Meena Flora's Story
I was studying at the University of Portsmouth and for my second year summer break, I had planned a holiday with a friend and I needed some money to fund it. So I looked for a summer job and had narrowed it down to the Ibis London Heathrow or Legoland, and I chose ibis Heathrow simply because it near my house and I’d stayed there before. I had worked at the ibis for about three months, before I headed back to University to complete my degree. After graduating, I approached my previous Food & Beverage Manager to ask to re join, I was offered the job, and stayed for a year before being promoted to Food & Beverage Team Leader. I think it is fair to say I ‘ended up’ in hospitality by accident but it turned out to be something I was good at and decided to pursue it further.
Only two years later I began my first junior management role in Novotel in Brentford. One of my friends told me about the Assistant F&B Manager role and recommended I apply. I was delighted to have gotten the job.It was Assistant Guest Services Manager primarily F&B focused. I loved the role but quickly discovered that it was a huge difference between Economy and Midscale. The Management role was also worlds apart from a Team Leader, I was responsible for so much more and assisting in running the department. It was in Novotel that I made a great friend for life; he was my Manager, who became a very good friend, and is now a successful General Manager with Accor. I spent 5 years in that hotel, moving through three roles. I progressed to F&B manager, before taking on the role of Conference and Sales Manager.
It was when I was an assistant, that I aspired to be F&B Manager. I loved that alongside the expert knowledge of the department, I could show my passion for speaking and interacting with people.During the busier times we’d rota in full staff and one of my main roles was to make sure the service was running smoothly and to go around the restaurant and speak to guests, especially regular guests. Monday to Thursday guests were mainly corporate, whilst Friday to Sunday it was leisure. My role would be to talk to guests about how their day was, did they win the contract they were pitching for, or why they were visiting London.
There was also an element of familiarity with the regular guests that I loved. I particularly remember regular one guest, who, when I first started, came to the bar and asked for G&T with Bombay Sapphire. Normally we’d serve it in a balloon glass and when I served it, he asked for a hi-ball glass and he tipped his drink into it. He said, for future reference, I don’t like any of these fancy glasses, I like it in a hi-ball glass. He then grabbed the stirrer I had put in the drink, flipped it so it was disc side down, and told me I should put it the other way so that the disc stirs the drink. He was a Platinum Loyalty member and he was teaching me how he liked to have his gin & tonic. From there on in, I would see him a couple of times a week and when he came into the bar, I knew what he wanted. Now we occasionally communicate on Facebook. It’s great to keep in touch, and to remember this great memory.
My next chapter began with my current role, I’m work in our London Head Office, creating content for newsletters, presentations, and projects we launch within our Commercial Teams. Although this role means I don’t get to spend time face to face with guests, it allows me to have a different experience. I love that I can choose where I work – home, office, a hotel – and quite often I find myself going back to my old Novotel in Brentford. I love going back into that environment and seeing my former colleagues, especially the General Manager and Head Chef.
I didn’t and still don’t have a plan. When I was with Novotel, Terence, my General Manager, would do my annual review and at the end, he would aks, what is your next aspirational goal, what is your long-term goal. Every time I had a review my next aspirational role would change. When I started, I wanted to be a General Manager, then I wanted to have a role within F&B at head office, and when I moved to my third role of Conference & Sales Manager, I wanted to be a Key Account Manager.
When I look back now, I’ve not followed any of these paths, and the reason my aspirations keep changing is because you don’t know what your eyes will be opened to in hospitality. That is definitely one of the great things about industry. You don’t know what doors are going to open, what opportunities you are going to be presented with, and what you will end up having a love and passion for. So me areas you may not even initially associate with hospitality. Like in my role now, I can use the skills I learned back in school and University in my day to day role; using Photoshop, creating communication for hotels, designing cool and creative presentations. I didn’t think I’d be able to link the two together. But it just shows how diverse hospitality is.
I love hospitality! it has not only allowed me to do what I love as a job, but it also holds a special place in my heart because I met my husband while working in Hospitality. They say you spend more time in your job than at home, and perhaps this is why I met my husband whilst we were working together in my first role in ibis Heathrow.
My advice to new starters would be – get involved and show your personality, be willing to try things outside your comfort zone as it will help you to excel and show you whether you like the industry or not. For me, my hotel team when I was in operations in Novotel, were like my second family. Hospitality is all about people and what makes us interact so well with each other is our ability to show our emotions. You can teach people to check in a guest but can’t teach emotions. Be authentic, be yourself and the rest will come naturally.
Why hospitality? You don’t know where you will end up. You will gain valuable life skills and you will become more confident through speaking to people from all walks of life – different cultures and different backgrounds. You can also perfect your skills in your chosen area, whether that’s F&B, Front Office, Housekeeping, Maintenance – the possibilities are limitless. You may arrive wanting to be ‘this’ but the journey you embark on, may well change your initial goal, and open the doors to something bigger and better, just like my story. I’m thankful that my journey allowed me to experience different parts of the industry, and now offer me the opportunity to use my degree, and passion.
Hospitality is much more than entry level being a waitress and ‘serving’ people. It is about connecting with people. When I started at Novotel I was told I would be dealing with corporate guests who were CEOs and directors. I thought I had to really ‘prim and proper’, but when I met these guests, I quickly realised that although they are travelling alone from business, they still want to talk to people and enjoy their stay, and this is what Hospitality gives you; the opportunity for your personality to shine through, and show who you are!
- Meena Flora
- Commercial Content Manager
- London Support Office