Minute on the clock: James Hill, managing director, Hampton Manor

09 October 2020 by

The managing director of Hampton Manor in Hampton-upon-Arden, Solihull, tells Katherine Price how their approach to the 24-bedroom, Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms has been changed by coronavirus and why now is the time to ‘be bold'.

Tell us how you have adapted your business to the ‘new normal'?

We reopened the estate on 4 July. We repurposed all the spaces to create a three-day, two-night foodie adventure, and we've done a roaring trade with staycations. On the first night we offer a very rustic dining experience in the smokehouse in our walled garden, and the second night is a Michelin-starred tasting menu in Peel's restaurant. The break also includes a wine tasting, garden tour and use of all our facilities.

How many of these initiatives do you think you'll retain in the long-term?

The new services may have fundamentally changed the focus of our business forever. We've loved our new ways of enhancing customer experience and frequency of contact, too. We have way more raving fans because we have been able to focus and take what we do to the next level. It is becoming a virtuous circle.

Do you see this continuing into the coming months with bookings, or are you looking at other ways to diversify revenue?

While we recognise life for many will change again in the future, we have created such a strong experience that we now feel confident that the customers who have come will return – and with their friends. We are just 24 bedrooms across a generous estate, so it doesn't take a big audience to become oversubscribed.

Have you noticed any other changes in guest profile or what guests are looking for?

Guests want to feel safe – and the 45-acre estate helps – but people also want to stay local. It has amazed me how many guests have come from local villages for a two-night stay. We've had a lot of feedback that the way we have planned out the three days, with lots of freedom to relax, has been critical in their choice to come.

Most hotels let you make your own way through your break, but we've decided to create much more of a crafted experience and lead the guests through the best way of getting the most out of this special place and our team. If we had friends visiting, this journey is how we would have showed our best side. Now we get to do that for everyone.

A lot of other businesses have launched various forms of outdoor dining experiences – is this something that is sustainable into the winter?

We have converted our old Victorian greenhouses into dining spaces and they have been a hit. We are working out exactly what the winter experience looks like, but it will embrace the warmth of the house and its many roaring fires.

What else are you doing to ensure your business is sustainable? Are you confident in the future of the UK hotel market?

These are extremely challenging times. We have a unique estate that has taken 12 years of love and vision to develop, and this has created so many possibilities when reacting and responding to this difficult time. We have definitely taken a short-term financial hit, but have been able to use that to create an advantage.

It hasn't been possible for everyone to find a new niche, but recessions always birth new beginnings and some will come back stronger and find new problems to solve.

Without doubt it will take entrepreneurial spirit and determination from us all. I think the most important thing is to listen and look carefully at what consumers want. There are many new needs crying out to be met by a creative and spirited community, like those that make up the hospitality industry. It is time to take some risks and be bold.

There are many new needs crying out to be met by a creative and spirited community, like those that make up the hospitality industry. It is time to take some risks and be bold.

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