Food trends: the only thing constant is change.

The FSCI (Foodservice Consultants Institute) held their international conference last week where the debate turned to food and business trends that might be on the hospitality landscape in 2020. Insects on the menu, South East Asian food, aging diners and nutritional guidelines were the some of the main headlines in the discussion. 

Insects I'm not too sure about, but the other three are definitely due for a big appearance on the horizon in my humble opinion.
But first, let's think about the concept of 2020 for a second. It sounds so futuristic in the 'science fiction' sense of the word. Even now I still picture Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A space odyssey" as taking place during some distant time way off in the future when those fleeting twelve months have already well and truly left the building. And sadly, with no monolith to show for it. (Imagine that as a Y2K 'project of the people' rather than New Labour's recipe for blancmange, the Millennium Dome). But alas 2020 is only seven years away. Or six actually, with only weeks 'til the next New Year hangover.

So to get a concept of what trends might look like over such a timespan, let's take a look back at the last seven years. For me personally, the UK had a fresh appeal having just arrived back after an eight year spell in Kathmandu during which time I looked around at what might become the 'next big thing'. 

Boutique hotels immediately spring to mind with suede throws in rooms of Farrow and Ball autumnal shades. Gastro-pubs too were attracting Celebrity chefs away from expensive starched tableware and into low maintenance wood floors. The PubCos rubbed their hands with glee as articles in the Caterer & Hotelkeeper encouraged chefs that this was their easiest route to running their own business. It was. But it was also a honey trap. Within a matter of months, Gordon Ramsay Holdings snapped up The Narrow for £4M quid, quickly following with The Devonshire and then The Warrington. Worral-Thompson (remember him?) took on The Greyhound while media-phwoar Jean Christophe Novelli took on Green King tenancies at the white Horse in Harpenden and The French Horn in Steppingly (a pun no doubt appealing to ladies of a certain age.)

During this time the buzzwords to catch the wave were 'casual dining'; 'grazing dishes'; 'tapas fusion' and 'Modern British'. And bars. Just insert a generic word in front of the word bar and voila! - a new concept is born: juice bars, coffee bars, seafood bars, dessert bars, noodle bars... you get the idea.

As for actual food trends, I'd say the rise and rise of coffee - yes it is food for the purpose of this topic - has been quite relentless. It has even been mooted as the saviour of the ailing pub. Nothing is.

The branding of sustainability has also increased, with logos such as Red Tractor, Freedom Assured and MSC making their way onto the menu for customers to feel more considerate in their choice of animal flavoured protein.

Artisan pizzas, dirty burgers, gourmet hot dogs and chipotle chilli burritos have all had their fifteen minutes of fame. And for that sweet tooth we have seen seasonal macaroons, salted caramel you-name-it, water-based ganache truffles, doughnuts, cronuts and now vintage-plated retro sponge cakes thanks to the meteoric rise of amateur baking as championed on Great British Bake Off.

Just like the proverbial soufflé however, what goes up must come down and as such, these too will come to pass.

Boutique hotels are being squeezed out by the budget brands of Premier Inn and Travelodge while the Gastro-pub business model lauded by the brightest and best turned into huge liabilities as a result of the recession with many of them having been sold on to naive new owners keen to make their mark. (To be fair, a few continue to beat the odds - Tom Kerridge championing honest-to-goodness British food at his two-star-Michelin Hand and Flowers is riding a crest just now. And deservedly so after years of hard work at the stove.)

Seven years from now in 2020, we WILL care more about the nutritional value of our dining-out choices. We WILL be keen to try new and authentic micro-regional dishes from Asian countries that we or our children are travelling to. We will even eat a few insects if the right celebrity chef or brand can get behind the initiative. 

What WON'T happen however is the stagnation or grinding to a halt of these continual food trends and new business concepts. Certainly not as long as organisations like the FCSI, Academy of Catering Excellence, Institute of Hospitality, Arena, BHA and a host of other professional bodies continue to foster debate, research and discussion among their members to ensure the industry stays vibrant for decades to come. 

As a veteran casino owner once said to me after 40 years in Nepal: "the only thing constant here, is change." I suspect the same applies to food trends and business concepts in the year 2020.

Brand Personalities: Are you talking to me?

As a well-known restaurateur and voracious networker in Kathmandu, I received many letters every week from very respected acquaintances, diplomats and business people whom we met on the expat 'social circuit'.

Usually these were impeccably written notes on beautifully textured weighted paper, some headed up with a colourful logo and all concluding with a carefully considered signature. Each one was very thoughtful and gave a very good perception of the sender.

What you do is not the same as what you think you do.
However there was one thing - the most important element in forming a great 'first impression'  - that many of these correspondents fell down on which consequently undid all the good work they invested in their brand. I am of course talking about that piece of paper we set aside when reading a letter - the envelope it came in.

All too often the shabbiness and lack of care that went into the envelope and address label was surprisingly poor. After setting the perfect tone about their personal - or business - brand, they made the mistake of handing it over to a poorly trained PA or messenger to send out on their behalf. These were busy people after all; far too important for such a trivial task! This ensured that certain details were overlooked. For example, this assistant would innocently stick it in a cheap, badly made envelope. As for the 'label', the secretary's trick was to print my name and address on a piece of A4 paper and cut out what resembled a square with a pair of scissors before sticking it on the front with a dab of Prit Stick glue. There, perfect. 

The surreal thing was, and this is no exaggeration, on more than a few occasions it was then delivered by a chauffeur who would arrive in a big car only for my staff to see it addressed to (sic) 'Mr. Tomas', 'mr. Kirloy' or worse still, 'mr. Tomas Kirloys' (since the restaurant was called Kilroy's of Kathmandu' I can only assume they thought the 's' was part of my surname.) Inside, I found my name was spelled perfectly. 

At the time it made me laugh, but it also taught me a hugely valuable lesson: your brand is not what you think you portray, but what other people and businesses perceive it to be.

So while you're opening up your new box of restaurant business cards, ask yourself if the chef's cooking is as consistent as the printer's guillotine. Or while your Twitter account is responding in minutes (or seconds) to every rant or reservation enquiry, is your website allowing people to contact you calmly and rationally before they have to resort to Twitter.

With the best will in the world, you can try to micromanage every aspect of your brand's presentation, but you can't control the subjective response your brand receives. You can however influence that perception. And that requires real instinct and feel for what works in each channel. 

The same brand can have multiple personalities across a range of channels. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it does work as long as these messages are kept consistent

Apple is a great example of this where it's brand presentation is very corporate during their quarterly Earnings Conference Call, very innovation-led during the CEO's annual WWDC Keynote and very much emotionally charged in its product and end-user positioning. Different messages aimed at different audiences who connect through different channels. And let's not forget the millions of brand iterations created by fans. They may not be 'on brand', but they resonate more acutely than perhaps the brand can by itself.

If you need your brand to appear more corporate in one channel (for the Bank Manager perhaps) and perhaps more 'folksy' in another (I'm thinking your Customers here), this is possible as long as:

  • everyone in your organisation knows the difference between the two.
  • everyone in your organisation knows why you require that positioning.
  • those messages are kept separate and kept consistent.
  • that those messages do not dilute the brand as a whole, but serve to create a stronger presence with different stakeholders.

Knowing which parts of your brand integrity you can control and which should be allowed to grow organically are the key to building a strong presence that appeals to the widest possible audience.

Brand iterations created by fans may not be 'on brand', but they resonate more acutely.

What has the Institute ever done for us?

A rather flippant title which paraphrases the old Monty Python scene in Life of Brian, but it underlines my basic premise here that you only get out of something what you put in.

Although I only joined earlier this year, the Institute of Hospitality has been a little bit of a revelation for me. The networking opportunities, the chance to discuss and share industry trends and business latest with like-minded professionals and ultimately, having a forum where I can put something back into the industry, are some of the main reasons why I enjoy being a member. In short, it's that satisfaction of being part of something really worthwhile that counts and I happen to like what the Institute of Hospitality stands for and the people it represents.

But not all members are made in the same mould and I suspect there are one or two who begrudgingly fire off the annual cheque and wonder what good it has done them beyond a quarterly magazine and a shiny plastic card in the post. From one end of the year to the next, they shy away from attending events or spreading the Insitute's message. Whether or not they can be encouraged to participate more, I'm not sure. I guess at least they are sending in a cheque. And I know that it is gratefully received, so please keep doing that.

With this in mind, I was very interested at the Annual Lunch to hear two or three different conversations on the challenge of attracting new members. As an organisation, the Institute has a lot to offer, but I have a feeling that not too many people in the wider industry are aware of what it is or what it sets out to achieve. People who don't have the words Hotel or Director on their business cards for example. Or don't even have business cards for that matter. Although from what I have seen, this does look set to change with some renewed energy.

Now, if you’re not a member and wondering what it is the Institute does, then go to their website here and have a look. It’s a professional body that offers training resources, industry guidance, personal development and the most fantastic networking opportunities imaginable to really boost your career prospects, business credentials and industry profile.  Whether you are a student (especially if you are a student!), a manager or an entrepreneur, I would urge you to consider becoming a member. And if you’re still not convinced, then give them a call to see if there is an event happening near you. Go along and see what you think. And whatever you do, make sure you follow them on Twitter (@IoH_Online).

If however, you are currently a Member or Fellow of the Institute reading this, don’t pat yourself on the back too soon, because (upstart that I am) I have a challenge for you. Why not pay it forward? I am sure you have been rewarded by your membership over the years, but the Institute needs new members and revitalised energy in the pipeline. Why not pick out an aspiring and talented younger member within your team and reward them by sponsoring their first year’s membership fee. Get them involved, get them motivated and get them talking about the Institute’s good work. That small contribution could make such a big difference to the future of the Institute. More importantly, it could make a profoundly big difference in the future of their lives.

It’s what you put in that determines what you get out. So perhaps the title of my post should have been ‘What have you done for the Institute lately’?

Uncharted territory and a man with Compass

As the Institute of Hospitality Annual Lunch concluded, we had an opportunity to mingle for a few minutes and I have to thank my friend Melvin Gold FIH (a fine Hotel Consultant who can be contacted here for the best of industry advice. You’re welcome Melvin.) for calling me over to introduce someone he thought I should meet. Knowing I work within Foodservice Catering, he must have enjoyed the look on my face as I found myself shaking hands with Ian Sarson, the Group MD of Compass UK & Ireland. 

Ian Sarson, MD, Compass UK & IRE
Now, for anyone reading this who may be unfamiliar with our industry, Compass is the largest Foodservice Caterer in the UK employing 50,000 people in the sector today. Globally speaking, Compass is the 11th largest employer in the world. So needless to say, I was chuffed at the opportunity to meet and chat with one of the key leaders within our industry.

We talked about the challenges we faced along the way as he mentioned the Disney contract he oversaw many years ago in Hong Kong around the time I was opening my operation in Kathmandu. Coming back to the challenges of today, I thought it was funny, in an ironic way, that we both stood looking at the same crossroads. The road to contract catering Nirvana was traditionally found on the highway of client satisfaction. Now the industry faces a left turn towards retail and direct customer appeal and a right turn off the beaten track towards social media engagement between employees, customers, clients and stakeholders. Suddenly size is not the advantage it used to be and there are certainly no shortcuts.

But here’s the great thing about hospitality and events such as this. Rather than a stilted conversation with no common ground, we both talked about starting out as chefs in the business and how important it was to understand the fundamentals of your craft if you are to progress up the ladder. With a little hard work and perhaps a pinch of luck, the opportunity is there to progress to the very highest levels. This is an industry that rewards the go-getters from every walk of life and Ian Sarson exemplifies this.

Whichever respective roads we take, it was certainly a pleasure to meet Mr. Sarson along this one and I thank him for being so generous with his time. On occasions like this, you can just go along for the lunch, but it’s better to come away with some great food for thought.

Passion, Debate and Dutch Courage

I was delighted to be asked to participate as a judge in the annual Passion4Hospitality Student Debate which took place yesterday. Hosted by the Institute of Hospitality at the Victory Services Club, the stinging cold on the commute into London soon gave way to some very hotly contended verbal jousting by the brightest minds in hospitality academia today. The format seemed simple enough: eight teams of three presenting to five judges covering two topics in the hope of winning one prestigious trophy. Bring it on.

The challenge however, turned out to be as perplexing as the format seemed simple. In retrospect, I guess the real eye opener for me was seeing how many different ways a single specific topic could be interpreted and presented. Some picked up on a key word, some focused on financials, others on culture and history. All in all, it was an amazing array of thought processes to convey a message whether one was for or against the given argument.

As the day progressed, we picked a winning team from Heat One in the morning who would then go head-to-head with the winning team from Heat Two in the afternoon. The final debate took place in front of the Student Conference guests with the victors being chosen by a straightforward show of hands from the audience.

At this point, you will not be surprised if I say the winning team showed immense character, intellectual prowess and grace under pressure. But you might sit up and take notice if I said that English was not their mother tongue since they had flown in from the continent especially to take part. That really was the measure of commitment and professionalism on display as the team from The Hotelschool in The Hague raised their trophy aloft, leaving London Metropoliton University to be content with the runners-up position.

From left: Maria-Cristina Oprea, Anne Overwater, mentor & lecturer Glen Hepburn and Boudewijn Metzelaar.

Reflecting on the day I applaud every participant for their pluck and commitment in taking part. Win or lose, they will have learned something truly special about the nature of their character and that is more valuable than any trophy or certificate. 

My favourite quote of the day which I posted on Twitter shortly afterwards:

To read all about the debate click here for the Institute's article or check out this great post by Ioannis S. Pantelidis, the team mentor for University of Brighton who came so close on the day.

Our 'Honourable Chairman' of Judges, Russel Kett FIH presides over a tightly fought contest. 

In the meantime, I think the last word should go to Peter Ducker FIH, the Chief Executive of the Institute in his very kind note to me where he said “... the enthusiasm and engagement we saw yesterday suggests that the future of our Industry will be in safe hands.”

You can't argue with that. 

Unless it becomes a topic for next year's debate, perhaps...

Scholarship forethought and four planning

Recently voted Most Powerful Person in Hospitality 2013
Receiving an invitation to have coffee with Alastair Storey is a rare thing. To see him give away a handful of cheques is rarer still. OK, allegedly...

However, that was the experience for four lucky recipients at an event held in Benugo's chic boutique over in BaxterStorey’s Reading Support Office yesterday.

The reason for this display of generosity by the WSH Ltd Chairman was to congratulate the first winners of the inaugural WSH Foundation Scholarship. This comprises three annual awards of £1000 each (to a maximum of £3000) and was open to all employees and dependents within any WSH company who had been accepted onto a further education course aligned with hospitality. Apparently four applications really stood out, so four were granted, and I’m quietly chuffed to report that two were from Oxford University locations.

L-R: Alastair Storey with recipients Sam, Paulina, Agi, Martina and Co-CEO Noel Mahony
Back in September Agnes, one of my service team here at St. Cross College, showed an interest in the initiative so I was more than happy to support her application and we managed to get it in before the deadline. A few weeks later, we were absolutely thrilled to receive the letter personally signed by the Chairman stating that Agi had been selected as one of the recipients of this year’s award.

So here we were, four proud managers with our four youthful wards politely ‘enjoying’ our coffee with the Chairman, Co-Chief Executive (Noel Mahony) and Director of HR (Lynne Graham). Forget the cake, you cut could the atmosphere with a knife as we all tried desperately not to put our foot in it considering the stellar cast of Board Directors sat around the coffee shop table. (I failed on that score, but that’s another story…)

To be fair, Lynne did a marvellous job of putting us all at ease and it turned out to be a really, really uplifting experience to hear each of the young recipients explain their hopes and aspirations within hospitality as a result of this financially rewarding morale boost. Paulina who has only been in catering for 18 months or so intends to study a HND in Hospitality Management, while Agi begins her BTEC Level 5 course in Event Management very soon.

Sam, smartly attired in his best suit, quietly described how a day’s experience at his Mum’s work location made him realise he wants to be a Chef. He still works with his Mum at St. Andrew’s Prep School for Holroyd Howe and has decided to take up the challenge of Level 1 NVQs in both Professional Cookery and Hospitality at Sussex Downs College. 

Martina who is a supervisor at Saïd Business School here in Oxford, described to Alastair how she was so happy at being selected that she cried as she read his letter. She is putting the money towards her Advanced Diploma in Hospitality & Hotel Management eventually leading to a degree. What an amazing display of appreciation.

Eventually photos were taken, lemon drizzle cake wolfed down (mostly by just me) and after a few minutes of networking and chatting with the directors, our group was given a brief tour of the facility.

On our way out, there’s a large illuminated sign by reception that boldly states ‘Food with Soul’. Our customers enjoy BaxterStorey’s food everyday, but for these four recipients and the hundreds of others - me included - who have been through the Barista, Chef or Leadership Academies, we get to grow and share in that special entity that is BaxterStorey’s soul.

I wonder what kind of a cheque that’s worth?

5 reasons why I freakin' love hospitality

1. It gave me a life skill I can always fall back on.

2. I got to travel all over the world meeting some amazing people along the way.

3. The jobs I've had have given me a sincere respect for the awesome people who work in our industry everyday - from the smily person serving the wrap to the studied persona of the hotel doorman.

4. Looking back, I think the hours were less and the money more than people warned me they'd be when I started out. Come to think of it, money couldn't buy the lifestyle I've enjoyed at times.

5. After 23 years, I'm STILL finding there's so much to learn and see and experience, that tomorrow still feels like my first day at work.

How cool is that?

A cooking show for the rest of us

Come to think of it... Imagine a weekend TV show with a time slot like Sunday Brunch and the budget of Saturday Kitchen. 

Presented by Roy Ackerman and someone like Ravinder Bhogal. In-the-field reporting from Brian Turner (Cuisine), Fred Sirieix (Service) and William Curley (Patisserie). 

A different perspective.
Featuring latest industry news; aspirations, technical prowess and results from Bocuse D’Or; World Skills Competition; National Chef of the Year; National Waiters Day and AFW Awards of Excellence as well as OUR industry perspective on current affairs, awareness campaigns and the grass-roots people making a REAL difference in our sector today.

I’d watch that. Would you?

And if you're in TV and could make this happen; well, you know the rest..

Cool as a cucumber

There are some hidden gems in our industry really worth sharing and here is one of them for anyone with a love for hospitality. 

The indefatigable Roy Ackerman hosts his own Digital TV channel called Cool Cucumber TV

Click here for a small taster of Cool Cucumber...

The interface is not the prettiest and there are no 'share' buttons, but boy does Roy make up for it in content with celeb chef interviews, restaurant profiles, wines, ingredients and recipes. Check it out now - it's fantastic.

Critics Criticise. Writer’s right?

Vanity got the better of me this weekend. To help promote this humble little blog I sent a tweet to Jay Rayner in the hope of tapping into his Seventy Six Thousand followers with this:
Hi @jayrayner1, any chance of a cheeky RT? The Art of Menu Engineering: Winning Words Your Menu Needs Today: (Thanks)

I didn’t give it another thought as I was sure it would be ignored. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to get a reply from Jay a few minutes later. Well pleasant may not be the word. If you’re not on Twitter, here it is:

@mykitchensync I'd like to think you're taking the piss because 95% of that is the worst advice I have ever read. Sadly, I fear you mean it.

Mightier than the sword: master of the dark art of criticism.

OOF! What a kick in the ribs. I read the words again, but still couldn’t find a glimmer of positivity. (OK, so 5% of my piece was not the worst advise he ever read. That’s good, right?

As I processed it, I kept thinking: How belligerent is that? Why doesn’t he agree with my viewpoint? Now what am I going to do? It would have been easy to rattle off some stupid tweet, but who needs to start a flame war (that's a pissing contest, Chef) which Mr. Rayner would win hands down. So I just tapped out a rather meek;
@jayrayner1 Fair point Jay. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

My earlier link to a piece by Seth Godin sums up the fact that you can’t please everyone. Jay Rayner’s job is to sell newspapers, his new book and an inordinate love for beards. A nice incendiary comment will do that. Or even a harmless tweet if you have the platform. 

To the Specialist in Soft Facilities Management, the Section Manager at John Lewis Partnership and the Catering Consultant in America who valued my article enought to ‘like’ or comment positively on LinkedIn, I thank you.

To Jay Rayner, thank you also. I’ll still vote for you again should you enter the Beard of the Year contest this year. Even if your point of view, just like your prominent goatee, really bristles.

Menu Engineering: Emotion is an Ingredient

This post is part of a series to help you build a winning menu that will engage with your customers, assist your team and most importantly, drive your bottom line.

Using emotional touch points to describe your food is a sure-fire way of engaging your customers. They know chefs are passionate. They know it’s hot in the kitchen and tempers flare. They know chefs are great in bed. (I made that up. Patissier's are.) So why can’t we display some of that raw emotion on our Menu. After all, it’s a key ingredient in what inspired any dish in the first place; a memory, a concept, an occasion, or as a tribute or even to emulate perhaps.

If you ask any Chef what his all-time favourite dish is, invariably it’ll be something cooked by his Mother or Grandmother. Or where does he like to eat out on his night off? Again, I would lay good money on the choice being Indian or Chinese. So why on earth does that same Chef insist on handing us a shopping list of ingredients in any restaurant worth wearing a tie to. 

You know the Carte I’m talking about; weighted sheet, off-white, textured, say 200gsm and sparingly held together in some kind of bamboo or leather contraption. 5 Starters, 5 Mains, 4 puds and trolley of cheeses, at a supplement. Naturellement. And don’t be surprised if you find the price spelled out in longhand at the bottom. There is after all empirical evidence this will increase sales. Your eyes wander down the page and we’re back to that seemingly random list of things: 

Scottish halibut, fregola, blood orange, sea kale

Marcus Wareing
“What the hell is fregola?” “Sshh, the waiter’s coming?” That particular dish is taken from one of Marcus Wareing’s menus at The Berkeley. You can see the rest of it here. (And for the pedants: Times regular, 17 point and very sparing on the capitalization.)

Now, what’s worth mentioning at this point is - and I want to make this very clear - there is NOTHING WRONG with that style of menu. OK? I am not saying it is wrong. For Marcus Wareing, it is the culmination of many, many well thought out decisions and it works for his business. What I am saying is that we can’t ALL be Marcus Wareing and we don’t ALL have two Michelin stars to back up those little words he sprinkles sparingly around the page. 

So how should ‘the rest of us’ describe our menu choices? Let’s go back to that chair you are sitting in where your customer normally is. Now, imagine a very suave Italian (or French) Maitre d’Hotel describing the dish above to the lady next to you. Actually, if you’ve seen this in real life, it’s a thing of beauty - these guys really know how to turn on the charm. The Halibut could be described as ‘very light’ or ‘beautifully fresh’ (say it with the accent) or even ‘incredibly delicate’. The Fregola is from Sardinia, so again our Italian friend would invoke the beautiful sea breeze where his Mother used to make such a delicate pasta. The blood orange adds ‘zing’ and the sea kale gives it a beautiful ‘finishing touch’. Now you tell me... what have we learned about this dish? Nothing. Except my dining partner now wants to go to Sardinia with Señor Sassi and orders the fish just to make him happy. Sold! And the side to go with it.

If only we could take all that flirtatious charm and sprinkle it on every guest. Oh wait... by invoking the emotive power of language on our menu, WE CAN. 

So the next time you are writing your menu Chef, try to imagine standing AT THE TABLE and explaining the dish IN PERSON. Yeah. Use those words.

In my next post, I will share some of the winning words and phrases that have proven to drive sales in my business.

A Leader who knows his Onions

A colleague of mine recently had to give a short presentation which involved describing a leader that inspired her, but using food as the analogy to describe that leadership inspiration. Her challenge caught my imagination and we had an interesting discussion about it. As we are in the catering sector, the humble onion is one ingredient that gets overlooked in our business and yet underpins so much of what we produce from our kitchen. With that in mind, here is a leadership analogy that might just work for you.

An onion packs lots of character despite its size. 
And like a true leader, this appearance belies an unflinching willpower that’s fueled by passion. (Be careful of the smaller ones, they tend to have more bite!)

If you cut an onion open during a meeting, it’s aroma will definitely stand out.
… and this ability to ‘stand out from the crowd’  and leaving that memorable impression is what turns a good leader into a great one. 

However, the same onion has a harmonizing effect when cut within a kitchen.
Skilled leaders create harmony and team spirit by motivating the people around them.

Sometimes the humble onion leads from the front - just look at French Onion Soup. 
- true leaders don’t shy away from situations that others might find very challenging.

And in other recipes the onion leads from behind by bringing out the best in other flavours.
Through empathy, influence and skillful maneuvering, a smart leader can energise the team to raise their game. 
Onions add bite & texture when thrown in a salad, but cooked down in a sauce they add sweetness. 
Different challenges have diverse paths to a solution requiring the canny leader to think outside the box and encourage the team to explore those paths.

Cutting across an onion reveals a number of rings - symbols of both strength and continuity. 
Like great leadership, these represent new experiences or challenges, with one bigger than the last.

And as any search on leadership will tell you, an onion - just like our proverbial leader - is made up of many layers. 
For me, each layer represents a chapter in our experience that moulds us into the type of leader we are today.
As for stripping them away, you might think there will be nothing left. But paradoxically, I believe we are left with ‘everything else’. Put simpIy, the leaders who shaped our early behaviours, continue to influence our decisions today. So it is vital to seek out - and offer - great leadership!
If nurtured under the right conditions, an onion can be cultivated to produce a future crop. 
This can also be said of true leadership skill. Be that manager, mentor or coach.

One final point about the humble onion: 
like any great leader, they also have the potential to move you to tears.

Milestones in our Lives

Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler described songs as "milestones in our lives". I think he is on to something. If I want to cast my mind back to a happier, or perhaps more melancholy time, I will put on a certain album that reminds me of that moment in my life.

I think it's also true of dishes we cook. Especially if you are a chef. As you move from one influence to another, from one job to another or one country to another, there are certain dishes that become bookmarks in our culinary life. The question is, what sort of menu would they make up today?

Kilroy's Lemon Tart
Anton Mosimann's Bread and Butter Pudding will be a dish that had the most indelible mark on my career and as a result I have a real love/hate relationship with it. On one hand, it opened my eyes to a new way of cooking traditional classics and through it's popularity, I got to travel around the world making it for some very special occasions. On the other hand I made so much of it that today I would have to be super-hungry to eat even a spoonful.

Kilroy's Lemon Tart became my signature dessert over a two year stint in Bermuda where I made about 5000 portions by hand on a Formica table that I hope I never have to see again. And setting up in Nepal allowed me to develop Seared Chicken Breast stuffed with Nak's Cheese (- yes the spelling is correct: if you’re thinking the milk came from a yak, it's worth bearing in mind that a yak is male) and remains the signature dish in our restaurant to this day.

Dessert 'Wizard of Oz'
Thinking back to some of the life-changing milestones in my life's map of discovery, I fondly remember suchdishes as Sauerkraut in St. Moritz or Thukpa in Tengboche or Sel Roti in Sikkim. Which make me think that perhaps the greatest thing about cooking is that the act of doing so - with it's aromas, textures and flavours - will take you right back to that place or moment in time you want to experience again. Like listening to a song.

More importantly, this allows you to ‘emotionally connect’ with your guest in a very fundamental way, either by sharing with them YOUR experiences through a carefully crafted menu or by allowing them to create new milestones for themselves by putting them in a great atmosphere, where the service and food will be immortalised in their future memories and reminiscences.

The Myth of 'Cheaper by the Bottle'

Let's take a bottle of wine (750ml) which you are going to sell at £12.00, then it is fair to say the equivalent large glass (250ml) of wine should work out at £4.00 (one third) to bring in the same revenue. Most operators however, will charge MORE than this per glass as they want to encourage you to purchase the full bottle.

My strategy to encourage a good following of regulars in the bar (to supplement our dining revenue) was to make it 'cheaper by the glass'. In this case, perhaps £3.85.

But is this fair to your diners who you want to encourage to return? Well let's think about that for a minute. Whether it is the couple on Table 1 or the group on Table 12, they will tend to order by the bottle regardless of pricing for any number of the following reasons:

To quickly get 'settled in' for the evening or occasion.
To enjoy the 'sharing' element that such a purchase brings.
To avoid the hassle of looking for the waitress every time they need a refill.
To show off. (To their date, to other tables nearby or sometimes just their wealth.)
To feel pampered.
To get a quick consensus (in a group)
To easily calculate everyon's share of the bill.
And because they figure they will be paying less for it as it's usually 'cheaper by the bottle'.

Therefore if you charge less by the glass:
The average diner won't notice - especially if the food and service meet expectations.
The astute diner will figure it out and perhaps order by the glass. (But will they count how many they have?)
And the best diners won't care - and they are the ones you should be working to attract anyway by exceeding their expectations.

And if you still need convincing why your bottles should bring in more revenue, don't forget about the added cost to your bottom line for the service staff, linen, rented floor space and general cost of time and energy that adds up while uncorking and topping up at the table.

Meanwhile in the bar, very few of your punters buying their drinks in rounds will calculate how much wine they are consuming by the glass and consequently drink more of it. And if they think it is good value, they will convince themselves to have another round since they are "saving" every time they spend.

Are you earning too much money?

If you're an investment banker then I suspect you probably are. But for the rest of us I'm sure the answer is a resounding NO.

So we agree that you're earning just enough money (if there is such a thing). And when you finally get your hands on this hard-earned cash, what do you do with it? Generally it's used to pay the essential bills and get the basic things we need to keep us going until we are left with a little bit (hopefully) at the end that we can call our own. This is the bit I want to think about for a minute.

When you spend that money on say, a coffee or a sandwich or perhaps a beauty product in the sales, how do you expect to be treated by the person serving you? To be miserable, grumpy and rude? I don't think so. We want to be smiled at and spoken with. We want them to make us feel special. We want to feel that our custom counts for something. We want to be appreciated (not to be confused with just thanked). In an ideal world we want it to be a rich and warm experience.

Is this how we treat our customers who come in to spend their hard-earned money in our business. Do we make the effort to genuinely smile (even on the phone, it shows), or say a few words of chitchat beyond a mere 'can I help', or go that little extra and offer to bring it to the table or carry it to the door? These are the so-called 'little things' that count really big in turning that mundane transaction into a rewarding customer experience that might encourage a return visit. And paradoxically the experience can be as rewarding for us too.

One final point: Just think how much would it cost to buy an uplifting experience like that. Although great service is expected as part of our customer's purchase, how we deliver that service, for better or worse, remains something we give away for free. In the case of an exuberant, outgoing and talented Barista, it might just be the price of a coffee.

Every person. Every day. Every Time.

Are we delivering excellence? A profoundly simple question I put to my team this week on our first day back after a fantastic Christmas break. Giving it some consideration, a variety of answers came back ranging from 'yes totally' to others who felt 'we could do better'. I tend to agree with the latter.

But first, let me explain how this bout of philosophical navel gazing cropped up. As we neared the end of another hectic term last November I found myself looking for some nugget of motivation that would slingshot me through the hectic Christmas period ahead and into 2011. It came in the form of a rather innocuous question in my annual and first ever - appraisal at that time; “Are you delivering excellence?” Hmm, I would have to think about this carefully because truthfully I knew there was room for improvement.

A few days later in a very unkempt changing room I suddenly had an epiphany about this excellence I was meant to be delivering which has since given me enough motivation for months to come - enough to start this blog even! You see, while I had been thinking about the big showy VIP things that we tend to focus on most of the time, I was overlooking the everyday mundane tasks (such as keeping this changing room tidy) that also require excellence from every member of my team.

With this newfound perspective, I put it to them; how does our Kitchen Porter deliver excellence? How can HE deliver excellence when he doesn't cook fabulous food for a living? (Or even mediocre food for that matter). Nor does he serve Champagne to our guests with panache. After all that's not his job. His lot is to mop the floor, wash the pots, throw out the trash and keep smiling throughout. I guess in his case the more fundamental question is 'how can WE help him to deliver excellence?'

Picture yourself, I continued, standing in the changing room with the state it is in most of the time and consider the question again. Would a visitor, senior manager or contractor using the facility think so?

From this point of view, they all agreed we had some way to go. But in doing so, we had just taken our first steps towards this elusive state we seek out. Because in admitting to our deficiency in such a key component of Hospitality, we had taken our first small step towards delivering that excellence. Every person. Every day. Every Time.

My new mantra for 2011, and I have promised to bore my team silly with it, is for each of us to ask of ourselves 'Are we delivering excellence?' Because if we do so in the banal tasks, the big showy VIP ones will take care of themselves.

Look around at the area within arms reach of you. Are you delivering excellence in how it looks?...

Start there.