Just Let The Chefs Do The Cooking

Too often these days customers are presented with menus that are at their best names of dishes in English at their worst in Franglais and dare I say it from the bottom of the stock pot simply lists of ingredients if you are lucky centred on a page.

Dont let CHef write the menu

Dont let Chef write the menu

You see General Managers and Food and Beverage Managers make the error of thinking that because their Head Chefs are able to produce wonderful Rosette quality food they can also write menus that sell and enthuse the customer to buy the said food. Or do these managers simply abdicate the responsibility of selling lunch and dinner? Surely not.
Now in the past I admit I have been guilty of this crime against selling food. But about 17 years ago realised the error of my ways.
During the Milton Hotels days the General Managers had the benefit of being mentored in sales and marketing by the well known expert Derek Taylor. He always kept us right on words that sell, amongst many other sales and marketing topics and in my case pointed me towards some very good reading resources on menu design and content.

So heres some simple rules for effective menu and wine list copy writing.

1. Just what is it you are selling?
2. How is it served?
3. How does Chef prepare it?
4. Does the dish or wine have any unusual tastes, properties or textures.
5. Where do the ingredients come from?

In addition there are some words and phrases that sell food better than others. Now these need to be used with care as if used with the wrong style of food can sound a bit silly. Here are a few – if you want to know more we could talk business.
Fresh every day. Fun to share. Piping hot. Award winning- make sure it is please. Golden brown. Aged. Fresh from the boat. Chilled. Traditional recipe. Often sold out. Ice cold. Smooth. LIghter. Crisp. Special. Featured. Home made. Fine. Elegant.
Great Food Stop Menu copy

Using these rules wwe put together one of the most successful Great Foodstop menus that we ever had and changed the look of our wine list altogether. Selling wine by grape variety not country using our “Cherubs” wine list which was very successful too.


When Free equals Value Plus

Dear Al

I noticed the free bottle of house wine wine offer if you dine with the SI Spring offer and it reminded me of a time back in 2000 when we were putting together offers for the Golden Lion  and the other Hotels with chndepProfessor Taylor.

At the time he stressed the importance of adding value to these packages to differtiate from the competition, encourage pre booking and pre payment (ok we all know that)

The trouble with “free” chocolates and “free” wine is that they dont have any brand value to the customer. `You could be giving them anything. A bottle of Don Cortez Red and Poundland chocolate cherries for all they know.  Worth what? The hotel may know but the customer is kept in the dark. Mushrooms dont buy rooms Al.

choc cherryt

The answer is to make sure your “free” products area) of good quality and
b) sound like they are “the business”I know that we ended up buying 10 cases of a nice Chateau bottled red bin end at a very resasonable price for the “free” wine and naturally the chocolates discovered their handmade Belgian Heritage shortly after.Higher percieved VALUE Al.
The promotion? Well it seems to have worked well. So well I see The Palace are still using at fifteen years later.  Check out their offers page today. Is this WordPress?
“This is an amazing offer you can add to your break – you will enjoy a delicious 3 Course Dinner for 2 guests in the Eight on the River Restaurant with a bottle of Hunters Cove Merlot or Chenin Blanc for only £49!!! “
By the way . Enjoy London and keep your hair on.

RIP The Sausage Roll

Its some time since I passed the refectory sausage roll counter at Colinton Road. If my memory serves me right they were served piping hot. And with a certain flourish by the matronly ladies smartly dressed in their starched pink and white bibs – crisp freshly fried chips topped with baked bean jewels. Apologies if I paint a rosy picture but it was a happy time,in my formative years before any of Monsieur Pelleprat’s “fonds du cusine” had further educated my palate.
Any way as usual I digress. Let me tell you about my recent experience with a sausage roll and a bacon buttie.
The other day I received an email offering me a complimentary ticket to a management development conference to be held at one of the major universities in Edinburgh. Admittedly it started early on a Saturday morning but you can pick up some real “gems” from contributors at these events. Oh and breakfast and a buffet lunch was included, one would think a bonus Al.
But regrettably I must report a few shortcomings.

Having crossed the country on a beautiful autumn morning, I parked up close by and following the directions I had been given walked to the Conference Centre. The smell of grilled bacon led me past reception and on to the Registration area and finally the buffet table. Having made my choice of buttered roll the young lady lifted off the top of the chaffing dish ( ok I know its a technical term, but I haven’t used it for some time) to reveal the horror that we know as warm pink and white,flaccid, cooked bacon. No tasty, crispy brown, sizzling unctuous bacon fat. The combination oven had been at work here Al. Ok it had done its job. Followed the programme.But please, please Chef , give the bacon a few minutes dry heat at the end of the cycle. Attention to detail Al.

An inspirational, interesting and informative morning went like clockwork with the assembled company of around 130 delegates arriving back at the “social” area at 13.00hrs sharp for lunch.
You’ll remember Al back in the old days at the Lion when we catered for 300 conference delegates most weeks we learned that the best practice was to split up the delegates into smaller groups and cater for them using “guerrilla” buffets in odd places all offering the same foods, staffed by one member of the team helping customers with their choice, ensuring a smooth flow and good service. Sadly this didn’t happen, the assembled delegates having to struggle their way down both sides of fifteen foot buffet table trying to identify the offerings on the unlabelled table.
Customer care Al. If we worked it out then why haven’t they?

Hot foods hot, cold foods cold?
I know I didn’t pay for my ticket, but many had paid the full price for the days event and its in their interest that I am recounting the story of the sausage roll and other “fonds du buffet” today.
My keen caterer’s eye noted that the usual suspects were present.
Plain and Spinach wraps filled with ham or tuna filling
Sausage rolls
Chicken on a “bamboo skewer”
Some sort of sticky chilli sauce
Something not that memorable……
Samosas – with a so far unidentified filling
Small shortbread biscuits topped with a creamy substance
A fruit bowl of apples, pears, oranges and bananas.
Nothing garnished, no flowers, no foods labelled.

Now Al I pose you a question. What would normally be served hot, what would normally be served cold?
To my mind, and I guess the thoughts of my local takeaway owner at lease four of these items should be hot. Must check with Mohammed.
HOT Sausage rolls, they are oven baked are they not?
HOT Pakoras, I think deep fried?
HOT Chicken Skewers, poor things may have lost their Satay sauce on their journey from the freezer.
HOT Samosas, crispy deep fried?

None of these items were hot or even warm ( not even the recommended hot holding temperature of 63 degrees C ). I’ll happily be corrected but it was almost as if the “Chef” had simply taken the boxes from the freezer the night before, defrosted overnight in a fridge and then tipped the contents out onto an assortment of serving dishes for the poor catering assistant to plonk on the table.

I know what you are thinking Al. No it didn’t get any better. Even the additional food that was brought out to supplement the buffet was cold.
Now I understand that choice,quality, presentation and service may have been sacrificed on he alter of price in the temple of gross margin, but at least hot foods should be served hot and cold foods cold. Maybe heating food is a supplement on the delegate charge. I doubt it.
Come to think of it Al maybe they should have the UKip speaker to talk across the buffet, he was certainly full of hot air.
I’ll be in touch again soon.
The Concierge.


Adam the Gardener

Do you know I think the hospitality industry could learn a bit about planning from Adam the Gardener and the old Sunday Express picture guide to gardening? In particular, the Banqueting Department of any hotel or restaurant should consider the lessons to be learned from nature.
In my old edition the informative text and pictures go back pre World War 2 but, even with minor changes in Mother Nature and modern gardening techniques it’s still as relevant as it always was. I mean there are only twelve months in the year and so many ways to grow beans! Likewise there are only twelve months on the hospitality calendar with the certainty that only the right product or event sells well at a particular time of the year.

Let’s take a look inside. One of the first pages you come to in the book discusses Colour Harmony in the Garden. Adam writes “Garden beds and borders should be planned, as far as possible with a view to attaining colour harmony and contrast” I am sure that we could apply this to our hospitality business ensuring that our product and offers work well within the constraints placed on us by property, the skills of our teams and the values of our brands. Another point Adam makes is that “flowers of some colour prefer brilliant sunshine while other like shade or semi- shade” You could also say that some of the products we sell need more work than others, but together they make up an ideal arrangement for the year – a good sales mix.

Adam’s Gardening Calendar – ensure success throughout the year

“So that every gardener shall do the right things at the right time Adam sets out as a preface to each month’s work, the various jobs that ensure success throughout the year”





The gardener is constantly working ahead preparing for events and seasons, sometimes even years in the future. So, as I mentioned in my last blog, start preparing the Christmas programme in January.

Prepare your seed beds.
It’s time for you to get the next two or even three years banqueting diaries off the shelf. Go through them fill in the inevitable events that happen every year. Find out where the empty days and nights are and plan how you are going to fill them.

Sow hardy annuals and sweet peas.
If you haven’t already done this then look back over the last five years conference and banqueting bookings. Are you getting repeat events? If not then get on the telephone to the organisers and find out why. Don’t be frightened, become the problem solver.

It’s a short growing season, particularly in Scotland. Consider starting off some of your summer vegetables in the greenhouse. Now you should be selling your Springtime and Summer wedding packages for at least two years in advance. Why not? Is it time to review and maybe re plan the “garden”

Bark-ring trees of vigorous growth to help develop fruiting spurs.
It’s soon going to be the time of year when commercial clients drift off and summer holidays are more important than making bookings. It’s time to make a quick courtesy call to last years Christmas Office Party bookers. Now I know it may seem like the wrong time of the year but there are in my opinion a few reasons for this course of action – reason one to get yourself on the radar, reason two to sort out any issues they had with their last booking (of course these should have been dealt with at the time but, we know what happens, don’t we?) reason three, well you might even get a provisional booking – if you do it’s a cause for a summer celebration of a bottle Asti and a couple of punnets of strawberries on the Boss !

Keep the hoe going during the dry weather. Cut off dead blooms, old stems and seed pods.
As you know enquiries drop off at this time of year so it’s time for a bit of housekeeping. Review next years wedding bookings. If there are any not confirmed with deposits then get on to them – if they pull out you might have chance of selling the date to one of this Summer’s Brides friends or relatives. If you don’t have it sorted out by now then make final arrangements for your Halloween package. The Christmas brochure should be at the printers.

Sow stocks for winter flowering. Propagate by pieces of root, anchusa, iris, bouvardia and ttoriental poppy.
In many establishments this is considered time for holidays amongst the banqueting sales staff. Pressure is off and the good placement student can hold the fort. But don’t forget it’s also time to start on Burns Night planning – find out – are the local club coming back again next year? AND yup I think it’s right to start figuring out what to do with Valentine’s Day. When does it fall? What are the package options? Can we sell dinner and accommodation next year or is it just one of those years for dinners? Does anyone every really make money from Valentines packages?

Feed Leeks with weak manure. Plant out Kale, Sprouting Broccoli and Winter Cabbage.

Although the banqueting telephone gets a bit busier at this time of the year the work carried out in August is an important month to ensure good results and even extra business at the turn of the year. You should be selling Christmas hard – put up your Christmas tree in the foyer now. Cover it with copies of your Christmas banqueting brochures. Have someone on hand over lunch times to deal with those office party enquiries.

Plant daffodils and crocuses for spring flowering. Take cuttings of Roses and Bedding plants. Lift and store carrots, marrows, onions and celeriac

Now by now you should be getting the idea. Its all about planning and preparation to make sure the garden – or your business is busy all year round.

Sweep up leaves to rot down. Clear up beds of summer flowers. Fork and manure where necessary. Prepare sites for new fruit trees.

Stand back and take a look where you are. If you have dates for weddings next year then you should be holding an autumn fair this month with a good promotion to get the dates away. Christmas should be full or filling well. Are you going to have to do promotion to fill up the last of the nights you have? Think about releasing extra nights. The most we did at the Lion D’Or was twenty – two nights on the trot a slack Christmas Eve(due to the day of the week – I recall it was a Friday) then straight into a four night package.

Prepare and plant herbaceous border. Protect cabbage and support Brussels sprouts.

It’s a bit like October really – just darker………..

Prepare new ground. Protect Christmas Roses. Remove suckers of fruit trees. Make a hot bed.

Here we go again. And you know what when you get it right it doesn’t change much any year. Take a good look back. Repeat it, Tweak it, Chuck it out, Innovate. Set the date for that Christmas planning meeting in January.

Adam would be proud!


Christmas Shouldn’t Be A Three Pipe Problem Al !

Whats that you said Al? Christmas. Yes thats right Christmas.

The hidden christmas decoration

Driving around the City at the start of the year I couldn’t help but notice that several establishments( I will not name and shame them here) were still to be found festooned with banners encouraging the masses to ” BOOK NOW FOR XMAS” or “ENJOY OUR HOGMANAY FLING” Seeing Xmas up there on the side of the building reminded me of th time when we used to prowl the “Lion D’Or” with extended garden canes.Those fine pieces of bamboo lashed together with Gaffer tape, topped with blue tack and one of the housekeepers pins prooved to be just the job for pulling down the odd leftover bit of tinsel or bursting the helium filled ballon that got away and jammed itself in the ballroom chandelier. Note to everyone – I bet you can find a Christmas decoration that hasn’t been taken down somewhere in your establishment.

Sorry I drifted of there. Another thing that I was also reminded of was that after a few formative years of scratching about in October trying to lash together some sort of Christmas package we figured out that it was much easier to plan the forthcoming Christmas in January – or at least before the C&B department were rushing around like demented cherubs taking Valentines bookings. Do you remember Cheffy’s horror when he was asked to produce his menu ! Panic all round untl everyone figured out that when we had a successful package it didnt need re inventing every year just simple tweeks here and there based on customer feed back and the odd opertional issue. Planning Christmas

Strike While the Pipe is Still Smoking
So get your team together now. Review what worked, what didnt work. What did the customers like, what didn’t they like. Get feed back from everyone and use it. Examine the evidence while it is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Its not difficult to plan ahead. Ask your gardener Al – but thats another story.

So come the end of the summer holidays when the phone starts ringing with the works party organisers asking for Christmas Party details instead of the annoying ” oh if you give us your details we send it out to you when we have the programme finalised” you’ll be ready to sell to then right away.

You see Al , not a three pipe proboem it’s elementary. Cheers.