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Club Hotel & Spa: Never a dull moment

16 February 2006

Shaun Rankin has had a busy six months since the opening of the Club Hotel & Spa. The hotel's executive chef effectively switched from his role as head chef of the operation's one-Michelin-starred Bohemia restaurant - which opened a year and a half before the hotel - to becoming virtually food and beverage director for the whole hotel while remaining on active service in Bohemia's kitchen.

"I'm working the hotplate every lunch and dinner at Bohemia," says Rankin. "But I've had to get myself out of just the restaurant and into hotel mode: thinking about the Club Café, room service and all the daytime snacks and afternoon offerings as well."

And it's far more than just thinking about food - what to put on the menus and making sure it gets delivered. Now he has to manage rotas, staff welfare, and the upkeep of all the kitchen equipment. "I have to be an operations manager now," he says. "Every day is a challenge and that's before the first diner has even arrived at 12.30pm."

Destination But even if Rankin is finding the increased paper-shuffling hard work, the challenge still brings its own rewards. "Apparently people have been booking the hotel from the mainland specifically because they want to eat at the restaurant," he says. "It's made me realise Bohemia is more successful than I thought. It's becoming a destination."

Attracting diners from the mainland, not to mention France and Germany, means the team have had to tweak how the restaurant is run. People were deciding against coming over - and therefore booking the hotel - if they discovered the restaurant was full. "So now we keep tables back at the earlier 6.30pm and later 9.30pm sittings specifically for hotel guests," he says. "The late tables work well because often if people have been travelling they're not ready to eat until later."

Rankin has also had to rethink the menu in the Club Café, the hotel's less formal dining offer. It started with a three-course menu format, but Rankin changed it after three months when it was apparent that most of the hotel guests were using it more for one-course meals. "I've kept some starters and main courses separate, but made most of the dishes available in either a small or large portion, like risotto," he explains. About 70% of Club Café's clientele are hotel guests, compared with 30% for Bohemia.

One area of growth Rankin hadn't predicted is private dining. The hotel has two business suites which can be hired for private meetings for about 10 or 15 people. Word soon got round that the Bohemia kitchen could serve food at these meetings if required. Although profitable, this does have its own headaches. "The parties have to come either slightly earlier or later than the main service because we don't want it to affect the restaurant," says Rankin. "Plus the suites aren't that close to the kitchen so we need to tailor the food accordingly."

These are details you iron out once you're up and running. But other challenges come as a complete shock. One happened recently when the French ferry company Emeraude, one of only two companies that sail to the island, suspended its service, leaving only one other company operating - from the UK.

"When spring comes it will be OK because most of the produce is grown on the island," says Rankin. "But when you rely on supplies from the mainland, as we have to here, and the weather is harsh, ferries can be cancelled or containers arrive a day late. I've had to change menus fairly regularly which, when you're trying to maintain a consistent standard, makes life very hard."

There's a separate kitchen for Club Café and room service, which is connected to the main kitchen, making it easy for Rankin to oversee both teams. His brigade has now swelled to 13, with eight or nine working in Bohemia and two on service for Club Café. All the mise en place is done in the Bohemia kitchen.

Rankin still believes there's scope to up the tourist turnover in the restaurant, rather than the business trade which is its mainstay. The hotel is hoping to see an increase later in the season as Jersey's tourism promotions kick in.

But overall Rankin is happy. Turnover in Bohemia is better than it was in January last year, and the restaurant maintained the Michelin star it won last year. "That caused a few sleepless nights," he laughs. "But it's not just me - this shows how hard all the team have worked."

The story so far
The Club Hotel & Spa was opened on 21 August by Lawrence Huggler. His family already owned the site's freehold through their St Helier printing business, but it still took £7m to get the project off the ground. This included the fine-dining restaurant Bohemia, which opened in 2003 and won its first Michelin star last year.

Looking ahead, Huggler hopes the hotel will record a gross operating profit of between £750,000 and £850,000.

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