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.

People make hotels not just the furnishings.


20ish years ago my husband and I decided to take a road trip to the south of France in our new Saab convertible, god I miss that car.

Armed only with the Michelin, Guille millau and lonely planet guides along with my trusty Nokia 7110 and a map we set off. No sat nav, no wifi and no trip advisor.

It was glorious we came across a leg of the Tour de France, cherry festivals and fabulous markets. In Valence we ate profiteroles that we still talk about, in Orange the weather suddenly jumped 15 degrees and the car came into it’s own. Then we discovered Provence and fell in love with it. Wandering around I’isle Sur Sorge antique hunting and eating incredible food along the way.

We stayed in some real dives an attic in carpentras that had carpet on the walls and bed full of fleas but we also stayed in some stunning places.
One was a Mas in Eygalier, deepest and most rural Provence. It was stunning, wonderful terraces, full of antique furniture and quirky decorative pieces to be discovered at every turn. They grew their own lavender and made wonderful bath oils which they put in decanters next to the bath and refilled daily. They were lovely people gracious and accommodating always a bottle of wine open with a spare glass next to it.

It has taken us 20 years to return somehow life and children got in the way. On entering, the mas it appeared to have the same charm. However instead of lavender there are rows of olive trees, the bath products although olive based come from a hotel supplier in France… at least I should be grateful it was not China. The antiques are still there with some additions making it as interesting to walk around.

When we arrived the owners were not there instead there was a caretaker and his wife,  who are functional and ensure everything is in order but there is no soul anymore. I honestly think these people do not even like people they are curt instead of courteous. After 20 years of dreaming about returning I am so disappointed, though not with Provence. In October it is glorious, the weather warm enough to sunbathe but not too hot to explore and no tourists, we will definately return however we will be staying somewhere else which has a heart and soul.

People make hotels not just the furnishings.

When good service is a necessity 

Whilst sitting in a well known restaurant/bar I over heard the table next to me bid their farewells and the guest say “I had better leave and clear my things away before your next guest arrives to ensure confidentiality” as she scooted off.

Almost immediately the next guest arrived greetings were made then the waitress brought the bill from the previous encounter. This is not my card he exclaimed “oh this is the one that the lady with you gave me Mrs xxxxxx. Has she gone?” Replied the waitress.

The guest explained no she had not but was probably sitting else where and she had gone to the bar to exchange her card for his.   The waitresses response was Oh! Well what do you want to do?

The guest then had to go over to the person and give her the card back. When he returned the waitress had left to find his card which she found and processed.

Quick efficient service, smooth processes and an understanding of how to be tactful and show some emotional intelligence is a must in hospitality.

So much for confidentiality!!

Fired up ready to go

P + M.png

Performance = Motivation x (Function + Ability + Training + Environment )

There are three times of the year when influencing your team becomes even more important, times when you need to push the reset button and get everyone fired up and ready to go including yourself.  As a facilitator and keynote speaker I have found that September, January and the beginning of a new financial year are the perfect times to realign the troops and refocus them on your goals, culture and being the best they can be.

Never under estimate your impact as a leader 

Senior leaders and business owners can have a huge impact on the team, something which is often forgotten beneath a pile of spreadsheets and head office requests.  In a recent hospitality based research project 85% of those questioned said they wanted to hear directly from the boss face to face. Team members stated they found their owners and senior managers highly motivating but rarely saw them. This can be so easily rectified by taking a wander through the business, saying hello to everyone; being noticed by the boss especially when they remember a small fact about you can be hugely inspiring and promotes loyalty.  The added bonus is that it can remind you of why you joined the industry in the first place. If you combine this with the delivery of a 30 minute ‘State of the Nation’ three times a year not only will you rouse the troops and inject some of your own passion and charisma, it will give your team a common goal – the thread that can hold them together whatever their Job role.

The ‘State of the Nation’ can directly impact bottom line profit

When I speak to seniors leaders to debrief their ‘State of the Nation’ time and again they talk about how invigorated they felt afterwards and how many team members stayed back to give ideas and comment on the business, some of those ideas translated directly to bottom line profit.

Deliver your ‘State of the Nation’ but ‘Keep it Brief’

This can be delivered several times a day as drop in sessions so that you can capture as many hearts and minds as possible without compromising business continuity and service standards. Once you have them in the room, the key ingredients of a successful ‘State of the Nation’ are: Short, sharp, engaging and inspiring, here is a typical structure:

  1. 5 minutes on how far your have come (no excel spread sheets please yawn!)
  2. 5 minutes highlighting individuals who have stood out (Individuals love to get noticed)
  3. 15 minutes on your vision for the coming months – don’t forget to use positive hot-words and emotive language. Remember your pitch, pace, posture, pauses and power of three.
  4. 5 minute story to bring it alive – If you have not got any stories (I can’t believe that) you can always use some of Michael Heppell’s from his catalogue of books. www.michaelheppell.com
  5. 5 minute summary and call to arms – You want them to walk away feeling energised and motivated

For more tips on your delivery take a look at my previous blog. Keep it brief – It’s all in the delivery

Not sure where to start, how to structure your ‘State of the Nation’ or #teambrief or want some tips on your presentation style contact me on skillsbootcamp@mjinspire.com. I run regular ‘State of the Nation’ surgeries for business owners and leaders. www.mjinspire.com

Empathy is having enough towels

The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay – The only hotel to place extra towels in the room without us asking for them.

“Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work and serve the customer! “~ Gene Buckley

When developing teams to deliver service excellence we ask them to show empathy and truly understand what the guest needs then react accordingly. It is seen as one of the core behaviours required of a hospitality professional yet often we simply do not see it in action.
It maybe because teams cannot identify with the guests needs because they have never experienced 5 star service, therefore putting themselves in that mindset is difficult for them, and who can blame them when many may not have even eaten a meal out in a restaurant or stayed in a hotel let alone 5 star. However another reason maybe that although we expect it from our teams, in many hotels the systems and processes put in place don’t allow for the flexibility needed to be truly empathetic.

I recently travelled across California on a fact finding mission for my book on teambriefs, despite the fact there were three of us, in nearly every hotel we visited, 15 in total, only one gave us enough towels and extra bathroom products without having to ask.

The rooms even those containing two double beds or advertised for three or families only had two bath towels and one set of bath products. The hotels we had to request additional bedding from did not also deliver extra towels.

This example of process over people extends to glasses, cups, water and almost everything else in the room. I understand the average room is based on two occupants and often businesses and systems are developed based on “the average guest”. But who wants to be average, we want a stand out personalised service that shows the hotel has really thought about our needs even at the most basic level.

Take the offering of fruit in the room, having a large basket of fruit on display sounds like a great example of superior service but this is not necessarily the case. Whilst staying at an iconic 5 star hotel in a Hong Kong, there was the obligatory basket of exotic fruit and tray of Jasmin tea when I entered the room. Each evening without fail a new fruit plate and knife we placed on the table ready should I want to help myself, but I didn’t want to, so as the week progressed the fruit became more wrinkled with the odd piece replaced, the smell becoming ever more pungent and still the plate and knife set up each evening when I returned. The team rigorously followed the procedure ensure the knife and plate were perfectly placed however it was simply that “a process”. I would have preferred it if they had taken the fruit away after day two or even three and replaced it with a handwritten note: We have noticed you have not touched your fruit so we have taken it away, please contact us if you would like us to bring you a fresh selection of chilled fruit”. Now that would have been impressive!

With more hotels opening every month and guests requesting an ever more personalised service, if we are to succeed and gaincompetitive advantage hoteliers should audit the ability of team members and processes to aid an empathetic service, having done that think about the following top tips:

1. Give your teams the 5 star experience, allow them to stay at your own or other hotels, possibly as a quid pro quo. This could be as part of a competition or employee recognition scheme. If they stay in another hotel ask them to complete a mystery visit report and share it with the GM.

2. Organise quest speakers monthly/bi monthly within the business to explain what 5 star service means in terms that they can relate to.

3. Review your processes and ask the simple question: If I were staying here as……. think of different categories of guest and adjust accordingly.

4. Put a plasma screen in the canteen and show some of the programs that have been running about hotels, service and excellence. For example Iconic hotels-life beyond the lobby, or Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets or the excellent program about The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi. Remember if the team are working shifts they probably missed them, then ask you HOD’s to ask them what they have learnt. Create an ongoing dialogue.

5. Design and deliver a series of 10/15 minute team briefs that focus on the guest, quality service and empathy in an interactive and engaging way so that your teams are inspired and motivated to deliver personalised service.

7. Empower your teams to be able to do a little extra for the guest and give them a budget to do so, in some hotels this is 2K others £50 many none! then build in a process that is simple to account for it and that your HOD’s encourage the use of. Then set a competition for who can “go the extra mile” for little or no cost.

8. Re-evaluate your vision and values – is the guest at the heart of your culture and do the team live and breathe those values as opposed to a sign on a wall or stuck in a manual which no one has read since 1976.

9. Finally put The Guest/Customer Experience back at the top of your agenda, perhaps it has slipped as you focus on the p&l but remember;

“Profit in business comes from repeat customers; customers that boast about your product and service, and that bring friends with them. ~ W. Edwards Deming

mjinspire ltd write and run sessions for your teams, from inspiring briefs to leadership essentials and five star service. Contact MJ on hello@mjinspire.com for more details.

Ask about skillsbootcamp launching in London in January 2018. A series of 90 minute highly motivational, informative sessions that use accelerated learning to embed key messages for team members and leaders.

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