beach is a twenty minute taxi ride away not round the corner. I know of hotels that make guests pay a deposit for the umbrellas when it rains let alone give you beach towels.

When asking about where the local shopping area is, she produced a 10% discount card for the local department store, ….Yes but so they should I hear you say it’s their job. If that’s the case why don’t more hotels do the same. Rarely do team members volunteer inside secrets. I have stayed in hotels next to Macy’s in the US and others in Paris close to Galeries Lafayette both of whom have similar schemes but have I never been told at reception.

Keeping the kids happy

This hotel has a stunning pool, where you collect your towels as you would expect. What makes this hotel stand out is the display of towel animals, would your child like a monkey or elephant to play with just pick? I have often seen towel sculptures from housekeeping not at the poolside. Mauricio does it everyday to “make the children happy”

No more breakfast nightmares

Fresh honey at the tea stand

Breakfast, the nightmare of any hotelier. Here with the help of Claudia and her team mates it was smooth, quick, everyone smiling, with the team talking to you including the chefs who are tidying and refilling the displays. Their English was excellent, which is no surprise given the hotel has been running language courses and the chef’s session was full every week.

I met Julio, his job is to make juices and smoothies which he then offers to guests as he walks around the room. He takes great pride in telling you what is in his latest creation and asks if he can improve it for you.

Cheeky chappies at the bar

Drinks are served quickly, made well and delivered with a joke, a smile and a story. ….Yes I know that is what they are suppose to do but they genuinely mean it when they say if you can’t see your favourite cocktail we’ll make it. Contrast that with a recent experience in a well known 5 star hotel in London. Despite the fact they had all the ingredients for a chocolate martini they refused to make one as it was not on the list.


The hotel is spotless with the room attendants greeting you when as you walk past. Quite right too, but they also ask how your room is and if they can get you anything, even when they are half way down the corridor away from your room.

No wonder they are so accommodating when you find out part of their morning briefs include a Pilates class.

Papa Negra

In addition to the main hotel restaurant they have another gourmet restaurant that specialises in typical Canarian food which they showcased brilliantly by adding a modern twist to the dishes. Our waiter David was knowledgeable and enthusiastic recommending dishes and explaining the heritage.

What can we learn from The Iberostar Grand Mencey?

It starts with the owners, the GM and the senior leadership, they need to care more about their guests and team than paperwork and reporting.

Manage by walking around not sitting down, talk to the team and take an interest in them and their job to ensure that every team member feels special.

Create an environment where teams are empowered to give that little bit extra.

Team-build and motivate often, make sure your department heads understand that they are responsible for their teams not just HR.

Offer more than technical skills training, it builds team spirit and improves their sense of wellbeing.

Will I be back, absolutely, sadly not to train the team, they don’t need me, as a guest both the hotel & Santa Cruz were a revelation.

Want to learn more visit

#hotels #hospitality #serviceexcellence

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