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At Your Service

Friday, 2 October 2009

Who is the guest?

. Francis and John Brennan of the Kenmare Park Hotel.
. John is married and has a son.
. Their own father was a grocer.
. Francis is always Mr. Brennan to his staff. John is John.

At Your Service: 2nd series now show on RTE 1 on Sundays at 8.30pm

The fifth episode of this eight part series will air this Sunday on RTE 1 at 8.30pm.

Francis and John Brennan are brothers and proprietors of the famous 5-star Park Hotel Kenmare, County Kerry. Once again they'll be helping the owners of B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels throughout Ireland who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

The Brennan's bring many years of top-level experience across the thresholds of these establishments. This year all the owners face the enormous challenge of the recession and turning business around is not going to be an easy task.

The Brennan's assess the business from top to bottom and identify areas that need improvement. They look at websites, signage, reception areas, lounges, bedrooms, kitchens, service arrangements, staffing, menus, local tourist attractions, etc. They also keep a sharp eye on exploring new ways to exploit the assets of each property.

Francis Brennan conducts the main property inspection and devises an overall strategy for the business, with particular emphasis on the guest experience. He looks at how the rooms could be improved. He also investigates new business opportunities that could be exploited to attract more guests. John Brennan concentrates on the financial and marketing side, looking for more cost-effective ways of running the operation, investigating new revenue streams and moneymaking opportunities. Both the Brennan's are looking for ways to attract more guests and increase future profits.

This year's series covers a wide range of properties, from a 126 bedroom city centre hotel to a 5 bedroom rural castle. Throughout the series we see fundamental changes to the properties - change of use, change of name, completely different business model, etc. We visit businesses that are not reaching their full potential and others where the owners have lost their way, their energy and their money.

Programme 1 - Creedon's Hotel 6th of September

Tonight's programme features Creedon's Hotel in Inchigeelagh, Co Cork.
The 12 bedroom hotel has been owned by the Creedon family since 1942 and current owner Joe Creedon wants to pass it on to his children. But times are hard and Joe is struggling to keep the business afloat. He calls in top hoteliers Francis and John Brennan. Can they find a way to keep the business going and make it viable for the next generation of the Creedon family?

Programme 2 - Skylon Hotel, Dublin 13th of September

Top hoteliers Francis and John Brennan tackle the largest and busiest hotel yet to be featured in At Your Service. The Brennans have been called in by the 126 room Skylon Hotel in Dublin who are looking for the brother's advice on how to improve this city hotel. Francis and John have to analysis how the whole place is run, looking at all areas, including housekeeping, catering, reception and staff motivation. Interior designer Karl Fradgley redesigns 3 rooms and there's an open competition to see which the staff and public prefer. But will the Skylon take heed of any of the advice that's on offer?

Programme 3 - Portfinn Lodge (and Fjord Restaurant) 20th of September

Presented by top hoteliers Francis and John Brennan. Tonight's programme features Oran Daly from the Portfinn Lodge and Fjord Restaurant in Leenane, Co Galway. Portfinn Lodge has been in the family since the late seventies, and son Oran has returned from a spell working in America to take over the business from his parents. But his return coincides with the recession and a severe downturn in business. He's also located in an idyllic but remote location. Oran calls in the Brennans to help get the business back on the map, take it through the tough times - and into good shape for the future.

Programme 4 - Roundwood House : 27th of September

Small hotels, B&B's and guesthouses are given a business makeover by top hoteliers Francis and John Brennan. Tonight's programme features Hannah and Paddy Flynn from Roundwood House in Mountrath, Co Laois.

Roundwood House is a 10-bedroom Georgian country house and Hannah is about to take over the business from her parents. It's time to bring the House into the 21st century - the Brennans believe that Roundwood has bags of potential for corporate business. But this is a brand new approach - will Hannah and Paddy be up for the challenge?

Programme 5 - Kincora House (now The Wild Honey Inn) 4th of October

Tonight's programme features husband and wife, Aidan McGrath and Kate Sweeney, who are based in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. Aidan is a well-known chef who has worked in some of the best Irish and UK restaurants. However, Aidan and accountant Kate dreamt of owning their own business and last year couldn't resist buying Kincora House. With 14 bedrooms it was a much bigger property than they had originally intended to purchase. With no hotel experience or plan of action, they need all the help they can get. Can Francis and John get them ready for the summer season? Or have Aidan and Kate bitten off more than they can chew?

John Brennan

How did you get into the hotel business?
I left school at 15 and I used to work in a pub my brother Damien owned in Sligo. I worked there since I was 11 and it just went from there. When I left school I started working in a hotel and I have worked there ever since. I started in The Sligo Park Hotel.

When did you buy Kenmare hotel?
Frances managed the hotel and then he leased it for 2 years and then he bought it himself. I went to open a hotel in Sligo but the deal fell apart and then I moved on to work in Kenmare.

You work with your brother - is it harder to work with family?
No difficulty - he doesn't understand things at times but that's just life. (laughs)

How do your roles differ?
We cover the same thing generally. I look after the marketing and development side more. But I would be working there everyday as well.

Did you make a lot of changes to it?
We built balconies onto the rooms and we built a spa and a big apartment development on it.

Top Tips
Watch costs and reinvest in your property. The majority of properties we see on the show have failed to reinvest in their own property. It's crucial. There is such wear and tear in a hotel that you have to keep on top of it.

How did you get involved in the series?
They asked me about 10 times to take part in the series and we said no. I was even to meet the producer a few times and I canceled because I was so busy. She was persistent and then we decided why not do it.

What was the first thing you did when you went to the properties?
We looked at how they worked.

What is the common mistake that people make?
They don't travel they don't leave their own property and they don't see how other properties work. They get totally blinkered by their own property and they never get out.

How long do you work on each property?
I worked on the properties for 6 days over 3 months.

Any place that really shocked you?
Creedon-that was shown in Cork. Inheritance was the core root of the problem. They inherited the property but they had no business head.

What's been your highlight from this series?
This week's show is about a chef and his wife who is an accountant. They are professional and know what they are doing.

You don't always need good partnership. Most of the couples we have on the show one couple doesn't want to get involved in the show. But this couple weren't like that. Aidan was a great chef and they have made great changes to their property.

Will you ever retire? NO I'll keep working and I won't retire. We both have pensions we started at 19.

What do you do in your spare time?
I am currently sitting on my boat heading out to bull rock. I don't like to cook in my spare time. I eat every night in the hotel. I work long hours but the reality in the workplace there is few jobs that you can leave at 5. I like what I do.

Will you taste our food on the show, this week is Curry?
I love curry. I was in India 3 years ago and loved the food.


How did you get into the hotel business?
I started out as a bar boy in the 60's and 70's. Then I went to Cathal Burgha Street and I have a degree from there. Then I went to work for Jury's and The Great Southern, then I went to Cork and opened my own hotel. Then in the 80's I started working in Kenmare and I took it over myself a few years later. John started with us 15 years ago.

Difference in the roles?
He looks after development - the spa and retreat and I would look after the hotel itself with regards marketing and management. I am off to Canada for work.

What changes did you do to Kenmare's day to day running?
The old owners kept it opening all year. Now we close from January to March as there is just no business. Business stated picking up in the 80's.

Top Tips
Keep your head down and watch costs. In good times if you had to pay extra staff you didn't mind cause you had the money now that's not the case. I am now back working shifts which I haven't done in 20 years but this is what you have to do in these times and I don't mind it.

I also think to reinvest your money. We reinvest every year. It's hard to do it now as some hotels can find it hard to get loans to do it.

Were you reluctant to get involved with the show?
I was nervous to get involved with the show at the start but I was pleased with the outcome of the last series and I'm glad to be a part of it.

Common problem people made on 'At Your Service'?
Every one of them is blinkered. They are so absorbed in their own business and they can't see the changes in the industry. Which is understandable as they are so busy. They don't go out to eat and they don't know what a good dinner or a breakfast is. We tell them to think what they should do and we take them out to see places. We always end up helping them.

The biggest shock I got was at lisdoonvarna it was so old fashioned but she turned it around. It was brilliant.

Highlight this series?
Roundwood house was a nice story and the daughter was talking it over and we should her other ways to make money. She wanted to do a sit down lunch for 30 people and we showed her she can have a BBQ and make a lot more money. We left them and they are doing well now.

This week's show Kincora House now called Wild Honey Inn?
It is a good food show. Aidan is a great chef and he has a great property in Clare. He has had a good summer I believe.

Have a Pension?

Yes, since I was in my teens. I will never retire in the hotel business. I start at about 8 and then finish at about 10pm. The day just gets away from me. I love what I do. I work most days but I rarely take a day off. I switch off on holiday. The Afternoon Show is a day off for me.

Like Curry?

Hate it - John will do the tasting!