Hotelier has stars in his sights

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IF SOMEONE tries to book into the Cley Hall in Spalding and asks for a double room for single occupancy, David Stanbridge will be on his guard.

If, in the morning, they demand poached eggs for breakfast his suspicions will be confirmed: he is probably dealing with a mystery inspector.

As director of quality of England for five years, David, co-owner of Cley Hall with Andrew Robb, is very familiar with mystery diners and sleepers – and their penchant for demanding the hardest type of egg dish to cook as well as their occasional slip into jargon.

He was responsible for 70 inspectors making three visits each a day to hotels, guest houses and other types of accommodation, restaurant and attraction.

That equates to 54,600 checks a year – and a staggering 273,000 investigations in the time David was working for Visit Britain.

David is now drawing on all that experience to turn what was a two-star hotel when he bought Cley Hall Hotel from Barclays last summer, after it had been put into voluntary administration, into a four-star establishment.

No toilet seat will go unlifted and unchecked, no mattress untested for comfort, no dust left to settle on shelves without an exploratory finger uncovering it on David’s watch. He knows that top of visitors’ list of priorities is cleanliness, and he can also tell you horror stories of establishments that have got it badly wrong and lost their rating as a consequence.

Swift on the heels on cleanliness though, in terms of importance to guests, is the friendliness and attentiveness of staff, and David and Andrew will naturally ensure everyone who works at Cley Hall Hotel shares their ethos of being welcoming as well as professional.

Finally, guests rate the facilties as being one of their top priorities, and as the builders have been in since July, dealing with the things guests don’t see, such as the boiler, it’s reasonable to assume these are now in good order. The new owners are now turning their attention to the nice bits that guests do notice, such as curtains and carpets.

“The idea was to bring something of quality into Spalding based on our previous experience,” said David. “We should easily get our four stars by the summer. We wouldn’t want five stars because there would have to be 24-hour room service and the market wouldn’t warrant that.

“We think Spalding deserves something better because people are going to Stamford to stay when they are here on business and that is bad for the economy of Spalding. Gradually, companies are starting to use us.”

While David looks after front of house, Andrew has responsibility for the less obvious elements to a hotel – the kitchen, accounts and housekeeping – bringing his skills from a background that includes a law degree, work as a tax accountant and time as a psychiatric nurse.

His skills perfectly complement David’s 20-plus years in the hospitality industry and his stint at Visit Britain when caravan parks, university campuses, restaurants and youth hostels would all be checked against their star rating and accessibility standard.

The job was stressful because David found himself in the middle of the consumer and the operator, trying to keep pushing the industry in terms of quality.

David admits: “It’s not easy sometimes if you have been to a terrible place and you have to give them bad news or take away a grade, although we tried to give positive, constructive feedback and say what they needed to do to improve. Quality is something that doesn’t stop moving and should be improving all the time.”

n Check out the hotel for a book club due to start in May – contact the hotel on 01775 725157 to express an interest in going along – as well as future plans for acting/story-telling workshops with BRM Theatre Group.