Jeroen Quint, general manager of the Solis Lough Eske Castle Hotel in Donegal
Jeroen Quint, manager of of Solis Lough Eske Castle Hotel, Co Donegal. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
In 1939, Lough Eske Castle nearly burned down. Later owners removed the roof for tax reasons. It was only in the past decade that the Buncrana-born founder of Harcourt Developments, Pat Doherty, bought the site and decided to build a five-star hotel within and around the still-intact but hard-worn facade. To manage it they brought in Solis Hotels, an international luxury brand, and since 2010, the hotel has been headed up by Dutch man Jeroen Quint.
Harcourt Developments has since run into some Nama-related bother, but Quint says the hotel itself is not in Nama (he “can’t comment on Harcourt”). Within, two Lucien Freud portraits, of Pat Doherty and Harcourt Developments chairman Andrew Parker Bowles, can be found, reminding customers of better times. Nearby are pictures of the castle at various stages of decay and redevelopment.
Over peppermint tea in front of an unseasonal but necessary fire, Quint talks to me about the hotel business. To talk to him about Lough Eske Castle is really to ask about all of the Solis Hotels.
“Our mission, our service standards, our philosophy and our service process is the same no matter where we go – Mexico, Asia, here in Ireland – because we think that is the differentiator between us and other companies.” That said, he insists Lough Eske Castle has its own unique style. They use locally sourced food. The staff wear Donegal tweed and there’s Moville pottery in the rooms.
“I worked for the Solis hotel in Jamaica,” he says. “That had a beachfront setting and the food, music and atmosphere would have had a Caribbean flavour. Here it’s about giving Irish hospitality.”
The Solis way is all about checklists and procedures.
“For instance, earlier in the year lightning struck and took our power and telephone system,” he says.
“And those things you have no control over can be difficult to handle. So you need a plan in place to deal with that eventuality. How will the kitchen get the printed dockets for the food? What if the sprinklers go off? What do you do about the phones? How do you inform your guests? You can’t keep people in the dark.”
There’s a huge element of psychology, almost social engineering, to Quint’s management style. The previous day he led a three-hour conflict resolution session for staff. “When people are upset – sometimes that is because we made a mistake and sometimes it isn’t, that doesn’t matter – it’s my job and my team’s job to change that mood for you.
“There can be a lot of tension,” he says. “Working with a bride and groom to make their one day the best day in their life – there’s a lot of pressure there. We want the elderly couple on their 50th anniversary to say this is the best hotel we ever stayed with. Wherever you go in the world, people are looking for the same things. They’re looking to be taken care of; they’re looking to be treated as individual customers and individual guests and they’re looking to find new experiences and whether in Ireland or the States or Asia, it’s the same.”
He says service was compromised in Irish hotels in during the boom. “People saw it as a tax break to build a beautiful place. They weren’t hoteliers. So I think there was an oversupply and there still might be, but in a way that’s good as it gives people an opportunity to stay at hotels at a more affordable rate and for us to find new customers.”