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#004 - Hospitality Meets Robert Richardson - The Hotel General Manager
Episode 415th April 2020 • Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street • Phil Street
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Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street is a new podcast for the hospitality industry.  Join Phil each week as he hosts a new guest in a light-hearted talk about their journey and story to date.

This week we chat to Robert Richardson the General Manager of the Historic Grand Hotel in Folkestone.  Robert has one hell of a list of achievements and is definitely doing what he was born to do.

The podcast was recorded on 26th February 2020, before lock down measures were put in place.



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Transcripts

Phil Street:

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today's guest is Robert Richardson, General Manager of the historic Grand Hotel in folkston. And just all round top guy coming up on today's show, Robert reveals a love for hoarding creepy items and his house

Robert Richardson:

Clearly my house at the time whas full of the fairground mirrors,

Phil Street:

Robert and Phil talk about chips and beef dripping

Phil Street:

He used to serve chips in beef dripping

Robert Richardson:

Still does.

Phil Street:

And Phil proves that the shows really are unedited

Phil Street:

(Sneezes) Excuse me.

Phil Street:

All that and a whole lot more as Robert talks us through His story and journey to date. This time a big thank you to the Dorset city for giving us a space for the chat. If you like what you hear don't forget to hit subscribe and search us out on all the social channels. Enjoy.

Robert Richardson:

It is Yeah.

Robert Richardson:

Hello and welcome to the next edition of hospitality meets with me Your host Phil Street and today I'm delighted to welcome Robert Richardson from the Grand Hotel in folkston. recently named boutique hospitality Manager of the Year in 2019, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Institute of hospitality, a very people focused leader with a strong body of work inspiring school leavers, people

Phil Street:

And Welcome to the show.

Phil Street:

Well, no thank you for inviting me. It really feels like five minutes ago I was watching you on stage in the West End springboard panto so

Phil Street:

funny how this keeps coming up.

Robert Richardson:

Yeah, no. Well, I couldn't do it. So well, all kudos to you, sir.

Phil Street:

Very good. So maybe without further ado, you could just kick off by giving me or us Sorry, a run through of your story and who you are and how you've ended up where you are?

Robert Richardson:

Well, so I'm Robert Richardson, and I'm general manager of a premises in Folkstone in Kent called The grand. We're grade two listed venue we sit at the top of the cliffs overlooking English channel. And we've been there for well over 100 years, concurrently.

Phil Street:

You haven't though?

Robert Richardson:

I haven't No, no, no, either. I've haven't got that good moisturiser. So, um, aside from that, I'm the member of the Board of Trustees for the Institute of hospitality. I'm a member of business crime advisory group for Kent police. And I do something called hashtag inspiring hospitality talent where I work with people who are about to come school leavers, or people from

Phil Street:

Great. I will definitely talk about that in a bit more depth, I think as the as the chat goes on. But let's go all the way back to the beginning. How did you get into this industry? And just talk us through your your journey to this point?

Robert Richardson:

Okay. So, back in the day, I finished my GCSEs. And I was coming out of mainstream education, and I had this chasm I was facing, which is essentially what do I do? Do I go into further education? Do I go into employment? Do I do this? Do I do that? What do I do? And careers education at the time wasn't great, I was prepared academically for my future. But past that there was

Phil Street:

A Touch intimidated.

Robert Richardson:

Just a little bit. Yeah. Yep, so I sat down, couldn't really spring string two words together. And we went through a couple of options as to what jobs would be. So there was opportunities in the restaurant. I wasn't old enough to work in a bar at that at that point, because I really was a school leaver, right? And opportunities, housekeeping opportunities and maintenance.

Robert Richardson:

my life. But I learned revenue management, business strategy, and just the etiquette of being a business leader. And these are things that certainly when I joined the hotel industry, you weren't taught. Yeah, so I've been very fortunate that people have taken risks on me. And I do hope that I've paid it back. And then I joined the grand and what I liked about the grand was it was an

Phil Street:

Yeah, well, clearly, because you're still here.

Robert Richardson:

Yeah.

Phil Street:

Yeah. So what? What age did you become a general manager?

Robert Richardson:

28.

Phil Street:

It was 28. Okay, so who was it that gave you your shot? Because I mean, that with the best will in the world that's young for a general manager. But there's a saying in sport. And I think I've said this in one of the other chats that I've had that if you're good enough, you're old enough.

Robert Richardson:

I don't think there's something I hope I'll touch on later. I don't think there's a barrier to age. My youngest member of staff is 16. My oldest is 77. And they're all incredibly talented, committed people ages just a number and piece of paper. How the grand came about is, I was I've been with Hilton for a year, I've learned a lot from them. And I credit certainly if I have

Phil Street:

Right?

Robert Richardson:

So I said, Okay, that gives me absolutely no time to prepare. And they said we're very advanced in the process. We'd like you to come down and actually meet the hotel owners. So I trucked off down to the Grand had a mammoth three hour interview genuinely felt like I'd been six rounds with Mike Tyson at the end of it. And the next day, I got a call saying they'd like you to come

Phil Street:

Yeah. How long? You've been there now?

Robert Richardson:

10 years

Phil Street:

10 years?

Robert Richardson:

10 years

Phil Street:

Wow, 10 years as GM

Robert Richardson:

Yep.

Phil Street:

Well, I mean, that's fabulous. That in itself is a success story. Okay, so holding the reins of a property for that long. You must have seen quite a lot of change in that time.

Robert Richardson:

Yes.

Phil Street:

Talk me through some of the major things that you've you've overseen in that time.

Robert Richardson:

One of the major things we found certainly in our area. As I said earlier, we are at the end of the country, we're on a cliff overlooking the English Channel. So our catchment is 180 degrees, and that's in terms of customers in terms of talent through our doors. Everything is slightly heightened. It's definitely tougher. The biggest influx we've seen is the HS one so we now

Phil Street:

Europe my experience of folkstone is Yeah, Mark Sargent had a restaurant.

Robert Richardson:

He still does Yeah

Phil Street:

and he used to serve chips in beef dripping

Robert Richardson:

still does.

Phil Street:

And it's good one of my favourite food experiences. That was simple thing, but really, really delicious.

Robert Richardson:

But this is the thing sometimes you're in a hotel. You don't always want to eat steak or lobster sometimes you just want beans on toast.

Phil Street:

Yeah

Robert Richardson:

It's the home comfort side life.

Phil Street:

Yeah. So talk to us about the grand and kind of what just yeah, talk to us about the business what what are you to the world?

Robert Richardson:

I think to the world we were very many things to folkston we are somewhere that your grandparents went to your parents went to you went to your children go to we are all things to all people to that extent everyone in our communities heard of us. Our two biggest claims to fame are Murder on the Orient Express. Fantastic nombre Agatha Christie was written here. If you've ever

Phil Street:

Yeah, I think the point you made there about you kind of sounds like you know, your place like you know exactly who you are. And I think your business benefits from having that as do human beings. The it's just a it's a connection thing and understanding where you sit in the grand scheme of things. Pardon the pun.

Robert Richardson:

But that's the downside. Call something the grand and when we get it wrong, which occasionally we do. Watch the titles of TripAdvisor reviews, all the Google reviews.

Phil Street:

Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. Well, I mean, that maybe that leads us onto to logical next question, in the sense of, you've been in the industry now since the age of

Robert Richardson:

17

Phil Street:

17. So you must have seen some funny things in your time. Tell us some funny stories.

Robert Richardson:

Okay. We have quite a large venue in terms of CMB space, as I said, 10,000 square feet. And a few years ago, we were booked for folkman's first sci fi convention. Okay? Which okay. But it was a good piece of business to have. And it was on a Saturday, you had a lot of preparation, the the actual preparation on the client side with us was meticulous and I credit the map. And I

Phil Street:

Aw you should have got into costume

Robert Richardson:

well in fairness, when I walked there about An hour later and the guy was there. He seemed to be making quite a lot of money for photographs. I think I missed a trick, right. So my staff, certainly, my team enjoyed that story. And occasionally it does come up.

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Robert Richardson:

So that was certainly the funniest thing that's ever happened to me.

Phil Street:

Right. Got it? Well, I mean, that this never amazes me that the diversity of humour that comes from this industry, there's all manner of stuff, that can happen, it's the stories that make the interesting things makes your day interesting.

Phillip Street:

It does.

Phil Street:

And beyond the day to day business,

Robert Richardson:

I think certainly our industry, something I like, and something I always tell people is one of the best aspects of it is genuinely No two days of the same irrespective of your job.

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, absolutely. Okay, what's your biggest achievement? so far?

Robert Richardson:

I think I've got to I was thinking about this, actually, before I saw you today. And I mean, first and foremost, last year, we led the grand provincial Independent Business finite resources to be named the springboard Employee of the Year. And I can't tell you how much that meant to us. We took the little business that could and we stood head and shoulders, on a stage in

Robert Richardson:

And I think we have the will to succeed. We don't always have the money. We don't have the resource. But we've got the will.

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Phil Street:

Yeah. But you know, and situations like that even you have you say you stood on stage, and you had some people in the room saying, Who are these? You've already had an impact on them? Because if they didn't know you before, they sure as hell know, you're not sure. And for all the right reasons, as well, because of the good work that you're doing.

Robert Richardson:

As I say, it was an incredible feeling. And it lifted the team. But the the other achievement I'm most proud of. And this is one of several stories that I've got in the same vein. But something I do at the ground, something I'm very proud of is periodically, we invite schoolchildren, the teachers in for breakfast, and they'll come in, they'll have breakfast in one of our

Robert Richardson:

morning that day. Unfortunately, my diary prohibited me for going from going so I sent Alicia my assistant up there. And the point I walked into the room into the House of Commons Alicia's on stage, confidently addressing about 250 members of parliament, business people VIPs telling her telling them that story. And if there was a real heart in my mouth moment.

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Robert Richardson:

And I'm not that sentimental but that was incredible. I thought we've got that right.

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think the point you make about that is that sometimes you don't see instant gratification for for you an idea like that. But if you play the long game with that, then you you're you're touching people's lives with this and clearly something spoke to Alicia that she felt like I want to be part of that.

Robert Richardson:

I think so Alicia is one of many stories I can tell you. I think we're not just introducing people into a job, we're not just giving them an income, we're giving them a life. And by that, I mean, they're developing skills. They're entering into an industry, they're finding friends, spouses, family members. It's not just about saying you're hired.

Phil Street:

Yeah. And also, the point you made earlier, is one that I really, really connect with. One of the reasons why the podcast exists, to be honest, is that you're it's not just about the people who cook the food and serve the tables, and clean the rooms. Those are a full suite of opportunity in the industry. And in terms of engineering, marketing, I say social media, you kind of name

Robert Richardson:

I don't think there's many industries out there that have the breadth that we've got. And I think champing there is a logical progression. Yeah. Recently, I brought some students up from Kent to London, and we organised speed mentoring for them. And we had the strength Palace Hotel, we had a function room, and we had a dozen speed mentors. And they were from every aspect of the

Phil Street:

Yeah, absolutely. But even my initial part of my career was on cruise ships. And cruise ships are a prime example of that, because the engineering takes that to a whole new level, you've got to keep this big ship, running and operating. So there's that department, there was also the deck department, the drivers, basically of the of the ship. But you also had a medical team, you know,

Robert Richardson:

I agree. I mean, as myself as example. I'm a school leaver, no transferable skills, and I get a job in a hotel restaurant on three pounds. 50 an hour. Yeah. And it taught me so much. And without that person turning around that day and saying, I'm going to take a risk on you. I don't think I will, I certainly wouldn't be here now. And I have absolutely no idea where I would

Phil Street:

Yeah. I have to say, you've carried that through wonderfully to present day, you're always very well dressed when I can't see you. But I relate to that. Actually, in the early part of my career, I joined piano cruise ships, not really annoying what I wanted to do, and secure the job as a receptionist, and quickly discovered that you could forge a career just by having a good attitude.

Robert Richardson:

For me, it's people first if we hire the right people, and we look after them, we develop them. We give them every opportunity.

Phil Street:

Yeah

Robert Richardson:

The business genuinely will take care of itself. And something I say to my team is, I think by and large, we can teach any skill.

Phil Street:

Yeah

Robert Richardson:

but teaching them to be enthusiastic getting out of bed at five o'clock on a cold day, working a shift coming back the next day. If they haven't got the the right attitude, or they're not the right cultural fit for the business, then you're not gonna progress. Yeah, and I'm very fortunate in that we've won a lot of awards for great customer service. Because we've got the

Phil Street:

Yeah. Happy workforce means happy guests.

Robert Richardson:

Yeah. I mean, I don't call us a team because the family Yeah. And we're hashtag hospitality family on social media. We are a family of people. We had our staff awards last month. Yeah. And the looks on everyone's faces. And you're standing there watching quite disparate group of people. As I said, the youngest is 16. The oldest is 77. That's in my team. We've got from memory

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Robert Richardson:

As an employer.

Phil Street:

You thought, the grass was greener.

Robert Richardson:

Yeah,

Phil Street:

And yet it's not

Robert Richardson:

it's not so sometimes it's astroturf.

Phil Street:

Yeah, Very good. Okay. Any regrets? Any things that you look back on and go?

Robert Richardson:

You picked up early, you made it You were very complimentary about appearance and such. I think a few years ago, there was a magazine, which I'm certainly not gonna name for reasons that become apparent and legal. They called me up and I said, could could they take me out to lunch? So, you know, saying over free lunch, I had lunch with these guys. And they said, we're running a

Robert Richardson:

that one, we certainly made an impact. And we will carry that forward.

Phil Street:

Yeah, I think that's become an even more crucial because, you know, things like that really can work across a huge amount in business, but it needs somebody to kind of Pioneer it and give it a go before people can look at it and say, oh, it works. So you're I'm gonna adopt that and bring that into my business as well. Because why not?

Robert Richardson:

Well, we're actually going for the next level. Now. We've just been audited, and we're waiting for results. But we're confident about moving up to the next level in the disability, confidence certification

Phil Street:

Right

Robert Richardson:

And I think, as I said, we were late to the party, but we're going to

Phil Street:

(Sneezes) excuse me

Robert Richardson:

we're definitely going to come back for the next one.

Phil Street:

Right? Don't worry, the sneeze will make it into the show

Robert Richardson:

Must be my aftershave.

Phil Street:

Okay, what are your your kind of main challenges these days? In your your hotel?

Robert Richardson:

I think, again, we are competing with a very competitive environment. We have a lot of pop up businesses in our geographical location. So restaurants, bars cafes, doing some excellent innovative things, and we have to keep up with the trend. Yeah, certainly, as I said earlier, with the High Speed Rail Link, people are coming down from London, and there's a very eclectic

Phil Street:

Yeah. It's interesting that you're, you're almost competing with London, purely because the the transport links are good, almost as a metric for high speed to like straight away there. Right. I

Robert Richardson:

mean, it is I mean, Friday, Sunday, a large amount of I guess certainly in summer period are from London, right. And that was one day actually I was I was at St. Pancras I was coming home and I was on the train and the people behind me were talking about this hotel they were going to and they were very, very Excited Monday morning comes. I walk in and they're checking out.

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, absolutely. Have you ever had anything terrifying happened to you or something that really put you on the edge of your seat?

Robert Richardson:

Yeah, there was a few years ago, I just got home. It was a Tuesday, it was early summer. And as soon as I walked through my door, my phone's ringing, my mobiles ringing. And I've got my duty manager on one line, the fire brigade on the other and the grounds on fire. And I've never had to deal with that before. So I

Phil Street:

guess that sounds terrifying.

Robert Richardson:

It got worse. So I'm flying down. Back to Folsom. And the route I'm taking, you go through this, these tunnels built into the hill. And when you come out, you can see the horizon, which is the ocean and the grands always on the edge there. And as I came out, I can see the ground, and this black plume of smoke coming out of it. So instantly, every thought in my head is loss of

Phil Street:

But I think to me in a weird way that's that kind of sums up the industry, not fires. But is that you're there's a lot of scenarios, that one you would have had some kind of plan in place to deal with something like that, I'm sure but ultimately, you want to happens, you still have to be able to kind of deal with it. Yeah. And the the industry, for me is fantastic at dealing with the

Robert Richardson:

I agree. I agree. I mean, again, we're an independent, and we're dependent on cash flow. So it's a very reactive way of running a business. Obviously, we've been doing it now for many years. So it's working. Yeah. But we're resilient business. We're resilient industry. Look at the challenges that come our way at the moment. The recent immigration policy. Yeah, that's a case in

Phil Street:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I think the dust has not settled on that one yet. No. And rascals. We'll find out when our government actually listens to the voices of industry. At some point, woman hope. Yeah. But we'll, we'll see what happens with that. Okay, do Is there somebody who has been like a shining light for you in your career, or somebody you turn to for mentorship? I think

Robert Richardson:

I've been lucky in the throughout my career, there's been people that have supported me, I've never had any regret of mine. I've never had a designated mentor. Certainly, recent years, I meet some very, very privileged, in fact, to meet some very influential, some very inspiring people, yourself included. I mean, watching you on the western stage, wow, I can do that. That's

Phil Street:

So some would argue I can't do that, but I will be one of them.

Robert Richardson:

But as I say, I'm very lucky to constantly be surrounded in my place of business in London on the border with some incredibly inspiring people and the world is a lot smaller by social media. Yeah. And there's people on there that inspire me. Currently, I've been so fortunate that over the last few years, when I need advice, you've got amazing people like Robin Shepherd,

Phil Street:

no, absolutely. I think it's one of the things that I've realised over the last, especially over the last couple of years as we're presented with challenges that are not going away anytime soon. You're the one that sits right in front of us is around staffing. I think everybody kind of cold conference, everybody's feeling the same. But it's know that I'm feeling that there's a

Robert Richardson:

No, I agree. And ultimately, we are masters of our own destiny to an extent, yeah, we do need to take lead on things.

Phil Street:

Yeah. And I think that, you know, part of that processes is highlighting to the wider world, that this is a wonderful industry to come and work in. And it's not about your long hours and crappy pay and shouty kitchens. And whilst I don't doubt that these environments exist, it's not the norm. You know, it's not that it's just the thing that gets the coverage, because it sounds

Robert Richardson:

qualification, the I'm a chef, and I've worked in kitchens as a chef, and I don't recognise that culture, I think. I mean, it's very good for celebrity chefs to shout to get the ratings up. And I mean, one example, take someone out on camera, put a slice of bread beside of them and say, You're an idiot sandwich. That's something that is always in my mind. That's not about

Phil Street:

Yeah, I mean, you're like, that's the big point for me is, is that the, the, the wider message isn't necessarily, actually what happens. And we're all duty bound to to raise that profile, I think. And even somebody like me, who operates in the shadows, as I call it, in the industry, where, you know, I'm not an operator anymore. But I'm weirdly more passionate about the industry now

Robert Richardson:

Again, I think it's right to promote the industry, it's right to bring people into it and show what a wonderful diverse group of people we collectively are. And actually, is it not sensible to champion our industry? bring more people into it? Does it not make our lives essentially easier? Because we have an opportunity to develop staff, we have an opportunity to recruit people,

Phil Street:

you asked that? Because I was gonna ask that.

Robert Richardson:

And this was someone who is 15, had just come up for a inspiring hospitality talent visit to the Savoy with me and 23 other schoolchildren in January of this year. And they asked that question, and I said, just take a step back. I mean, my biggest criticism of myself is I, if I'm too close to a problem, the blinkers will go on. I won't see past it. Yeah, the minute you take a

Phil Street:

yeah, no, absolutely. There's an awful lot of but not specifically business. But there's a lot of decisions made on impulse. And whilst the overriding impulse may be right, it's always worth a short period of reflection, before committing to something

Robert Richardson:

you see on social media a lot. You have people that want to air a grievance and they shoot from the hip and they say something that maybe if they'd have just taken an hour, and then looked at it before they press it, and they probably wouldn't have done. Yeah. And I think in business decisions, if you turn around, you have to be reactive on some occasions, but just take a moment.

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, absolutely. So

Robert Richardson:

what does the next year hold instal for Robert Richardson? Oh, well, hopefully some sleep. Um, I think things are ramping up in terms of work I'm doing under the inspiring hospitality talent banner. I'm looking forward to doing a couple more of those these this year. I think this the strategy behind it, we perfected in the trip in January, which was this void, the

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, absolutely. Okay. So any listeners out there who are intrigued about a career in hospitality? What advice would you give to them? If they were considering this as a career of choice?

Robert Richardson:

If you're really serious about if you're really considering it? context, a business, any business? That's hospitality, a hotel, social media, a restaurant, whatever? And just say, could I spend a day with you? Yeah, and actually see a try before you buy, essentially. And no one will say no. Yeah. And if you come in enthusiastic, committed, I know what you're talking about. Of

Phil Street:

Yeah, I think I'd add to that is that don't necessarily just do it once? No, there is a chance that that you might not feel a connection with that business with the product that they're they're offering, go and try a multiple multitude? Absolutely.

Robert Richardson:

When I've had it, I've joined businesses where day two, I'm sitting there thinking this is just not a good fit for me. And I've moved on to other businesses and thought this is fantastic. So no, you're right. Don't try one. Try several. Don't just try hotels, try restaurants, fried pubs, try strike around recruitment agencies, try everything with the hospitality banner,

Phil Street:

Yeah. And there's an awful lot of people in this industry with a giving mentality. Absolutely. It's kind of the the base point of, of the industry in the sense that we, you know, we offer a service to people, you'll come and ask for advice. That's usually willingly given. Okay, if people want to get a hold of you to maybe approach your business, then how do they do that? You can find

Robert Richardson:

or I'm on Twitter at RB wr or find me on LinkedIn. Social media is a wonderful tool. drop me a line. Absolutely. The answer's yes.

Phil Street:

Fantastic. Well, I think that's a wonderful way around off. Robert, thank you very much for your time. It's been really lovely to chat.

Robert Richardson:

Thank you for inviting me. I really enjoyed it.

Phil Street:

Very good. We'll speak again soon.

Robert Richardson:

Great, thank you.

Phil Street:

Um, there we have it. What a pleasure it was to chat to Robert and what a great body of work he's done so far, for any feedback, or if you'd like to be on the shore to tell your story. Just search for Hospitality meets across any of the social channels. Don't forget to hit subscribe and tune in again next week for more stories from hospitality. Have a great week.