Focusing on ‘interior appeal,’ fresh start at One Aldwych

GOSTELOW REPORT—“As a first-time and somewhat new GM I am not hampered by memories of past upsets,” says Janine Marshall, who assumed leadership of the 102-room One Aldwych Hotel, London, in July 2019.

More experienced leaders can, and do, recall what happened after 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash, and even such comparatively lesser untoward happenings as power cuts. Marshall, however, was looking at a fresh page.

“When the virus began to take effect in London I had no intention of staying home. I said I would move into the hotel with my husband. But my operations director was in between moving apartments and he genuinely needed somewhere to sleep,” she explained. He moved in with his girlfriend on March 23, sharing the hotel with two security and two maintenance staff.

“I went to Costco and spent many hundreds of dollars on supplies. The six take it in turn to plan and cook dinner, which they eat in our Indigo restaurant with, it seems, at least a glass of wine,” the GM admitted. 

Janine Marshall in her home office, otherwise known as her unpainted kitchen
Janine Marshall in her home office, otherwise known as her unpainted kitchen

Indigo is normally three-meals-a-day international cuisine, and completely dairy-free (the hotel’s other restaurant, Atxa, serves Basque, dinner only). “Re-assessing our restaurants and bars was, anyway, one of my long-term projects and now it is urgent. Can we move afternoon tea from Indigo to the other restaurant?” she wondered.

When the hotel closed it took her two hours simply to turn the unpainted kitchen in the family home into an office.

“The first few weeks of self-isolating were admittedly taken up with adjusting to the new ways of working but I was primarily concerned with looking after the hotel’s assets,” Marshall said. “It is a great advantage having a financial background when it comes to quickly negotiating large costs and freezing unnecessary services. First on the agenda came forecasts, cashflow projection and scenario planning for different eventualities. Looking forward, I had to take into account reduced revenues, plus operational costs and payroll after re-opening, with no definite date.” 

She set up weekly excom meetings, Tuesdays at 9 a.m., via Zoom. There are also departmental and other meetings for her team, of whom 210 out of a total 230 have been furloughed.

“Now, after five weeks, I have moved on to what is going to happen when we do re-open. The U.K.’s government-funded furlough scheme runs through June so it does not make sense to open until then.” It is expected that Prime Minister Boris Johnson could hint this coming Thursday at some easing of the U.K.’s lockdown.

One important challenge is re-assessing labor numbers. “If a restaurant only has half the number of seats as before, obviously we need fewer servers, but I am determined to avoid redundancies,” Marshall stated, adding that her initial plan is to ask full-time employees how they would favor cross-training, including replacing night-time agency cleaning. 

Then how will general operations change? She anticipates no rooming of arriving guests, at least in the short term, and room service orders may not be taken right into bedrooms.

On social media right now, she is asking her excom colleagues to respect others’ time and not post too much. At the same time, she is working with sales to keep networking relations going, especially in the USA, which is responsible for 30% of her bedroom business.

Looking ahead, how will One Aldwych differentiate when it comes to attracting business? The hotel already markets its surrounding theaterland and its lively neighbor, the exciting Covent Garden area.

“Now I want to make more of our own interior appeal, perhaps by rehanging some of the 286 paintings on corridors of all eight upper floors. One floor might become a one-artist-gallery, another could be hung with paintings that share a color, or a theme,” she suggested, explaining that she has always been creative and now she is motivated by what is best for the hotel and her team.

“After all this time home-working, I feel perfectly at ease, and though it is difficult to remember what day it is, at ‘weekends’ I aggressively switch to painting this kitchen, which has the added benefit of saving money,” she laughed.

Born in northwest South Africa, Marshall has risen through finance. In 2007 she moved across London from Jumeirah Carlton Tower to be One Aldwych’s director of finance: she added EAM in September 2013, and in March 2019, following the succession plan of incumbent GM, Simon Hirst, she was appointed, with overlap. At 9:30 a.m. on the morning after Hirst bowed out, she did as she had done for the previous six weeks, hold the “morning meeting.”