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Roundtable: creating a good first impression

28 May 2010 by

How do you make a good first impression, and make sure your guests keep coming back? Caterer and P&G Professional held a roundtable at the Goring hotel in London recently, where industry experts gathered to discuss exactly what it takes. Daniel Thomas reports.

You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. It's an oft-heard quote that applies to job interviews, blind dates - and, of course, hospitality operators. A long wait for check-in and a surly front desk employee will linger long in the memory for a hotel guest, perhaps more than a luxurious bed and a sumptuous meal.

At a Caterer/P&G Professional roundtable at the Goring hotel in London, industry experts gathered to debate exactly what it takes to create a good first impression.

For John Andrews, head concierge at the Goring, it's all about the staff. "If you get the warm welcome and the fond farewell right, the bit in the middle looks after itself," he said.

As director of design at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, Stephanie Briggs could have been forgiven for suggesting that the look and feel of a hotel is the most important aspect in creating a lasting first impression, but she concurred with Andrews.

"You can walk into a beautifully designed hotel, but that is completely destroyed if you go to reception and don't get good service," she said. "The customer welcome, ongoing service and maintenance are paramount."

Gordon Cartwright, business director at Regent Recruitment & Consultancy and a former AA inspector, said there are three levels at which relationships can be made or broken in hotels: indifferent; polite and courteous; and full engagement.

Lee Cash, Peach Pubs Angela Jaquiss, UK Housekeepers Association Gordon Cartwright, Regent Recruitment and Consultancy Mark Lewis, Caterer & Hotelkeeper Rachael Park, Rudding Park P&G Professional spokesperson Stephanie Briggs, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin Liz McGivern, Red Carnation Hotels John Andrews, the Goring hotel
"Hotels that work on treating guests as individuals - such as being recognised by the front desk even though you have not been there for years - include places such as the Dorchester, the Goring and the Carlton Tower," he said. "However, after receiving that attention, expectations are set and that has to be maintained throughout the experience." Cartwright stressed that this highly personal welcome isn't the be all and end all when it comes to creating an impression. "What a hotel delivers to a guest should be flexible - corporate guests, for example, might not want the red carpet welcome," he said. Briggs picked up on this point. "Leisure guests who don't normally stay in hotels generally want pampering, but I just want a room," she said. "Staff have to be perceptive - notice the guy with a laptop bag who looks like he has had a long day." Small measures, such as providing a guest with favoured reading material, can make a real difference, according to Liz McGivern, director of HR at Red Carnation Hotels. "If someone is walking through the lounge area and spots a guest reading a certain magazine, they will have the power to add that to the guest profile," she said. "It has wow factor, but it is pretty easy to do." Lee Cash, co-owner of Peach Pubs, pointed out that hospitality staff need to do more than remember the customer's name. "You can tell if someone has a system when they call you by your name," he said. "In the restaurant sector, the best staff are the ones who can make that natural." But how can hospitality operators find staff who are "natural" at customer service? For McGivern, the recruitment process is once again about first impressions. "As soon as you meet someone you can tell if they are going to be friendly," she said. "One of my recruitment methods is looking at the first greeting. The thing that makes the difference is the welcome. You would never outsource that element of training, compared with, say, management training." Cartwright said customer-facing staff need certain characteristics. "When you are recruiting, it's about warmth of character and upbringing," he said. "It's really difficult to train genuine friendliness." But Cash warned against pushing away staff due to lack of confidence. "Our younger workers are not super-confident so you have to push them," he said. "We do something called Heroes of Hospitality every quarter where they get to talk about things you can do at a dinner party (to get them in the customer service mindset). It helps to get rid of the bred-in uncertainties." Andrews agreed that personality doesn't always come through immediately, stressing that it needs to be "brought out" of some employees. "It's about recognising that everyone needs to be going in the same direction," he said. "If they are not, then they need more training, more one-to-one conversations. If you work on a step-by-step basis, breaking down where you are coming from, it kicks in naturally eventually. If they need more time, you need to recognise that." Of course, having the best trained staff with a brilliant memory for customers' likes and dislikes will not matter a jot if the establishment isn't clean and fresh. In a British Hospitality Association/P&G Professional survey of 3,000 consumers, 90% of respondents felt that - after a good welcome - a clean and shiny reception area creates the best first impression, while 87% would question the overall cleanliness of a hotel or guest accommodation if it looked clean but smelt unpleasant. The experts at the roundtable were unanimous in agreement that freshness is vital. Cartwright said: "As an inspector, if I see any evidence of a previous guest, the hotel fails. It's not just comfort that is compromised - it is about personal safety." Briggs added: "If things are clean and tidy and neat, you understand that they are taking care of the hotel. It's about taking pride in the product. You know you are staying in a room that thousands have stayed in before, but you want to imagine that this room is just for you." So how can operators fulfil this exacting demand? Andrews said the first task is to "set the stage". "Go from one point to the next - spot it, report it, and deal with it," he said. "If you see a crumb on the floor, pick it up." Rachael Park, executive housekeeper at Rudding Park hotel - and Housekeeper of the Year in the 2009 Hotel Cateys - said simple measures can improve freshness. "We open the windows to let fresh air in," she said. "We don't use too many products." Communication is vital to maintaining cleanliness and freshness standards, according to McGivern. "The manager has to keep reminding people, because not everyone has that sense innately," she said. "If you get told off, you won't forget it." However, McGivern was quick to point out that the carrot is equally as important as the stick, stressing that recognising the value of housekeeping staff is vital, a point picked up by the majority of those around the table. Briggs pointed to Malmaison and Hotel du Vin's Housekeeper Olympics as a good example of this. "It's about giving them recognition," she said. "They are the ones who invariably get affected by budget cuts, which diminishes their position." Angela Jaquiss, deputy secretary of the UK Housekeepers Association, said many hotels have the wrong approach when it comes to housekeepers. "They aren't trained," she said. "‘You can clean at home, so you can clean here' is the attitude." Jaquiss also revealed that the UKHA's push to create official level 4 qualifications for housekeepers - with the British Institute of Cleaning Science (the professional body for the cleaning industry) and the Hospitality Skills Academy - is "gaining momentum". The roundtable discussion also debated how important the design of an establishment is in creating the right impression. For Briggs, it is all about balance. "You have to design something that is fabulous yet maintainable," she said. "Housekeepers and maintenance work with me to achieve that - you all have to work together. If I design a hotel that looks great but doesn't work for everyone, I'm not doing my job." The Peach approach to pubs it takes over highlights the need for a "mix of design and service", according to Cash. "Rather than shutting them down straight away to refurbish, we run them in the interim," he explained. "We can get from turning over £2,000 to £3,000 a week to £12,000 with cleaning done on the way. After the redesign it goes up to £25,000." Stressing the importance of creating a good impression needs to come right from the top, the experts agreed. McGivern revealed that Red Carnation operates a "back to the floor" scheme for the management team. "I did a half-day in one of the departments - it doesn't half remind you what work is all about," she said. "It's a good wake-up call." Briggs said Malmaison and Hotel du Vin does something similar. "We had (chief executive) Robert Cook pot washing!" she said. "The staff love that. It's important for them to see the management getting involved." *Caterer would like to thank the Goring hotel for hosting the roundtable* !]( row, left to right: Lee Cash, Peach Pubs; Angela Jaquiss, UK Housekeepers Association; Gordon Cartwright, Regent Recruitment & Consultancy; Mark Lewis, *Caterer and Hotelkeeper* Front row, left to right: Rachael Park, Rudding Park; Stephanie Briggs, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin; Liz McGivern, Red Carnation Hotels; John Andrews, the Goring hotel SHINING THE SPOTLIGHT ON THE THINGS THAT MATTER TO YOUR GUESTSBy Adrian Camp, managing director, P&G Professional Being part of an industry as dynamic and changeable as the hospitality industry not only keeps us on our toes, but also allows us to constantly develop fresh thinking, which can help deliver guest satisfaction that translates into business benefit. With our experience of delivering high performance cleaning solutions to the professional marketplace, P&G Professional, in partnership with Caterer and Hotelkeeper, was delighted to convene seven of the industry's most revered hospitality professionals to debate and discuss how operators can delight guests and thereby secure return trade. With participants from world-renowned establishments such as the Ritz and the Goring hotel, as well as candid insights from the UK Housekeepers Association and a former AA inspector, conversation was free-flowing and some critical conclusions were reached. At the forefront of that thinking was the insight that fresh and clean first impressions should not be overlooked if guest satisfaction is your number one concern. The passion and rigour with which the subject was debated proved just how critical the full spectrum of customer care is to the end consumer. Whether it's cleanliness and freshness, staff training or creating the right ambience, the roundtable united one thing in everyone's minds - the importance of first impressions. As we approach the London 2012 Olympic Games, it is clear that all employees within the hospitality industry must work towards ensuring that the reputation of their establishment shines through. â- The Flash and Febreze range from P&G Professional is specially designed to meet the needs of demanding hospitality outlets, from small cafés through to B&Bs and guesthouses. With concentrated cleaning power, the product range is perfect for use in all businesses where cleanliness and reputation are a priority. For further information on P&G Professional products visit [www.pgprof.comTOP TIPS ON CREATING A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSIONJohn Andrews: "Show that you care. You have got to want to please someone. That is the ultimate. Everything else follows that." Stephanie Briggs: "You have got to be clear about what you want to achieve, whether it's customer service or look and feel." Gordon Cartwright: "Talent, brains and energy." Lee Cash: "You can't afford to train the wrong people. There is too much hiring ‘pulses' out there. Keep the recruitment tight." Angela Jaquiss: "Housekeeping, front desk and maintenance working closely together. Make sure it's clean." Liz McGivern: "Listening at all levels of the business." Rachael Park: "The hotel grounds must be well kept and attractively laid out, and the entrance doors sparkling and polished, leading through to spotlessly clean surroundings. All public areas and bedrooms must be gleaming and evoke the smell of a loved and cared-for hotel." WHAT DO CONSUMERS WANT? â- After welcoming staff, 90% of respondents felt that a clean and shiny reception area creates the best first impression â- The majority (87%) would question the overall cleanliness of a hotel or guesthouse if it looked clean but smelt unpleasant â- Poor first impressions jeopardise loyalty. More than half of respondents said that they would not return to an establishment where their first impressions were poor â- Nine out of 10 respondents would not recommend an establishment that did not appear clean or fresh â- More than nine out of 10 respondents (92%) would question the overall cleanliness of the establishment based on the state of the toilets â- Almost half of respondents (48%) said they did not believe that UK hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs have a reputation for clean toilets Adrian Camp, managing director of P&G Professional, said: "The findings clearly indicate that first class hygiene and cleanliness combined with a great scent and smell can supply competitive advantage to a business. Indeed, such factors enhance the customer's perception of a hotel, guesthouse or B&B's overall standards and quality." Source: British Hospitality Association and P&G Professional survey of 3,000 consumers TOP TIPS ON KEEPING YOUR ESTABLISHMENT CLEAN â- Don't assume that everyone knows about basic cleaning principles. Remind your staff regularly â- Personal hygiene is also important. Make sure you and your staff maintain high cleaning standards and wash hands regularly before returning to the service area â- Make it clear from the outset what you expect from your staff with regards to cleaning and display your "rules" for all to see. A cleaning checklist is also handy for easy reference and to ensure nothing is missed â- Clean work surfaces as you go. Keep plenty of spray cleaner/sanitiser to hand â- Ensure floors in communal areas are kept clean and dry by using appropriate cleaning products, and clearing spillages as and when they occur â- Target public areas that are most in contact with passing guests for regular disinfection - eg, cleaning tables, chairs, windows and window sills, doors, cloths and general surfaces â- Areas such as rubbish bin lids, door handles and light switches are also prone to cross-contamination and should be included on the cleaning rota â- Don't ignore the areas you can't see. Gaps behind and underneath counters, tables and equipment are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria â- Choose your cleaning products wisely - cheaper products are not necessarily more cost effective and you may end up using a lot more to get the required result â- Form a good relationship with your local environmental health officer - they are a wealth of information and can advise on producing an efficient cleaning schedule
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