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10 things every hotelier should know

13 July 2016 by
10 things every hotelier should know

But success doesn't just come from sweating - and measuring - each and every detail of the operation. It's also about caring for guests and staff members too. From feeding them well to empowering them to make their own decisions, a happy workforce is key to a successful hotel.

Hoteliers also need to keep up to date with the latest technology developments and digital trends - from social media to online bookings and the all-important TripAdvisor - as well as always keeping the bigger picture in mind.

In this guide, we speak to the general managers, owners and directors of some of the most successful hotels and hotel chains in the UK to find out their top 10 tips for achieving success in an industry where failure could be just one scallop away.

1. Recruit the right staff

It's the staff that make the difference between a guest leaving a hotel feeling disgruntled and one that's so engaged that they want to tell their friends about their incredible stay, according to Maurizio Palermo, head bartender at Bar 45 at 45 Park Lane, Dorchester Collection's contemporary Mayfair hotel. "Hire the right people with the right spirit," he advises. "They need to be as warm with their colleagues as they are to staff and the people they meet in life."

Rebecca Hollants Van Loocke, regional general manager for the UK, Germany and Georgia at luxury serviced residence operator the Ascott Limited, agrees: "A lot of people have the right skills, but not everyone has the right attitude - for us, attitude comes first," she says. She adds that when looking to hire staff for the Cavendish in London, they do taster days to see how people interact. "We don't need to know they can do the job - we can teach that - but we want to see how they respond to colleagues, customers and different or challenging situations."

"You wanted to see me about my attitude, boss?"

For Ben Booker, general manager at Ashdown Park Hotel in Sussex, this philosophy extends to senior management staff - qualifications aren't everything. "I left school at 16 and scraped through with only three GCSEs, but through hard work and passion I have worked my way up to manage a four-star, luxury hotel," he says.

"You can always offer training and support people through professional qualifications if need be, but the personal skills that make a great manager can't be taught."

2. Look after your employees

"Be excellent to each other," advises Martin Hurley, general manager of London-based K West Hotel & Spa. "Your team is the most valuable asset, so treat your people well, show them respect and see that they have everything they need to succeed."

This even comes down to what you give them to eat. "Many hotels underestimate the importance of staff feeding and the impact it has on morale," says Rafi Bejerano, director of AB Hotels, the Arch London and Sopwell House in St Albans. "Offer freshly prepared food and dedicate a budget to it. Respect different cultures and nationalities, and where possible, dedicate a member of staff to your staff canteen to keep it well looked-after and make it a place your staff are happy to go to."

"You're right! It does make me feel empowered!"

Getting to know your staff and what makes them tick is equally important. "Once you truly empower people, the results can be amazing," says Martin Scott, general manager of G&V Royal Mile hotel in Edinburgh. "I like to think I get the best from my team because I let them be themselves and I give them the power to make decisions."

3. Care for the guest

The most important thing a hotelier can do is create 'a culture of care', believes Peter Banks, managing director of award-winning Rudding Park in Harrogate. "That culture is created from the first moment a member of staff starts with you. I make it quite plain to them that I can accept mistakes - because everyone makes mistakes - but if you don't care for our guests, you shouldn't be here. This culture is then reinforced on a daily basis. For example, we should always be seen grabbing a guest's bag as they're walking up the car park."

It's a similar story at Jersey's five-star Longueville Manor. "Each guest is personally greeted with a handshake in the same way you would welcome someone into your own home, rather than into a business," says the hotel's owner, Malcom Lewis, who is also chairman of the UK & Ireland delegation for Relais & ChÁ¢teaux. "It is so important to make people feel really relaxed, like a home away from home, but with impeccable service."

"There's no doubt about it - he really cares for the guests."

Pontus Carminger, director of Historic Sussex Hotels, agrees. "The welcome is vital. Make your guests feel relaxed and welcomed immediately when they arrive. Empower your team to have a 'yes' culture throughout your hotel and spas. There is nothing more irritating than to be told, 'No, we can't do that' or, 'Breakfast finishes at 10am'."

4. Communicate

Feedback has a big impact on each and every employee's performance, according to Andreas Stys, general manager at Sunborn London, a luxury super-yacht hotel moored on the Thames in London's Royal Victoria Dock. This can be positive (boosting confidence and morale) or negative (providing motivation for improvement). "Feedback for employees is like power for your smartphone: it won't work without it," he stresses.

That said, it's equally important that communication goes the other way, and for Sally Beck, general manager of Lancaster London, the best way to encourage an open dialogue is to remove fear from the business. "If fear is present, people don't want to speak up, either individually or in meetings, and as a result, communication is likely to be flawed. This affects performance and trust with the senior teams," she explains. "Ensure your management style is consistently fair and open by allowing a free flow of communication. It is incredibly important not to have an aggressive manner in your management style and to always be approachable. We operate a 'no blame' policy, which helps enormously."

"It's for my general manager."

And it's not just staff that need to be listened to; guests are likely to have useful insights too. "Listening to both the team and guests' feedback will give you a true insight into what actually happens, rather than what you think happens," Hurley advises.

5. Be consistent

Consistent service is something that all hoteliers should pride themselves on, according to Andrew Oxley, general manager of Down Hall country house hotel. "Everybody likes to know that the bedroom is set up just the way that they remember it, the sandwich that a guest has for lunchtime is prepared the same way each time they order it or their preferred bottle of wine is available for them and poured in the same friendly, yet professional, manner," he notes.

"Thank god we kept Mr Smith's recipe on file…"

"If hoteliers consistently offer a high and competent level of service time after time, guests will return time after time. It is a fairly well-known fact that, everything being equal, a guest will only look for somewhere new if he or she is not happy with the level of service they are receiving."

6. Keep on top of the product

For Olivia Byrne, company director of boutique property Eccleston Square Hotel in London, it's crucial to make sure the property's appearance reflects the service that guests receive from staff. "Keeping on top of the product is how you get returning guests and it sets you apart from other hotels," she emphasises. "If the building is not looked after, we would not be able to get away with charging the rates we are charging and having happy guests. If you constantly look after your property, invest in good maintenance and work closely with your housekeeping, you can keep the hotel looking new."

"I like it, but I'm worried it'll clash with our guests."

Of course, gaining access to rooms and carrying out major renovations can be challenging when the hotel is fully booked, but by having a strict maintenance schedule and making sure all major jobs are done in quieter periods, these challenges can be overcome.

7. Sweat the details

'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it', is a mantra Banks lives by. "It's fundamental that your management information is as detailed as possible, as there are a thousand ways to make or lose money in this game," he says. "If you put an extra scallop on a plate, serve that plate 10,000 times and each scallop costs a pound, you've just lost £10,000."

But it's not just watching the pennies that's important. "You need to watch the pennies come in as well. Take market segmentation - we have 18 different market segments and each of those markets has an individual button to push to convince them to stay with us; each one has a different lead time and each one needs looking after in a different way. You have to know and measure everything," he explains.

"Just as I thought - it's too full!"

For Bejerano, this means checking, checking and triple-checking everything. "Stay in your properties, try every room, dine in every outlet at different times and experience the service from different staff," he says. "Make a reservation, ask for help, book a spa treatment - do all the things your guests do and do it anonymously where possible. You don't want the VIP treatment as an owner, you need to know what happens to every customer who walks through the door."

8. Embrace the digital revolution

Lewis has put a great deal of effort into learning about how digital world affects his business, and Longueville Manor has a full digital strategy behind it, including an online booking engine and a strong presence on social media.

"Twitter and Instagram provide us with brand awareness, while Facebook results in direct sales, which we track. We have 32,000 Facebook followers, which is one of the largest of an independent boutique hotel," he says.

"We're embracing the digital age… can I take a picture of your food for our Instagram feed?"

The all-important TripAdvisor must also not be forgotten. "Love it or hate it, Trip Advisor needs to be taken seriously," stresses Bejerano.

"Talk about TripAdvisor and service every day, encourage and challenge staff to have their names mentioned for exceptional service and not only does the guest feel good about their experience, the member of staff feels valued and realises they can make a difference."

9. Know your business

Be clear on who your target guests are and exactly what you're selling. "This will determine what demographics you are appealing to and how you adapt your in-house product to attract and entice them," explains Matthew de Quillien, operations manager of Dormy House.

"I'm sorry sir, your collar is a little blue for us…"

"Guests and potential employees need to understand what you are about, so that there is an appropriate level of expectation," agrees Adam Rowledge, general manager at the Georgian House Hotel. "You don't want to send mixed messages that will end up attracting people who are not your target market as this could cause confusion for those who are. Having a strong brand image and displaying this through everything you do will support customer loyalty."

10. Look ahead

For Sir William Hastings, chairman of Hastings Hotels in Northern Ireland, the only way to stay at the top is to keep evolving: "It's important to be committed to your vision, but also to keep up with industry changes, whether they are interior trends, technology or investing in expansion," he says.

Booker agrees: "Continually moving your offering forward in line with guest expectation can be hard and at times costly, but it will reap rewards. Attending industry conferences and networking will keep up to date, and guest feedback will help better your understanding of customer needs," he advises.

"I still say we'd be better off attending industry conferences and networking."

The key, says Matthew Long, general manager at Luton Hoo hotel, is to find the right balance between the details of day-to-day operations and the importance of having a longer-term strategy: "At Luton Hoo we pay attention to the details and we are flexible, taking action when we identify areas of improvement, but we also have our aims and objectives planned out in order to develop the business for the year ahead and beyond."

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