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Emma Banks

As the General Manager of Jumeirah Restaurant Group Emma is responsible for over 30 Food & Beverage venues and international franchises, as well as being the driving force behind new concept development; drawing on her business acumen and wealth of experience from likes of Spirit Group and MH Alshaya in Kuwait.

Food and Travel’s Francesca Jackson met with Emma, to discover what drives her and the secret behind her success at Jumeirah.

Running a restaurant is hard work at the best of times, running a chain of restaurants for the region’s pre-eminent hotel chain more so; did you always want to be work in the hospitality industry? And how did you fall upon a career in hospitality?
Like most people in Food & Beverage I did fall upon hospitality as a career – I had many school holiday jobs in Food & Beverage, and when I was at university I held down three jobs; one in a café, one in a working men’s club, and one in a cocktail bar.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

When I first graduated from university I worked for British Telecom and in Contract Services; career paths that I knew weren’t for me and so I joined the Allied Domecq graduate management program and immediately fell in love with hospitality; I immediately knew this was the career path for me – and in fact this October will be my 20th anniversary in the industry and I love my work.

What kind of obstacles have you faced in your career? And how did you overcome them?
I believe that behind every obstacle lies an opportunity. When I started in the business in the UK 20 years ago, it was dominated by the big breweries and it wasn’t really a particularly female friendly environment; but I know many women who became successful in that environment and I really only rate that as a minor obstacle.

The biggest challenges I have faced, particularly in the UK, and no differently in the UAE, is that is a very dynamic environment and from time to time there are a lot of organisational shuffles – which in themselves can be challenging, because it is very easy to get distracted by restructures or acquisitions – So I have always found keeping my team focused on serving the guest, the day-to-day job, and attention to detail, helps in terms of not getting distracted. A strategy that I have always found to be successful.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your business life?
In this business no two days are the same and every day I get out of bed ready to face new challenges – which is something I find very rewarding. Also my job has allowed me to travel; I have worked across the UK for various organisations, working for private companies and multi-nationals, and then internationally to Kuwait and now Dubai; Food & Beverage allows people to travel even more now. I have also been lucky enough to work with some very talented people, which is rewarding in itself; and now I feel that I can give something back myself. My JRG team has an average age of only 32, so I enjoy being a bit of a mentor and a leader to a lot of talented young people.

Please share some leadership tips you feel are essential to your job.
My style of management is very much one of clarity, transparency, focus and tough love. I like to make sure my team understand their targets, and I try to ensure that I say thank you. Every day I read all my reports and try to write back a ‘thank you’ or a ‘well-done’ to the team if they have had a good day, because I believe it goes a long way. When things are tough or not going so well, I will fight their corner and let them know what we are doing to address the issues. But the biggest thing I rely upon as a leader is ensuring that my team is talented – I firmly believe in recruiting and retaining talent; surrounding myself with people who are more talented than me – leaving me to nurture, lead and guide, and to ensure that all the moving parts work smoothly.

“I believe that behind every obstacle lies an opportunity”

“The entire team plays a vital role and product knowledge is so important”

What led you to join Jumeirah Group?
I was working in Kuwait with Al Shaya Group when I was approached by Jumeirah to head up a team that would become Jumeirah Restaurant Group. Clearly Jumeirah is a luxurious hotel brand, with a fantastic reputation, that has won many awards, with a collection of beautiful and iconic properties – I was attracted to becoming a part of this iconic 5-Star luxury hotel brand but still working in the sector of independent restaurants which suited my skill set. And I suppose another attraction was coming to Dubai which is a great place to work and live for my entire family.

Jumeirah hotels have expanded considerably around the globe, particularly in the Middle East. What is the secret to its success?
Jumeirah has the ability to move into new markets across the world with its strong reputation, innovative approach, range of USPs and great levels of service, and it is a brand born out of the UAE with its own distinct DNA. In the GCC Jumeirah is also culturally connected to the community, which is something unique that it takes around the world, becoming culturally connected to whichever city they may be in.

What do you think about the local hospitality scene compared to other countries, and do you find a marked difference in tastes and demands?
The food and beverage scene in Dubai is very interesting; a few years ago things that were trending in the UK or America would come to Dubai a few years later, but now I think that gap is closing. So trends such as Farm-to-Plate, Vegan, and Sustainability are now important in Dubai. What you find in Dubai, the UAE and GCC in general is that the Food & Beverage industry grew out of large companies acquiring franchises and brands. Today these brands are still strong and have established their place in the market but what we are seeing in the UAE is the development and acceptance of home-grown brands, with a great number of great independent and innovative concepts – to a level where even the big Malls and Property companies are looking to not just big international brands but to local UAE concepts in their malls too. The UAE has certainly caught up with the global market and now has a really interesting dynamic with loads of new and exciting projects.

What do you consider to be the essentials of exceptional customer service?
We try very hard to recruit people with the right behaviour attitude and suitability for each brand. You can have the best property, furniture, table settings and food but the moment of truth is when someone goes to place their order – it all comes down to the person stood in front of you. The entire team plays a vital role and product knowledge is so important. If you look at the UAE, the local Emirati population are well educated, many are well travelled and have eaten in top restaurants in some of the best cities in the world – so people know what good food, authenticity, provenance and good service looks like; and here in the Middle East good service is in the DNA of the culture, driving a high level of expectation. As such the customer becomes more challenging – so a server needs to be more than just an order taker; products knowledge and the ability to interact with people is so important. For example, one of the things we do is a weekly food show to our staff, where one of the chefs will talk about the dishes or ingredients to ensure that our servers get to understand our menus in depth.

We find that where we have spent a lot of time training the team we do tend to get a lot of positive feedback; particularly from knowledgeable foodies.

What do you like doing in your spare time?
I think it’s important to create a good work-life balance. I think it’s important to make time for my family, I also take time for myself – I do spinning and I enjoy walking my dog.

WORDS: FRANCESCA JACKSON

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