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Interview: Ian Richardson, GM at 11 Cadogan Gardens on life after lockdown in Chelsea

2nd Oct 2020

In the midst of the pandemic Ian Richardson took over as General Manager at boutique luxury hotel, 11 Cadogan Gardens in Chelsea. Bringing any business out of enforced Covid-19 hibernation is no easy task, especially one new to you.

But Ian’s previous background working with the Jumeriah Group’s two Chelsea properties – overseeing the extensive renovations at Jumeirah Carlton Tower and running Jumeriah Lowndes Hotel; and opening the brand’s flagship property in Asia, Jumeriah Hotel Nanjing, brings level headed sensibilities to unpredictable everyday situations. We ask Ian how he’s coping.

11 Cadogan Gardens

Ian, having worked in some of the leading hotels in London’s Chelsea – how have you found the dynamics and the atmosphere in London change.

I think that it is fair to say that no one has been left untouched by Covid-19, and guests of hotels are no exception. 11CG was one of the first hotels to open on 4th July, and the first two or three weeks were notable for an increased sense of caution, and in some cases trepidation with even regular and experienced travellers not sure what they were going to find once they stepped back into the hotel lobby.  Our primary focus was to provide a safe environment for our colleagues and guests and so we worked hard to secure both the “AA Covid Confident” and the “Visit Britain” certification prior to opening, which was the first step in reassuring our guests that they could relax just as they used to. 

We were also keen to ensure that the regulations did not dominate their experiences in the hotel and therefore gave a personal orientation to each guest on arrival to help ease them into their new environment. Guest feedback would suggest that we have been successful in maintaining our usual standards of hospitality with guests fully complying with the Covid guidelines. Hans’ Bar and Grill, located at the rear of the hotel and fronting onto the magical Pavilion Road, has been flying since opening on the same day as the hotel.  We have a very strong local fanbase and right from the start there were scenes of joy as colleagues welcomed regulars back like long lost friends (although without the hugs and kisses!). 

Pavilion Road, Chelsea – Credit Cadogan

The good summer weather and generally warm temperatures encouraged al fresco dining on Pavilion Road and has meant that business is not far off 2019 levels despite having fewer tables due to the social distancing guidelines. Generally I think humans are very adaptable creatures, and our guests have quickly learnt what is required in the “new normal”, and perhaps are also  aware that the next “new normal” is probably just around the corner.

Hans’ Bar & Grill at the rear of 11 Cadogan Gardens on Pavilion Road

It’s nice to see Chelsea growing as a destination over the last few years, especially with the developments of Pavilion Road.

Yes, Pavilion Road is just one small example of the strategic vision with which the Cadogan Estate are working to make Chelsea a world class destination. The recent developments including the pedestrianisation of Pavilion Road has dramatically increased the footfall to the area as people flock to enjoy the al fresco dining opportunities of a range of top quality restaurants and shops. There is a wonderfully relaxed and informal atmosphere along the full length of the street, helped by the additional seating provided by the Estate, and I would encourage anyone who has not visited to make the trip as soon as they can.

From a staff perspective, how have they been coping with all the changes and instability. It must be hard.

Just as with guests, my first priority was to ensure the safety and wellbeing of my colleagues as they returned to work and prepared to open. There have been significant changes to the way we work behind the scenes to ensure compliance with all the regulations but the team have been brilliant and taken it all in their stride. For sure it is more challenging to welcome and communicate with guests whilst wearing a face covering, but we have a motto that “behind every mask is a smile”, and again the feedback from our guests suggests that they are just as satisfied (and in some cases more satisfied) with the service that they receive now than in pre-Covid times.    

Hans’ Bar & Grill

Have you had to change your product offering at all.

From an 11CG market we have not changed our offering very much at all, with the exception of our operating procedures to comply with Covid guidelines. Our leafy backstreet location and access to the private Cadogan Gardens have helped us focus on our “City Centre Sanctuary” credentials where you have the best of both worlds – a stone’s throw away from the bustle and lights of Chelsea and yet tucked away in a quiet residential street where peace and calm prevail. So we have chosen to stick to our knitting and deliver a memorable “home from home” experience irrespective of where home might be.

Do you see the current changes having a long-term impact on dining trends, such as more acceptance for all day dining or early dinners.

For so many reasons, forecasting the future is now more challenging than ever, and making generalisations is something that I am very wary of. For example, Hans’ Bar and Grill has been performing at almost the same levels as 2019, and I would imagine the same can be said for my fellow traders on Pavilion Road. But you only have to go a mile or so towards the centre of London and the picture is very different with many restaurants not opened. In some cases this presents opportunities as the trend for Pop-Up restaurant and food offerings continue, but the ongoing changes in opening hours makes things very challenging for a large number of restaurants and bars.

Hans’ Bar & Grill Hot Chocolate

The cost to London and hospitality from this pandemic is huge. How do you see the future for boutique and larger hotels.

The future is very uncertain, and if I could accurately predict what will happen I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now! But I think that there will always be a demand for hotel stays, both in boutique and larger hotels, and there is no doubt that there is a pent up demand for travel into London from abroad which is currently blocked by the travel restrictions.  Market expectations look as far away as Q4 2022 or Q1 2023 before pre-covid hotel revenues are achieved, but there are so many variables to be considered that can only be a best guess. So from my perspective the challenge is keep going, one day at a time, ensuring a fantastic experience for all guests that will encourage them to return despite the “barriers” currently in their way. Reputation is key right now, and all you can do is your best  – it’s an old adage but one that I think is more relevant today than it has ever been.

Dine at 11 Cadogan Gardens and Hans’ Bar & Grill with the Luxury Restaurant Club and enjoy a further 10% off food and drinks, see details.

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