From food and beverage to health and spa

Hotel Owner talks to Gary Tennant following his recent transition from food and beverage manager at the Lancaster House Hotel to manager at the spa and health club at Low Wood Bay, one of four properties owned and run by the English Lakes Hotels Resorts and Venues.

What is your history in the hospitality industry?

I first started with English Lakes Hotels Resorts and Venues in 1999 as a 16-year-old kitchen porter. I progressed through a selection of different roles, including restaurant manager, before becoming the food and beverage manager at Lancaster House. I moved jobs to work at another venue for a couple of years but that didn’t offer me quite as much support and balance as my previous role. Luckily, the position of Health Club manager at Lancaster House was available, so I applied and got the job.

Why did you apply for the position?

I wanted a better work life balance for myself and the family and the switch to health and leisure gave me a new lease of life. There’s a different emphasis between food and drink and leisure and health, but both require strong customer service skills and building a rapport with guests.

What inspired you to come back to the English Lakes Hotels Resorts and Venues?

I missed the people and the culture of the hotel group. As a family business, the company prides itself on professional development and career opportunities for staff. We’re trained to adopt a ‘+1 culture’ to encourage us to go that extra mile to ensure guests enjoy their stay. It makes for a better working atmosphere.

What inspired the switch from food and drink to health and leisure?

Partly circumstances in the first instance and being given the opportunity to return to Lancaster House Hotel. In my new role within leisure, health and fitness, it’s more about the coaching aspects which I really enjoy – that means working more regularly with club members so you get to know them better over time.

What are the main differences between the two? 

There are a lot of transferable skills, customer service being the most obvious one. Food and drink is by nature fast moving and meeting the needs of the guest at a specific point in time to meet their expectations. Leisure and health is perhaps more collaborative and gives you a bit more time to build trust with regular members and help them to maximise our facilities and get fitter.

How will your experiences at the Lancaster House Hotel influence your role/experience at Low Wood Bay Resort? 

I think my whole career experience and training up to this point helps, especially the interpersonal skills I’ve developed in food and beverage.

English Lakes Hotels invested in me by putting me through my Advanced Hospitality Management Diploma when I was Food and Beverage manager at Lancaster. This qualification as well as the skills learnt on the job set me up for a management position.  

On my return to the hotel group, I completed my Level 2 in gym instruction and Level 3 in personal training NVQs as well as a pool plant course to give me the required skills to safely manage the pools and hot tubs, the basis for running the health club and spa at Low Wood Bay.

How will the resort run differently under your management?

It is too early to tell at the moment but one of changes I made at Lancaster House Health Club was introducing four day working patterns for full time staff which is very popular and helps the team with a good work life balance.

Were the NVQ courses you took compulsory or did you choose to take them personally?

The pool plant course has proved essential, and I chose to do the advanced option for which English Lakes Hotels supported me. My Hospitality Management Diploma, Level 2 gym instruction and Level 3 personal training were options given to me by the company, which I jumped at. All the way through, the management was super supportive.

How have the courses helped you?

They definitely boost your confidence and build on your on the job experience, as well as providing that extra touch of technical expertise. I’ve had a lot of encouragement and support from my managers to study and progress, and a level of trust in my training and experience, all of which sets you up to do your job to the best of your ability.

What are your hopes for the hotel?

There’s been some fantastic investment in Low Wood Bay in the last few years. The health club now has indoor and outdoor pool facilities, jacuzzi, infra-red sauna, steam room, fully-equipped gym and fitness classes. We’re also very proud of our green energy efforts, generating our own electricity here via a hydropower, water fed turbine. We’re on target to create enough energy for about a third of our electricity needs for the venue.

What does the future of the industry look like in 5 years?

Who really knows after the last few years of upheaval and change? I think the trend for staycationing will continue and Low Wood Bay is well placed to offer guests a really special experience in the Lake District World Heritage Site – inside and out.

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