The new Clayton Hotel is a tardis. Its very modest frontage does not belie the scale of the operation behind the listed facade. Indeed, this new hotel is an architectural feat which marries the old with the new.
For Hazel Galloway, who is the custodian of the hotel, it is the first hotel that she has opened from the ground up. She joined Dalata Hotels from Jury’s Inn Hotels just as the pandemic was breaking and although her natural inclination may have been to stay with her former employer due to the uncertainty around the pandemic, the resounding reassurance from the Emma Dalton, Dalata’s UK Group General Manager, gave her the confidence to make the move.
She was brought into the Dalata Group and her first opening was in fact the group’s Maldron Hotel in Glasgow which opened in August 2021.
Although Hazel has 10 years under her belt in hospitality management, she admits that she rather fell into her career having trained to be a music teacher at Aberdeen University.
She explains, “I loved the music, but not so much teaching in a school. Then I got a part-time bar job in Jury’s Inn Aberdeen which had just opened, and I really took to it. Luckily for me the General Manager there saw something in me, and took me on full-time.
“The next four years saw me work my way up into a management role – I started in F&B then became Front of Office Manager before becoming Revenue Manager. It was a great time to be working in Aberdeen and I just loved Jury’s and the team there – we all had fun, we didn’t just work well together, we were all friends out of work too. I’m still friendly with many of them today”. From there, after four years, Hazel joined Ardoe House, as Rooms Sales Manager.
She explains, “I didn’t have any experience of working in a country hotel, and I didn’t have real banqueting experience, and I wanted to further my revenue experience – it made sense to me because I am a visual learner – it was also great to work with Peter Sangster who was GM at the time.”
She stayed there for a year before moving on to work for Malmaison in Aberdeen who were looking for an Operations Manager. “It was an absolutely mental business. For instance, the Mal restaurant alone did 250 covers on a Saturday.”
However, a health scare which saw Hazel diagnosed with Cervical cancer at the age of 26 made her decide to work closer to her home in Larkhall. She says, “I was working at Malmaison but I felt very tired all the time, and had other symptoms too, so I pushed my doctors for a diagnosis. I was lucky because it was before pandemic. I was supposed to take 12 weeks off, but by six weeks I was bored. There is only so much TV you can watch. And my GM at Malmaison, Roula, massively helped. She allowed me to come back and do light office duties, and she took on parts of my role. I am just one of these people that can’t bear to be idle – even if I go on holiday I’m okay for a week, then I have to do things.”
However when she had to return to Larkhall to recuperate Hazel felt the draw to come back to Glasgow and, after getting the all clear, she joined Jury’s Inn Glasgow as Deputy Manager before relocating and joining Hotel du Vin as General Manager in Winchester.
Says Hazel, “This was a tiny hotel with only 24 bedrooms and a restaurant with 60 covers. Winchester is also a really picturesque and affluent place. My biggest challenge there was getting staff – people who lived there didn’t really need to work. I sometimes stepped in to fill roles . Once I did a few weeks as pastry chef when I was there – needless to say I make a better GM. But I loved being there because it was something different for me.
“Around that time Jury’s Inn was bought by an Israeli company called Fattal Hotels and they started to buy fairly central properties in London which they were planning to turn into their own brands – one of which was NYX, and they asked me to go to London and look after the transition of the Holborn property whilst it was being refurbished and due to become the 1st NYX hotel in the UK.
“Once they had the permanent General Manager in Holborn I was relocated to be GM in Croydon, while looking after Swindon too. Then fate played a role.
“One of my best friends was working with Dalata and she mentioned to me that they were building a hotel in Glasgow and introduced me to Emma Dalton, whom I met for lunch to discuss the long term plans around Glasgow.
“They had just begun to flatten the ground for the Clayton and she filled me in on the plans around Maldron Hotel as well; after a few meetings and interviews in Dublin, Dalata offered me a General Manager role which I was thrilled about.
“I handed my notice in at Jury’s Inn and nine days later we went into lockdown. I was nervous because I hadn’t worked for Dalata before, but Emma was just amazing and true to her word. I did my notice period at Jury’s and Dalata took me on in July 2020.
“To begin with I got to travel to many of the UK Dalata hotels to help support in areas during the pandemic when they needed help.
“At the time they were building Maldron and Clayton in Glasgow both were slightly hindered by the pandemic and were behind schedule, so I got to support in the role of General Manager at Maldron Glasgow and open it with Lorna who is now GM.
“I had never done an opening from build before so it was a new experience. Dalata give me a lot of autonomy. I did all the ordering and then recruited the team.
“Lorna Mathers was the Hotel Manager and we opened it together. But it was a weird time – it was still during the pandemic and we had to do things like take deliveries in while social distancing.
“We also had to prevent covid within the building and so on. But we just got on with it and Lorna has since taken over fully from me and she is still there thirving.”
With one major opening under her belt, opening the Maldron, which was Dalata’s first hotel in Scotland, next came The Clayton, the group’s 50th hotel and the first under this brand name in Scotland.
Hazel also saw the hotel rise from the ground – hard hat and all. She says, “It was difficult navigating trying to get open and the builders but luckily it was the same building company team that did the Maldron so I knew some of the them.
“With the Maldron the core was in and the windows, but I saw the Clayton come from the flat ground which was a completely new experience.”
The Grade A listed Custom House building would see the building mix the old with the new. Once again Hazel was tasked with creating the team and she has created one, including various team members from around the country who she has worked with before.
Much of her management skills she has honed through the years, one of which is learning not to get carried away be being ‘liked’. Says Hazel, “I had to learn to get the balance right. Otherwise, people pushed the boundaries instead of taking an inch they would take a mile. Now my team know when I am joking and when I am serious. They understand me and I know them, and trust them. We have a great team here. It’s like a family – I know all of their names, and often their pet names too.
“I am definitely one of these General Manager’s that prefer to be out on the floor talking to people. I always like to see what’s going on and I like to touch base with everyone. So, I try to come in early three days and I also see the night team. Everyone has access to me. Although I do retire to my office when I have to do budgets.
“If you don’t have a good team, then this is just a building. It helps that Dalata, as an employer, is really good at listening. It is very consultative and quite thoughtful. We do two employee engagement surveys every year. Sometimes people say, ‘Do we have to fill it in again?’ but I remind them that it is the best way to get heard.
“It’s also the team that makes customers want to come back and I think we have nailed the good welcome. If guests just came in and out it would just be a building, we are the vibe of the building. I love it when we get repeat customers and we get to know them.”
With more than 300 bedrooms over 16-stories, a bar, restaurant and 160 capacity ballroom, the Clayton is already making its mark on the city. Says Hazel, “We did a streamlined opening – with 50 rooms and then another 50 and so on. It wasn’t fair on the team to go from hard hats and high viz vests to full occupancy.
“We are getting our fair share of leisure guests and now our corporate business is growing too and we have had some residential conferences which have been great. This year we are looking forward to the UCI Cycling World Championships in August which I think will be great for Glasgow.”
Hazel is so passionate about hospitality that she goes into schools to talk to pupils, and engages with HIT and colleges too, but she believes more could be done to attract people at an earlier age into hospitality.
“The problem is not engaging with the kids but engaging with their parents. They want their children to be lawyers and accountants. They don’t seem to realise what a great career opportunity hospitality is and how fast people can progress.”
Hazel is certainly an ambassador for hospitality – she so obviously loves her job and the people that she works with. But she still makes time for charitable events, and has taken up running in order to raise funds for the group’s charity Leukaemia Care– so far she has run the Great North Run, and is planning to run the Great Scottish Run too, and she has also roped in some of her team.
She concludes, “I love my team and I love to see them grow. They make my day otherwise I would be here talking to myself!”