December 20 2012
At 7am I spend some time in my new house. I try to come here at least three times during the week, before I head to the hotel. As we enter the final phase of work, it seems that we are having to make more decisions rather than fewer. One of the highlights of the process has been choosing and planning the kitchen, as I love cooking. To me, a house is a social place, and having friends and family round for a meal is among my greatest pleasures. I am so glad that we decided to add a teppanyaki plate, and cannot wait to discover new recipes and techniques. I had better forewarn Martyn Nail, our executive chef, as he will be inundated with questions. Martyn and I are good friends and often eat together, exploring the London restaurant scene. In the early stages of our friendship it was daunting to cook for a professional chef, but I soon got over that.
Today will be very design focused, as I shall be spending a lot of time with both our interior designer, Guy Oliver – who is the guardian of the historical design references at Claridge’s and has been working with the hotel for 20 years – and the Linley team, who are working on our new Linley suites.
The rest of my morning is spent at our corporate office at a capex meeting – a biweekly session hosted by our chief executive, Stephen Alden. We are very strict and disciplined with our capital expenditure, as each year we invest a high amount of our revenues back into the property to keep it constantly up to date. I say “disciplined” because Claridge’s is a very busy operation and projects need to be well planned. Architects, designers, engineers, project managers and quantity surveyors are all present at these meetings. We review the functional aspect of the rooms we will restore next year, discussing timelines as well as fabrics, materials, durability, space allocation, comfort and practical issues such as seating heights, furniture dimensions and the new technology that will be incorporated throughout.
After a productive two and a half hours, I rush back to the hotel. This afternoon is one of the highlights of our internal social calendar: the staff Christmas lunch. We prepare our ballroom for a feast and all the executives and heads of departments serve the staff. Seasonal music plays and crackers are pulled, while everyone enjoys salmon, turkey with all the trimmings and, of course, our famous Christmas pudding. And on such a special occasion we also allow ourselves a glass of wine. Just the one, I hasten to add. I particularly love this lunch, and am positioned at the carving station in a chef’s outfit. It gives me the opportunity to chat with everybody, wish them a happy Christmas and, most importantly, thank them for their hard work this year.
The lunch ends at around 3pm. By now I am in the full festive spirit and realise that there are only five days until Christmas. I have not had a chance to do any gift shopping yet. Thankfully, Claridge’s central location means I can get to Bond Street in no time. My favourite spots for quick and delightful wins are Burberry, Loro Piana and Asprey. All are busy, and it is interesting to see things from a client’s perspective. It’s all about service, service, service. It is naturally a passion of mine and very close to my heart.
At Claridge’s we look at service on three levels. The “professional” level focuses on the service being technically correct, delivered with skill and knowledge. Then there is the “aesthetic” level, which includes visual and audible elements – how we look, the uniform and the language and tone of voice we use. Finally, and probably most important of all, is the “human” aspect. This is where the connection is made between staff member and guest. Here intuition, confidence and empathy all come into play. This is the most difficult one to teach, and where talent is needed. But when it all comes together, you can call it an exceptional service experience – and that is our goal every day.
I allow myself just one hour’s shopping, as I have to be back at the hotel. It is admin time. I am very lucky to have my assistant, Pat More, to work with. She has been at Claridge’s for almost 30 years. I think she is a saint, and she “runs” the executive office (and me, for that matter) with great charm, patience and efficiency. This week we are inundated with emails and letters following the BBC2 documentary Inside Claridge’s. We normally receive and respond to around 200 emails a day, and that has doubled since the programme.
It takes about two hours to complete the desk work and at around 6pm I head to the lobby to see our guests, as this is a key time for those either heading out for the evening or returning to the hotel. I get home around 9pm to be greeted by a welcome sushi delivery. Just what I need.