From turndown treats to extra-fluffy towels, bakers to beehives and Shaolin monks to the soothing sounds of Lyric FM, Nicola Brady finds out how Ireland's favourite hotels go the extra mile to make guests happy.
Kamila Kerner is quality manager at the five-star Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford (cliffhousehotel.ie).
"Our turndown service is performed every evening, for every guest. We try to fit it in with the time of our guests' dinner, which means when they come back the room is ready for them to relax and go to bed. We go to great lengths to make sure our timing is perfect. It's very important to us.
"Some of the things we do are very typical, like closing the curtains and turning down the bed, but we also do some quite unusual things. We have a sleep and relaxation package, which is a lavender sachet we prepare here on site. Lavender puts you into relaxation mode, and helps you go to sleep. There's also a little card, with a sleep well note, and a routine programme to help you fall asleep.
"We also switch the radio on to Lyric FM, which is very relaxing to help you unwind. The lights are dimmed, and we put water and slippers by the side of the bed.
"Lots of guests would have special pillow requirements, and would like firmer pillows, or hypoallergenic ones; some guests prefer memory foam, so we do have multiple options for them to choose from.
"We have guests who stay with us often, and we know exactly what they like, even something like knowing they prefer larger cups for their tea and coffee. We note all the preferences, and think that's really important. They don't have to ask for it - it's there when they arrive."
Laura Kelly is manager of Kelly's Resort Hotel & Spa in Rosslare, Co Wexford (kellys.ie). It regularly features in our Reader Travel Awards.
"For us in Kelly's, success is not measured in the amount of bookings we get, but in the number of repeat bookings. There are certain guests who have been staying in the same room and sitting at the same table in the restaurant each year for over 30 years.
"We have formed great friendships with the guests over the years. Some love nothing more than playing a few pranks on us. On a very rainy day this year, one of our regular guests complained to our manager Eamonn that there were two big leaks in his room. Eamonn ran up to the room before more damage was done, only to discover that the guest had gone into the kitchen and taken two leeks, which were now perfectly laid out in his room. Eamonn never lived that one down!
"We once had a guest mention to us at breakfast that they did not sleep well, because at home they have blackout curtains and they felt that the curtains in their room here did not provide total darkness. So, after breakfast service we went up, took the curtains down and swiftly sent them off to the local seamstress who stitched in a blackout lining. The guests were thrilled when they got back to their room that evening.
"Some time back we had a lady come to the reception and complain that her children's clothes had been stolen from her room. We were most shocked by this, as we could not understand who would have taken worn children's clothes from the room.
"It turns out our housekeeper saw the dirty children's clothes in a pile, so she took them away and washed, dried and ironed them before placing them back in the guest's room. Finally, the mystery was solved and the guest was very happy with the outcome!"
Paul Hand is the Director of Rooms at the five-star Powerscourt Hotel in Co Wicklow (powerscourthotel.com).
“Housekeeping is so important to ensure our guests are comfortable, from ensuring the room is clean to fluffing the cushions in the lobby. The housekeeping team make sure all guests and visitors feel they are in a home away from home, and cleanliness is so important to get right.
“The perfect hotel bed is all “tucked” in at the end to ensure a smooth top. The “tuck” in our super king beds can be difficult to manage and requires good upper body strength! To help the bed settle after this we spray some fabric softener on top and smooth it out, to ensure that extra softness and perfect look.
“The key to a proper fluffy pillow? Firstly, you need a good quality pillow and to air it to set it nicely in the cover. One top tip for new pillows is to stick a pin in it to ensure the air can get in and out of the pillow, they will not sit well on the bed otherwise.
“We do have some strange requests, that we are happy to fulfil for our guests. We once filled a bath with Evian water, heated in kettles while the guest was at dinner. We also turned a suite into a Bali beachside room for a proposal, as the couple couldn’t fly due to a broken leg. She said yes! We once covered an entire room with white sheets and changed them daily during the guest’s stay.
“We never judge messy guests. Our guests are paying for five star service and that means being able to leave your wet towels on the floor. We are here to ensure our guests can enjoy those little luxuries you don’t get at home.
Loughlin Druhan is director of food and beverage at Adare Manor (adaremanor.com). The resort's Oak Room Restaurant won a Michelin Star this week.
"Before we opened, we hired a campervan and travelled around Ireland to look at different suppliers... We spent nine days, travelled over 3,500km, and visited over 50 suppliers.
"What was important to us was to identify those specific suppliers, and develop those relationships. It's having that connection with them, and seeing their passion for their produce. It's the same passion that we have when we're putting something on the plate.
"We have our own bakery team here… We have five full-time bakers who bake everything from sourdoughs to baguettes, banana bread to walnut raisin loaves. We don't buy in products. We also have two butchers and a fishmonger. Our two main restaurants have very different requirements, so it was important for me and the chefs that they could get exactly what they need, whether that's a specific cut or a portion size. We buy the product in whole and prep it in-house. There's less wastage, and we get exactly what we want.
"We have our own beehives, too. We started with seven, and now we have 14. In our first year, we produced 200kg of honey - some we kept in the honey frames for breakfast, some we bottled. We use some for our petit fours - we make amazing honey and thyme chocolates. Last year, we brought truffle tree saplings, which I don't think anyone has. They're well hidden, and I'm not going to tell anyone where they are, because they'd definitely be found and we'd end up with nothing!
"That was a long-term investment from us - we won't see truffles from that for five or six years. Hopefully that'll be a nice little story to tell then. We're not looking at short term. We're looking for longevity."
Denis TC O'Brien is head concierge at The Shelbourne (theshelbourne.com) in Dublin, last year voted Ireland's Favourite Hotel in our Reader Travel Awards. He has been in the business for 35 years.
"I always say that a lot of people arrive as my guests, but leave as my friends. You get to know people - what they like, what they dislike. They probably tell you more than they do their friends. You get to know all their little quirks, like how they like their scrambled eggs, and at what time they eat them.
"I like to think that I've built up relationships over my 35 years with people that, if I lifted the phone and really needed them, they'd help me. The network of concierges in the city and outside is phenomenal. There are people who would pay millions to get inside our heads!
You're probably wondering who my favourite guests are. Any of them who are still alive won't be mentioned - that's a good concierge rule. But somebody who I really took to was Sir Richard Attenborough. The word gentleman is used about a lot of people, but he was the quintessential gentleman. Who are the ones I don't like? Well, as a good concierge, you won't hear that either!
"When I started in the business my grandmother said 'Oh, I wish you were working in The Shelbourne, so I'd be able to go in and visit it'. I said, 'Sure Nan, anybody can go in'. And she said, 'No, it's only for the rich people'. But I always say to people that our front door revolves the same for everybody. It doesn't matter who you are, or what your title is, what your religion is, where you come from. That door opens the same for everyone."
Mark Browne is general manager and Pamela Nolan a senior therapist at Monart (monart.ie), which was last year voted best spa in Ireland as well as No.2 in Ireland's Favourite Hotel.
Mark: "While we always want to deliver the best in customer service, we don't want it to be stuffy. It's predominantly an environment where people are in bathrobes, so you can't be standing on ceremony. People come to spas for many different reasons. It might be that they've gone through a bereavement, or they're having some health issues. It could just be time to clear your head a little bit."
Pamela: "Our spa manager has been trained in treatment for after cancer care. In colleges, you're trained not to touch anyone with cancer or someone in treatment, but we do treatments on everybody. The treatments are tailored to guests, depending on what kind of cancer they have, or what kind of treatment they're having. That's the kind of time when you almost need something the most - you're vulnerable."
Mark: "Our Shaolin monks come over to us from China every year. They travel around the world, spreading their message of wellbeing and health. We started a relationship with them and this is their eighth year with us. It's really, really popular. People just love it. To be in the presence of them, and to learn their methods, is amazing."
Pamela: "At the end of the treatments, our therapists put the heated slippers on the client, and do a little foot massage. It's the little touches that make the difference."
Have you ever wondered how a hotel earns its stars?
Well, there's a lengthy checklist of criteria from Fáilte Ireland, covering everything from room size to bedside power sockets. Each property is inspected every year by its team of assessors.
So what makes a hotel a five-star? Having a dedicated concierge, suites as well as rooms, turndown service and 24-hour food service are just some of the criteria.
"There has to be an element of luxury," says Tara Kerry, registrar of accommodation at Fáilte Ireland. "The consumer who's coming to a five-star hotel expects that level of luxury, but what's most important is the service."
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