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Inside track: Military-grade preparation is key at Christmas, says Robin Hutson

03 December 2019 by
Inside track: Military-grade preparation is key at Christmas, says Robin Hutson

Christmas is a mad-busy time in hospitality, but military-grade preparation combined with above-and-beyond staff commitment can make it a season of joy for everyone, says Robin Hutson

It's easy, in the excitement, to forget how the mechanics of hospitality work over the festive period. Gone are the days when Christmas began at tea time on Christmas Eve and wound down after dinner on Christmas Day with a portinduced snooze in front of It's a Wonderful Life. Now it's a month-long bonanza that we love – but have to be prepared for, with an extra dose of team energy and cohesiveness.

From 1 December, there is a change of tone and tempo among guests. They're gathering now for time with family and friends they may not have seen since last Christmas. There's joy in the air and a slightly different dynamic in restaurants and hotels. People aren't in a hurry – work can wait – so some very relaxed guests are happy to while away the hours in our hotels.

And then we have the guests who have booked from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day. They're full of festive spirit, not least because they don't have to fret over a turkey or do any washing up. Everyone's in a good mood, and our teams have to make sure each guest has a Christmas to remember. To do Christmas properly, everything behind the scenes must be beautifully organised.

Delivering around 150 covers over most lunchtimes and dinners throughout December requires military precision and a strong dose of the inimitable Piggy charm. A lot of planning – much more than for any other month of the year – goes into ensuring rotas are done properly. Each shift is full-on, and teams need to get enough time out to recharge and be ready for the next shift.

Quite a few members of staff actually want to work over Christmas. They may have family abroad, no family or find the Christmas period a difficult one for personal reasons. The hotel becomes their family during this time. We do Secret Santa – our managers sort and wrap presents for their teams – and host a lovely Christmas lunch in the staff canteen.

What we find is that people become more thoughtful about their colleagues. Those who do have family might invite colleagues to their house over the Christmas period so that no one is left alone.

We have countless nationalities working for us, with many different religions, so we need to understand and recognise their individual ways of celebrating.

For example, Eastern Europeans celebrate on Christmas Eve, so we'll try our hardest to give them that time off, and then they can relieve other staff on Christmas Day.

As far as meeting guest expectations go, hotel employees are skilled in recognising what each party and group might want. A couple will often want to engage with the staff, while a family with lots of kids won't really want staff interaction as their unit is noisy enough already! Anticipating individual guest needs comes down to such season-specific details as having spare paper and ribbon to wrap a stray gift or ensuring that the family of six have somewhere in one of the sitting rooms to unwrap presents rather than all having to squeeze into a bedroom.

As ever, everyone wants the kids to have a blast, so we'll think up something like having a reindeer treasure hunt, hanging their stockings above the fireplace, putting out mince pies for Santa – anything that will bring a smile to little faces.

So here's to all those working in hospitality over Christmas – all 31 (not three) days of it. We're sure you'll all nail it – and we know you'll have earned the longest of lie-ins come 1 January.

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