Starting a five-star hotel from scratch has allowed the latest technology to be installed for the benefit of staff and guests alike. Sara Guild reports from the Merrion in Dublin
PETER MacCann, general manager of the Merrion, excuses himself from the lunch table. He returns shortly, greets the guests at the table behind him and sits down. "I had to go to the office and look up that gentleman's name," he says, "I know him well, but I could not remember his last name."
At the five-star de luxe Dublin hotel, recognising and greeting guests by name is what MacCann expects of his staff. But for detailed guest preferences, even he will bow to the greater memory of the hotel's computer system. The property management system by Fidelio will allow the Merrion staff to cater for their return clients in that extra-special way that five-star clients expect.
For example, a guest who requests certain music CDs during a first stay will find those same CDs awaiting him on a return visit, thanks to the guest-history facility in which staff can log any number of preferences.
The system, which cost £250,000, will pay for itself over time, according to MacCann. Both he and resident manager Gerard Denneny praise the system for its efficiency and the facilities it offers. For instance, it brings the cost benefits of being able to forecast to very precise specifications. "It will do a projected average room rate for any day or week or month over the next year," says MacCann. "This is already allowing us to yield-manage our rooms for the best possible returns."
The system is integrated with the Micros food and beverage system, and back of house will be linked as soon as MacCann can find the manpower to do the inputting.
Guest preferences of another type, namely the temperature of their rooms, will be controlled by another hi-tech system. The building management system, the Trend 942 Supervisor, gives sophisticated temperature control over each individual room. Guests have control of temperature to three degrees either side of the set 18¼C. But if a guest calls the front desk to say they are too hot or cold, the hotel can raise or lower the temperature by any amount from 14¼C to 25¼C.
From the guests' viewpoint, however, it is the technology in their rooms which is most likely to elicit comment.
The Merrion's target market is primarily corporate, and MacCann estimates that 65% of business will come from this sector. With rack rates ranging from IR£190 for a single superior room to IR£810 for the top-of-the-range suites, it is clear that the hotel is aiming at those with hefty expense accounts.
To attract that market, however, a hotel must provide for the needs of its clients.
"We knew we were going for the corporate market and we wanted to take the business centre out of the downstairs and put it in the bedrooms," says MacCann. To this end, each bedroom has three phones, two phone lines, a fax machine that also functions as a photocopier and printer, and an ISDN line with the capability to offer video-conferencing.
The push for a more technologically advanced bedroom is being driven solely by the customer, says MacCann. "Hotels have changed so dramatically because people have demanded the change," he says. "Hotels are homes from home now."
Technology changes so quickly that the Merrion has anticipated new changes and laid extra cabling to cope with what science may throw up in the next few years. Provision has been made in the television leases to upgrade to equipment able to access the Internet, and the video recorder allows for upgrades to run digital films, should they become the replacement for tape.
not too much gadgetry
Despite the presence of very 1990s equipment in the rooms, MacCann says that they tried hard not to overwhelm the guests with technology. "We didn't want to over-gadgetise the rooms," he says.
The 130 bedrooms, large and well-appointed with interiors designed by Alice Roden, are the result of 22 months' work on the four Georgian houses standing opposite the Government Buildings on the Irish capital's Upper Merrion Street. There is the requisite spa with swimming pool and gym, six conference rooms, two bars and two restaurants, and a specially reconstructed 18th-century garden sits in the centre.
Chef Patrick Guilbaud has two Michelin stars for his Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, which is now located on the Merrion's premises. For both Guilbaud and the hotel, there are excellent benefits.
"Patrick gets the opportunity to redesign his kitchen and take it into the modern age, and have a better location with more room for parking," says MacCann. "We, as a hotel, have one of our biggest cost centres sectioned off in a well-managed and successful department. We make a profit from that department because there is no cost to running it. From our point of view, this is the sensible way forward for fine dining."
Resident executive chef Ed Cooney is not perturbed by the presence of Guilbaud either. "Patrick Guilbaud's cooking is very French," says Cooney. "My aim is to have a restaurant that is contemporary, up-to-date, with modern cuisine. I did not make the restaurant too labour-intensive because we have a price range to offer our guests."
Cooney is in charge of the Mornington restaurant, which is open seven days a week for three meals, plus six private dining rooms and a brigade of 20 chefs.
The restaurant is doing 30-40 covers at lunchtimes and weeknight dinners, and about 60-70 covers for weekend dinners, says Cooney.
The first-year turnover for the whole hotel is forecast at IR£6.6m, and MacCann says that the five-year projection allows for about 10% annual growth in revenue. In terms of occupancy, MacCann expects 50% occupancy in the first year of operation, and says that over the five years he would be happy with an average of 75%.
Average achieved room rate is where MacCann becomes coy, saying only that it will be about 10% ahead of the other top-end hotels in Dublin. This is in line with the fact that rack rates are about 10% higher than in other Dublin hotels though, unlike most hotels, the Merrion will not charge a 15% service charge.
But service will be on the top of MacCann's priority list, whether it is aided by technology or not.