5 Minutes with Paul Berncastle

We sat down with the Town Hall Hotel’s Housekeeping Executive, Paul Berncastle, to learn more about the UK’s hospitality sector and the beautiful historic building itself…

Hi Paul, please could you give us a brief overview of your background, how did you first get into the hospitality industry?

Quite by accident, I’ve spent my whole life wondering what I want to do when I grow up, so it’s a complete surprise to me looking over my shoulder and discovering it happened without me noticing! Possessing a fantastic and nowadays rare work ethic, there have been several hospitality incarnations during my career. Starting from working in a restaurant in the South East Cornish village of Looe as a kitchen porter, where I started as soon as I was old enough to hold a knife and a dish scrubber during school holidays, to working in an Italian Restaurant called Nino’s, fabulous seafood, pasta and great steaks.

Having left college with a Business Studies Degree, I moved to London for a couple of years and during my late teens began working in one of the very first Pizza Express restaurants, before moving back towards the South West. I bought a house in Plymouth where I worked in the catering department of Television South West. It lost its franchise during Margaret Thatcher’s reign. The pleasure of experiencing feeding and watering the likes of Ruth Langsford, Fern Britten, Trevor Appleton, Tristran Payne and many other celebrities is one I’ll never forget; getting them all drunk at hedonistic events, when I worked in the Social Club Bar – some really good times had by all. It was here I discovered my passion for sound and vision technologies.

Subsequent to the closure of the television station, still in Plymouth, I began working in a private hospital kitchen, then changing to a guest facing role, became the Hospital Nutritionist and Catering Coordinator meeting all the patients and discussing with them their dietary requirements, providing first class catering and tailored technical dietary programs for the sick after converting my science qualifications to suit my interest in nutrition.

Within the same Hospital I later became Head Housekeeper, but the role was made redundant in 1994 – so I returned to London to begin a career in commercial Housekeeping. Hospital Housekeeping is heavily legislated in terms of cleanliness and cleaning processes, so it was a good learning curve (making hospital corners…!).

After the bereavement of my mother and facing redundancy, I moved to London again and have since worked in some of the most prestigious properties such as, The Army and Navy Club, The Waldorf, Crowne Plaza City and now most recently Town Hall Hotel – one of the Unlisted Collection properties. During my time in the Big Smoke, I have been mentor and mentee to some of the best hotel managers who are now flung around the globe. I have been fortunate enough to have visited and stayed in some of the top 5-star hotels and resorts thanks to my parents in law who moved a lot - Australia, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Europe and the USA.

What are you up to now?

I am currently managing Rooms Division operations for Town Hall Hotel and 196 Bishopsgate as Executive Housekeeper. As well as managing procurement, hotel social media, guest feedback platforms - Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Expedia, Trivago, Mr & Mrs Smith and so on; I have responsibility for identifying trendy and quirky products for the hotel guest to enjoy. One of the greatest successes was choosing Ruark to supply as our in-room audio systems.

You have been working in Hospitality a long time, what do you think has had the biggest impact on the industry over the years?

Greed and waste - 35 years is a long time and there have been trends, bombing disasters, volcanic explosions, recessions but the biggest influence and impact on the industry to date has been the technology associated with online travel agencies driven by the customer’s demands to pay less for more. Communication, luxury and travel, is more affordable enabling taste and expectations to develop as everything is becoming readily available to everyone.

The development of giving more for less has been stimulated by the many businesses selling the same product in the same market, so innovation and dynamic pricing has played its part.

The Townhall Hotel is well known for its architectural design and the style of its rooms. For you what is a must for every hotel room?

Fabulous initial impressions and ambience, comfortable bed, excellent quality linen, IT that works, comfortable stylish furniture set in a good amount of space, cleanliness and a good bathroom with top of the range luxury amenities.

Town Hall Hotel Lights

Technology plays an important part of people’s lives today do you think guests have come to expect access to the latest tech and gadgets?

Guest expectation of tech these days is high in terms of quality. Wi-Fi everywhere, free of course, big modern tellies with access to millions of international channels, including the box office smash hit recently released films all with excellent sound quality, USB and international sockets for your gadgets, at the very least a back-lit clock radio alarm which you can plug your phone into.

We believe the form and functionality of a hotel room is important, and the bedside radio is just as important as the choice of bed linen and toiletries. What were you looking for when you decided it was time to update the Townhall’s bedside audio product?

For me, I was getting cross with inbuilt obsolescence. Ever changing chargers, connectors on phones, iPod and iPad’s, pdsa’s, android, Apple etc. A grey industry has been born out of the things you need in addition to your kit to make it compatible with other kit. Bedside entertainment systems have quickly become the norm in any reputable hotel and hold a place on the asset register, but they are not cheap and difficult to replace if you have a 300-bedroom hotel. Every time Apple or one of its competitors bring out a new phone with a new socket there is another range of bedside radios going out the window. What a waste! Ruark made the grade with its inbuilt Bluetooth technology. These bedside entertainment systems supplied by Ruark are luxurious, beautifully designed quality pieces of furniture with incredible sound reproduction. The hotel kit for the R1 stops other guests complaining about noisy neighbours in our bedrooms. But placed in our restaurants and meeting rooms they are great looking party pieces, if that is what you are looking for and great for ambient music if you are having a quiet lunch. A hotel must have.

For us it is all about the sound, look and ease of use of a product, do you think hoteliers today overlook the importance of these elements when choosing an audio solution?

Most hoteliers only want what meets the brand standard as quickly and cheaply as possible. It is not an element of your expense where you easily see a return on investment. We wanted to provide a product as part of our service level which was meaningful to our guests. Good reliable equipment enhances our brand identity, which is important. We sell Ruark products too, because people want them once they have tried them. This is where we see the return on investment. User friendly and top quality.

You also have our R7 in your beautiful De Montfort Suite. Why was the R7 the product of choice for your grandest of rooms?

De Montfort suite – our architects ‘RARE’ love the idea of old and new fusion and that is exactly what the R7 is. The R7 is kind of like a modern version of the gramophone brought up to date. A nice piece of furniture which fills the space with great sound and it fits nicely into the same room with our Steinway grand.

De Montfort Suite

We have heard that you are a bit of a Hi-Fi fan yourself, tell us a little bit about your system?

In the living room I have all round Mordaunt Short speakers, Krell amplifier, Onkyo AV Receiver and Sonos running in tandem throughout the rest of the house. Of course, I have a battered R1 on my desk which one of my guests knocked over a couple of years ago. My colleagues in the communal office space take turns pairing and playing their favourite tracks especially on a Friday afternoon. Of course, it is one where the volume is not limited. Our kitchens have R1 units too as they are the only bits of kit which everyone can hear over the din of the chopping, blending and mixing of food!

Finally, just for fun, tell us your favourite song of all time and why?

That’s easy! Glen Cambel’s Wichita Line Man or Duran Duran’s Ordinary World. Both make the hair stand up on my neck every time I hear them. The melody and sentiment of the lyrics combine to get me all sentimental and gooey. I never used to listen to lyrics until I discovered quality sound systems, so it’s like I’m appreciating all the music I fell in love with during my life all over again thanks to these modern sound systems. These 2 songs picked me up when I was feeling terribly home sick whilst in Hong Kong.

Enhance your beside table like Town Hall Hotel and discover Ruark’s range of audio products online today.

Written by: Topaz Garrard and Paul Berncastle