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April update: The Tudor Farmhouse Hotel

24 April 2009 by
April update: The Tudor Farmhouse Hotel

Owners Colin and Hari Fell are in the process of re-writing the in-room folders, which mentor Robin Hutson felt were "a bit like orders being barked at guests".

Hari admits the file probably originated from the old owners and accepts they need to be more welcoming. Hutson said: "There's a great sense of ownership here but the folder is a bit old-fashioned and it sounds all a bit corporate. It needs to read more like instructions to a friend."

They've engaged a PR company on a three-month trial basis but, so far, have had very little feedback or journalists visiting on the back of it. Hutson says: "I'm a great believer in PR, but there are not many people who do it well and many provincial PRs simply just aren't on it."

The Google AdWords get a lot of hits, especially for "foraging" after the recent press coverage, although Colin is aware that there is a big "bounce" rate. They have also tried sending out information about the foraging weekends to their database but that "didn't really work".

While the property is almost fully booked for the next couple of months, June is currently looking a bit sparse. "We're aware that bookings are getting made later and are trying to keep calm about it, but June is looming a bit," Colin admits. They are going to try some targeted e-marketing with specific offers in clearly understandable formats to try to encourage reservations.

Clearwell, Gloucestershire GL16 8JS, 01594 833046www.tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk

The Tudor Farmhouse in Gloucestershire had previously served only filter coffee. By installing a bean-to-cup Tiger espresso machine and developing home-made cakes, a new proposition has been created for the business.

"The Tiger machine that Aimee [Hughes, of First Choice Coffee] has installed for us is perfect. It's automatic, which means that any member of staff can operate it and we can be sure that our customers will be served the best-quality cup of coffee every time," Hari says.

Fell has placed a small ad in the local press and Aimee will be working with her over the next few weeks to create table-talkers and coffee menus for the hotel bedrooms, using First Choice's bespoke design service, to drive awareness of the proposition among customers.

"A quality coffee offer is a great profit-driver and an automatic machine is ideal for operations that either have a lot of staff or run 24/7, as no barista training is required.

"To keep customers coming back, the coffee must be consistent; an automatic machine gives the operator the peace of mind that consistency will be delivered every time, thanks to the touch of a button.

"Packaging coffee and cake together to create a new proposition is a great way of adding value for the customer," Hughes says.

APRIL UPDATE Colin and Hari Fell have been busy over the past month researching and implementing ideas suggested by mentor Robin Hutson.

Head chef Blaine Reed went on a mini stage at Shaun Hill's restaurant, the nearby Walnut Tree, to demonstrate Hutson's point that fine dining doesn't have to be overly complicated. Blaine spent two days in the kitchens watching and learning from Hill and says the experience was "really good."

Meanwhile, Colin was working with local wine supplier Robin Jones at Croque-en-Bouche to improve the wine list and add some more interesting and high-end wines. The basic list is due to go live shortly, with more expensive bins to be added slowly throughout the coming months. But it's not just about the list. Colin admits that they saw a doubling of dessert wine sales when they had a sales drive six months ago, but this has now dropped off. He plans to reinstate the push and "engage with customers more about their wine".

One of Hutson's main concerns during his first visit to the Tudor Farmhouse was the "over-liberal" use of the discounted corporate rate, which the Fells have tried to tighten up on. They are implementing Hutson's suggestion of having a monthly, weekly and daily list up in reception of average room-rate targets and achieved rates, with an incentive for staff if they hit the targets. He says: "In the same way as they are talking to Blaine about food costs, they need to get reception involved in room rates. It needs to become part of the staff vocabulary."

On top of all of this, the Fells' main focus has been on the food for the hotel - at the moment there's a three-course fine-dining dinner offer at £32.50. Hutson's advice was to implement a simpler bar menu to run alongside the main offer and to make it more accessible. "At Babington House they have a ‘no rules' eating policy where you can eat anything at any time and it has proved very successful. I think it's a good idea to provide more flexibility within their structure."

The lighter "garden menu" that the Fells had been running was too similar in style to the main menu and Hutson suggests using a blackboard format for the bar menu to really differentiate the product, adding: "Any dish with more than four words to it is too complicated."

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