Why did the hotel decide to get a new management team?
When my wife and I first purchased the hotel in 2018, it was run by my sister Cathy, who supported managing the +£1m refurbishment programme as she lived locally and was able to help to establish the hotel and restaurant with the local community. She had agreed to do it initially for two years and in the meantime, we would look for an experienced team to take it on on a more permanent basis.
COVID came, of course the business and the search came to a halt, and with this we were nervous to recruit whilst the climate was uncertain. As soon as the hotel reopened in May 2021, we started to look again, and after a long selection process over the summer, John and Agata were offered the position. It was always the understanding that we wanted established hoteliers to run the business once the builders and teething problems were out of the way but whilst it was our money being spent on the refurbishment, we wanted family involved in the process.
What can King and Swidowska bring to the company?
They have a proven track record of working in luxury properties throughout the UK and the Channel Islands with combined experience of events development, sales and marketing and general management. With our desire to grow the events business for smaller niche weddings, christenings, celebrations and exclusive parties, this experience was in particular very attractive and we have already seen a noticeable upside here in the 10 weeks they have been at the helm. Having run their own business in a seaside town on the South Coast, they also know the importance of the community and want to position The Hog Hotel at the forefront of the local community.
It was clear from the interview that the guest experience, all the way through from pre-arrival to post departure, was paramount and we loved this about them. Finally, we are looking to grow the business to a number of hotels, and we see John and Agata being very much part of a senior management team going forward, in time recruiting their own replacements and helping us open new properties with them taking on roles within the larger company.
Do you have any plans for the hotel?
When we bought the hotel, it was always planned to be the first of several within a portfolio. The pandemic slowed our plans but has not dampened them and we are now looking at further potential properties within the region. Currently, as a blueprint for others, we are committed to further reducing our environmental impact, again upon which we have made a good start, with a zero plastic bottle approach and the use of refillable toiletries rather than one-use sachets. With executive head chef Terry Balme, they are working on reducing food waste too, plus reviewing laundry practises.
Electric car charging points are being installed and the hotel future proofed. Utility consumption is also a hot topic right now and we are tendering this out. In time they will work towards various green accreditations, but it needs to be genuine and not just a tick box exercise.
What can we expect to see from the hotel in the coming months?
It is early days for the new team and they have spent the first weeks learning the systems. A full marketing calendar for next year is nearly complete, and after Christmas will see the launch of an afternoon tea service. This is an area in which we think there is growth, as there are not many operators in the area doing this particularly well, and it is an additional experience for our staying guests as well as locals.
We have also employed a new hotel supervisor who has great strength in wine and cocktails, so there will certainly be wine and cocktail tasting evenings, as well as some music and dinner events. There is even some discussion about a ‘foodcaytion’ package, where guests cook with Terry as part of their stay.
The hotel is looking to be listed in some premium publications and on higher end travel platforms. All being well the forward order book is already looking encouraging and we are hoping for a busy 2022.
Why is there a big emphasis on training at this time?
With the shutdowns and despite the furlough payments, many of the team sadly moved on as it seemed once we reopened, they decided it was too much like hard work. Like many in hospitality, some staff found jobs which had more sociable and life friendly job hours and moved out of the sector. Altogether that meant we got through a very busy summer with a relatively inexperienced, but lovely team.
There were very few complaints, but we feel that there is no excuse for this going into peak season next year, and John and Agata are using this time to train both not only the important compliant things, but fun stuff such as wine and cocktail training, customer service, housekeeping standards (including the team each experiencing a night in the hotel itself to give feedback) and of course extensive menu tastings. In the current climate it is hard to find fully trained staff so by cross training and developing them, we can increase retention and future proof the business. We hope this will give us a head start going into 2022, a well-trained and motivated team.
Are you prepared for the Christmas period and do you think the current unsteady climate will pose a problem?
Preparations are in full swing for a busy festive period despite the current situation. The restaurant is going to be very busy with many dates now booked out, however the room bookings are quieter than normal. Our Covid safe procedures have always been strong, but we have taken deposits for Christmas bookings in order to protect our business too. We have put in place an excellent dinner, bed and breakfast package for these times and had some good uptake on that already. The key considerations are to ensure the guests that will visit us will have a fantastic time, and then use us throughout the coming year.
What are your ‘regeneration plans’?
Our regeneration as a hotel is nearly complete, we simply plan to support and be part of the exciting regeneration plans that Lowestoft has including nearly £360m of government funding. The local council has expressed delight at having a business such as ours in the area and hope that we are the trigger for others to grow too. Lowestoft gets a short shrift compared to neighbouring Southwold and Aldeburgh, yet has so much potential, plus a lovely local market. We are thrilled to be part of it and it’s a great base to explore many things to see and do within 45 minutes of the hotel.
How do you plan to win the accreditations you have named?
Whilst having a busy hotel and happy guests are 99% of what we aspire for, we recognise it’s also important for the team to have recognition for their hard work. With regards to accreditations, much of the legwork is already in place for these, but some areas just need refining.
The hotel is ready only four key points off the requirements for 4-star AA rosette accommodation, and by reopening the bar and restaurant full time, much of these will be achieved. In order to achieve the AA food rosette, we understand you have to be part of their accommodation scheme and that is invite only so once we have achieved the first, we will just have to hope that the inspectors will come and see us. The area really lacks food of this quality so it would be great for Lowestoft and East Suffolk.The hotel has already been shortlisted to the next stage for ‘Best Small Hotel’ in the East of England awards, so we are heading in the right direction.
We will look to join the Quality in Tourism scheme in the new year once we have dotted some of the I’s and crossed some of the t’s. That means training and leading the team to deliver high standards; leading by example and ensuring the team cares about guest satisfaction as much as the management team do and personalising the guest experience.
John’s mantra is “whatever the offering, be it breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner – if we offer it, we deliver it exceptionally.”