I specialize in writing magazine articles about my two areas of expertise: Restaurants and Equine Communication. My first professional career was in the Restaurant and Hospitality Industry. My second career spanned 10 years as a Horse Trainer and a Communications and Leadership Clinician. For the last fifteen years I have worked as a Freelance Writer.
Whatever your area of interest, I am a versatile writer who welcomes new content challenges. Samples of my articles that have appeared in both Restaurant and Equine publications appear below.
MARCH 5, 2015
By Francis Bennett
In 1986 I opened a seafood restaurant in Santa Barbara, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I had rented the upstairs of an old harbor building from the city and could squeeze in only about 45 seats. However, the views of the Santa Barbara harbor and the Pacific Ocean were magical.
I hired a young chef who was an expert in, and passionate about, fresh seafood. “Fresh seafood has wonderful natural flavors and needs very little cooking. You can enliven seafood’s flavor with nothing more than citrus juices, some peppers, a little fresh dill and rosemary. That’s all it takes,” he said. He was right. On opening day, our little dining room filled immediately and a line began to form down the stairs and out to the boat dock. 28 years later, that line still forms every day.
I was working the hostess station on that first exciting day and answered the phone myself. With all the noise I had trouble hearing that first request for dinner reservations. When I finally figured out what the customer was saying, I looked around the packed, noisy room and blurted out that we didn’t take reservations. “Just come on down and we’ll get you in,” I said.
With that thoughtless, impulsive reply, I believe I began the modern restaurant trend of not taking reservations. In those days, every restaurant took reservations. I never imagined that I wouldn’t, but I just let one busy day after another pass and ended up never taking a reservation. Of course, some people complained, and some people in line grumbled about the wait, but word of our magical views and unique seafood began to spread quickly and the business never faltered. If anything, the line continued to grow.
“No Reservations” is all the rage now. At places like Má Pȇche in midtown Manhattan, the Breslin in Madison Square Park, or Fatty ‘Cue in Brooklyn, the populist no-reservations scrum has replaced the elitist reservation book. Diners wait up to two hours for a chance at unique menu offerings. It has become almost chic to wait in line because…you know what’s good, insist on it, and are willing to wait to get it.
On the other hand, it’s not always a good idea. “It’s not really a problem when we’re coming down to the harbor with some friends or family,” said a prominent lawyer in Santa Barbara. “But you can’t have a client wait an hour for a table.” Older people seem less willing to wait and, of course, business men and women are on a tight schedule during the business day. As one restaurant publicist put it, “It’s sort of a suits versus shorts issue.” A remark in Zagat about the A DI LA Restaurant in Brooklyn is a caution: “…the no reservations policy at this restaurant is a buzz kill.”
What’s the business model?
A “No Reservations” policy can be a plus when it is a natural fit to a unique business model. The high-end, no menu, eat-what-the-chef-cooks, boutique Japanese Sushi restaurants that have appeared in the urban markets of New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco cannot risk reservation book “no shows” when they are limited to 2 seatings in a 25 to 50 seat dinner-only dining room. These celebrity chefs serve ten-course meals for four to six hundred dollars per person. They can’t afford to hold a table vacant for five minutes.
The trend toward smaller restaurants also fits the “No Reservations” model. The fact that not taking reservations may limit a restaurant’s clientele is not a problem for the under-50-seat restaurant. If the food is unique and of the highest quality, demand will far exceed supply.
What started, therefore, as an accident has evolved into a trend that works well in certain circumstances. In the case of my Brophy Bros. restaurant in Santa Barbara, the size of the restaurant, its one-of-a-kind location, and the creativity of my chef made “No Reservations” a no-brainer!
NOVEMBER 1, 2014
By Francis Bennett
When you decide to add Owner to your title of Chef, you unwittingly take on an entirely new role. You don’t become the boss. You become the leader. There’s a big difference. The many recent studies undertaken at the Harvard Business School on what exactly makes a great leader can all be boiled down to four elements:
EMPATHY – HONESTY – INTENTION – FOCUS
EMPATHY – The ability to think and feel what others think and feel. The study revealed that the ability to listen was the distinguishing characteristic of the most effective leaders who felt and thought like their individual team members.
HONESTY – Great leadership requires complete confidence in the rightness of one’s thoughts and actions. It’s this inner conviction that ignites the reflex to lead. Researchers say that thorough planning and critical evaluation prior to action are the keys to the complete confidence required to say and do what you really believe.
INTENTION – Leaders live goal-orientated lives. Great leaders find the one goal that defines their life and infuse that goal into the DNA of their team.
FOCUS – Regardless of the chaos that often surrounds complex endeavors, the effective leader never loses sight of the goal. This final element is a result of the first three elements becoming part of the leader’s persona.
When you open your own restaurant, you will be barraged with concerns you could never have imagined. Legal, personnel, financial, and marketing issues suddenly become your concern, and often you’re not prepared to make all the decisions required. You begin to worry, feel constant anxiety, and lose sleep.
IT’S TIME TO BECOME A LEADER – You cannot become a legal or financial expert overnight, but you can become crystal clear about where you are trying to go and communicate this with conviction to the legal, financial, and marketing experts you include on your team.
TRAIN YOUR INNER LIFE – Learn to listen rather than talk. Become attentive to the needs as well as the contributions of your individual team members. Respect what they can contribute to your ultimate goal. Understand what they need from you in order to succeed.
EDUCATE YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS – Learn to take all the time you need to think carefully about where you want to go and where you want to lead your team. Be detailed in your reflections. Be exact. Leave nothing to chance. Don’t be lazy in your thinking any more than you would be in the kitchen.
NEVER FORGET – Don’t allow distraction. Once you know how you want your restaurant to run, don’t let anything distract you from that goal. The old Chinese proverb, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably not going to get there” applies here. Great leaders never forget. They are never swayed. You might even say they can be a little stubborn. It’s not always a bad thing.
Chefs do not need to attend business school before they become owners, but they do need to practice becoming leaders. Repeat the mantra below once every hour:
LISTEN – THINK – DECIDE – BELIEVE – COMMUNICATE
You will be astounded how quickly the inner skills of great leaders discussed at the Harvard Business School will become your inner skills.
Who’s On Your Team?
JUNE 3, 2014