Five minutes with… Danny Pecorelli

Danny Pecorelli is managing director of Exclusive Hotels & Venues, which owns and operates four hotels in the UK – Pennyhill Park in Surrey, South Lodge in West Sussex, Lainston House in Hampshire, and the Manor House Hotel & Golf Club in Wiltshire –  two venues Royal Berkshire in Ascot and Fanhams Hall in Ware, and the The Castle Inn in Wiltshire. As well as running the successful business which was founded in 1981 by his father and ex-Forte executive Giuseppe Pecorelli, Danny is vice chairman of the Master Innholders Committee.

five-minutes-with-danny-pecorelli-1The thing I’m most excited about is our new world-class spa we’re currently building at South Lodge. It’s costing £14m and is planned to open in early 2019.  The outside structure is already built and we’re onto the fit-out stage. We’ve got a restaurant within that called Botanica which I’m really excited about because it’s a really innovative food and beverage concept. We will use the local South Downs larder, but with an emphasis on health. We’re working with a chap called The Herbalist, who is creating lots of tinctures that have health benefits if you want, but aren’t prescriptive. We’ll incorporate lots of stuff like kombucha and kefir. It will be healthy, but will taste good too. If we do a gluten-free waffle, for example, it will be an amazing waffle that just happens to be gluten-free.

We are always innovating at our hotels. At the moment we’re doing a lot of work around meetings space.  We’ve got these conference breaks where you have iPads and have buttons that allow you to personalise your coffee where it comes out. Innovation is a constant for us. We have to. If we’re serving coffee we are competing against hundreds of coffee shops, if we’re doing a wedding we’re competing against barns or football stadiums.  You have to stay ahead of the game.

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The uncertainty around us is the biggest challenge facing the industry currently. It’s just constant change at the moment. We’ve got Brexit, GDPR – which has just come in –  how you market to potential talent and the disruptor channels as daily challenges, so I think you just have to stay ahead of the pace of change.  There’s no solution, you just have to keep your focus on it and evolve. You don’t know what’s going to happen, so you’ve got to try and put strategies in place that make you as robust as possible for what you perceive the outcome to be.

If you want to retain staff it boils down to three things: Does an employer genuinely want to be a good employer, does everyone in the business live and breathe it, and have the right amount of people and resource been allocated to focus on it? If those three key things aren’t lined up then it won’t work. Everyone talks about the pipeline and availability of people, but you don’t need new ones if you retain your existing ones. There will always be turnover but also if you are investing heavily in them and training them and looking after them then they can do better for your customers.

You’ve got to treat hotel restaurants as restaurants if you want them to be successful. They’re not outlets or a bigger part of the hotel. If you call them restaurants, you’ve got to treat them as their own entities. We’ve always given the chefs a lot of autonomy so they feel like it’s theirs. It’s the same with our properties in a way, as a hotel will reflect the personality of the GM, so a restaurant needs to reflect the personality of the chef.  We put a framework around them so they’ve got all the support they need and there are certain guidelines that we have in place, but within that framework they can bounce around as much as they like. That’s the key, not being uber-prescriptive and trusting them.

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It’s also important to pick the right talent for the right location.  We’ve got a pub down in Castle Coombe – The Castle Inn – and have an amazing chef there. He is an amazing pub chef and he wouldn’t want to work in a Michelin-starred environment. Likewise, Matt (Worswick) at The Latymer at Pennyhill Park, or Rob (Potter) at The Bybrook at Manor House ,who’ve got Michelin stars are perfect for their environment.

Stiff and starchy has definitely gone out of restaurants. You only have to look at how many restaurants don’t do table cloths any more as an example. There are still amazing restaurants that do that but that’s become a niche in its own right. The trend is to provide relaxed, yet great service with really attentive and knowledgeable staff. That’s what we’re trying to do.

 A lot of well-known restaurants that have cut down on services because the industry was pretty bad by saying ‘right it’s a 48 hour a week contract, but you can put in lots of goodwill hours’. That’s just not acceptable, so the very top end is completely re-evaluating and that model is changing. We’ve got very successful top-end restaurants but we’re challenging everything. It’s interesting, at Lainston House and The Manor House we don’t do restaurant lunches any more because afternoon tea is so huge, so we focus on that. Instead of doing 30 restaurant covers at lunchtime we’d rather do 90 afternoon teas in that space and that trend is still growing.

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I don’t know what I would have been if I hadn’t have gone into the hotel industry. I think it’s every 16-year-old kid’s dream to be an A&R man for a music record label and go out and discover the next great band, so probably I would have gone into the music business. It’s been said food’s the new rock and roll. I like both types.

There are so many places to go and eat now. I can’t keep up with all the new openings. I went to Core by Clare Smyth recently and it just blew my mind. It was so well done. I love places that are really on-trend like Hoppers, the kind of place that you’re queueing down the street at 12 o’clock for lunch, but you know will be worth it  because the food is amazing.  I’ve got a long list of places, but I never seem to be able to tick them all off.

You get food inspiration from anywhere now. You just have to have a quick look on Instagram. There’s a place called The Jerk Kitchen, which is a barbecue outside of Arsenal football stadium, but it’s the most amazing spiced chicken. Good food isn’t always where you expect it to be.

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Seeing a big project come to fruition is always exciting. We opened a cookery school at Lainston House about a year ago and that was a relatively quick project for us, but it is amazing. I love it when everything you’ve been thinking and talking about is delivered, it gives you the best buzz.  I’m looking forward to that feeling when the spa at South Lodge opens.

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