Put People in Photos Please

bbEmpty Rooms
Dear Steve
Every day trolling through my Social Media accounts I am invited to like or share beautifully staged photographs of very expensively dressed Guest Houses and Hotels. The views look amazing, the interiors look fantastic, but most the pictures don’t tell me a story or describe the experience I can expect to me – that’s unless they have Dolphins or Eagles or Whales or the Aurora Borealis. Why? Simple. No people in the pictures. No guests having fun, smiling, interacting (take it easy here Aleks !) having fun.

Even the big boys get it wrong. There is a certain hotel in Inverness which I know very well, that insists on publishing wonderful pictures of its empty leisure centre – you would have thought they would have learned the lesson years ago. I remember a meeting with a sales consultant reviewing marketing materials.

The then Sales Director proudly produced the new group brochure:

“Tell me” queried the Professor ” do you sell many cars? ” we all looked at him with a quizzical expression ” Then why are there all of these empty parked cars at the front of the hotel and no people?”
“Why is there no-one taking their luggage from their car handing to a Porter moving to the entrance, smiling happy at their arrival” Pictures telling a story – know what I mean Steve? (By the way we did have the odd very succesful car sale, but that’s another story)

You don’t need to use professional models. Do it yourselves. Ask your friends and relatives. Props – Nice luggage, fresh flowers, newspapers, magazines,tea coffee, orange juice croissant, breakfast – get the idea.
So come on lets bring on the rooms with people. PLEASE.
you’re not selling beds, furniture, conservatories or doubles glazing. Your are selling experiences and memories.

That’s all for now
The Concierge


Ban Smoked Fish On Seafood Platters

Vote Lobster

Vote Lobster

I would suggest that Scotland’s excellent smoked fish whilst it has its place on the Scottish seafood menu should have no place on a Scottish Seafood Platter.

The delightful tastes and aromas of smoked fish, no matter how subtle some may be,simply mask, and in many cases overpower the wonderful fresh iron rich, sweet, delicate Sea fresh flavours of the wide range of fish and shellfish that are available in Scotland.

Its time to take a stance. When good fresh seafood is not available, Chefs and Managers, please reduce the selection on your platter AND reduce the menu price. DONT pack the plate out with peppered smoked mackerel, smoked salmon, hot smoked salmon, grav lax, smoked trout and the like.

Make the Seafood Platter a Special Dish.

Serve whats in season. Dont let the hard work of our Fishermen and Fish farmers go to waste.
Now seasonality is something I will be exploring a more a later on. I read those clever Shellfish Farmers appear to be filling some of the seasonal gaps in the Mussel and the Oyster season by moving things West. But how far West can you go?
I will get back to you soon.

Order Order How Busy Are You in June?

order By the time the 1st of June comes around hopefully the dust will have settled around the General Election and we will have one or other or, who knows, maybe a “Rainbow Coalition” of all sorts of parties running the country.

Whatever happens on the 7th of May by now you should have been taking a good look at how your tourism business normally performs in June.

We all know June can be an odd month. The weather watchers and Midgie Dodgers come in May (better weather in Scotland so they say) Commercial business people are hanging around near home making plans for the summer holidays. The Scottish schools don’t break up until the end of the month and those visiting friends and family are maybe waiting for Uncle Frank to arrive from Australia as he wants to catch the Tattoo and the Festival. So what can we do?

It’s back to sales and marketing basics. Remember those. And most importantly because of cost, consider them in this order:

1.Convert all of your enquiries
2. Sell more to existing customers
3. Bring back your old customers
4. Attract new customers

Convert All Enquiries

First lets think where your sales enquiries might come from:
Internet – direct booking
Internet – email
Walk in

Answer it quickly and courteously. Have an agreed form of words.Try not to make it sound like you are chanting some mantra. Now this might sound obvious, but even if you are not running any specific marketing campaign, the first thing you had better do to make that sale is answer the phone. Do you have a quality standard in your organisation for answering the phone ? If you don’t please set one. May I suggest that you set it at six rings. Research shows that any more than six rings and the enquirer is getting a bit “jumpy” Also keep a log of when the phone rings. This doesn’t have to be sophisticated. Paper and pencil to start. It will give you an idea of when you need to have more people on hand to deal with enquiry calls. It can take up to 15 minutes to deal with a complicated reservation so if some poor soul is expected to do that and deal with checking out guests at 10 am then one will suffer.

Internet Direct Booking
You have spent a load of money optmising your expensively built website to get the best position on Google or are paying some clever people like those at Allstrat to run a Google Adwords campaign for you to make your business stand out from the rest and tirelessly spending valuable time posting away on social media. So when your prospective customers arrive on your webpages you want to make sure that they are going to convert to a sale. One way of doing this is to direct potential sales to special website landing pages linked to your booking system that directly sell your establishment . These should sell in a traditional written manner continually reaffirming choice and best price. You see often potential customers are directed straight to the “front” or index page of a business. They linger there for a while, see no offer to attract them, no call to take action and simply leave. Not the desired result. Make it easy for you potential customers to buy your services on the internet. You have them in the top of the “sales funnel” don’t let them spill over the edge – assist them all the way to they click on the “buy” button.

Internet email
If you have an email promotion running it is much more effective to use some kind of autoresponder system that once again points potential customers at a special landing page that deals only with that promotion rather than just bouncing them off your boring index page and then disappearing off to the competition’s latest offer..
What if you get an email enquiry? Well I am of the opinion that the enquirer should have an answer with a firm offer in front of them within the hour. I saw a hotel the other day offering to
“get back to your email enquiry within 24 hrs as we are closed” – Hey if you are closed I want a reply right away.

There must be so few potential customers out there who enquire by letter that if you make a half decent job of replying to them with a correctly constructed, politely written reply enclosing loads of information, making it easy for them to make a booking then you will get the sale.

Walk In
One of the big mistakes made here is that all guests are the same and want the same thing ( at the same price) Try and engage the customer in conversation to identify the reason for their stay or possible stay. Use your eyes. How are they dressed? What kind of luggage are they carrying? Business or leisure? How many nights? Do they visit the area often? Do they have any more colleagues/friends/family members who need rooms/seats/tickets?
Based on this kind of information and the number of rooms/seats/tickets you have left to sell you have to trust your front desk staff to do the deal. Impower and incentivise your team.

Bring Back Old Customers
1.Dig out last years registration cards. Who stayed last year? Have they booked for this year? If not send them a good value added offer. NB not discounted. Give them a nice bottle of wine if they book and pay for dinner one one night of their stay. How many years do you go back? Its up to you.
2.Were there any in house conferences last year that should be coming back. The C&B department can chase these up now.

Get More From Existing Customers- I have seen some nice examples of this recently from a delightful restaurant with rooms in the North West
1.Picnic Hamper. Not your “run of the mill” Hamper. You can have Smoked Salmon,Lobster salad, Hand raised Pies, Champagne, Craft Beers, and if you like delivered to your private fishing Loch – you get the idea – don’t ask the price!
2.A “Butler Drawn Bath” - Scented candles, special drinks, and made chocolates luxurious bath robes, log fires – a snip at around £90 extra on the bill
3. Very rare Whisky. A wee dram with tasting notes will set you back about £35
4. Afternoon Tea with Champagne £25

Attract New Customers
1.Is there anyone who wanted to stay or have a conference that we couldnt accommodate last year? Time to get someone on to them.
2Take a look through last years customer history looking for trends in customer activity. Is there anything unusual that you have missed?
Just what do people visit your area for There may be potential new markets here for you explore. Eg. Wreck Divers, Geo Cachers, Hill Walkers, Foodies, Gardeners, Dolphin enthusiasts.
3.Research where the national and local tourism agencies are spending your money. This could indicate a future trend. Follow the money ? EG. In Scotland in 2015 Food Festivals.
4.Consider a joint promotion with your wine merchant. Whisky appreciation weekend perhaps. Maybe a Gourmet food experience with exceptional wines to match.

Make Resources Available
Whatever it takes at a minimum selling more means you need to make the resources available. Money for website optimisation and that Google Adwords campaign and most important of all, people.People for researching, answering the phone, dealing with enquiries, coming up with ideas. People resources are the most expensive thing that any business has. Consider the cost in wages, national insurance, pension contributions, food, accommodation etc. Do not waste this resource by having skilled people cleaning, making beds painting bedrooms, fixing roofs and trimming hedges. Please just give them a target of bedrooms to sell and let them get on with it.
Filling June isn’t easy, but please start today and give it a go.
Of course you know you can do this any month you like, dont you?

Is Your Christmas Package Ready?

Is Your Christmas Package Ready?

2015_0101fujis100017So is your Christmas package finalised? Purchasing requirements worked out so you can start negotiating the best deals for your food, wine, liquor and consumables? Ready to start working with your marketing department on getting all of last years customers back and then finding some new ones?
Dig out last years banqueting diary and sales ledger. This at a minimum should give you a starting point. Pull the December enquiries folder – who could you not fit in last year? Consider what “special” value added offer could you make to your regular customers to book early? Maybe its time to speak to your wine merchant to check if they have any good bin ends tucked away which might be useful for promotions. It’s not difficult.
Now listen get it done now as you need to have everything ready to go the end of August. That’s when everyone returns to work and the question runs around the office “where are we going this Christmas?” AND that’s not as far away as you might like to think. You will soon be saying “I don’t have time…..”
If you think I am bonkers, well the last time I was involved in this we were running 22 party nights/lunches over November and December in a 300 seat ballroom in the centre of the City Stirling. That’s what pays the wages in those long dark winter months.

The Scottish Breakfast Question


The Scottish Breakfast Question. Whats Yours?
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable refers to a Scotch breakfast as “a substantial breakfast of sundry sorts of good things to eat and drink”

scbfastThe individual elements that go together to make up the famous Scottish Breakfast can be likened to those of a world-class “meal team” about to go forth to compete against the best national teams that the United Kingdom has to offer. Researching these I have so far come up with – “The Ulster Fry”, ” The Full English”, ” The Full Welsh” and most recently “ The Cornish Breakfast”. More of these other breakfast plates a bit later. First of all lets take a look at what makes up a cooked Scottish breakfast plate and here’s the problem. There are many variations. So let me make the case for what I consider to be the best that Scotland can offer and the case against certain inappropriate sometimes Scottish foods.

The Scottish Breakfast Plate

The Eggs – serve two, must be local, free range and fried sunny side up. Scrambled and Poached eggs are a completely separate dish and should not be offered.

Bacon – When I started cooking breakfasts there was only one bacon to offer, Ayrshire Middle. This was served crispy grilled on both sides. Scotland has world-class bacon curers, amongst them Ramsay of Carluke.Lets try and keep it Scottish please. if you have a local bacon curer all the better.

Sausage – I am going to be controversial here and say that the pork sausage needs to move over. Instead serve the Lorne sausage or sliced sausage.I think that fine mixture of beef and pork deserves its rightful place as an egg dipping delight.

Black Pudding – In my opinion the best black pudding to serve is Stornoway Black Pudding. This is so special that it has EU protected status. There are many other good local artisan puddings made by local butchers in Scotland. Try yours out. Do not use English black pudding, it’s a different food. AND don’t grill it. FRY it.

Fruit Pudding – I remember as a child when we first moved to Scotland I wondered why this wasn’t being served with custard. Then I tasted the golden brown,fruity, spicy pudding that had been fried in bacon fat – mmmm. Yes its a must. Another one that needs to be fried.

White Pudding – I haven’t yet found the right use for white pudding. It’s very tasty. It’s very greasy. I don’t think its right for breakfast. Sorry.

Tomato- A fresh ripe tomato, cut in two, seasoned with salt and black pepper then grilled until soft even a little carmalised. There is no room here for the tinned tomato. Some say the fresh tomato should only be on the plate when it is in season in the UK.

Mushrooms – Fried mushrooms in season only. Just some salt and pepper, no garlic. NO tinned mushrooms out of season. Local field mushrooms fantastic.

Haggis – Sorry in my view Haggis has no place on a breakfast plate. It is so much better enjoyed at dinner or lunch with mashed tatties, bashed neeps and a wee dram. I will further upset purists here by saying it is very good for lunch topped with a fried egg served with crispy french fries and a large dollop of Daddies brown sauce ! – my mis – spent youth.

The Tattie Scone – an essential part of the dish used to scoop up yummy egg yolk, black pudding, tomato – you know what I mean, keep a bit back to scrape your plate.

Baked Beans – This American interloper has no place on a Scottish Breakfast plate.

Lets have a look at what makes up the cooked breakfast plates of the rest of the UK

The Ulster FryTwo fried eggs, the all-important lightly browned potato and soda bread, perfect pork sausages, crispy bacon, black and white pudding and a juicy red tomato

Welsh breakfast Common features are bacon, sausages, cockles, laverbread, black pudding, oatmeal and fried eggs

English breakfast A traditional full English breakfast includes bacon,fried eggs, fried or grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, fried bread,sausages and baked beans, commonly called a “fry-up”.
Black pudding is often added, as are fried leftover mashed potatoes with cabbage (known as bubble and squeak) or hash browns. In the North Midlands, fried or grilled oatcakes sometimes replace fried bread. When an English breakfast is ordered with everything available it is often referred to as a Full English.

Cornish Breakfast The traditional Cornish breakfast includes hog’s pudding (Hog’s Pudding is a type of sausage comprised of pork meat and fat, suet, bread, and oatmeal or pearl barley formed into the shape of a large sausage – a sort of West Country Haggis) and Cornish potato cakes (made with mashed potatoes mixed with flour and butter and then fried) or fried potatoes alongside the usual bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms and fried eggs In the past traditional Cornish breakfasts have included pilchards and herring.  I like the Cornish Haggis  idea and their take on the Tattie Scone.