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Morris Inn serves students and public alike

Sam Stryker | Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Notre Dame is sometimes referred to as a “Catholic Disney World” and, appropriately, it has its own hotel — the 57-year-old Morris Inn. Director William J. Beirne said the on-campus hotel works differently than others, as it is primarily focused on the guest experience.

“The biggest challenge, I would like to say, is it is more about the hospitality,” he said. “It is not as much about the business as some other hotels can be.”

Beirne said maintaining a presence in the lodging market is also a challenge for the hotel.

“Trying to maintain your fair share within the marketplace [is crucial]. Guest satisfaction is always high on that,” he said. “They kind of intertwine. Guest satisfaction helps your marketing effort and your occupancy.”

Beirne, who has served in his position for 13 years, said the hotel serves a variety of guests, ranging from conference attendees and alumni to general visitors and parents of prospective students.

“It’s really just a great mix of people from around the world,” he said.

At the time the Inn was built, the area was lacking in lodging options, Beirne said. He said the University saw an opportunity to house guests on campus.

“From speaking to [Fr. Theodore Hesburgh], The Morris Inn was the window to the world for the University,” Beirne said. “When this hotel was built in 1953, there probably weren’t a lot of hotels around, so they probably felt they could control their own destiny. This gave them an opportunity to welcome people from all over the world. Would the same thing happen today? I’m not quite so sure.”

Beirne said Notre Dame controls The Morris Inn.

“I’m an employee of the University, just like anyone else is,” he said. “It’s a self-operated hotel, so [Notre Dame] has 100 percent control over the hotel.”

Like many University employees on campus, Beirne said the warm staff is what separates the hotel from other lodging options in the area.

“It is the hospitality of the employees themselves [that is special]. That is the key,” he said. “People genuinely like working here, and they love being part of Notre Dame. That hospitality comes to every person who walks through the front door.”

Beirne said interaction with guests is the most rewarding experience for those Inn employees.

“It really is fun. It is exciting to plan for a big weekend and event, and it is even more fun when everyone leaves, shakes your hand and says they had a good time,” he said.

As a hotel director, Beirne said he wears a lot of hats on the job. He said a lot of what makes a hotel employee successful is training on the job.

“I think it is a great career. There is a lot to learn. As a hotel manager or director as they call it here, you get to use a lot of your skills,” Beirne said. “You get to use human resource skills, accounting skills, marketing skills, food and beverage skills.”

Beirne said though the hotel does employ some students, their busy schedules often necessitate part-time positions.

“[We don’t have] as many as some other places. We use them more in a support role as opposed to a permanent position because with a [student’s] schedule, to give us some time is the time we need,” he said. “I don’t think it would be fair to ask students to work every football weekend.”

Beirne said the Inn experiences highest occupancies on Commencement and football weekends. At those times, rooms aren’t often available to the public, he said.

McKenna Hall, across the street from The Morris Inn, is used as a conference center during football weekends, Beirne said.

“What [a football weekend] brings is the Advisory Councils for all of the different colleges,” he said.

Notre Dame students are always welcome in the Inn, Beirne said. He said students often don’t know the hotel and its restaurants are open to students for business.

“We’d like to think students don’t feel they can’t come through the Inn,” Beirne said. “A lot of students walk past the place and wonder what goes on in there.”

Beirne said as students don’t frequent the Inn, the hotel maintains a sense of mystery, even beyond graduation.

“I think there is a certain mystique about it, and I think it has always been that way. I hear alumni come back and say they didn’t even know they could stay there,” he said. “It is kind of interesting that way.”