This month we decided to quiz another one of our favourite clients, Dan Brod, co-owner of the Beckford Arms Hotel. Here’s what he had to say:
What attracted you to the hotel business?
I didn’t stay at many hotels as a child but when I did they seemed to offer a seductively glamourous escapism from everyday life. I suppose, at its most basic, I like looking after people, making them feel good and have always been attracted to that. I used to be in a completely different professional world, developing and financing scientific ideas which took a very long time to actually reach an end use, if ever. Hotels are the opposite of that, they are about looking after guests there and then and you know straight away whether you are succeeding in that or not.
What was your first job in the hospitality industry?
In my mid-twenties I trained to be a chef with the Conran Group – my first job was as a commis chef at The Bluebird Café on London’s Kings Road. It was gruesome and I didn’t pursue a career as a chef but it left me with a deep respect for how hard chef’s work.
What do you most enjoy about running a hotel?
That you have to be jack of all trades and a master of them too! A successful operation always requires effective systems and repeatability and when the inn is running like a very finely tuned engine I am happy. But there is always improvisation and you have to adapt to keep everything running seamlessly, so it is never boring and I am always learning something new. Most of all I enjoy our guest’s enjoyment whether they mention it or not – I know when we are getting right and when we are getting it wrong.
What is the key to running a successful hotel business?
To be able to get our (I have two partners: Charlie Luxton and Matt Greenlees, both ex. Soho House) hospitality values and standards embedded into our staff so that they are felt by guests at all time down to the tiniest details. The most important thing is to look after every single guest from the moment (or even before) they book to after they leave.
What is the biggest challenge in running a hotel?
Recruiting good staff. You can’t really teach hospitality – you probably have it or you don’t but on top of a welcoming smile and a desire to please we can help to continuously train staff to get to the standards we want and expect. Equally important is to have effective, reliable back-office systems in place that keep managers and staff out of the office and in-front of customers for as much time as possible.
How does an effective property management system like Avon Data’s Hotel Executive help?
The PMS is definitively the backbone of a successful hotel – if the data contained here is not reliable and easily accessible everything falls apart no matter how beautiful your site, how delicious your food or how hospitable you or your staff are. Online bookings are increasing exponentially and the more that can be captured through your own website the less unnecessary commission you have to pay to OTAs. Having said that OTAs have a role to play – particularly for hotels with large inventories – and Hotel Exec allows you to seamlessly integrate through interfaces such as Siteminder.
What for you, as a guest, sets a great hotel apart from its competitors?
Genuine hospitality and a feeling of transporting me from the everyday to something special.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
If only I was allowed a holiday. My perfect holiday is probably a remote Umbrian villa surrounded by close friends with endless great food and wine.
What is the best hotel you have ever stayed in as a guest – you cannot say your own!
Our sister inn – The Talbot Inn was named best hotel in the UK by The Sunday Times a few years ago which was bizarre for an eight-bedroomed pub but true, so I am not sure what best means. I spent my wedding night at Claridges and it wasn’t the fabulous art deco interior that was memorable but the perfect roast beef sandwiches and champagne delivered to us, in bed, at 4 in the morning by the most perfectly understated waiter I have ever come across.
What is the best restaurant you have ever eaten in?
The ever impossible question! If I was forced to answer, and it will sound pretentious, I would say it was a small houseboat in the middle of a lake in the Indian Himalayas. You had to row yourself there and, once there, an Italian man from Rome who had been living there since the late 60s cooked the best ravioli in tomato sauce I have tasted with the best view I have seen under the most perfect night sky.
What is Beckford Arms’ top selling point?
A genuine English country inn set in beautiful countryside with affordable yet stylish accommodation, great food and genuine hospitality.
If you had one piece of advice for someone thinking of setting up a hotel, what would it be?
Be very sure that the ‘hospitality gene’ is in you and put very good back office systems in so that you and your staff can concentrate on looking after your guests.
Why did you choose to use Avon Data’s software?
My partners and I have, between us, worked in many hospitality operations and have therefore seen many PMS systems and EPOS systems. We chose Avon Data because they had integrated EPOS and PMS software under one roof – rather than interfacing two different company’s software each blaming each other for why it doesn’t integrate. From experience we knew that it is not really the software itself that is key as there are many competing systems that pretty much do the same thing – but it is the support to fix things if they go wrong that is crucial. Avon Data is relatively local to our sites, is a family run company and is, simply put, always there to help. This is the opposite of most PMS companies.
Has it helped with understanding your customers better?
I think it can as it has great reporting features – and if you have the time, and discipline, this can be used effectively to analyse data and infer customer insight. To be honest, we are a small operation and have a good handle on the day to day customer experience – however we probably should use the powerful back-end features of the software more to achieve numerical insights. We do keep accurate notes on customers within the software and this is a vital part of a consistently good guest experience.
What would you miss most about it if you did not have it?
I can’t imagine not having it – we have used it for a longtime – and recommended to many.
To find out more about the Beckford Arms Hotel go to www.beckfordarms.com