We caught up with our new Vice-Chair Robert Richardson FIH to find out about his new role at The Cave Hotel & Golf Resort.
You recently had an exciting career move, can you tell us more about your current role and workplace?
Absolutely, I’m now the General Manager at The Cave Hotel & Golf Resort, located just outside Canterbury in Kent. The Cave is an exciting new, modern, boutique destination which prides itself on offering five-star service and affordable luxury, set within the beautiful garden of England. We have a superb 9 and 18 hole golf course, a highly popular, in demand restaurant called The Firepit, which offers a sharing concept of world inspired cuisine; we also have our Barnhall bar and outside dining area and our incredible “Korean Cowgirl” smokehouse restaurant which has an outlet in our hotel and another about ten miles away. We have already made a significant impact in the marketplace and look forward to growing our brand in the future.
How did you find it moving to a new role in such uncertain times?
The Grand (the hotel I was GM at previously) was an incredible opportunity for me and I will forever be grateful for my time there; and certainly I was (I say unapologetically) a mess on my last day, but I think that when opportunity arises you must make the decision as to whether the offer, the move and the timing fits. It is rare that the stars will perfectly align, therefore you make the best decision you can under the circumstances.
How are things going at The Cave since reopening?
Very well, I am privileged to lead an incredible team in an incredible property. We have been exceptionally busy since reopening post lockdown, and our guests have been respective and supportive to the additional pressures, and restrictions, that not just our business, but our industry, has to work under at present.
What makes the hospitality industry so special to work in?
Ours is an industry that is lively, vibrant, and diverse; no two days are ever really the same. Our industry is about being creative, championing our people and creating memorable experiences, and that brings its own rewards. One day you are developing a member of your team into becoming the best possible version of themselves, the next you are making a memory that will stay with your guest for a lifetime. What better gift is that, and how special is that?
What has been the most important lesson you have learnt during the pandemic?
Right now, we are living through the most challenging time of our generation, something that is globally life changing. I’ve seen so many acts of kindness, from members of our hospitality family opening their doors to those less fortunate, raising money to help see businesses through and even opportunities to just talk to people who might have no one else right now. Conversely, I have seen people go the other way and use this time as an opportunity to criticise and challenge where neither is needed. These difficult times have shown our natural ability for kindness and we should embrace it; people have a long memory for kindness, but an even longer one for the opposite.
There are lots of ways I could answer this, but the answer I want to give today is if I’ve learnt one thing, it is that we should all try to be nice, but never fail to be kind.
Do you think there has been any positives to come out of the pandemic for our industry?
With so many difficulties bourn upon our industry during the pandemic, the positive has been our resilience, our adaptability and our willingness to change in the face of adversity. It is a difficult road we are on, but we will come out of it. I know that sounds easy to say, but analytically we are one of the top contributors to the UK PLC, the employment table, and we provide the experiential element to our society. Our population, our economy and our teams will want, need, this back. All roads lead us to that place.
You have won many awards in your career both personally and as a venue, why are industry awards so important?
I do not know why, but I always get embarrassed when this subject comes up. I am so proud to have been recipient of various industry recognised awards; more so to have led my businesses and teams to that level of success. To me, personally, its not that I or we have won an award, it is the fact that our fellow nominees are of such a calibre that I always feel like an imposter circling their orbit. That said, awards are important as they recognise the efforts behind the accolade and give us an opportunity to celebrate our achievements in the company of the people we aspire to be.
The 27th October is National Mentoring Day, how important is mentoring for those starting careers in the industry?
When I first joined the industry (my first job anywhere in point of fact) it was a deeply scary place to be; my first hotel (in retrospect the smallest hotel I have ever worked in) was huge and everything was terrifying. My first line manager had no part in my recruitment and had to put up with this annoying know-it-all who actually knew very little. It was isolating, and on more than one occasion I very nearly gave up. That was a time when a mentor would have been useful, someone with experience who could guide me through an unsettling time. Certainly I came through the baby steps of my career, but in hindsight and to anyone reading this who feels as I felt then, a mentor will cast a light over the shadow, and I would urge anyone who needs that void filling to contact the IOH and make use of our successful Mentor Me scheme.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever given to a member of your team or mentee?
Take a step back and think again. We can get incredibly caught up in the detail that we lose sight; so, step back, take a breath, and think again. I promise it will all look different when you do that.
You have recently taken on the role of Vice-Chair of the Institute of Hospitality, why did you want to do this job?
Whether it’s the Chair, the team led by our Chief Exec or the board of trustees, every single person I have worked with at the Institute has been nothing less than an inspiring presence for the betterment of our industry and our people.
I never in my wildest dreams thought I would achieve much in my career; and humbly, I never could have got here without the drive and support of others along my journey. The chance to give back the same and help lead this from the front was too amazing a prospect to turn down. Quite honestly, who would ever turn this opportunity down!
What has been the most memorable day in hospitality for you?
My last hotel was a sizeable events venue, and we won the contract to host a Sci-Fi convention. Now, I have never been to one of these before and admit it piqued my curiosity. On the day I visited the hotel, and have to say it was insanely busy, and as soon as I walked through the front doors I was literally grabbed by the hand by an incredibly stressed looking young lady, complete with clip board and ear piece. As she manhandles me through my hotel, she proceeded to tell me off for being late, pushing me towards a fairly prominent blue box, recognisable to some. I asked her who she thought I was, and to my teams bewildered amusement she confirmed that I was the AWOL, late Doctor Who look alike!
About an hour after this I walked back passed his booth, to this day I regret not playing along as he was raking the money in…
Who has inspired you the most in your career so far?
So many people, the list is endless. But right now I would have to say every single member of my hospitality family who is getting out of bed, coming to work and providing our guests around the world a small moment of joy, before a return to these dark days. We have never been so pressured as we are now and the guest expectation has risen sharply in terms of service, cleanliness, safety and security, so I will say to everyone reading this, you inspire me, because you keep doing your job, and you keep doing it so well.
How has being a member of IoH helped you at different times during your career?
The Institute is more than a support mechanism for hospitality, it is a way for us to come together. When I haven’t been able to find an answer to something, or have struggled for a different perspective they have always been there to support me, or when they can’t, they’ve been able to put me in touch with someone who can. They have shown me that there is a whole world of industry out there, not just my corner of it, and that is what makes being a member of the IOH so vital, especially now.