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Loving life in hospitality: Mark Thornhill

Written by:
Written by:
Loving life in hospitality: Mark Thornhill

Disney is the inspiration behind Mark Thornill’s management style at the King’s Head in Hursley, Hampshire

You are the landlord of the 
King’s Head in Hursley, Hampshire, with your wife, Penny. Tell us about the pub.
Hursley is a little village near Winchester. We’ve been here for four years and we love it. The King’s Head is a beautiful Georgian coaching inn with rooms and our first real step into a boutique hotel.

Since taking over we’ve added an AA rosette to the dining room and we’ve raised the AA award to four silver stars on our bedrooms. We have an amazing team here and the pub has done very well. We’ve won some incredible awards and accolades and we couldn’t be more proud of it.

You’ve had an unusual route 
into hospitality, starting your career in the police force and then running restaurants in the US before moving back to the 
UK. How did that come about?
Due to circumstances, we as a family needed a change of lifestyle, so I left the police force and went into hospitality.

During my police service I 
specialised in counter-terrorism. We were told ‘talk to no one’, so moving into a hospitality where you have to talk to everyone was a massive learning curve. I had no prior experience in hospitality at all, but luckily Penny was an operations manager for a number of catering units in Kent, so the foundation knowledge was there for us to develop our first little restaurant in Celebration, Florida.

We grew the business to five outlets and three franchised stores and a barbers’ shop. We had to return to the UK for personal reasons, and I remember saying to Penny: “When we get to the UK, let’s get a pub!”

It was a tough transition from owning our own multi-site company to being employed once again. However, our current employer, Cirrus Inns, gives us the freedom to be entrepreneurial and the independence to develop the menu and choose the team. It is as if we were still running our own business, but with the added support from the company.

You’ve adopted a ‘Disney’ style 
of management. Explain what makes this so special?
Our original restaurant was on Disney property – we had to jump through some incredible hoops to acquire it. The Disney style of management is about creating the memory, preserving the magic and attention to detail. You have to have the desire to create a magical experience for the guests – it requires a lot of work to make the ‘magic’ happen.

I learned so many positives in the US: from the value of a smile to spending time talking with the team over breakfast, a cuppa or a pint. It’s about changing perceptions, keeping the mood upbeat and positive. I still use Disney’s ‘seven service guidelines’ (see panel) and have modified them to suit us in every component of my day now I’m back in the UK.

I’m not a ‘board and chalk’ type of teacher, I prefer more subliminal learning while working side by side with the rest of the team, rather than being in the office.

What’s the hardest thing you have learned since working in 
the industry?
Biting my tongue. Is the customer always right?

And what’s the best thing about it?
Hospitality is incredibly rewarding as a career, we push very hard, and we want to be noted as a successful business. We’ve made some great friends. Building relationships with our peers is as important as it is rewarding. We work in an inviting environment with a great bar, rooms and restaurant. We’ve been lucky to have travelled, tasted things I’d never thought I’d ever eat or drink, and I always say to our teams, if we’re having a bad day, we’ve got beer!

What are your ambitions?
I would like to step into an operations role. Each pub we’ve managed has been credited with ‘best in county’. In our past managed sites we’ve achieved Michelin and Good Food Guide listings and AA rosettes. It would be great to be able to share the knowledge further than being limited to one site.

What advice would you give someone looking to change career or start out in hospitality?
It’s a lot harder than you think! We don’t just come downstairs and turn the light on and stand behind the bar. It’s a business and it has to be run that way – we 
are responsible for every element of the operation within the pub. 
It can be incredibly rewarding, 
we love it and wouldn’t change, but please think carefully and do your homework.

Disney’s seven service guidelines
Be Happy… make eye 
contact and smile.
Be like Sneezy… greet and welcome each and every guest. Spread the spirit of hospitality… it’s contagious.
Don’t be Bashful… seek 
out guest contact.
Be like Doc… provide immediate service recovery.
Don’t be Grumpy… always display appropriate body language at all times.
Be like Sleepy… create dreams and preserve the magical guest experience.
Don’t be Dopey… thank 
each and every guest.


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