Small Talk

Mark Slaney on the Horseshoe, wine and a life in hospitality

By Carina Perkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wine, Restaurant, Sommelier

Mark Slaney previously worked as head sommellier for Lucknam Park Hotel and recently published a book on wine
Mark Slaney previously worked as head sommellier for Lucknam Park Hotel and recently published a book on wine
Mark Slaney was practically born into the hospitality sector – his parents, grand-parents and great-grand parents were hoteliers. He worked as restaurant manager, head of dining, events manager, head sommelier and consultant before joining the Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms as managing director. He is also a published novelist and recently wrote a book on wine.

Tell us about your role of MD at the Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms

It’s a small business so it is very wide ranging, very hands on and a lot of fun. When I arrived the business had a bistro and a restaurant, but the former has been scrapped and turned into a lounge. We now aim to look after less people but to a higher standard; we deliver service that is very high but very friendly and genuine.

The food product drives the business and we’re building a reputation as a destination restaurant with rooms very rapidly. We used to be open seven days a week but now we do five which consolidates all our team skills and effort into those days. We now turnover more in five days than we used to in seven and we’ve enjoyed a lot of good reviews in the national  press.

Describe your typical day at the Horseshoe

My typical day, although no two days are the same, might be: start 8.30am, check e-mails, head into the kitchen to see the team about 9.30am. Our new Head Chef Alistair has transformed our kitchen operation and is a joy to work with: we are both calm and focused and good humoured.

I’ll then check reception, see what bookings we have coming in; we have loads of repeat business and we welcome returning clients as valued guests. Every week I look at some little detail of the business from a guest point of view and then try to improve it. This has led to us buying larger dining tables, changing cutlery, doubling the size of our guest lounge, providing guest umbrellas, changing toiletries to hand-made organic ones and so on.

 After lunch service I may spend time in our kitchen garden, or do one to one training with some of the staff or work on marketing, it always varies. Dinner service is the high point of the evening. I aim to personally greet every guest at the front door and will help with decanting wines and food service.

After I’ve seen every guest through to their after dinner coffees I had back to my office to clear my desk and plan the next day or the next week. I like to finish by eleven – I’ve less energy than I had thirty years ago. Thankfully the enthusiasm remains the same!

What do you love about hospitality?

Meeting people and making them happy.

What tips would you give to those wanting to work in the industry now?

If you love food, wine and people then do it but find somewhere amazing to work where it is fun and you have a boss that has flair. Most hotels and restaurants now are run by accountants and they’re boring. Life shouldn’t be boring, it should be fun

Tell us about your new book on wines

The book is called “Tasting Notes” and is about my experience as a commercial wine buyer, starting with how I got into wine and then looking at the how the world of wine has changed over the last few decades. It is peppered with light hearted anecdotes and stories from my time in the wine business but I have also noted all the small wine makers whose wines I admire.

What’s your favourite wine and food match?

Leg of lamb, roasted with loads of rosemary and garlic and Domaine de Trevallon.

Do you have any tips for waiting staff and sommeliers to sell wine?

Sense what the customer is willing to pay and then find something that exceeds their expectations but costs less. They’ll spend the balance on dessert wines if they’re happy.

Who has been your inspiration, both in hospitality and writing?

 Gordon J Macintyre who owned the Clifton at Nairn set a standard in hospitality, he had flamboyance and eccentricity thirty years ago that has never been matched by anywhere that I have been to since. As for writing; the likes of Wilbur Smith or Jack Higgins are masters of their craft and to my mind stand the test of time.

Related topics: People, Small Talk, Interviews

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