Issue Issue 2 2008
A tasty stay
Macdonald Hotels is continuing to expand after being named as the 2007/08 AA Hotel Group of the Year
There can’t be many hotel chains that experienced the type of year that Macdonald Hotels did in 2007. Its beginning was marked by an agreement to sell 24 of its hotels for a sum in excess of £400 million. The deal allowed the group to reduce its debt while providing the opportunity to invest in its portfolio in a bid to establish itself at the forefront of the four star, four red and five star market.
The extensive investment programme that followed the deal with Moorfield Real Estate Fund saw work carried out to properties such as Macdonald Old England in Windermere and the Complete Angler in Marlow. The work to the Macdonald New Blossoms Hotel is one of the best examples of the refurbishment programme; when the hotel – one of Cheshire’s oldest – was reopened last April, all 67 bedrooms, conference and meeting rooms, restaurant lounge and cocktail bar had been transformed. The overhaul, which saw the hotel closed for just four months, cost £3 million.
The bold scheme was recognised in September of last year as Macdonald Hotels was named as the 2007/08 AA Hotel Group of the Year at the prestigious Hospitality Awards ceremony in Park Lane, London. Commenting at the time, Donald Macdonald, the chairman of Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, said: “This accolade reflects the journey the organisation has made under the guidance of the senior management team, and the many achievements we have made so far.”
His words were echoed by Peter Birnie, the AA’s chief hotel and restaurant inspector, who said: “There’s been a lot of investment and commitment at a lot of different levels this year. Our winners exemplify the commitment to service and high quality, with a touch of well thought out innovation.” Those thoughts were confirmed just a month later with the opening of a new £50 million city centre hotel in Manchester.
Nearly six months on the programme continues with the largest current project being the 125-room hotel in Windsor. While in the early stages of construction, the property is sure to become a stunning addition to the Macdonald portfolio. And while the company is keen to add more hotels, Alan Swinson, the catering director at Macdonald Hotels, insists that new hotels will not be added to simply make up the numbers. “What we will not do is say that in 12 months we have a vision to have over 100 hotels. Our focus must be on a quality proposition; if we come across development opportunities that we believe fit in (to the portfolio) then we seriously consider them,” he says.
One of the main pillars of the success that typifies Macdonald Hotels is the quality of food and drink and the all round dining experience that customers are afforded during their stays. Each hotel offers a unique menu using the finest seasonal ingredients to ensure a fresh and satisfying dish. From wild fish and seafood to the best beef reared on natural Scottish pastures, crisp vegetables, freshly baked bread, pastries and delicate desserts, all dishes are created with flair by teams of industry leading chefs.
Before these ingredients arrive at the tables of the hotels all over the country, they must meet the high standards that have seen Macdonald Hotels garner a reputation for culinary excellence. “Quality is the main driver,” says Alan when asked what is the primary factor when choosing which ingredients to source. “If you look at the produce that we buy – for example, Scottish beef that has been matured for a minimum of 21 days – the main reason we bring them in is quality. The other main requirement is consistency; they are the main motivations when buying the produce,” he continues.
Alan is also proud of the company’s record of buying British grown or reared food. Outlining the sourcing methods that he employs, he says: “I would argue that most of what we buy is local because it is local to the UK. I think that is important because most businesses similar to ours cannot say the same. The only reason it won’t be bought here is simply if the climate doesn’t allow it, which is the case for fruits such as mangoes, which are imported from Pakistan. Once we are sure of the consistency and the quality of a particular product it will be sourced across the whole group.
“Our pork is from East Anglia, our lamb from the Highlands and the kippers and smoked haddock are from Loch Fyne in Scotland. If there is a local product that is of a really good quality, that will be reflected on the menus of the local hotel. For example, the hotels on the West of Scotland will be using scallops from the area. What we will not do is just buy from the local farms because we don’t feel it would be possible to achieve the consistency and the quality that we do at the moment.”
Much of the praise that has been given to Macdonald Hotels can be attributed to the variations of each location. Indeed, while they all operate under the same company name, there is a streak of individuality that runs through every hotel. It is a theme that is as apparent from the menus of each particular restaurant as it is anywhere else.
“The culinary experience is individualised. There are some brand standards that are integral to the quality, such as the breakfast menu, however the individual approach is equally important,” says Alan.
Looking to the future, he insists: “We must continue to progress through focusing on quality in all areas, which will ensure that repeat business will grow.” Given the standard and individualisation of the recently refurbished hotels coupled with standard of the food and drink – the group boasts a total of 38 AA rosettes – it is hard to find a reason why customers wouldn’t come back to Macdonald Hotels time and again.