In the spotlight: Christopher Ogston, The Jockey Club Rooms

With over 20 years of experience within the hospitality sector, we recently caught up with Christopher Ogston, General Manager at The Jockey Club Rooms in Newmarket and part of the senior management team of the Jockey Club, to get his thoughts on the industry and events in 2021.

Describe your day-to-day duties

My role is varied which is one of the reasons I love it so much, one day I can be making arrangements for a Royal visit, another I can be welcoming in members to the Club for lunch, talking to them about their horses before making sure the lunch service goes well. I like to greet them all in person as they enter the Club so that they receive a warm welcome and have the opportunity to tell me if they have any special requirements. They expect nothing but the best so we have to on the ball all of the time.     

The Jockey Club Rooms is a beautiful venue with a large art collection, including George Stubbs and Alfred Munnings. I also ensure the art is well looked after and protected so that it is there for future generations to enjoy, each picture has a fascinating history behind it. Occasionally some are requested by various museums for exhibitions so special arrangements have to be made for transfer.

I also look for ways in which we can grow the business outside of member times, and how we can make the guest experience the best it can be. That might be having guests picked up by a Rolls Royce, given a fabulous meal, bedroom, as well as being treated like a King at the racecourse with their own private box.

I tell my team that we are only as good as our last service/guest experience so we are constantly training and developing the team, so that when we interact with guests they are made to feel very special. Living our vision and values is very important.  

How did you get into the industry?

Since going to a very nice Hotel restaurant in Marbella with my Dad and one of his clients at the age of 13, seeing the owner greet all the guests and make them feel welcome, I knew I wanted to be in hospitality. I studied to be a Chef and then moved over to front of house, before doing a hotel management programme with Crowne Plaza covering all departments. This was a fantastic experience that showed me the importance of customer service, internally and externally. I later went to night school after work to do a degree in business management.   

What inspires you?

I can’t cook every meal or check every guest in on my own, so I need my team. What inspires me is when we deliver consistent, excellent service as a team and this is noticed / appreciated by our guests, many of whom are high profile so have high expectations. I also feel it’s important to learn from mistakes so that we can turn these around into something better for the future - that inspires me as I feel it was worth it. 

What is your favourite meeting destination?

I would say Kings College Cambridge is one of my favourites for the wow factor of the dining hall. The second would be Warwick University Conference Centre for the use of technology and clever meeting space.

What do you find most exciting about the sector?

I find the way in which we can use technology to enhance the guest experience one of the most exciting about the sector – it can be a business card that shows a 3d plan of the venue to a simple camera on a door that means guests don’t have to open it when they approach as the doorman does this in time.

In light of COVID-19, what do you think are the greatest challenges the industry is currently facing?

One thing Covid-19 has highlighted is the need for a hospitality minister – this way we would get better advice as to what we can and can’t do without it being open to interpretation (at times). The hospitality industry is very good at managing safe environments and tends to have good practices however restoring that confidence with the public will take time, I am confident though it will return.

What trends do you think we will see moving forward?

I have heard from people that “Zoom” type software will be the new normal for all meetings, however I refuse to believe that as there is nothing like meeting in person. If you look at communication and the percentage each part plays, you simply don’t get this on a computer. I do think it will play a part however it will be for smaller catch up meetings rather than replacing the medium to large conferences. We also have to keep in mind that any new rules - for example taking temperatures on arrival - don’t send an unwelcoming message, after all we are in hospitality!

As the industry prepares to re-open, what are you most looking forward to?

It will be great to serve again, meet guests face to face and welcome them with a smile they can see and a handshake. It will also be great to see the return of larger financial meetings and weddings of a decent size.

Where can people go to find out more about your venue?

Visit our website: https://jockeyclubrooms.co.uk. I would be very happy to arrange a tour also if required.