We talk to Clayton Hotel Leopardstown GM Alan Deller about Bay & Sorrel, the property’s fresh, stylish new restaurant
A hotel’s restaurant is a crucial part of the guest offering, and to get the best out of it, must complement, reflect and elevate the property. Alan Deller, General Manager of the Clayton Hotel Leopardstown, knows this all too well. Clayton Hotel Leopardstown was completely refurbished since its takeover from Bewley’s in 2015, and to meet the upgraded standard came new restaurant Bay & Sorrel at a “no expense spared” investment. Hotel & Restaurant Times was delighted to chat with Alan about this exciting new addition to the hotel and surrounding area.
“Over seven years the hotel has seen a lot of changes,” Alan tells us. “When Bewley’s had it the offering worked well for the market at the time, but as the area expanded and become more commercialised, it needed to be invested in heavily to meet those changes.”
Alan has been in the industry for around 25 years and was clearly well up to the challenge of a major refurbishment. He got his start at a young age with the Jury’s Doyle graduate programme before going to on complete a diploma at the Birmingham College of Food. Over the next few years Alan spent time in the U.K. working with big hotel brands in various roles and clocked up experience in the United States and France. Prior to returning to Ireland, he joined Premier Inn in the U.K. as Area Manager where he was responsible for nine properties. This experience, he says, set him up for life.
“I learned so much from Whitbread,” he says. “They operate a centralised business model where accounts and revenue decision making are made through Head Office; however, my main accountabilities would have been around the team and guest where decisions were made locally. This model worked well given the size of the Premier Inn brand across the UK. When I came home, Dalata was so different: we are really running our businesses as our own under the flagship of Dalata, which I love. With this decentralised model you can make your decisions locally, which was huge asset throughout the redevelopment of the property.”
When Alan took on the GM role in the Clayton Hotel Leopardstown, the hotel and staff had been through a lot, he tells us. With any change in management and company, confidence as you would expect was quite low. Starting at this point was a challenge, Alan says, but it was also an opportunity to do a total overhaul and create something incredible.
“We went from three to four stars,” he tells us. “Dalata recognised the need for investment and we did a massive transformation. We have 357 bedrooms and refurbed them floor by floor. We ripped out the lobby area and redid it, turned self-service into table service and redeveloped the entire meeting and event space in the basement with window boxes, which have been revolutionary. We also introduced the first Red Bean Roastery coffee shop, which has been a huge success. It has its own demographic in the area so we gave it its own uniforms and standards and a separate entrance. We wanted the coffee shop to stand alone, while still being part of the business.”
After all that work, overhauling the restaurant and service area was the “final piece of the jigsaw,” Alan tells us. Before the refurb the dining area was dated and looked more like a canteen than a restaurant. After extensive research and a hefty investment, Bay & Sorrel was born, with even the name a result of careful consideration, inspired by the bay and chestnut horses of the nearby Leopardstown racecourse, the fresh herbs that feature prominently on menu, and the restaurant’s proximity to Dublin Bay.
“We did a massive amount of research,” says Alan. “Pre-COVID we travelled to London and went to outlets like Ottolenghi Soho and Ethos to get a feel for what’s out there. We also did a lot of market research on the demographic of the area, the average wage, and affordability. One of the main things that came through was that people wanted healthier options, so that informed Bay & Sorrel’s fresh, healthy and great quality menu. We have a vibrant range of freshly chopped salads, as well as the staples like burgers and steaks, but with a twist. The team in the kitchen are creative and have put their own stamp on the menu. We’ve certainly moved on from the gravy, mash, meat and two veg of old!”
Executive Head Chef Edward Kilpatrick, who worked in the property since 2004, collaborated with new Senior Sous Chef Sebastian Bell to completely revamp the menu. Dublin-born Sebastian trained and worked in Canada for many years in a wide range of kitchens and Alan tells us his experience has brought a fresh and exciting perspective to the menu.
“We set out to create a fresh new space where people can enjoy high quality local and seasonal cuisine, and we’ve achieved that,” Alan says. “The open kitchen was closed up and the buffet area was completely transformed and what has been created is simply beautiful. We could have up to 700 people coming through this space for breakfast but with the design and lighting, the footfall feels so much less. Bay & Sorrel is a standalone, localised restaurant, but we’ve woven in elements you’d find in any Clayton Hotel, so it’s unique, but also protects and complements the brand. A full transformation needed to be done. It’s not just a ROI in terms of food; the market has changed; average rates are higher and the industry has moved to another level. We’ve hit on something special here with Bay & Sorrel and it’s been so well received.”
We ask Alan if the hotel as faced difficulties over the past few years, and he tells us like most businesses, there have been challenges as well as wins.
“We’re lucky out here,” he says. “We have a great location; transport links are strong and we have our own local market here, and we’re outperforming all areas in terms of what we want to achieve. We’ve also been lucky with our people and retained a solid senior team. Of course, some areas of the business have been tough, not least the rising costs and staffing. Filling skilled Food and Beverage roles has been a challenge. We have the numbers but the skillset and mindset are not there, and that’s been seen across the business. We’re working to create buy-in from the team and focusing more on the training and development side of things. For example, we’re looking at Skillnet and training through IHF and Fáilte Ireland. We’ll get there.”
We wrap up our chat with Alan by telling him we have no doubt whatsoever that they will.