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David Webster – My life in hospitality

12 June 2009 by
David Webster – My life in hospitality

David Webster is the proprietor of Webster Hotels.

David Webster originally wanted to be an RAF pilot but his plans were thwarted when it discovered he was colour-blind. The industry appealed to him after he enjoyed family holidays watching how hotels were run. But he was interested only in the luxury market.

He decided he wanted to work at the Savoy and arrived at the training centre without an appointment. "Jack Schneider made me wait for more than three hours in the library and his first words to me were: ‘you're a naughty boy coming to see me without an interview'," he recalls.

But after Webster explained the Savoy was the only hotel group he wanted to work for, he was picked for the management training scheme.

Webster advises employees to do every job with passion. "Be it sweeping or mopping the kitchen floor, do it the best you can and learn from the people above you. This industry is filled with extraordinary people and characters and you can always come away having learnt something."

HIGHS… Early in my career, when I was 28 and house manager at Claridge's, I won a Caterer Acorn award. I was so chuffed to get it because you had to be nominated by the hotel's senior management and it was excellent. It gave me a real boost.

Developing and opening the Roxburghe Golf Course in the Scottish Borders with the Duke of Roxburghe was also good. I was general manager and it was the first championship golf course in the area.

At the opening, we were live on Sky television for eight hours showing England versus Scotland, featuring Prince Andrew and Nick Faldo against Colin Montgomery and Gavin Hastings. It was a huge experience and England won.

When we bought our first hotel, my wife and I picked up the keys in Edinburgh, drove to Angus and sat on the stairs looking at each other. We realised the place was ours and we had a massive job ahead of us and a huge learning curve.

Within three years, we were the first, and still the only, hotel in Angus and Dundee to achieve three rosettes for our food and red-star status with the AA. No other hotel has done that and it gives us great credibility. It's all about picking the right people, and we have a fantastic team.

I loved my time at the Savoy and served 11 state banquets. Serving the Queen for the first time was amazing and the Queen Mother told me I had lovely hair while I served her jasmine tea.

My 21st birthday fell on the same day as Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding. There were 54 heads of state in one room and I had the cushy job of serving them Champagne. All I had to do was wander around the room topping up their glasses.

LOWS… Never buy a hotel that has been shut. Ours had been run so badly that previous chefs had stuffed tea towels in the drains; there was graffiti saying "don't work here"; and there were some manky chickens who had lived off the kitchen waste. We worked hard, but if you don't have the lows, the highs aren't as sweet.

  • Family Married with two children, aged 14 and 11
  • Age 48
  • Favourite holiday Tuscany, enjoying the Italian pace of life and food markets
  • Drives The lawn mower
  • Motto To profit through excellence

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1982 Management trainee to house manager, Claridge's and the Savoy

1989 Deputy manager, Turnberry hotel and golf course

1991 Manager, Blakes hotel, London

1992 General manager, Roxburghe hotel and golf course , Kelso

2000 Founded Webster Hotels with wife, Verity

BEAT THE RECESSION

  • Tighten up contracts with corporate clients - payment terms, etc - this has helped us with cash-flow.
  • Look at stock levels across the board and try to manage them better.
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