Skip to main content
04 Jan 2024

The Hotelier Edit: Ian Keating, Hotel Manager, The Dean, Cork

The Hotelier Edit: Ian Keating, Hotel Manager, The Dean, Cork

The Independent Hotel Show team paid a visit to The Dean, Cork, a slice of boutique bliss in the heart of one of Europe’s most exciting cities. With bespoke rooms, a rooftopHeadshot restaurant, fantastic city views and the mantra ‘we don’t do conventional, we do fun’ it was the perfect place to stay.

We were lucky enough to interview Ian Keating, Hotel manager, in this interview hear more about his career in hospitality as well as the hotel.

Can you tell us about yourself and your experience in the hospitality industry?

I have always loved hospitality; from primary school I knew that it was what I wanted to do as a job. I did everything from working in the kitchen to bar backing from the age of 16, whatever I could do I would. I attended Shannon College of Hotel Management, Ireland’s leading hotel school and I studied there for five years. Over this period, I did two placement years, one abroad in Tenerife at the Ritz Carlton Resort and then London for a year.

It was unfortunate that as soon as I graduated COVID hit, so all prospects of training programmes and jobs went out the window for everyone.  I had to divert from my initial plans and did courses on prevention control and anything as close to hospitality as I could. I worked on a pre-opening of hotels with the new COVID policies as it was all so new and changed the way we operated.

When I saw The Dean, Cork being built, I knew in my heart that it was the boutique hotel I had been waiting for, and I have now been here about 3 and a half years since it opened. I started as Assistant Front Office Manager and was promoted to Lobby and Events Manager then Operations Manager and more recently Hotel Manager. It is a very progressive group, and they believe in people, not thinking about your age or experience it's all about whether you have the right vibe for the brand.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I love the people and having the ability to ensure they have a great time. What I love about this brand is we take out all the stuffy elements, there are no formalities or things we can and can’t do. We sit with our guests which allows us to build a relationship with them and help with suggestions for what to do, see or experience during their stay.

Another favourite part for me is being able to watch people progress internally and being a part of that. I think about 80% of our management roles are filled internally from promotions and progressions which is so exciting. This also helps to create passion for the brand as it is so rewarding.

How would you describe The Dean, Cork Hotel in 3 words?

I would say that we are bold, playful, and fun. We have a motto where we say we don’t do conventional, we do fun. This is what we live by for a guests and staff as well as live like locals. I suppose when you amalgamate all of them together, we’re basically just trying to push boundaries and barriers between people and just make it a fun place to be for all. 2

What does a great customer experience look like at The Dean, Cork and what do you think that makes it unique?

We are all about reading someone’s expectations and figuring out why they are coming to our hotel. Everyone has a purpose to their stay, and we need to tailor their stay around that purpose. If we have groups coming for a wild night out and they really want to have a lot of fun, then we push the areas that will cater to that. If we think a dinner outside of the hotel is more suited to the guests' style, we will push them there as what matters to us is that they have a great time.

We base this a lot around the vibe we receive at check in, not everyone is chatty and wants conversation, but then you know what barrier they have. On the weekend we offer welcome shots, which is another thing that sets us apart and helps us to read the guests.  

What do you think defines a boutique hotel?

I think there are three different parts that differentiate a boutique hotel. Boutique is led by design, as they are smaller and more unique, they can tailor to your stay. I love the group Design Hotels which is an amalgamation of independent hotels around the world, I know that when I am going to one it will be a beautifully designed room and it is small enough that you will have a good relationship with the team. The bigger the hotel, the less personal touch. Boutique hotels are all about the service and being unique.

What’s really excites you about the hotel industry right now?

It is constantly growing, which is exciting, of course we’ve had our challenges, but I think it is all on the bounce back which is great. Also, hotel tech has really come a long way, they are now allowing us to achieve better standards than we could in the past. There is so much that we can do now which is exciting and we can reach a much greater audience.

There is still a lot more to do, in my opinion a leading hotel in the technology field is CitizenM. How they use tech is cool and unique, but we don’t do that as it isn’t our style. Year on year I think it's just figuring it out, how can you use more technology but keep the boutique personal level, there is a fine line that you don’t want to cross. Every style of Boutique service is unique and the level of tech that you use is based on your model, which is why Citizen M is perfect as people expect High Tech stays when staying there.

What do you think are some of the major opportunities and challenges in the hotel market for 2024?

Recruitment, we need to go out and show everyone in the Ireland & the UK how great a career in hospitality is. There are so many different elements to the hotel industry, you have3 back of house, sales, and marketing etc. so there is something for everyone. Equally, that brings a challenge as you have the massive pharma and tech companies who have a much bigger budget to spend, and money is important to everyone. It is about finding that happy medium where we give people great job satisfaction and a fair rate for that ensuring they fall in love with the industry, we need to get the love that was there before COVID back.

How important is hospitality tech to your business now? Are there any investments that that you've made or been involved in that you think have been transformative?

Tech is huge to us and we’re upgrading all the time to make sure we have the best systems in place to allow the hotel to function at its peak. We use a new system for upselling, which sends the guest an email prior to their stay and allows you to add champagne to your room or something like that. There is also a company we use within The Dean group called Workvivo, which is a social media platform for hotel staff, hotels across the group use it to share key things about their day, it is a nice way to keep the hotels intertwined and connected. It’s a super way to increase employee engagement.

What approach does the Dean have to recruitment and retention of staff?

We are very out there in terms of what we offer and don’t stick to conventional. We don’t have specific uniforms; you can wear whatever you want which is quite unique for hotels. I think this helps us appeal to a lot of people who want to be themselves. We are very out there, and you can have tattoos, different hair colours, however you choose to express yourself we accept and appreciate people for that.

How you present yourself is what we are looking for, and what kind of person you are. In today’s world people love that because they can be exactly who they are, and we embrace them for that.  This helps us hugely with recruitment and retention wise we have a great refer a friend programme, as most of our staff love working here, they’re bringing a friend’s CV to us almost weekly.

We try to ensure that we don’t have any offices in the hotel, the General manager and I are on the floor constantly and know every staff member by name. I want every staff member to feel valued. as they’re all cogs in a very important part of the wheel.

What is the most memorable hotel you have stayed in?

Armada Hotel is a leader of boutique hotels in my opinion, they are constantly evolving their product. I would say they are the leader of sustainability in hotels, they’re 10 steps ahead4 of everyone with everything that they do. I believe they are Ireland’s first accredited B-Corp Hotel.

If I was to say a hotel group that I am obsessed with, it is Design Hotels (Independent Boutique Hotels). They are in Lisbon and other cities across the world. In particular, we stayed at the Memmo Group Hotels in Portugal and we were blown away by all the elements of our stay. What makes them so special is the design led features as well as the staff. They truly try to get to know you and are so chatty, we went to a restaurant one night and the receptionist showed up to make sure we were enjoying it, which just goes above and beyond the usual expectations of service. You could just tell they love what they do, and it was very genuine.

If you’re hotel had a theme song, what would it be?

We love our music and have it playing all the time, I would say a wordless house music vibe. Because we’re not intrusive or invasive to what is happening, you can still have your chats etc. but we’re softening that. We work with a tech company for our music, there’s a lot of ingenuity that goes into the songs we play and every hour it is programmed to bring the tempo up. Music is an integral part of our brand and plays a massive role in the vibe and atmosphere created Hotel wide.

What piece of advice would you give someone looking to start a career in the hotel sector?

Find the right brand that suits you, every hotel group offers fantastic training programmes or mentorship programmes and they’re brilliant, but they won’t all be the right fit for you. Do your research and figure out what style of hospitality you like, once you find your style that is how you’re going to succeed in hospitality. If you don’t have that passion for the hotel when you’re in there and you don’t get excited by being there, then you’re in the wrong place. There’s no easy route, but when you show passion, drive and determination you always get the rewards.

View all News Hub