Recently eviivo sponsored the AA story award, where we asked people to submit their independent host and hotelier stories. And the winner was The Grove in Cromer. So we spoke to one of the owners Chris about his journey into the hospitality industry.
So congratulations on winning the AA sponsored story award! Did you manage to come down to London for the awards ceremony?
Yes we were really lucky because I went down there with my brother who pre-booked our places and my sister who lives in London and plays a part in the business, unexpectedly had the day off! So she joined us for the awards at the end.
So can you tell us your story?
The Groves is a family business, and we are a third generation now who run it. Our grandparents bought it in 1936, and the house was originally built in 1797, so it’s really old and it’s got a lot of history with a lot of character. It was originally built for the Gurney’s and the Barclays, the banking families that would use it as a country bolthole. My granddad wanted to be a farmer and there was quite a few acres, so he bought it just for land. Then they realised that they couldn’t afford to run it without letting the rooms, so they started letting them out – and that’s where it started really.
I grew up in the house – it was our family home, but no one lives there now. My parents took over in 1978, and they opened seasonally to guests from Easter to October. Growing up in a B&B meant we had two different lives really, one in the summer when we were busy and open and you had to be really quiet a lot of the time. There were seven of us in the family and lived in a couple of the rooms downstairs. We had one room to ourselves and the kitchen was shared with the guests. So we had to be quiet and occasionally you’d get some strange person walking into your bedroom in the middle of the night looking for the loo. The other side was that we close in October so we had this grand huge house gardens that lead onto woods, the cliffs and the beach – and we’d just get lost in that completely. So we had a fantastic childhood really.
So did you have to help out?
Yes as soon as we could work, we were waiting on tables or working in the kitchen, maintenance, as soon as we could answer the phone, we were taking bookings. So it’s in our blood really. It’s funny because there are five siblings and we took it on as a partnership in 2010 and none of us had any training in hospitality formally, but informally we’ve got years and years of it.
The B&B has been around for a long time, how do you make sure you still stand out now?
Well we’re incredibly lucky that we’ve got it all really. We’ve got the pool, a 2 AA Rosette restaurant and a lovely big garden. So a lot of it is about just shouting about what we’ve got. And the other side of it is when you look at the front of the house, it’s a beautiful Georgian country house – it does look stunning. We always tell our staff to bare that in mind, and to walk up to the front of the house and see that this is the standard you’ve got to do. If you’re washing up, you don’t want a teacup with a dirty stain on it because it’s got to be to this standard. And it’s the same thing if you’re serving dinner or if you’re cooking food or if you’re cleaning the bedrooms – it’s got to be to this standard. And I think people really appreciate that. The other main thing that we really focus on is the family feel. It does feel like you’re just going into someones home – a big home. We make everyone a cup of tea when they arrive, and we say anything you need just ask and we really mean that. And the staff understand that as well. So the whole ethos of relaxation and and enjoyment is really key.
What’s the best part of your job?
The variety of the job. One one day I could be invoicing people, I could be paying staff, I could be doing some advertising, I could be making an advert, I could be washing up, I could be making a bed, i could be fixing a loose loo seat, I could be checking people in, I could be serving dinners… you know the variety is fantastic.
Do you have any memorable guest moments?
This sounds a bit faulty towers but when I was very young we had a guest come to stay in one of our cottages, it was a family with their very elderly mother. And she actually died in one of the cottages. This was in the 80’s and we didn’t have phones in the cottages in those days and they wouldn’t have had mobile phones. So they didn’t come tell us, so they went to a nearby phone box to call 999. And then we had a knock on the door, which I answered, and it was a corona who had come to collect the body. Well I thought it was a joke, because the name of the lady who died wasn’t the name of the person who checked in, so we didn’t have anyone even by that name. So I was panicked thinking I’d have to start knocking on people’s bedrooms and asking if there was someone who died inside. But luckily the person who called them saw them arrive and came and helped us out.
To read more customer stories click here.