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The Caterer

Personal touch

01 January 2000
Personal touch

Tony Murkett is clearly a man in love with his job. Deep within the plush depths of London's Sloane Club, this immaculately presented hotelier talks enthusiastically of his new role as the club's managing director, having moved from Grosvenor House where he was general manager for four years.

He obviously relishes the challenge. The Sloane Club, which is undergoing a multi-million-pound expansion, is hoping to woo 2,000 new members within two years. It is a far cry from the stuffy halls of the West End clubs with their restrictive membership policies and antiquated attitude towards women.

"There is a huge opportunity here," says Murkett. "It is fashionable once again for people to look for something a little different. There's a feeling of ownership in a club and that carries a lot of cachet. Plus, of course, it guarantees that one will be recognised, as there are no tourists."

Murkett seems to make a point of talking to each of his guests as we wander through the oak-lined dining room ("Greetings, your Lordship") and the muted blues of the Garden Room (a subtle nod to two pearl-bedecked ladies).

Beneath the facade of this relaxed, convivial atmosphere, however, there is a great attention to detail - for example, each member of staff (there are 70) must be able to recognise and call a guest by his or her name, and many members have particular preferences that must be acknowledged. Murkett asserts that there is, in fact, more attention to detail here than in many comparable standard hotels.

"The skills in detail are the same as in a hotel, but the difference lies in personal ‘hostmanship' - the last thing we want is ghastly staff with gushing smiles," he says. "Coming here should be more like entertaining at home, where a host is seen."

Among its members, the Sloane Club counts several Lords and MPs - but for Murkett there is no such thing as a VIP. "They are all VIPs and you've got to give VIP status to every member that arrives."

The main challenge in his position lies in matching membership profiles, says Murkett. "The membership is a careful mix of people, who often like their privacy." By and large it is current members who help recruit new ones. Most are from outside London and would otherwise stay in four-star accommodation. Murkett believes the Sloane Club is well on the way to reaching a 5,500 target total within two years, attracting more members in their 30s and 40s.

Murkett joined the club in August 1994 to oversee the massive expansion and the launch of its new image (now under way) - and to assure members that the club was not being turned into a hotel. He also serves as a non-executive director for several private hotels in the USA.

Previously, he spent nearly 25 years with Forte, where he most recently held the position of general manager at Grosvenor House, from 1990-94.

But his career really began with a grandmother who owned a guest house in Northumberland. From working there during summer holidays, where he first dreamed of being a restaurant manager, Murkett went on to join Forte as a trainee. He describes the Forte training as "second to none".

Working through several Post Houses, he ended up as general manager at London's Cavendish Hotel for two years.

From 1985-88, Murkett was deputy general manager of Grosvenor House where he was responsible for the creation of 86 Park Lane, now well established in the small meeting and dining market. He also served as deputy general manager of the Cumberland Hotel from 1982-85, helping to raise the hotel's status from three- to four-star.

"I have never been disappointed with my lot," says Murkett. He confidently adds: "I'm looking forward to having a membership waiting list within four years."

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