Hotelier: listening to trends is key to success

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Cooking up a storm in the hotelier business can be tough, but one young general manager of a family run four star establishment has shared his tips for success and told how starting at the bottom is invaluable.

At 30 years old, Ben Larsen is responsible for the smooth running of The Glenmoriston Town House Hotel, a family-run four star hotel, which boasts a cocktail and whisky lounge, located on the banks of the iconic River Ness, in the heart of the capital of the Highlands.

Ben’s responsibilities range from welcoming guests through the door to mixing up his own take on a classic cocktail behind the bar. He took over the reins of running the hotel, from his father, successful businessman Barry Larsen, who still owns the hotel, two years ago.

Ben puts his current success down to attention to detail, as well as embracing new technology to reach a wider audience.

Keen to dispel any myths about starting at the top, Ben said: “I started in this business 10 ago as a kitchen porter, and I have worked in every department since. It’s important to start at the bottom and work your way up; it gives you a better insight into the food and drinks industry, and helps you get to know your market and clientele. It also means you are more respected by your peers.

“I have got my hands dirty cleaning dishes, and now that I am general manager, it means I kiss my weekends goodbye. It comes with the territory, and I’m no exception. In fact because it’s a family run business, I think I work harder for my position, not the other way about, which sometimes people may assume!”

Running the largest whisky bar in the capital of the Highlands is no easy task at such a young age, but catering for emerging trends and diversifying is where Ben thinks his strong points lie.

For example, Ben thinks the celebration of local produce is key to success.

He added: “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks, but sometimes it’s important to take a step back and listen to customer feedback. There has been a number of new trends I’ve witnessed over the past two year as general manager, and for me, they are all really positive.

“Especially this year, in Scotland’s year of food and drink. There has been a real celebration of local produce and for me, that’s what the Highlands of Scotland is all about – quality local, home grown produce. It’s something to be celebrated.”

He continued: “Local produce is the key to the success of our restaurant. Customers want to know the journey from farm to fork – people are more culturally aware of where their food comes from. For the Scottish farming and food and beverage industry, that has to be a good thing. All our meat comes from local butchers in Dingwal. We won’t compromise on that.”

Inverness is often cited as one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, and with the city witnessing the opening of its new University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) campus, Ben is keen to cater to the emerging groups of young professionals, who want a trendy atmosphere to socialise in.

He said: “As Inverness grows, there’s changing trends in why people are venturing out. Sometimes it’s to savor the flavour of a really nice glass of wine, or to enjoy one or two gin and tonics before home time. It’s not always about night clubbing.

“To run a successful hotel, or business, you have to notice what is going on around you. And the feedback that I have had from clients is they want to know more about the products, brands and origins of what they are drinking, as well as eating.

“It can be hard to put your head above the water and implement change, it’s a family run business and it has worked for 16 years. But I feel that is where my strength lies. In this day and age, you must move with the times, its important not just to stick to tradition, for tradition’s sake.

“Embracing social media, both Twitter and Facebook, and engaging with customers is another thing that has really come into play, especially over this past year. It’s changing all the time, and that’s where I feel my age helps.”

Boasting over 250 brands of whisky behind the bar, and an extensive cocktail list, as well as large wine list and over 25 premium gin brands, Ben wants to offer choice in his lounge bar.

He said: “Revelers are more educated when it comes to drinks. Very often I’ll get asked for a specific gin or a twist on a classic cocktail, which I am more than happy to cater for. Gin is experiencing a real boom at the moment, and that’s exciting for us. A few years ago, we had a few gins behind the bar, but now we have 25 – and we’re keen to expand. Our cocktail list is constantly growing and developing, and one of the things we enjoy doing most is adding local, seasonal ingredients to our cocktails.”

The hotel, which boasts 32 rooms and caters for wedding parties, as well as boardroom hire, has made significant investments of late, at Ben’s request.

“We’re about to extend our cocktail and whisky lounge as I’ve listened to customer feedback, and at the moment, our current lounge isn’t spacious enough.

“We recently invested a four figure sum into brand new, state-of-the-art phone systems, which compliment our board room hire. It’s about attention to detail, and having correct phones for conference calls is a must.

“Attention to detail and paying attention to emerging trends, that’s what it takes to be ahead of the game. Depending on loyal clientele is not the way to expand your business. You have to proactively seek ways to attract customers to you.”