The Chesterfield Mayfair hotel - the AA Inspectors' Choice 2010 - prides itself on its friendly atmosphere and relaxed charm. General manager Oliver Raggett talks to James Stagg.
Need to know
Located in the heart of London's Mayfair near Berkeley Square, the four-star Chesterfield Mayfair hotel has a traditional look and feel that is designed to echo classical English elegance.
The property was once home to the Earl of Chesterfield, hence the name, but has been a hotel for over 80 years and was taken over by Red Carnation in 1984. It has an old-world charm with wood panelling, oil paintings, leather armchairs and chandeliers, while the 94 guest rooms and 13 suites are all equipped with the latest technology.
"All the suites are individually decorated," general manager Oliver Raggett explains. "There are also 15 different themed rooms, which include Savile Row - featuring a Prince of Wales check and pictures of tailors - and a stamp room. All our rooms have fabric on the walls rather than paint to make them feel more luxurious."
The Chesterfield Mayfair also has a library, Butlers restaurant for fine-dining, an airy conservatory where light lunches and afternoon tea are served, and a cosy bar.
Being in Mayfair, the hotel has plenty of competition, but its combination of relaxed charm and attentive service ensures the guests keep returning. Two-thirds of guests are corporate and the majority of those are regulars.
"Every Monday we will have 15 to 20 corporate visitors that have stayed with us between 100 and 150 times," Raggett adds. "One guest has visited over 400 times. That brings a wonderful atmosphere as they know all the staff and they feel at home."
He believes that the hotel's friendly atmosphere is one of its key characteristics. "Everyone likes to go somewhere where they are recognised. They walk in and are greeted by their name by the receptionist, porters and concierge and in the bar their drinks are poured before they have sat down. That makes a big difference. You can't be anonymous here, we're so guest-focussed."
A third of the guests at the hotel are Americans looking for that quintessentially English charm, rather than staying in a more generic hotel that could be anywhere in the world. "They like the traditional feel of the hotel," Raggett explains.
How does it stand out?
Beyond its traditional appeal and individual rooms, the Chesterfield Mayfair offers a number of packages that promote local businesses and suppliers.
One is the Mayfair Experience, which includes two nights accommodation, full English breakfast each day, traditional afternoon tea for two on one day and an experience of the guests' choice.
"We offer a choice of a walking tour of Mayfair, Geo. F. Trumper's Mach 3 Shaving School, a butchery class at Allens of Mayfair or horse riding in Hyde Park," Raggett says.
Meanwhile, the popular Terrace bar is busy from 8am with people having coffee, through lunchtime to the evening when a pianist entertains guests. The bar offers snacks such as nuts and olives with drinks, and between 6pm and 9pm fingers of cheese on toast are available too.
"There's a change in atmosphere during the day. I just wish [the Terrace bar] was bigger - if we doubled the size we could fill it. It's not just guests; local business people come in too," Raggett says.
How does it market itself?
As well as making use of Red Carnation's marketing team, the Chesterfield benefits from the experience of Terry Holmes. Now executive director for Red Carnation, he works for the company in the USA.
"He knows all the high-end travel agents and we're developing a really good name out there," Raggett says.
"For local business I have two corporate sales people based at the hotel. We really only go after a square mile from here and are happy to take small accounts, that means when one goes it's not such a major issue.
"We're in a nice situation in that we've got lots of small accounts and we're very good at looking after them."
OLIVER RAGGETT'S REVELATIONS
Favourite hotel The Twelve Apostles in Cape Town - I genuinely love having breakfast there and looking out over the sea.
Favourite restaurant J Sheekey for its atmosphere as much as the food.
Which book has inspired you? We've done quite a bit of work with Michael Heppell, who wrote a book called How To Be Brilliant. It's about being positive in what you say and it really does work. If you have a positive attitude you can turn things round. It has helped me to be brilliant.
If you weren't a hotelier, what would you have been? Playing in goal for West Ham, making sure they're not conceding as many as they are right now.
Which hotelier do you most admire? I learnt the most from Guy Snelling when I was in Dubai. Unfortunately he's no longer around.
Can you describe your business in five words? A home away from home.
SPOTLIGHT ON SERVICE
Food is a huge part of the operation at the Chesterfield Mayfair. Its two-AA-rosette Butlers restaurant is run by head chef Ben Kelliher, who prepares classically British food.
Dishes include oxtail soup, steak and kidney pie with Colchester oysters and Guinness sauce, Lancashire hotpot, and Dover sole, but one of its most popular choices is the carving trolley. Along with a roast option it offers two types of salmon carved at the table.
"It's amazing how those traditional serving methods are in vogue again," Raggett says. "People like a bit of theatre."
Another big part of the food and beverage offer at the hotel is private dining. Like other businesses it has struggled to attract conferences due to reduced training budgets so to compensate it has attacked small private dining.
"We've found there's definitely still a market for it in terms of high end, high spend dinners," Raggett adds.