Palace, theatre and racecourse in running for top catering honours

One of the widest ranges of nominations ever to be submitted for the top honours in Scottish hospitality have been received for this year’s Catering Scotland (CIS) Excellence Awards, the organisers announced. In addition to colleges, local authorities, international hotel groups and a conference centre, contenders include a palace, a theatre, a yacht, a racecourse, farm holiday cottages, a transport operator and a variety of pubs. Located from as far afield as Shetland in the north to Dumfries and Galloway in the south, and from east Fife to islands off the west coast, the entrants this year span the full breath of Scotland. Among the 17 awards, the Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year categories continue to prove popular, while others including Young Chef of the Year and the all-new Food Tourism Award are gaining significant support within organisations and businesses of all types and sizes. “This unprecedented degree of interest has underlined the wealth of talent in the industry, and indeed how widespread it is throughout Scotland,” said CIS Advisory Board chairman Neil Thomson. As the country’s annual competition for the catering, hospitality and tourism sectors, the CIS Excellence Awards are widely accepted as the ultimate accolade for chefs, hotels, restaurants, gastro pubs and educational institutions. The shortlist for 2018 will be announced in the third week of April and the awards presented at the Doubletree by Hilton Glasgow Central on Thursday 31st May. For more information or to book a place at the event, call…

Death of owner who brought luxury sailing to Scottish hotels

Ken Gunn, global seafarer who skippered stars on the Hebridean Princess Ken Gunn, co-owner of the multi award-winning Sonas Hotels group on Skye and the global seafarer who introduced luxury sailing to the world of Scottish hospitality, has died at the age of 67. Before he and his wife Anne launched their first hotel, Toravaig House on the southern peninsula of Sleat, in 2003 he was captain of the five star cruise ship the Hebridean Princess, sailing around the UK, Ireland and Norway. VIP guests included HRH Princess Anne, actor Sean Connery, racing driver Jackie Stewart and singer-composer Chris de Burgh. The Hebridean Princess, twice chartered by Queen Elizabeth including a trip to celebrate her 80th birthday, was the model for the nine bedroom Toravaig which the couple insisted should be ‘a luxury ship ashore.’ They went on to purchase and develop the nearby Duisdale House, voted Scotland’s Best Hotel in the 2013 Thistle Awards run by national tourism organisation VisitScotland and Best Independent Hotel in the Catering Scotland Awards in 2015. In 2016 they bought Skeabost House near Portree in the north of the island and recently completed a total refurbishment and extension. In the Islands’ section of the 2018 Scottish Hotel Awards the three hotels won six different categories among them. Skeabost, which now has 18 bedrooms, was voted Scotland’s Island Hotel of the Year in 2016 and again in 2017. Born and brought up in Oban, son of a sea captain, Ken was educated at Oban High…

Still remembered – Whisky tribute to Sir Iain

Visited Skye’s newest distillery, Torabhaig, and was intrigued to find its two stills are named after the late merchant banker Sir Iain Noble and his widow, Lady Lucilla Noble. Sir Iain, who died in 2010, founded the firm of Noble Grossart and was instrumental in founding Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic college, situated near the distillery on the Sleat peninsula. That could be reason enough for the honour but he also founded, in 1976, the “Gaelic whisky” company Prban na Linne, which produces the malt Poit Dhubh.

Does VisitScotland have to close all these tourist information centres?

VISITSCOTLAND chiefs have announced plans to axe nearly two-thirds of local information offices — just as the country celebrates a record-breaking year for tourism. Bosses claim they are closing 39 of the 65 centres because travellers prefer to plan their adventures online. But industry experts believe holidaymakers deserve to be welcomed to our homeland by a team of friendly faces. Today SCOTT THORNTON, managing director of Edinburgh-based consultancy Hotel PR, explains why the personal touch is always best… Read the full article here.

Top romantic hotel bans mobile phones

Lochside retreat says ‘digital detox’ needed to get families talking again Scotland’s most romantic hotel has banned mobile phones in its dining room – to help children connect with their parents. Ardanaiseig, on the shores of Loch Awe in Argyll, believes it is the first hotel or restaurant in Scotland to introduce such a ban and that doing so will promote good old fashioned ‘family time’ “Leisure breaks, especially in such a blissfully peaceful location, should be relaxing. Mobile phones have no place in a restaurant and can get in the way of kids’ chats with mum and dad,” General Manager Bronwyn Smith said. She went on: “Good old fashioned table conversation and manners have taken a back seat in today’s busy and fast paced way of life. Our hotel would like to encourage laughter and chatter and if it means introducing a ‘digital detox’ we are all for it.” Recent surveys had shown that the average adult in the UK spends nearly nine hours each day on media and communication, outstripping even time spent sleeping, and that almost half of 18-24 year olds check their phone in the middle of the night. “Mealtimes offer a chance for the family to converse and share experiences,” Bronwyn Smith said. “The only distractions in our dining room should be the breathtaking view over Loch Awe or the delight in seeing our local wildlife scamper across the lawns.” Ardanaiseig Hotel, in 120 acres of wooded grounds at Kilchrenan near Taynuilt, was named by…

Everyone’s a journalist now – So how do YOU deal with bloggers?

A dramatic change in the way hotels and restaurants promote themselves has been the massive growth of blogging. Just a few years ago nearly all reviews were written by journalists working for newspapers or magazines. Now anyone can be a journalist – and this causes problems as well as opportunities for the hospitality trade. How do you decide which bloggers are genuine? Are they just trying to get a free stay or meal? How many followers do they really have? Will they focus on your hotel or restaurant, or on the local area and its attractions? How many courtesy nights do they want? How many of them are there? What do you charge any friends who accompany them? Could you sell the room or table? What do you offer? What recourse do you have if they don’t publish anything or write a critical review? With print journalists you can take it up with the editor. That’s more difficult with bloggers. Many bloggers (or vloggers, who incorporate video) reach far more potential guests than conventional print media – and since they’re online they can reach a global audience. At Hotel PR we receive a request from a blogger or blogger every couple of days and can usually separate the sheep from the goats. If you’re approached, give us a call and we’ll guide you.

Lessons for hoteliers from Grenfell Tower

There are lessons for hoteliers in the problems experienced by the Prime Minister and Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. There’s crisis management for a start. How many hotel owners and GMs have a plan in place to cope with the media fall-out from an emergency or disaster? Very few. Of more day-to-day relevance is the crucial importance of human contact and empathy. Theresa May and the Council may well have tried their best to tackle the aftermath of the fire but they failed to show residents that they cared. Hotel managers and owners must interact with guests. It is not enough to sit behind a desk – or in the case of many owners, visit your property once or twice a year from your home in another country. You need to talk with them, find out their wants and needs, and above all let them know they’re the life blood of your business. And you should respond to online reviews, however critical, and not pretend they didn’t happen or that the writers are deluded.

Reputation can be fragile

Premier Inn’s recent reported payment of six figure compensation to the family of a guest who died after being scalded in an Edinburgh shower made me think again of how few hotels and restaurants give any thought to what happens if they suffer a crisis. I’ve been involved with Scottish hotels and restaurants for more than 16 years and can count on the fingers of both hands the number of those who know how to handle the press if they get into the news for the wrong reasons. Some but far from all of the Scottish properties of international brands have a crisis plan in a filing drawer back at head office. Independent hotels and restaurants generally don’t have a clue. Yet as the Newcraighall case showed there’s a daunting list of what could, and often does, happen: sudden death, fire, serious accident, food poisoning, staff scandal, discrimination allegations, damning hygiene report. A reputation can take years to build up yet be destroyed in minutes.

Hospitality industry honours “Scotland’s perfect culinary ambassador”

Scotland’s only double Michelin Star holder has been honoured by Scotland’s hospitality and catering sector as the country’s “perfect culinary ambassador” at awards in which his long-standing protégé was named Chef of the Year. Andrew Fairlie, who runs his eponymous restaurant at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, was presented with the Lifetime Excellence Award at the Catering Scotland (CIS) Excellence Awards in Glasgow on Thursday 25 May attended by over 500 of Scotland’s leading hoteliers, chefs and caterers. “Andrew’s achievements at Gleneagles have been remarkable but his contributions to the industry have ranged far beyond them,” said CIS Advisory Board chairman Neil Thomson. “He has raised the country’s food profile, been a true champion for Scotland and been our perfect culinary ambassador with commitment, skills and enthusiasm that have won him the highest respect,” he added. “Andrew has also nurtured young chefs and set personal and professional standards to which they aspire.” Stephen McLaughlin, described by judges as one of Scotland’s unsung heroes, joined Fairlie when his Gleneagles restaurant opened in 2001 and has held the position of Head Chef since 2006. Neil Thomson added: “Stephen has worked quietly behind the scenes to uphold the restaurant’s worldwide reputation. His continuous innovations and constant adherence to the highest standards have helped make possible the retention of two Michelin Stars for well over 10 years.” Other finalists in the Chef of the Year category included Tim Dover of The Roost Restaurant at Bridge of Earn near Perth and Stewart Macauly of…

“I’m sorry (well, not really). The kitchen’s closed”

VisitScotland would regard this as heresy but many Scottish hotels and restaurants don’t really like tourists. Their owners and managers are happy to accept visitors – but on their own inflexible terms. My wife was enjoying coffee at the end of a lunch (which took ages to be served but that’s another story) at one of our favourite hotels in the Trossachs in mid-May when, at 2.35 pm, an American couple entered the restaurant. “We’ve heard so much about this hotel and thought we’d come here for something to eat,” they said enthusiastically. “The kitchen’s closed” was the curt response. “The chef goes home at 2.30.” My wife had just finished a nice bowl of home-made soup. Couldn’t the couple at least have that, heated up? Not a chance. It’s far too common a tale. Try getting a cup of tea in a rural restaurant in Scotland at 4 pm!