Leading View: Dormy House Hotel CEO, Andrew Grahame

What is the secret behind the AA Hotel of the Year 2014-15? We invite Dormy House CEO, Andrew Grahame, to guest write this issue’s “Leading View” and reveal how far an empowered team can take you!

NOTE:  Read Andrew Grahame’s Five Key Actions For 2014. This article was originally published in the Q4 2014 edition of Hotel Industry Magazine.

I have had the same make of car for 12 years.

On average I change it to the latest model every two years and I am always amazed by the enhancements. It gets quieter, quicker, easier to drive, more economical and there is the wonderful array of gadgets, from cameras to cruise control.

I really do feel that there is a group of people in Munich that assemble around a table once a year specifically to make life easier for me.

I can imagine their conversation: “I know, if it’s raining then let’s have the rear wiper go on automatically when he selects reverse,” says one.

His colleague chimes in with, “We could also have the nearside door mirror move down so that he doesn’t kerb his wheels when parking.” They even turn my music down so that I am not startled when I get into the car having played the Spice Girls too loud when I parked up.

The best one ever is the boot release that works by waving my foot under the back of the car when my hands are full – genius!

Hotels need to think more like car companies.

Time for Change

I know so many hotels that are unchanged in 20 years and who wonder why they aren’t full.

Hotels need to seduce, entertain and emotionally connect with their residents. They also need to think about ways of surprising and delighting their customers, creating as many “I wasn’t expecting that!” moments as possible.

Most importantly, they need to find out who their guests are, what makes them tick and why they are visiting.

For example, if a chap is a Porsche fanatic he will not be the slightest bit interested in Gok Wan’s kitchen feature in Home and Garden; he wants to see smoking Panameras and souped-up 911s … his wife on the other hand may be quite fascinated by Gok’s pots and pans and will be on the John Lewis website in a flash!

Men are kids at heart, so in the Dormy loos we leave remote control cars and helicopters for them to play with. At Dormy, we have signs that say “Please walk on the grass” rather than “don’t”. Grass is for walking on. If it can survive Beckham’s right foot, it can certainly survive an after-dinner stroll.

Fun, Fun, Fun!

Hotels should be about fun. We spend the week stressed at work, hardly seeing our families, worrying about the Middle East and hoping interest rates stay where they are – do we then want to stay at a hotel that takes everything too seriously?

The stress then builds because I’m watching Fiona Bruce talking about growing unease in Gaza and I daren’t even put my feet up on the furniture … and why should I need to put on a tie to qualify for a G&T in the hotel bar?!

Guests who are made to smile come back: that’s a fact. And hotels need to take more time injecting the fun element.

Signage is a key opportunity. What is the point of a “Staff only” sign? The worst that can happen is that someone walks in and realises they shouldn’t be there.

At Dormy House, the sign warns “Beware of the Staff” and then when guests meet our staff they realise that they are the most natural, warm and genuine they have ever come across.

We have a store room for mops (every hotel has one of those, maybe two) with a sign that simply says “Nothing to see here.” There isn’t. And I smile every time I see it.

New Interview Questions

Hotels also need to employ fun people and need to ask different interview questions. The classic question: “What do you like about hospitality?” elicits the response: “I like to meet people.” The question needs to be “how would you entertain our guests and make them smile?” If they have to think about it too long, simply shout “Next!” and hand them their coat.

Our team members are employed for will, not skill. Most have a mischievous twinkle in their eye and some are a bit unpredictable and edgy. I like that because it’s spontaneous, from the heart and very engaging.

There are two phrases hotels should ban. The first is “Let me just check with my supervisor.” Please empower your team to sort me out chips instead of mash! Please don’t make the waitress call her manager who then produces a raft of paperwork tracking the request so that it can be fully discussed at the next Heads of Department meeting.

Dormy House Team Photo

No More Meetings!

Talking of meetings, stop having meetings; keep your teams on the floor where they belong … If they wanted to have lots of meetings and get nothing done they would work in local government!

The next phrase is “Checking in?”

Here they are, the lovely Smith family, stressed Mum, Dad, kids, dogs, cases, pushchair grasping a letter of confirmation … I would say it’s a pretty safe assumption that they are here to stay and not passing through.

My other guess is that after the journey they have had on a Friday evening, they do not want a wake-up call, they can’t decide what newspaper they want and really don’t care when breakfast is served until.

I recently heard a story of a wedding couple arriving at a very nice hotel for their wedding night only to be asked: “Do you have a reservation?”

Car companies are also very good at keeping in touch with their customers; hotels generally are not.

A hotel can launch a new restaurant, refurbish bedrooms, take on Chef who is ace with an octopus and can do wonderful things with a chicken but they just don’t bother to tell their customers. Some may like octopus.

When a car needs to go to the dealer it tells you. First you get a “service in 6000 miles” message, then later an amber light and then the dreaded red light which effectively means stop now!

Hotel guests have no such prompts. A little note doesn’t pop up on the TV whilst they are trying to work out why everyone in Eastenders is either fighting or crying saying “Dormy stay due in 30 days”.

There isn’t an app that does this either. Yet.

For me, the mark of a great hotel is when the return car journey is dominated by conversations about when and with whom they will return.

That’s the desire we as an industry need to create.

NOTE:  Read Andrew Grahame’s Five Key Actions For 2014. This article was originally published in the Q4 2014 edition of Hotel Industry Magazine.

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