Johnathon Cairns and Crown Cellars have only been working together since last September, but already the relationship, he says, has helped the hotel take the wine, and with it the food offer, to another level.
“I could not speak more highly of the work we have done together with the Crown Cellars team” says Cairns.
“They blow other people out of the water with the levels of service they provide.”
Getting the wine and drinks offer right has been crucial for Cairns as he continues to put his own mark on the overall offer and service levels available at The Morritt Hotel & Garage Spa.
Cairns is clearly still passionate about a role he says was a big step forward in his career from his previous positions in a more corporate environment.
By moving to the General Manager’s position at The Morritt Hotel & Garage Spa, Cairns knows the buck now stops with him.
“I moved because I wanted, at this stage in my career, to have a role where I was involved in all aspects of the business. Before, working in corporate companies, decisions were being made for you. Now the entire decision-making process is made by me and I have to spend a lot more time doing my research and analysis of what I want to achieve.”
Changing the wine and food offer
One of the biggest decisions has been deciding what to do with the hotel’s wine and drinks offer.
As a former food and beverage manager, Cairns was quite clear he wanted to develop its wine offer very much hand in hand with the food
side of the business. “We looked at the overall food menu we were creating and then built the wine list around that,” he explains.
On the face of it, the hotel’s food offer did not need to be changed too much as it had long had a 2 AA Rosette rating, but Cairns felt there was an opportunity to keep that standard, but make it less of a structured approach and more in keeping with the overall relaxed offer of the hotel and spa.
“Before, you could only order from the 2 Rosette menu in the main restaurant. We wanted to make it less formal, still have the 2 Rosette offer, but make it available in all eating areas of the hotel including the bar and the bistro. That is what our customers want. They want that flexibility to be able to eat and enjoy the food in different parts of the hotel,” he explains.
The main objective with both the food and wine offer has been to create a combined menu “that had something for everyone on it,” says
Cairns. “We wanted our guests to feel comfortable with the choices they could make.”
Less wines, but more quality and choice at the right price...
It’s certainly a very different approach to what had been previously a more structured list that was biased very much towards the Old World leaning of the previous owner, with a number of high priced Champagnes on the list.
Cairns sat down with the Crown Cellars development team to create a list much more in keeping with the overall relaxed, comfortable
atmosphere he wanted to have in the hotel and spa.
Fundamentally, it meant devising a list that reduced the overall offer in terms of actual wines, but crucially opened it up to more guests by having quality wines at more price points that Cairns and Crown Cellars felt they would be more comfortable with.
The list is now running with around 35 wines, down from 60, with a bigger presence of New World wines, whilst still keeping the Old World classics.
“The Crown Cellars team has helped massively with the list we have created” says Cairns. “There might be less wines, but there are now more affordable, quality wines there for our customers.”
Adding more wines...when ready
Once the new list has bedded in and the staff are familiar with what is available, Cairns will then look to work with Crown Cellars and introduce more depth to the range. “We will probably look to add another 10 to 12 wines in April, when Crown Cellars is introducing some new wines to its overall range.”
Cairns is confident his guests can be encouraged to try different wines at slightly higher prices. Even in the last five years he has noticed a marked shift amongst guests moving away from just being happy to order a Pinot Grigio or Rioja. “They are now more knowledgeable and confident about what they like. They have tried wines they have seen on Saturday Kitchen and other TV shows and are open to more variety on a list” he says.
At the right price
The key, though, is to ensure they keep that balance between quality and affordable pricing. Which again, is where the Crown Cellars range comes in.
The new wine list ranges in price from £18 to £39 on still wines, moving up to £70 to £80 for sparkling wines and Champagnes. Before, the top end for still wines was nearer £55 with a starting point of £20. “People just feel a lot more comfortable picking up the menu knowing there are wines there they can enjoy.”
It’s not just the quality and range of wines that has impressed Cairns about Crown Cellars offer, but the added services it has been able to bring to the table. Like designing, from scratch, the new, combined food and drinks menu.
“It really has been fantastic and was an additional service I did not expect to get, but the quality of the design and the menu really matches what we wanted to achieve with the food and wine offer. Each dish, for example, has a wine pairing, or suggestion, to go with it.”
Crown Cellars also encouraged Cairns, he says, to include his own ‘General Manager’ wine recommendations which have also gone down
well with the guests. “They are more likely to try a wine if they see it has been recommended, so that’s working well. It helps them make the choice they want easier.”
Business focused training
Cairns is also taking advantage of the full wine training services that Crown Cellars offer for his team. Again, he has been impressed by how personalised and business focused the training is.
“The staff get the right level of knowledge and information they need on the wines they have to sell. That’s the key. They are not just learning about wine for the sake of it, they are being given relevant knowledge that really helps them in their jobs,” says Cairns. “That’s the best way for them to learn.”
It also allows Cairns to work with his service team to promote and suggest wines at different price levels on the list. “It’s been a really good way for us to introduce and sell our mid-priced wines” he says.
What has also impressed Cairns by the Crown Cellars training service is the approachability and friendliness of the team.
Wine training can be intimidating and hard for hospitality staff to take on board, but the Crown Cellars approach has made the sessions memorable by being both fun and informative.
“At the end of the day people buy people and that has been very much the way that Crown Cellars has gone about it. It’s why we have been able to build such a good relationship so quickly” explains Cairns.
“I have a big passion for wine and I like to pass that on to my staff, offering them advice on a daily basis, but it is also why I like working with Crown Cellars. I have been really impressed in how easy they have made it for us to work with them. Often it is hard bringing in a new supplier, but that has just not been the case at all. I know I can pick up the phone and they will have the answer there waiting for me.
It’s also a relationship that is making a difference to the bottom line with Cairns putting its recent 6% increase in wine sales down directly to the impact that Crown Cellars has had. Wine now accounts for 50% of all drinks sales, compared to 44% before Crown Cellars came on board.
“I can only see that growth is getting bigger as we take on more wines, have more training and work with Crown Cellars even more.”
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