Carden Park

Whether you are a member of One Direction, part of the England football or rugby team, or simply visiting the Carden Park Hotel to use its spa, award-wining golf facilities or dine in one of its restaurants, you are guaranteed the same welcome and level of service.

For that’s the number one objective and motivation for Mark Roberts, the person responsible for managing all the drinks listed and sold in the hotel.

Those are also just some of the few celebrity and star guests that Roberts and his team have served over the years as Carden Park is one of the most celebrated and respected hotels in the North West. Ideally located only 20 minutes from Chester, and close to the city hubs of Liverpool and Manchester.

Roberts, who has been with the hotel for 19 years, is better placed than most to know what it is that Carden Park’s customers are looking for when eating and dining at the hotel.

A customer base that splits neatly into three separate areas; weddings, corporate and private drinking and dining.

Roberts also knows his way around the bars and restaurants of Carden Park having spent many years working his way up as a bartender, waiter, supervisor and a series of assistant manager roles before being promoted to head up food and beverages three years ago.

Drive and passion

But spend half an hour talking to him and you would think he had only just joined the hotel such is his passion and enthusiasm, not just for his own job, but the level of service he can provide his customers.

“What I love about my role is that it is constantly evolving. No two days are the same, there are always new things to do, different ideas to look at, new products to taste,” he says.

“As we are an independent hotel we do not have a head office telling us what to do and can make our own decisions,” he adds.

Which is why he very much likes working with the development team at Crown Cellars.

“One of the main reasons we work so closely with Crown Cellars is to be one step ahead of the curve,” he explains. “A lot of properties tend to latch on to trends after they have happened. The Crown Cellars team is able to provide us with lots of data, be it national or regional trends, which help us keep up to date with what is happening. It mostly gives us the ability to get into trends as they are about to happen,” he explains.

An area that Crown Cellars has been able to help Roberts and his team with across wines and spirits. Like gin. Crown Cellars and Roberts identified gin as a potentially big growth area for the hotel considering its wide customer base. They worked together to create a bespoke gin menu, taking the number of gins stocked from 8 to an impressive 34.

As well as a new bespoke Gin Menu, Roberts also worked with Crown Cellars and Fever-Tree to create a separate gin serves menu with suggestions on different premium mixers and gins to create gin cocktails.

“With a premium mixer costing 60p or more than a standard one and a premium gin a further £2 more, it meant customers were quite happy paying upwards of £2.60 and more over standard.”

“Gin, and its associated products, has been massive for us over the last year,” says Roberts, adding an extra £50,000 to its overall food and beverage turnover.

An initiative that also resulted in a special innovation prize for Roberts and the bars team, at the local Cheshire Hoteliers Association awards.

Change in supplier

The decision to work with Crown Cellars came around six years ago when Carden Park took back the management of the hotel from a partnership it had with De Vere Hotels and it was able to go out and look for new suppliers.

The contrast, says Roberts, in working with Crown Cellars compared to its previous drinks supplier could not be greater.

“We have gone from a situation where we got minimal support, which mostly went to head office in any case, to almost having an abundance of support. We have gone from next to no training at all to the ability to have as much training as we want, whenever we need it,” he adds.

“In the past we did not have any of the staff doing WSET training unless they paid for it themselves. Now Crown Cellars will put all our staff through WSET Level 1 and 2 training if they want.”

All of which has had a big impact on the hotel’s overall service levels. “All that increased knowledge, training and support we have had from Crown Cellars has been the key to our success as an independent hotel,” says Roberts.

When it comes to the hotel’s wine offer it helps having an owner, Steve Morgan, who is so into their wine, adds Roberts. So much so that the hotel even has its own vineyard and has been making its own English sparkling wine for what is one of the most northern vineyards in the Country, for the last 20 to 25 years.

House appeal

Roberts has worked with Crown Cellars to widen the offer and appeal of its two main wine lists: its house wines; and its main restaurant list.

Its house wine selection is key as it makes up nearly 80% of the hotel’s total wine turnover thanks to the large amounts of business it does with conferences, weddings and functions.

Under Crown Cellars the choice of house wines has nearly doubled to now include six whites, six reds and three rosés, ranging in price between £20.50 and £25.

One of the key lessons he has learnt from Crown Cellars is the importance of having a laddered pricing structure for its wine list.

So as well as expanding the main restaurant list to nearer 60 wines, compared to 40 previously, the price jumps between each wine can be as little as 50p, encouraging customers to trade up by just £1 or £2 at a time. He has also introduced a wider choice of more premium wines, particularly from the New World like Crown Cellars’ Bone Orchard Malbec.

It has helped push the average selling price from the restaurant list to between £25 to £30, with a top bottle price of around £200. Classic wines from France, Italy and Spain all proving strong sellers. “Wine has been key to our overall beverage growth and now makes up 39% of our total beverage sales.”

“We had met with other potential suppliers but what stood out most with Crown Cellars was the overall package. The benefit of working with Crown Cellars I have found is that we are treated as equals and not just a number, they recognise first and foremost that without a great relationship we, and in turn they, don’t prosper and that relationship has been developed on both a business and a personal level.”

Mark Roberts, Food and Beverage Controller, Carden Park Hotel