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Better Business: The Bingham

11 September 2014
Better Business: The Bingham

This week
The Bingham, Richmond, Surrey

Why?
This year is the 30th anniversary of the hotel opening its doors for business

Facts and Stats
Turnover for the hotel and food and beverage: £3.1m
Average achieved room rate: £160
Average room occupancy: 90%
Number of staff: 94
Number of bedrooms: 15
Number of restaurant seats: 45
Restaurant status: Three AA rosettes

It's been a busy 18 months at the Bingham in Richmond. Last year there was a change of manager and head chef, while this year the boutique hotel is celebrating its 30-year anniversary. Rosalind Mullen finds out how this family business is evolving

Need to know
The Bingham straddles two listed Georgian houses, built in about 1740, and has sweeping, manicured gardens and views down to the River Thames at Richmond.

Co-owner Samantha Trinder has been living there on and off since she was a child. Her parents bought the houses in 1984 and turned them into a B&B hotel. Neither had hospitality experience and the business was struggling by the time Trinder started working there in 2001.

But Trinder had vision. She took over the running of the hotel in 2004, initially doing everything, from managing staff to sales and marketing. In 2005 she drew up a business plan to maximise the restaurant and attract non-residential guests. The first stop was to revamp the property, ditch the dated decor and replace it with a cool Art Deco style to create one of Richmond's first boutique hotels.

The £700,000, three-phase refurbishment was completed in 2008. First, the ground-floor reception, 45-seat restaurant and bar were redesigned, then the 15 en-suite bedrooms, then, finally, a function room for 150 people was created at garden level. The function room was something of a business coup, allowing
Trinder to hold weddings while still keeping the restaurant open.

Business snapshot
Some 25% of hotel revenue comes from the rooms, with two-thirds allocated to leisure and one-third to business guests. The rest of the revenue is from food and beverage (F&B), split 50:50 between the banqueting division and the restaurant.

Management
Trinder brought general manager Erick Kervaon on board in January 2013. Kervaon is French by birth, but his career has been honed in the UK. Previous roles include F&B manager at Exclusive Hotels' South Lodge, in charge of two three-AA-rosette restaurants.

His most recent posts were F&B director at Syon Park Waldorf Astoria Hotel and general manager at Restaurant Associates' Tower 42 restaurant in London.
Kervaon is a graduate of Cranfield University's accelerated talent development programme, but says his business acumen was developed at Exclusive Hotels.

He was awarded the Food and Beverage Manager Catey in 2009. Kervaon says he doesn't like to be micromanaged and tries to lead by coaching his staff. If they make mistakes, he debriefs them so they can see where they went wrong.

The challenge Kervaon's pressing task was to make the business profitable - particularly the restaurant. The then executive chef Shay Cooper had taken the Bingham's food to a higher level, winning a Michelin star in 2010. However, by 2012 the star had gone and there was a sense that the business had lost direction.

"The chef had been here six or seven years and the team were stuck in their vision," says Kervaon. "The restaurant was empty and losing money."

Kervaon blames Cooper's short-lived Michelin star for the downturn. While it had put the restaurant on the map, it had also thrown the business a curve ball - menu prices remained high and service was slow and labour-intensive. Harder still, the restaurant clientele now associated it with special occasions only.

"Shay transformed the business so the food was number one," says Kervaon. "You have to give him credit for that. But from the profitability aspect, it didn't make sense. You can't run a kitchen on 46% costs." Staff turnover was also high. "If I'd closed the restaurant, I would have been more profitable," he says.

The solution
Kervaon set out to change the restaurant concept and find a replacement for Cooper, who moved on to the Goring in August 2013. He brought in Mark Jarvis, who had been head chef at the Blueprint Café in London. He checked out the local competition, which included high-street names, such as Côte, which were raking in business at lunchtimes, as well as nearby Petersham Nurseries, which had also lost its Michelin star.

Spotlight on Mark Jarvis
Mark Jarvis took over the brigade at the Bingham in August 2013, moving from his head chef role at London's Blueprint Café. He had honed his cooking skills as senior sous chef at Roka and Zuma, and before that as sous chef at the Michelin-starred Texture restaurant.

On first meeting him, general manager Erick Kervaon was sceptical he would be versatile or passionate enough - but was soon proved wrong.

"I asked him to cook me something and he arrived with lamb, but I am allergic to it," explains Kervaon. "So he had to rethink his menu, and he did it on the spot. Incredible."

Each day, Jarvis, who gets carte blanche on his menus, rings around suppliers for the best-value, freshest produce, and then plans the menu for the next day. In fact, the market menu (£15 for three courses) can change throughout service.

To get an idea of his cooking style, his market dishes include starters such as velouté of celeriac with compressed apple and pickled celeriac, and main courses such as lightly salted Cornish ling with Israeli couscous, wild garlic and Ibérico ham. An Á la carte main might be monkfish with Israeli couscous, Parma ham and lemon (£22), or grass-fed beef, roasted onion, buttermilk and oxtail (£28.50).

"We have to have staples such as beef on the menu," says Jarvis. "People can spend £200 for two so they need to be happy and know they can get what they like."

One menu is blank - the six-course 'mystery menu', which starts at £30. As Jarvis says, diners have to have trust, as he tries to include ingredients they might not have had before, such as quail or oysters. Vegetarians are accommodated, too.

Success has been swift. Jarvis's fresh, modern cooking style has helped the restaurant retain its three AA rosettes - and he is ambitious. "A Michelin star is somewhere along the line," says Jarvis. "But it's not as important as I once thought."

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