From the moment guests walk into the hotel, I want their problems to vanish. They should feel immediately at home. And you have about ten seconds to put them at complete ease,” states Patrick Burfield, manager of Chichester’s sumptuous 36-bedroom Ship Hotel. The award winning hotelier and restauranteur knows all about providing impeccable service. Not only has he run his own restaurant, but he has also worked extensively as an hotel inspector.
But Burfield has not always worked in the hospitality industry. He has had a fascinating, eclectic career which began in the City and moved on to working in A&R for EMI. His is a life marked by bold, ambitious moves. After a stint working in local radio for the BBC he founded his first company at just 23 years of age – a PR and publicity business – and was one of the first people in the UK to make corporate videos and commercials. This experience, he tells me, was invaluable for his subsequent career as an hotel manager.
“The interesting thing about running hotels and restaurants is that it is very similar to making films. A hotel is about putting on a production. The manager needs to secure finance, get the guests in, keep them happy and sell the product.”
By the end of the 1990s, Burfield sold his business and trained as a chef. He converted a beautiful 15th century pub, The Half Moon in Kirdford, into a fine dining restaurant. What were his motivations for embarking upon such a drastic change in his working life?
“I’ve always cooked, but my main goal was to own a restaurant. I didn’t necessarily want to chef that restaurant, but I wanted to be in a position where I could understand what chefs needed, what they were saying. My view is that if you don’t have that basic knowledge, then you haven’t got a chance.”
Intensive training at what is now Gordon Ramsey’s Tante Marie restaurant followed. “By the end of that I could talk the same language as the chefs I hired,” he explains. A position as hotel inspector for Les Routiers followed and Burfield also began advising people on new start-ups.
“To be a successful inspector you have to start by looking at the fabric of the hotel, seeing what’s actually there. Nine times out of ten it’s about the people running it, that’s the most important thing. Hotels and restaurants don’t work unless the people controlling them have a genuine passion for hospitality.
“It’s an incredibly hard, competitive business. I was visiting hotels that had clearly had a lot of money spent on them, but the people in charge just didn’t get it. You have to understand that the customer pays your bills, so it’s imperative that you listen to them and act upon what they say.”
Five and a half years ago Burfield arrived at The Ship and has spent the last few years transforming it from a three to four star hotel, which has involved a complete refurbishment. I ask him how much difference there is between the two different star ratings.
“Going from three to four stars is probably the most difficult rating to bridge. The Ship doesn’t aspire to be a five star hotel – we don’t have the facilities for that: the pool or the grounds. Three stars offers a nice hotel with good service, but to reach four stars you need a certain level of opulence in the rooms, the décor, even down to the linen.
“A four star hotel has to have things like room service, but I don’t really look at it in those sort of tick box scenarios. Hotel inspectors have moved away from that. I ask myself ‘Does this place offer value for money and great hospitality? How good is the overall experience?’”
Feedback from guests at The Ship has been very positive. The hotel has a large amount of repeat business and guests who stay for long periods. Knowing exactly what each customer likes – down to the type of room, food and even what time they prefer to eat – is essential, stresses Burfield.
“Above all, you have to have confidence in your vision. Once you’ve started on a path you must remain on it. A lot of people have a bad few months running a hotel and restaurant and then change course. For example, they’ll switch to being an Italian or French restaurant. That doesn’t work.”
Maintaining The Ship’s now legendary standards is pivotal to Burfield’s role. He now has a very good management team in place and is planning an extension for a further 25 bedrooms which will overlook the park at the back of the magnificent Georgina building. Two years ago the restaurant was rebranded and the hotel now has a massive afternoon tea business and a very popular bar. “We’re just making things better and better,” he says. “And that will never stop.”
Patrick Burfield, general manager of Chichester’s Ship Hotel, talks to Alex Hopkins about what it takes to forge a career in hospitality