The Shelbourne Hotel is very quiet these days.
There's no concierge to greet you at the famous front door on St Stephen's Green. There's no familiar clatter of luggage being wheeled through the tiled lobby.
With the exception of a tiny handful of long-term residents, there are no guests. The vast majority of the hotel's 440 staff are working from home. The famous Horseshoe Bar, the iconic Saddle Room, the Lord Mayor's lounge - all lie empty. Suffice to say, it's been a very strange few months for the hotel's staff.
"I could cry," says Yvonne Donohoe, the director of sales and marketing. "This hotel is supposed to be full of life and buzzing and has been for nearly 200 years. It's quite sad to come in."
Lucius Farrell, the hotel manager, concurs. "It's quite surreal," he adds.
That is not to say things have come to a complete standstill. While the Shelbourne Hotel might not be open for business as usual, there is still a lot of work going on behind the scenes to "keep the asset alive".
First of all, there are actually five guests currently residing in the hotel. One person lives in the hotel on a permanent basis and has done for several years. "This is their home," notes Donahue. The others are clients who are staying on a long-term basis. "They're essential travel and would be related to air crew, cargo and stuff," explains Donohue. "Essential workers."
These guests have the option of dining in the privacy of their own rooms or in the Lord Mayor's Lounge. Certain areas of the hotel have been customised for them with empty rooms converted into makeshift business centres. Meanwhile, hotel staff are on hand to run errands for them, "whether it be running for messages, shopping, dry cleaning".
"It's really changed the way we've approached our service in that we have had to bespoke it and make it more tailored to a butler experience," explains Farrell.
During the lockdown, just twelve staff members have been working in the hotel day. That includes four security personnel who provide 24-hour cover. As well as minding the building, they conduct routine checks and report any pesky cracks or leaks.
"As recently as this week we would have had a significant leak," says Farrell. "Had it not been discovered it would have caused significant damage to the building."
Michael Munroe is the director of engineering. His team has been the most active throughout the lockdown as they have been tasked with overseeing the maintenance and upkeep of the building.
And they have a busy to-do list. Twice a week, they must go around the hotel to run all the taps and flush all the toilets. This is to remove stagnant water and help stave off legionella, a bacteria that can cause Legionnaires' Disease. The entire process takes a day and a half. "Anywhere there's water we have to do it," he notes.
As it's a heritage building, Munroe and his team have had to ensure that it is kept at a certain temperature. That means not letting it go below 16 degrees.
"It's just the age of the building," he says. "It could start shrinking and moving. Even with the pipes. If you've had the heat going through, all the joints are tight. Suddenly you turn it off and everything starts shrinking and you get leaks everywhere.
"People don't realise that even when the building is closed all this stuff has to be done anyway," he adds. "If we didn't do this we'd be in bigger trouble when we'd open."
The unexpected downtime has also given the hotel the chance to tend to maintenance issues. Under the hotel's "perfect room programme," teams have been put to work inspecting each room, carrying out repairs and sprucing things up. There are 60 different action points that have to be addressed. Are there scuff marks? Does the door close? Does it squeak? It's a laborious process.
"Every nut and bolt in a room has to be checked," explains Farrell. "When you're operating at full occupancy you don't always get to do every single thing but now is the time to get in and get the product right so when people come back they're going to have a seamless experience."
According to Romy Joy, executive accommodation manager, the hotel plans to have "more robust" cleaning protocols in place when it reopens. One hundred "touch points" will have to be cleaned in each room while certain soft furnishings and decorative items will be temporarily removed to ease the sanitisation process. "The cleaning will be more important and much longer," she notes.
On June 29, the Saddle Room and Lord Mayor's Lounge will reopen for food service while guest rooms will reopen on July 20. (The newly renovated No. 27 Bar and Lounge won't open until August.)
But it won't quite be business as usual. Over the past few weeks, management has been busy developing new procedures to help ensure the safety of staff and guests. That means that the experience of visiting The Shelbourne will be a bit different to what regulars are used to.
For starters, guests will have their temperature checked before entering the hotel. They will have to fill out forms answering questions about whether they have had Covid-like symptoms. All luggage will be sanitised and online check-in will be encouraged to prevent people from stopping in the hotel lobby.
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Breakfast buffets are out, at least in the short-term. Guests will be asked to book their breakfast in advance so as to help prevent the "usual mass stampede" at 9.45am. In fact, guests will book every single experience in advance. That includes slots in the swimming pool. "That's the only way we can control social distancing and crowds," says Donohue.
For diners, it's a similar story. The restaurant will be operating at just under 50pc capacity. Payment will be by card only. Food will be rolled out from the kitchen on a trolley, without the wait staff touching the plates.
"Guests will be able to remove the plates themselves, if they so wish," explains Gary Cahill, director of food and drink. "If people are more comfortable and say, 'You can drop our plates' then we will drop at a safe distance." Similarly, afternoon tea will be "drop and go".
High-touch items like condiments, seasoning and menus will be removed in favour of disposable versions. Meanwhile, perspex screens will be installed in the kitchen area and at the counter in reception. "Very hard to keep it five star but it has to be done," says Donohue. "It's the new five star," quips Cahill.
Over the next few weeks, the hotel will slowly come back to life. What are the staff most looking forward to? "The people," says Donohue without missing a beat. "It's a people business. You have a beautiful property but it's people who bring it to life."
By the summer of 1985, a 19-year-old Ruth Andrews was looking forward to moving to France to start a career in banking. She had just finished a short stint filing at the Fás head office on Baggot Street - "the most boring job in the world" - and had completed a course in business, languages and marketing at a college off Grafton Street.
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