Updated: Nov 15, 2019
With such a title, you may be thinking this blog is all about reception chairs and furnishings. Well, they certainly have their place, and I shall save that for another day. Storytelling, a bit of a gift to our industry. For hotels and the hospitality industry storytelling, or telling the story is a vital and accessible part of our business. I guess I have been fortunate to work in some great places over the years. Having a sense of timing and humour, I think, is also a gift to us as hoteliers. Hotels are fun places to work as well as to stay.
A starting point in my career was The Grand Hotel Eastbourne. This grand white palace on the seafront has attracted the great and good for over a century. With great portals, the vastness of its guest spaces, and the famous Great Hall, guests over the years had provided part of the story -as if woven into the fabric itself. For here, Debussy completed 'La Mer' from his second-floor suite overlooking the English Channel. Sir Edward Elgar walked the corridors and, likewise, Sir Winston Churchill. Dame Nelly Melba of dessert fame dined in the restaurant. By good fortune, I was appointed a trainee manager there. I will always be grateful for that chance, and De Vere Hotels were excellent training grounds - I worked with the group for nearly fourteen years. I do recall, when as a concerned trainee manager - running after Lord Goodman, who had checked out of his suite, leaving an errant sock and a random box of All-Bran. "Oh, give the sock to charity, and you have the All-Bran it will do you good" was his reply. The benefit now of experience.
A few years ago, I was managing a stylish country house hotel, rich in history, furnishings, and paintings of interest. So in a way, my job was an easy one. Guests love a story, especially if connected with where they are staying. All the world is a stage, and great hotels are a theatre production, it is up to us as managers to set the scene, manage the back production, and create the magic. As we know, the first five minutes of a guest arrival is 'our' opportunity to show the 'house' at its best. Yet, from personal experience, checking into my room at hotels, isn't usually very inspiring. Perhaps I expected exciting nuggets, history, sales opportunities, but no, emphasis on how the TV remote works and finding the bathroom light switch. One hotel I stayed at, I asked the Deputy Manager what he thought was the best facility at the hotel? In answering, said 'hot running water'! I exaggerate not. As a hotelier consultant, this, of course, provides me with an opportunity for additional training and helping develop the team to a confident and passionate one.
London's Claridges is a favoured hotel of mine. The history, standard of service, passion on customer delivery, the standard of hotelkeeping, attention to detail, and the pride the team share working there is very evident. The team provides excellent show rounds of their 'stage production.' The bathrooms are impressive with huge baths deep enough to swim a couple of lengths, and vintage Valet and Maid cords wait attentively. The hotel is an ever-evolving story and delivers with some aplomb.
When I was managing Stoke Park, one of the essentials as both General Manager and Club Director was having a presence - being seen. Guests like to see 'the manager,' and it always struck me the difference when talking to guests dining in one of the restaurants. Guests want to talk about their experiences/travels as well as about the cuisine. On the subject of Restaurants, (of which I shall write an entirely different blog). I do recall at a hotel one Christmas Day when a tailcoated Maitre d' walking through the dining room knocked a Christmas table decoration with a large lit candle onto the carpet. Within a moment, a pool of wax was creating a rather spectacular special effect with the wax still alight. Walking to the nearest table, I grabbed a guest's ice bucket excusing the removal of the chilled wine bottle and extinguished the burning Christmas decoration as ice cubes rolled across the carpet. I think this will be the only time I shall ever be applauded for walking into a restaurant.
My colleague and friend, the late Peter Pugh, wrote many good books on company histories, including hotels. I worked in three hotels for which he had written the history; it always proved an excellent story and a unique backdrop for conversation. If you have such a valuable asset in your business, make sure all the staff read it and use it as a marketing tool, there is nothing better than evidence in print as well as in person.
When I told my father I was heading into hotel management, he said I would have to be a master of small talk. I like to think he was right. I'm gifted with great places to work, we all are, and the teams who provide the proficient walk-on parts are those who should get the curtain call.