Manchester's finest and internationally-renowned Hilton Hotel is continuing its prestigious reputation thanks to the dedication and passion of a staff force headed by a new general manager.
It is the start of a new day and the corridors are silent. Breakfast is being prepared in the Podium restaurant, with table napkins exquisitely folded and cutlery neatly placed in anticipation of what could be another busy morning. High up, the floor inside the Cloud 23 bar has a perfectly polished shine to it.
For the night shift team it has been a long slog but the work is finally done. A cleaner makes her way down in the express elevator to the ground level. After a very swift journey the doors to the lift slide open.
As she steps out a well-dressed man greets her with a warm smile. In a typically polite manner, he steps to one side allowing her out before shaking her hand and thanking her for all her hard work.
The well-dressed man is John McLaughlin, who for the last two months has been the new General Manager at the Manchester Deansgate Hilton Hotel.
“To me that is the essence about being a true hotelier, you have got to connect with the operation and with your team."
By the time I caught up with John, he was nearing the end of his own long day shift. He met me in characteristic fashion at the hotel reception as the early evening sun was setting.
From there I was escorted to the executive lounge on the 23rd floor where I sat down, took in the breathtaking views of Manchester and enjoyed a soft drink, on the house of course. I explained to John that I was here to discover what a typical working day is like for a general manager in Manchester’s tallest building.
“Is there a typical working day in hospitality?” asks John jokingly before adding, “I think the very nature of hospitality is that it cannot be prescribed – if you are in hospitality and you are looking for that prescribed timing then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
John’s day does however begin with one routine. He acts out a daily ritual of writing five welcome cards and adding them to his stockpile. He then sets off on a small odyssey around the hotel visiting the various restaurants, health spas and conference rooms to ensure that everything is working the way it should.
It is clear that John values his team greatly helping him to provide a quality service to the guests.
“I have a walk around the entire building and, where I can, I shake a team members hand and thank them for the shift and thank them for what I am sure is going to be a really productive day.”
Engaging with the customer is equally as important, as it has been throughout his career in hospitality. From humble beginnings as a breakfast waiter in Scarborough to his work in Nigeria during former President Bill Clinton’s West African visit in 2002, his policy of engagement and expressing warmth, John believes, is what has allowed him to be truly successful.
“If we can manage and even exceed people’s expectations then we have done a good job.”
The kind of guests you see at the Deansgate Hilton may not fit the stereotypical ageing couple you see stepping off a bus in Torbay, on the contrary. Midweek usually see’s the hotel generally catering for business types. Eighty-five per cent of the hotel’s business mix is domestic.
Whoever the customer is however, they will always be treated to the same genuine hospitable nature which has served John so well throughout his career.
“The biggest thing for me is actually dealing with Mr and Mrs Jones who have saved up all year to come and spend a special weekend.
“If my team and I can bring any more value to that experience, whether it is just by giving them a courtesy call to acknowledge a wedding anniversary for example, that can be really powerful.”
As with most jobs like John’s, organisation is vital. Timing and punctuality is everything. Sometimes the administrative side of the job can be tough to navigate but luckily John has his PA Christina to assist him.
“Everybody needs a Christina in their lives, she truly is organisation personified,” he says affectionately.
In the hospitality industry it is vitally important to understand your customer, to connect with them. Manchester is a hugely vibrant city and John is keen to stress is that he and his team at the Hilton are actively pursuing the ethos of connecting with the Manchester people.
“Sitting up here, you’ve got the whole skyline and you really get a true appreciation of what we have here to offer in Manchester.”
The city clearly has a lot to offer its guests with an array of thriving night-time hot spots and restaurants, all adding to the tapestry which makes Manchester so cosmopolitan. Manchester has always excited John in terms of its ambition but the history of the city is always at the forefront of John’s vision for how the hotel wants to become part of the local embroidery.
“The true DNA of Manchester is three things; it was fabric, it was cotton and it was music.”
Customer feedback is also evolving. Social media is now becoming a vibrant impulse in telling him and his team where they can make improvements to the service they provide.
“Social media is a really powerful voice of the customer and I think in hospitality if you don’t recognise that and more importantly, respect that, then you will be in a very weak position.”
From the conversation I have had with John, it is clear that there really is no such a thing as a typical working day in the hospitality industry. What remains constant are the principles in which John and his team must abide by to ensure the guests enjoy their stay.
“Hospitality is all about people, if you don’t do that naturally in terms of engagement then you shouldn’t be in hospitality.”