When Chris Hall took over responsibility of running Beales Hotel’s West Lodge Park in Hadley Wood in 2014 he was keen to put his mark on what had become a much loved and respected traditional establishment, but was also, in fairness, in need of some fresh thinking and, in particular a better quality food and drink offer.
“When I came here the wine range was focused mainly around margins and percentages so it was a good opportunity to rip it up and start again,”said Hall.
Developing the wine range
Which meant working hand in hand with the Crown Cellars’ wine development team to get the range just how he wanted it.
We were able to start from scratch which is quite an unusual opportunity,” said Hall who has been working with Crown Cellars throughout the 11 years he has been with the Beales Hotel group.
“Crown Cellars has supported us every step of the way and been able to provide us with exactly the wine range we wanted. I find its wine offer improves exponentially every year.” Before, the range at West Lodge was more focused around hitting price points and had a much larger selection of entry level wines, concedes Hall. He was keen to change all that and introduce a much more focused range that allowed Crown Cellars to build a choice of wines from different countries and regions, as well as ensuring all the major grape varieties were covered as well.
He felt this was much better suited to developing a more interesting wine list that would appeal to the demographic of the hotel, which attracts a middle aged to older customer who are looking to enjoy good quality, but well priced food and drink.
This meant selecting wines that were more suited to a traditional palate with a heavier focus on Old World, classic regions.
Driven by France
France was highlighted as the hero country to work around with a good selection of wines from all its main regions. So much so that France now makes up a third of the total list with 33 bins out of a range of 100. “That was not the exact number of wines we wanted, it has just worked out that way,” he said.
Other countries that Hall picks out are its “good selection of Australian wines” along with “Chile, Argentina, Italy and New Zealand”.
“A lot of our customers will choose their wines depending on the grape variety. Our customers, for example, are very familiar with Malbec,” said Hall. Its other big selling grape varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon. “Customers definitely now recognise the styles of wine they like. Over the last 5 or 6 years their knowledge of wine has gone up enormously.”
Overall the range breaks down as 35 whites, 44 reds, 6 sparkling (including a rosé), 9 Champagnes (including a rosé), 4 standalone rosés and 2 dessert wines.
Wide selection of prices
Hall has also worked hard with Crown Cellars to offer a wider range of prices, to hopefully provide its customers with a good choice for all budgets. “We have everything from around £20 right the way up to £150 or so,” said Hall.
“But our best selling wines sit between £25 to £35. We have looked to price a lot of our wines just under £30 rather than have too many sitting at £32 to £35. We find an increasing number of our customers are looking to choose wines that are the next level up from entry level and house wines,” he explained.
Improved food and wine offer
Improving the hotel’s wine and food offer, alongside other enhancements, has certainly helped raise its image and reputation both for guests and in the local area, said Hall. Which is particularly important as the hotel’s restaurant and bar relies on attracting both residents as well as having a good following in the local community locals and across the nearby area. “The improved wine list has most definitely helped,” claimed Hall.
“It encourages people to spend a little more as well.”
“Midweek it will mainly be our residents, but come the weekend it is about 50/50 with locals as well,” said Hall.
As well as changing the wine offer, Hall, when he took control in 2014, also looked to offer a wider “A la Carte” menu. Before guests had a choice of four starters, four main courses and four desserts. Now, to complement the wider wine offer, they can choose from a selection of six to eight starters and main courses and six to seven desserts.
“It means we now have more styles of food with which we can pair with our wines,” said Hall.
Having a more ambitious and wider wine range has placed more importance on ensuring waiting staff have the right skills and confidence to sell and serve the wines. Again Hall makes full use of Crown Cellars wine training and development support services, “it’s a key benefit for us,” he explained.
“We don’t have sommeliers, so we rely a lot on Crown Cellars’ training.”
Crown Cellars works with West Lodge Park to put on regular wine tastings and WSET courses for key members of the team.
Hall said what has been particularly useful is the opportunity for his staff to go through certain wines with the Crown Cellars team so that they can learn little aspects that will help them sell and explain the wines to their customers. “We open this up to all the staff in the restaurant and the events side of the business,” said Hall. “It’s a good way to look at wines right across the list and the different styles. It helps to make it a lot more relevant to them.”
The fact that Crown Cellars is able to support the hotel with their own WSET-qualified educators makes a big difference in that they can do the training on site, rather than having to send team members away to a formal training day in London.
“You have to invest in your staff so that you are doing all you can to help them be the best they can be,” said Hall.
Through Crown Cellars it has also been able to enjoy and offer its staff specific bar and spirits training from the Diageo Bar Academy. The time and investment it has taken to get its wine offer right is certainly making a difference to the bottom line. When Hall took over in 2014, wine had around 44% share of total beverage sales, the next year that had gone up to 57% and in 2017 it had gone up to 61%.
“Importantly it has also helped our overall restaurants sales to go up as well,” said Hall and allowed it to put on special themed nights, including a Hertfordshire Gourmet night, and host private dinner parties.
Most of all, said Hall, it is that long standing and trusted relationship with Crown Cellars that really works for the hotel and his team.