The Alexander Hotels Family: Sandra Mueller, General Manager at Great Fosters
Sandra Mueller joined the Alexander Hotels Family in the Spring of 2019, and has been leading the development of Great Fosters since. Sandra who joined the company with both international and boutique hotel experience gleaned from her time not least at Firmdale & Belmond hotels, shared with us her insights for the future, her favourite trends and her inspirations.
Tell us why you started working in hospitality and what your journey has been to your current position as General Manager with Alexander Hotels?
I was lucky enough to get into hospitality by getting a weekend job in a local major restaurant at the age of 16 and have ever since been fascinated by how people step into a different world when they come to a restaurant or hotel. It is so important for me for our guests to feel the same way, like they leave reality outside the door when they step into the Great Fosters world, this is created by not just the building and its interior but especially by all the passionate team members who look after our guests and create lovely moments and delights that makes everyone feel special and individual.
Following my management apprenticeship in a German seaside resort, I found myself on a journey of working in the most impeccable 5 star boutique hotels from Hamburg to working in London’s Firmdale Hotels and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in Oxford, as Interim General Manager. The call to be General Manager at Great Fosters with very exciting plans for the future and with Peter and Deborah Hinchcliffe, the owners of the Alexander Hotels Collection being so passionate about Great Fosters was an irresistible call for me and something I was very much looking forward to. It was an easy decision to make to relocate and take the helm of the Estate in early 2019.
Why should young people think about joining the industry?
Hospitality is probably one of the most diverse, exciting and versatile industries. Where a lot of people will identify cooking, cleaning and waitressing with the industry, working long hours and most weekends and bank holidays, there is a whole load of other supporting departments that are a piece in the puzzle to make a hotel run smoothly. To me, it is important though to start the journey in hospitality “on the floor” and experience and learn what it is all about.
From Accounting to Events Sales, proactive Sales, Marketing, procurement and IT, there are so options to explore that can create and deliver very rewarding careers.
A part-time job or internship to find out if the industry is for you is always a good start.
Of course the trade is going to change seismically in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the industry is known for being rapidly moving and adaptable. How has the industry changed over the years that you have seen?
The introduction of technology. I started at a time when we sent room confirmations by post and fax, when the success of a marketing campaign was measured on how much extra revenue was taken above the postage spent on the mailing and when your checklist reminded you to dial in to the internet and check incoming emails twice a day. Technology and social media allowed hospitality to reach further then ever before and automate so many processes.
What do you see being the main changes in the industry in light of the pandemic?
More than ever before, our guests will look for experiences all the while feeling safe. At the Great Fosters Estate we are very fortunate for having so much space and being able to adapt to allow social distancing. We already have a very good cleaning routine, which we will continue with into the future.
What’s been your favourite industry trend that you have seen in your career so far?
The creation of boutique hotels. Since the early 1980s the owner of Firmdale Hotels and award winning interior designer, Kit Kemp, single handedly created a new trend when it comes to unique spaces and bedrooms full of colour, unique layouts and design elements. Having had the chance to work for several of the London Firmdale Hotels over the span of 12 years, it was a pleasure witnessing her develop her original and unique style which has inspired travellers and hoteliers worldwide and transformed interior trends for hotels and homes.
Tell us about how you motivate and inspire your teams?
At every opportunity, I talk about the plans for the future for the hotel and the reasons for the upcoming changes and how their input will make a difference to the bigger picture. It creates excitement and an inclusive environment. It is important for the team to be part of the journey and to contribute with ideas. At the Great Fosters Estate, we have many avenues that we are currently pursuing, all while new suites are being built.
How does being a General Manager influence your work-life balance?
As General Manager I have found that I am always on duty whether you are onsite or off at home. To get the balance I am focusing on quality time with the family and have maybe a focused hour in the home office.
What do you do to relax?
Taking the dog for a walk, family movie nights, reading, running, cycling and cooking new recipes, exploring local restaurants
Where do you find inspiration?
A morning walk through nature
What’s your favourite meal?
Everything that my husband cooks! Pizza from SODO – London sourdough pizza!
What have you and your family been doing to stay positive during the lockdown?
Not watching and the News every day. Making plans for the life after the lockdown, that gives us something to look forward to.
The Gardens at Great Fosters
What do you like the most about your property and about the AHC?
At the Great Fosters Estate, there is a wow effect around every corner, from the beautiful 1550 building and it’s interesting history, our stunning historic suites, the versatile grounds with listed formal gardens, woodlands, lake and vegetable garden, the generous lounge spaces, our two restaurants and bar and not to forget the banqueting and conference spaces. We have our own gin, honey and vegetables.
Great Fosters is sprawling four-red star Tudor boutique hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant, just outside the historic city of Windsor.