The worlds of 5 star hotels and retirement homes might seem miles apart. Roger Hayward, general manager at The Chocolate Quarter retirement village in Keynsham near Bristol, shares how the new development is using lessons hotels and holidays to the benefit of its residents.
We have a concierge team who are available on reception 24/7 like in any hotel. They are very much on show and a big part of the functioning of The Chocolate Quarter. We regularly get great feedback on their work.
How do you describe your professional background?
I would class myself as a hospitality professional by trade. I left school after my GCSEs and went to local catering college – a family member recommended that I might suit front of house type roles. I started working in pub kitchens from 15, hotels from 16 and restaurants from 17 onwards. Very quickly in the industry you can get an exposure to different areas of the hospitality business. Through my 20s and 30s I gradually moved on to more senior roles in higher quality hotels, interspersed with periods working overseas. It culminated in working for a 5 star, 1 Michelin star country house hotel just north of Bath.
I was there for 6/7 years before being approached with an opportunity to move into private healthcare and launch of a new hospital brand called Circle. They opened their first hospital just south of Bath in 2010 and I was tasked with developing the hospitality concept. We had a very successful few years there developing that model and I then moved into the NHS for a few years in a patient experience capacity, which was both rewarding and challenging.
This role came up when they were developing The Chocolate Quarter and caught a friend’s eye. They said, ‘Look, it’s a great mash-up of all your experience!’ I joined in the February 2017 so that I could feed into the interior design aspect. We worked closely on our restaurants so that they feel like independent spaces and not at all like dining in a 'care home'. That was a clear part of the vision from the start.
How do you take the experience of working in a 5 star hotel and apply it here?
It’s an interesting question. There are some instilled behaviours that are just natural to me now. A lot of hospitality is about being on show. So much of what we do at The Chocolate Quarter is in the public eye and that’s not for everybody. But equally, hospitality or customer service is not just about preparing a drink correctly or clearing the plates from the correct side of the table. It’s about behaviours and traits, and recognising other people’s wants and needs are different. And I think in an environment like this that’s even more profound because, unlike other retirement villages, we are open to the public. Every day I step out of my office there will be different people moving through this building and they are all watching.
I recall a general manager I used to work with at other hotels - he was a consummate hotelier, an absolute professional. He would always check himself in a mirror before walking out of his office to make sure he was looking ship shape. He’d say, ‘It’s a show, it’s a complete show.’ I have to show people that I’m happy and in control and everything is as I want it to be. Because as soon as someone sees me looking flustered, cross or anxious it will rub off on them, and that’s not just residents and customers but also colleagues and team members too.
When we recruited the team here we talked a lot about the hospitality model and the ‘one team’ approach. We’re all here to help our residents and visitors first and foremost, regardless of whether something is officially part of our job description or not. That’s a luxury that not many businesses have, to start from scratch. There is no defined formula – it’s about recruiting the right people. We have a concierge team who are available on reception 24/7 like in any hotel. They are very much on show and a big part of the functioning of The Chocolate Quarter. We regularly get great feedback on their work.
We worked closely on our restaurants so that they feel like independent spaces and not at all like dining in a 'care home'. That was a clear part of the vision from the start.
In previous blogs on The Chocolate Quarter we have heard residents say that they feel like they are on holiday. Why do you think that is?
That makes me smile because that’s a measure of success for us. If I was retired here I think I would probably feel the same! We're a new development and a lot of people who were involved in the early days invested a lot of time and energy as part of our focus groups. So they had lived that journey with us and gradually seen it take shape. There’s also definitely a feel with the interior design in the restaurants of the 1920s and 30s, which gives a nod to the history of the building and makes some people think of a cruise liner!
I see residents coming into our restaurants for lunch and there's often a real sense of occasion. They are nicely dressed and invite their friends for a good time, which adds to the feeling of being on holiday. We are also very lucky to have the Spa and Gym here too which feels quite decadent and is very relaxing and enjoyable. The building has been designed to cater to a mix of people in the local community as well as our residents, and that mixing makes for an environment which is exciting and dynamic too.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in hospitality?
It’s a career that’s very accessible but something that you need to apply yourself to. It’s hard work and there’s so much potential to learn while moving between different roles and departments. Within a couple of years of working in the first hotel I worked in I covered front of house, duty management, kitchen, porter, restaurant, bar, housekeeping, functions and events. All these things go on to help you throughout your career and allow you to reference back to your experience. If you speak to the most successful hoteliers out there, and I’ve been fortunate to work with a few of them, their experience is not gained in board rooms and university degrees. It’s in working the floor and knowing how the business works from the inside out. Fundamentally they need to thrive on working with people, whether that’s residents, guests or the team you have around you.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
I think the variety is something that has always interested me in my career. I’m blessed to have a very strong team around me who work incredibly hard. They are all focused on providing an incredible service to our residents and anyone we have walk through the door. That’s what keeps me going every day. I enjoy nothing more than locking the office door and going to have a chat with our residents. I get invited for numerous cups of tea and that's not for people to complain, it’s often just for a chat.
I think at St Monica Trust we often talk about how we enjoy making a difference to the lives of older people. That definitely rings true for me. I feel like I’ve found my niche now – I’ve worked in public sector, I’ve worked in the private sector, in the hospitality sector. I'm proud to say that I work for a charity that’s dedicated to helping older people make the most of their lives, it is hugely rewarding.
To find out more about The Chocolate Quarter, download a brochure and explore our available apartments visit our dedicated retirement village page.