The Big Interview: Care Home Catering speaks to Rob Byrom of Hallmark Care Homes

The Big Interview: Care Home Catering speaks to Rob Byrom of Hallmark Care Homes

As Hallmark’s regional hospitality support manager, Rob Byrom certainly has a lot on his plate. It is up to him to look after the hospitality needs of all the Hallmark homes in England (there are some in South Wales too) and ultimately ensure that standards remain consistently high – indeed, the aim is to match those of a hotel.

From providing valuable support and advice through to making sure that staff have access to cleaning equipment, quality ingredients, menu ideas and development opportunities, Rob is responsible for all things related to catering and housekeeping. Not everyone would be able to cope in such a demanding role. It is clear when talking to Rob, however, that not only is he fully competent, but he is genuinely passionate about what he does.

“I love being able to support our teams in providing the best hospitality experience for residents,” he enthuses. “I do this by working alongside our teams, providing guidance and training, but also by listening to ensure our team have the equipment and resources they need to fulfil their role. I also love spending time with the residents and getting their feedback, whether it be positive or constructive, so we can improve our service. Seeing a smile on a resident’s face really makes my day!”

Prior to Covid-19, Rob used to visit a different home every day to carry out spot checks and speak with staff members and residents. Now, he maintains close contact via modern technology.

“I speak to as many of the hospitality team members as possible, which includes the kitchen team, housekeeping team, hospitality services manager and the hosts at the home to make sure they feel supported,” he reveals. “I also speak to members of the care team, as they too have a vital role to play when it comes to hospitality. Ensuring we equip every member of our Hallmark family with the tools to provide an excellent service is key.”

Of all the different staff members, it seems that Rob relies most heavily on the hospitality services manager within each home to uphold standards. And given the importance of that particular role, it is no surprise to learn that the recruitment process is rigorous.

“Working in care compared to any other hospitality environment is so different – we need to ensure our team members are caring, resident-focused and dedicated to striving for excellence,” says Rob. “HSM’s come from strong hospitality backgrounds with excellent training and induction into Hallmark Care Homes. We challenge HSM’s to continually push boundaries and exceed expectations. In 2019 we arranged for each of our hospitality managers to experience the very best in hospitality standards at the Ritz Hotel in London. This was a chance for the team to receive 5* service and consider how this sort of service can be replicated in our homes.”

Despite the focus on providing exceptional service, Rob and his team are also very careful to ensure that residents feel comfortable and at home. Resident feedback is therefore key, and Rob reveals that staff try to gather as many opinions as possible each day to make certain that everyone is happy. Consequently, the dining experience tends to differ in every home to suit the different preferences.

“We work in the resident’s home, so we try and tailor everything we can to each individual request,” he says. “We of course aim to offer a great dining experience, however, it’s the small touches that count. It’s important to remember that everyone likes to enjoy their meals their own way. For example, we do not pre-pour any sauces or gravy, this is served in a gravy boat for residents to either pour as much or as little as they like themselves, or if preferred a team member can pour it for them after asking where and how much they would like.”

When it comes to housekeeping, Rob is just as keen to ensure that standards remain extremely high. Hallmark’s housekeeping policy includes a daily, weekly and monthly cleaning schedule for each specific area of a home, and while each schedule is detailed, Rob believes that staff should be going beyond these ‘minimum’ standards and striving for excellence. He is also responsible for providing chemicals and cleaning equipment, and has invested in cutting-edge technology since Covid-19 emerged to keep the homes as clean as possible.

“At the start of the pandemic we invested in a technology called One Spray which will protect a surface from the Covid-19 virus for up to 28 days,” he says. “It creates a protective layer on the surface and as soon as a pathogen hits the surface, tiny pins within the layer will burst and destroy it. Lab tests show this layer does not lose its value when cleaned with our daily cleaning products. We have also invested in using One Spray’s Zoono hand sanitiser. This sanitiser works very similar to the surface spray and will protect your hands for up to 24 hours.”

How it all began

It seems clear when talking to Rob that he has found his niche in hospitality. Interestingly, however, he reveals that he had no plans to enter the industry and only did so by accident while refurbishing three hotel rooms as a labourer.

“I became friendly with the hotel team and they offered me a permanent role working front of house, which I accepted!” he recalls. “This role taught me the fundamentals of hospitality and just how important customer service is. Over the 18 months I was there I worked across all front of house departments from conferences, banquets, restaurant, bar and reception. I even had to jump in as breakfast chef once when the chef didn’t turn up for work. I then developed a passion for all aspects of hospitality, which after a long journey eventually led me to my role as regional hospitality support manager at Hallmark.”

Rob first started at Hallmark in 2012 as a business and administration apprentice. After receiving training in various roles, he later became the hospitality services manager at Bucklesham Grange in Ipswich before taking on his current role in June 2018. He is aware that he owes much of his career to Hallmark, and is extremely grateful to the group for supporting his growth and achievements.

“I’m most proud of creating the Hallmark Hospitality Standards, an evolving document which ensures we’re providing an outstanding hospitality experience in all of our homes,” he reveals. “This document was created with support from our experienced team of hospitality services managers and covers everything from when you enter our grounds from the car park, all the way through to the reception, communal areas, bedrooms, the dining experience, gardens and compliance. I am equally proud of the team and their passion to keep exceeding residents’ expectations.”

As Rob will know, not everyone starts their career with a view to working in a care home. Having experienced just how rewarding it can be, though, Rob is full of encouragement for any chef who may be debating whether to join a Hallmark residence.

“Our chefs have access to fresh, local ingredients, our kitchens are kitted out with the latest equipment and you will be provided with training so you can enhance your skills and develop new ones,” he enthuses. “In a hotel or restaurant, customers come and go daily, however in our homes you really get to know your customers and build a lasting bond with them. Also, the hours are great! What’s not to love?”

This article can be found in the spring issue of Care Home Catering.

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