Danny Pecorelli, managing director of Exclusive Hotels, is passionate about fine food, which is one reason he’s put quality restaurants at the heart of his offering.
On hotel restaurants:
“Historically, hotel restaurants have let people down,” he says. “Hoteliers don’t think like restaurateurs and don’t act like them. They have a room they don’t know what to do with. I’m generalising hugely because there are some fantastic hoteliers who are great restaurateurs, but as a whole there are still a lot of very mediocre restaurant offers within hotel walls.”
On The Pass at South Lodge:
The newest restaurant for Exclusive Hotels, The Pass at South Lodge Hotel near Horsham, West Sussex, is an entire restaurant situated in the kitchen and led by head chef Matt Gillan.
“A huge percentage of restaurant business is twos and fours, but unless you’re Abramovich, as a couple you can’t really experience a chef’s table. How many have the financial clout to sit in the Dorchester’s Krug Room? We wanted to offer a restaurant-priced meal in that environment,” he says.
On chasing Michelin stars:
Currently Exclusive Hotels holds two Michelin stars, one for Michael Wignall's The Latymer at Pennyhill Park and another for Richard Davies' Bybrook Restaurant at The Manor.
“It’s not about star-chasing for the sake of it,” he says. “Certainly Michael’s capable of getting more. Matt’s capable of getting one here at South Lodge, but do we put our whole philosophy around that? Absolutely not. Will we end up getting more? I sincerely hope so.”
On surviving the recession:
The recession has been a tough time for hotels generally but Exclusive’s business has fared pretty well. Corporate spend was hit hard, of course, although conferencing is “coming back quite strongly now”, according to Pecorelli. But food and individual leisure remained strong last year. " Those that were fleet of foot cottoned on to that. You had to target yourself at those parts."
With a £40m annual turnover Exclusive was already in a good position to benefit. Over the past few years, it has worked hard to make sure its restaurants functioned as standalone restaurants. In addition, a number of new offerings, the Pass being one of them, along with The Manor winning its first star last year, has helped generate plenty of positive publicity. As a result, last year Exclusive’s food sales grew significantly, “up about 15 per cent, which we were pleased with”, says Pecorelli.
On attracting customers:
By and large, the company has shunned the discount culture but it makes considerable efforts to communicate with its customers, maintaining “regular contact” via email, reminding them of the numerous events Exclusive runs. These range from large big-band parties that attract 1,400 people to small bread-baking classes for eight.
“These events have got to evolve because the days of Burgundy dinners – well, we still hold Burgundy dinners – but the days of Burgundy diners only are long gone. You’ve got to be more creative now,” explains Pecorelli. “We’ve done chocolate, we’ve done bakery, we’ve done a butchery class in the past. People want to learn so much more about food and see what’s going on,” says Pecorelli. “So there’s probably been a shift in those manufactured events to involve a cooking process or accessibility to that process.”
“When everything was in full tilt, hotels were going for ridiculous EBITDA multiples. As an operator I’m thinking I can’t really make money out of that; I can’t reinvest in the property. These businesses are really capital-hungry: you need to constantly reinvest, you need to invest in your staff.
"So if you pay over the top you’ve fundamentally got a flawed model to start off with. So now is the time we are actively looking. But you can’t do it for vanity. There are too many trophy hotels, trophy restaurants, especially top-end country-house hotels. You’ve got some fantastic hotels with amazing restaurants. But are they commercially viable? Well, that’s a totally different question.”
On what makes a business work:
Pecorelli believes running a successful hospitality company comes down to a fairly straightforward formula.
“Get the sales right and the quality of offering. It isn’t rocket science,” he explains. “Work really hard on the offering and I include the people in that – the staff, the culture, the whole HR side of things, the quality of life for the guys and all that stuff. And make sure you understand every kind of sales mechanism without it becoming a hard-core sales culture. And surround yourself with people who are better than you in every field.”
“A core strategy for us is operational excellence. If the product’s bloody good, people still have money and they’ll still spend that money, but your product, your service offering, your food offering, the whole package has to be spot on.”
Danny Pecorelli timeline:
1966 - Born
1988-1991 – Trains at the Savoy, the Four Seasons Inn on the Park, Cornell University and Sheraton Hotels in the US
1991-1997 – General manager of Mannings Heath Golf Club
1994-1997 – General manager of South Lodge Hotel
1997 – Becomes managing director of Exclusive Hotels and Golf Clubs
Hobbies: Food, running and cycling