Alderbrook Resort & Spa General Manager Shaun Tucker says he never worked harder in his life—even while opening hotels in the past—than during the period between his property’s March 16 shutdown and its cautious reopening in early June. “This was the weirdest combination of physical, mental, and emotional stress.” Yet, he asserts, his entire team felt it was important to get it right for staff, guests, the surrounding community, and owners Tricia and Jeff Raikes, who relieved financial stress for employees by immediately announcing that all would continue to receive full pay and benefits—whether or not they were able to work on property or from home—through May 31.
Tucker described for LODGING the path to reopening, saying, “It was a lot of work—but there were great professional and personal lessons about how to adapt.” He shared the details of that work and those lessons. He also traced some of the history of this beloved outdoor wonderland in Union, Washington, which was founded in 1913 as a rustic hospitality destination—just platform tents on the Hood Canal, which then provided “refrigeration” for staples like eggs and butter.
The name Alderbrook, says Tucker, comes from Clara Eastwood and Eloise Flagg—known as the Alderbrook Girls—who owned, operated, and developed the property as a resort from the 1920s through 1940s, when female owners of businesses of all kinds were a rarity. Over the next 50 years, the property was owned and modified by various owners, including two lumber companies, realtor Wes Johnson, and Christa Ministries. However, it remained relatively rustic until its purchase by North Forty Lodging, LLC, in 2001, and subsequent transformation by the Raikes, high-profile philanthropists who are devoted to the historic property and the peaceful respite it provides for guests, who gather with loved ones or coworkers to enter this world apart located just 60 miles from Seattle.
“Operators were working on structural and functional changes to be made, while sales and marketing sought not to sell, but just to connect, by focusing on nostalgia, posting historic stories and photos of Alderbrook to remind them of the good times.”
These days, Alderbrook has all the comforts guests expect of an upscale boutique, but visitors from afar can reach it only by car ferry or seaplane. And come they do, attracted by all that makes it worth the challenges of getting there. “It really is another world here,” describes Tucker, “First and foremost is the canal, which is calm but loaded with sea life—seals, fish, crab, shrimp; we even have our own oyster beach from which we harvest oysters. Add to that a view of the Olympic Mountains and woodlands with acres of trails.”
Alderbrook Resort & Spa General Manager Shaun Tucker delineates the numerous physical and procedural changes that have been made at the property to ensure guest and employee safety:
– Although there is tableside service in the dining room, it is operating at only 50 percent capacity.
– Guest amenities like coffee in the lobby in the morning and flavored water (e.g., high-touch areas) were eliminated. To help compensate, complimentary activities in line with social distancing have been added.
– Glass barriers were added to separate employees and guests at check-in.
– Sanitation stations were added throughout the property, including some with sinks for handwashing.
– There is now signage describing and facilitating adherence to rules, including social distancing and face coverings.
– In guestrooms, there are no unnecessary paper products or decorative items such as throw pillows.
– The guestroom cleaning sequence has been modified, so after thorough cleaning, the room is sealed until the guest enters.
– Employees are required to wear masks at all times.
– Guests are asked to wear masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces in accordance with Washington state’s mask mandate.
– All employees now report for work entering an exterior room, where they are first screened with a temperature check and seven health questions.
– Employees are now required to wash hands—not just use hand sanitizer—every two hours.
Tucker says the job of bringing this regional treasure back to life has been indeed daunting. While most employees worked at home or were furloughed with pay during the state-mandated shutdown, he himself came to the property every day to work in the office and “keep an eye on things,” while his senior staff focused on developing and implementing a strategy meant to keep Alderbrook on the minds of guests while preparing for their safe return. “We didn’t know how long it would be, but we just sprang into action,” he recalls.
“Operators were working on structural and functional changes to be made, while sales and marketing sought not to sell, but just to connect, by focusing on nostalgia, posting historic stories and photos of Alderbrook to remind them of the good times.” He says they also cleaned up databases, updated inventory, conducted online training for hourly staff, and developed plans for different scenarios—e.g., considering menus for reduced restaurant capacity, takeout only, etc. “To open within new legal requirements,” Tucker continues, “we had to be sure we had the right protocols and products for cleaning rooms, creating barricades and signage, providing sanitation stations, etc.”
A 310-page internal safe return-to-work document, he explains, was based on the following four principles: the health and safety of employees; the health and safety of guests; the health and safety of the community; and the health and safety of the business itself, which had been put on the backburner during the shutdown.
While Tucker says they plan to return all employees to full employment, he worries about the impact of uncertain staffing needs on them. “They are the ones who interact with guests, and we want to keep them working. One way we did this was through a four-hour training held while developing our restaurant steps of service. We had created a basic plan but, as those who actually do those steps of service, they were able to offer some great ideas.”
Tucker says planning for uncertainty on all fronts will likely remain a challenge. “Beyond our concerns about what the virus will do is what the business levels will be. Although we are preparing to ramp up, we plan to control the number of people on property each day. Right now, we are making only 50 percent of our 93 keys available.”
Tucker stresses the care and dedication that informed their reopening plan. “We’re very proud of the property and feel really good about the better-safe-than-sorry approach we are taking,” he says.