Tuesday 23 April 2019

D Hotel ticks all the boxes

Big days ahead for the 4-star premises on the banks of the Boyne. Caroline Kavanagh finds out the secret to the ongoing success story

It's Drogheda's only 4-star hotel greeting over 100,000 guests and selling 40,000 rooms per year, rising up the Trip Advisor ratings, growing business 20% in the past year, and recently hosting RTE's Liveline - and it's a fun place to work by all accounts!

Staff number 100, with 80% of those Irish, and 80% of the Irish being local. With staff socialising together, Junior Duty Manager David Fleming from Julianstown says that there are a few couples working together in The D, many of whom first met at work. 'The staff is really friendly here and I think customers pick up on this.'

'There is still a shortage of chefs in Ireland, but we work closely with DKIT's hospitality training in Dundalk,' said manager Rory McNulty, whose pride in both the hotel and his staff is clear to see.

Located along the banks of the Boyne and now owned by Glen Hospitality, The D Hotel has welcomed some stars through its doors in recent years, such as rugby player Brian O'Driscoll, the cast of Mrs Browne's Boys, and pop impresario Louis Walsh.

'I met Francis Brennan from 'At Your Service' here a few years ago,' chipped in Duty Manager, Tracey Somerville, in The D for 8 years. 'The changes are fantastic! There is a terrific team spirit and staff get on great. We are looking forward to our staff night out in January!'

When head chef Naz from Mauritius was up for the 'Yes Chef' award recently, staff members accompanied him to Sligo for the ceremony.

Managing The D is Donegal man, Rory McNulty. 'Being from Killybegs l I love my fish, so we have increased the amount of fish dishes on the menu up to 70%, and it's all from Clogherhead,' said Rory, who puts a strong emphasis on Shopping Local for staff, suppliers and sponsorship.

'We did up the hotel over the past 18 months, gave the lobby a makeover with new colours and recovered the sofas with Gerard Gardiner of Waterfront Interiors. We also put in new conference facilities, updated all the bedrooms which are now stocked with Paul Costello toiletries, added on 7 additional bedrooms and a gym. We are about to extend the River Room ballroom out onto the boardwalk, so that should be stunning for weddings,' he continued.

Marketing The D is Drogheda lady, Brona Reilly, originally from Sandyford Terrace, and now living on 'The Far Side'! 'I spent 18 years working in London, mainly for radio stations, and since I came home, was in Drogheda Credit Union. Working in the hospitality industry now is a new challenge which I am enjoying,' said Brona, who is only in the job a few weeks. 'There has been a lot of investment in The D, so it's a good time for me to join the team. This product is so good that it's easy to market! The D is a familiar brand name - even better now than its former sister hotel in Galway.'

With freedom of speech where all staff have a voice, Rory says that there's a collaborative approach to business. 'In staff I go for personality, energy and bounce! We have a great team here.'

'You can feel the teamwork here and the great pride that staff have in their jobs,' said Brona. Agreeing, Louise said that there's definitely a new work atmosphere. 'Everything that Rory and management promised would happen, has actually happened.'

Louise Byrne is from St Laurence's Park, Drogheda, and is manager in Il Pointe, the seafood & Italian restaurant at The D, soon to undergo major refurbishment.

'My first job was in a chipper when I was 13!' recalled Louise. 'I worked in Fuscardi's on Narrow West Street- Schole's Lane was called Fusti's Lane back then!'

After working in BiTech, Dunleer for 12 years, Louise waitressed in Daly's of Donore, Monks on Shop Street with Denise Walsh, then in Bia Restaurant for 4 years . 'I am in The D 6 years now and am delighted to be restaurant manager. I love meeting different people!'

And meeting the public can be humorous at times! 'One time a lady said to me, 'I'm coeliac.' And I replied, 'Pleased to meet you, I'm Louise!' It was so funny!'

Alex Pacura is from Poland. 'I am 7 years in Ireland and one year working in The D,' she said. 'I started out on reception and am now the front office manager. We often get requests like renting a bike, pram or wheelchair, or even where to store them.'

'During the Fleadh, a lady brought her kettle down from the room and asked us to make her tea as she evidently couldn't find the socket in her room!' said Tracey. 'I had a guest in Il Pointe ask me what fertiliser had been used on the vines in the wine I was serving!'

'Another man used to boil his dinner in the kettle in his room - until we found out about it!' added Rory, who confessed that his jacket actually went on fire courtesy of a candle, whilst he was serving champagne to wedding guests and he didn't even notice until flames almost engulfed him! 'That was in another hotel, though!' said the manager whose years working in London have armed him with incredible tales of the city.

Developing strong ties with the local community, The D now sponsors Boyne RFC, St Colmcilles GFC, Bellewstown Races, Louth GAA, and the East of Ireland Am Open in Baltray golf club. The hotel also feeds Homeless Aid residents once a month, and last year served them Christmas lunch.

Offering packages such as Park, Play and Stay which cover concerts or sporting events in Dublin, the hotel accommodates a huge number of northern visitors. Their golf business is up 30% in 2018, and wedding packages are great value at €3,000 for 80 guests. Parties are also well priced, with an early-booking discount up to the end of 2018. There's a Ladies Night in Il Pointe every month, featuring a cocktail and tribute night entertainment along with a meal. 'There's a huge demand from locals for this and we see 90% local customers, and a lot of repeat business,' said Louise.

'We get Hen Parties and first see what they want, if it's activity, entertainment, sophistication, or whatever, then organise it for them,' said Rory.' The D has seen its Trip Advisor ratings rise from 81 to 10 for Il Pointe, and to 28 in The Hops bar.'

Christmas party nights are booking well, having risen from 850 to over 2,000 this year. 'We aim at families and have a Family Day every Sunday, and also have an in-house Kids' Club entertainer here, instead of just a games room,' explained Rory. ' We also have links with Funtasia, Tayto Park, Newgrange Farm, Boyne Boats and Dublin Zoo, as well as The TLT and the Barbican for musical events. This keeps local business going and we all support one another. We would see 50/50 between families and corporate business. '

'We have a carvery roast every Sunday for just €10 in The Hops bar, and it's flying,' said Brona. In The Hops David Fleming said, 'I'm here over 7 years and was in City North before that. The staff are just great and I love the atmosphere,' said David, who has worked in reception, sales, housekeeping, kitchen and the bar. 'I didn't go down the traditional role of college then work, but started work at 16 and have since studied Travel & Tourism as well as Business Admin. My brother is a chef so maybe that gave me the interest in hospitality.'

The D had a full house during the Fleadh and is already 75% booked for 2019! The recent Nathan Carter concert in the TLT saw all rooms booked. 'We are actually planning a massive Country & Western weekend here in May 2019 and have already booked some top names,' announced Rory. 'This will bring people to Drogheda and will benefit the town in general.'

Is it all work and no play at The D? 'My hobby is shopping!' said Tracey who's shoe and bag collection rivals that of Imelda Marcos it is rumoured! Louise loves her tv soaps and like Tracey, enjoys horseracing. 'I go to Dundalk, Punchestown, Bellewstown, etc and am usually quite lucky!'

Brona loves reading and has taken part in a few Strictly Come Dancing charity events - and is even planning a staff dance-off!

'We may run some Sean Nós dancing classes here before the Fleadh next August,' she said. Having worked in The Louis Fitzgerald hotel group before The D, Rory knows a thing or two about dancing. 'We ran unbelievable Irish dancing shows in The Arlington hotel daily.' A former Irish dancer himself, David Fleming won a Leinster medal with Miriam McCarthy's school of dancing.

Drogheda Independent