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November update: The Royal Sportsman – Christmas

26 November 2009
November update: The Royal Sportsman – Christmas

Christmas is always a magical time at the Royal Sportsman because it's such a family-friendly hotel, with fun being a key focus of activities.

The festivities get under way on 1 December when joint owner Viorica Naudi takes charge of dressing the two large Christmas trees in reception and the lounge. With help from the staff, all of the public areas are festooned with decorations. "I'm told to keep well out of the way, under pain of death," says Viorica's husband and business partner, Louis Naudi.

All 28 bedrooms have been booked out for four days from 23 December by small family tour group Blakes, paying premium prices. "We do this every year and is the only tour group which we accept," Naudi says.

"When I first came here in 1998, the bulk of our trade was from tour operators, which we have now all dropped, except for this one. I generally don't like dealing with tour groups as they expect five-star service for a one-star price. However, this particular group have stayed with us twice before over the past six years and they will be a lot of fun."

Nearly all 70 spaces for Christmas Day lunch have been booked by a mixture of the tour group guests and local customers. The £45 menu will offer a choice of four starters, two appetisers, five main courses, four desserts, coffee or tea, and mince pies - with a traditional roast turkey as the centrepiece.

Naudi himself is not very keen on turkey, generally finding it dry, tasteless and boring. However, he is very pleased with a turkey escalope stuffed with cranberries and mixed stuffing which is being supplied to the Royal Sportsman by Welsh Quality Meats and will be offered as one of the choices on the lunch and dinner menus throughout December.

"We have around 12 party bookings for lunch or dinner in the run-up to Christmas, but I expect we will get more," Naudi says. "One of the biggest changes we've noticed in the past couple of years is that bookings are getting later and later."

"As a result, I'll be sending out a mail-shot about New Year's Eve in December, when we hope to get 40 bookings for dinner." The New Year's Eve menu offers five courses and coffee, with music and dancing, for £35.

Mentor Peter Birnie says that the Naudi's pricing of their Christmas menus is very fair. "Prices at times of year like this depend on your locality, the local price expectations, what you have charged in the past and cost of staff," he says. "Louis is quite astute with his finances, so I am sure he has got this right."

With regards to the booking of the hotel by a tour group over the peak Christmas period, Birnie says this is unusual. "However, Louis and Viorica have had this booking for many years and it does guarantee a full hotel for that period, they know the numbers and the menus, and can be sure of a good margin.

NOVEMBER UPDATE

October was busy month for the Royal Sportsman, with sales increasing across all areas of the business. Sales overall were up by 19.8%. Rooms increased by 12.6%, food by 34.6%, drinks by 17.8% and coffee by 29%.

Success in achieving an AA rosette in June, with the subsequent positive press coverage highlighting the menu dominated by local Welsh ingredients, prepared by head chef Felix Prem and his brigade, has undoubtedly helped to boost business.

"Having waited six years for the Daily Post (the daily national newspaper in Wales) to visit us, they suddenly turned up out of the blue," says Louis Naudi. "The article that followed was great publicity for us."

Two new members of staff - a front-of-house trainee and a chef level 2 trainee - have joined the Royal Sportsman team, taking the total number of staff up to 17.

"Conventional wisdom is that one should not recruit in the winter, but I take the view that we want to train our staff now to be ready for 2010," Louis says. "Having a strong team we'll also enable me to take time to slow down after having worked at 100 miles an hour for so many years."

On 2 November work started on the final upgrade of the hotel. Over the next two to three months, 13 of the 28 bedrooms will be refurbished.

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