A Balance Between Style And Tradition

MD David Morgan-Hewitt has worked at London’s iconic The Goring Hotel for 25 years, so what’s the secret behind this long-running and highly successful partnership?

 

David Morgan-Hewitt would never say it, but he is one of the industry’s most naturally gifted hoteliers – an interesting comment given that he originally went to university to study law. A naturally gregarious character, David is insightful, with a quick wit. On first meeting him, you are struck by his warm personality, but David’s real story is less his character, and more his understanding and passion for people, hotels and style.

After a few minutes in David’s company, it is easy to see why he switched from law to the hotel industry. As David describes it, he loved the honesty of the work; it was hard work, but fun.

“It took me a long time to really understand why I loved hotels so much; it is the people,” explains David. “For years, I had been getting it wrong. When people asked me what my passion was, I would say food and wine. While at university, I even set up the food and wine club, so I’ve used the same line for over 20 years. However, I have come to realise that although this is fundamental to what I like, it is really people who are my hobby. Whether it’s guests or colleagues, I simply enjoy people. Our role is to look after people and the more senior you get, the more you can influence how this happens.”

“Success is understanding who you are, whether we say that in the context of the hotel, or the individuals we employ. It’s not about branding or cloning people. We’re an industry made up of so many wonderful characters. It’s sad because people can be afraid that by allowing personalities to shine, their standards may drop. What a waste of natural talent.”

One suspects that The Goring represents David’s values and vice versa. Both have a sense of style, of a balance in perspective between history and the modern. For followers of The Goring, one can see how the hotel has evolved under David’s tenure. It has a special style that creates an experience for the guest, and makes it stand apart from its natural competition. However, the hotel also expresses itself through subtle nuances; whether it is the welcome, the uniforms, the food and beverages, or the pictures on the walls. The Goring is subtle theatre that engages the customer.

David’s early career saw him work in independent hotels and restaurants, which formed the path to hotel management. For the past 25 years, David has seen his career move from strength to strength at The Goring, one of London’s most discreet hotels, in the heart of the capital.

Part of the answer to the question of his longevity is that David has been inspired by three central characters – George and Jeremy Goring and William Cowpe, his first general manager at the hotel. David learnt different skills from each. 

“George Goring was chairman when I first joined,” recalls David. “He believed in keeping things simple. To George, hotel management is about the guests. Let’s get back to basics – we are innkeepers and traditionally our role was to offer food, drink and overnight accommodation for travellers and stabling for their horses. But this message gets confused when businesses are influenced by shareholders, corporate policies and procedures. More often than not, the bottom line precedes the guest.”

“The Goring back then was all about the service, but didn’t have the right look. George Goring and William Cowpe were running it, and it was the two of them who decided this stripey shirt and white collar chap was worth the risk. They both saw something in me that maybe others did not.”

“It was an AA four red star and during my first weeks, I had this great feeling of hospitality which runs through the hotel from top to bottom.”

“The team wanted to make people happy; they were not fixated on making money and so I never left. The Goring had a balance in perspective that made it special. After around two and a half years, I became the F&B hotel manager, then GM after four years and 10 years after that, the top job as MD. I’ve been here a while, but nowhere near the longest – one of our doormen, Peter, has been here for 50 years!”

“The hotel has changed during my time here, having gone through two complete refurbishments and redecorated numerous times. We reached a point where we really were providing a five-star environment and so took the risk to move from four red stars to the next level up. Thankfully, we were awarded five red stars, and recently retained our Michelin star, which we won just over a year ago. “Over a century has passed since Otto Richard Goring opened the hotel. Jeremy Goring, our CEO, is his great-grandson with the hotel passing down proudly through four generations of the family. We are constantly moving forward and now invest £100,000 into each bedroom during its redecoration. Recently, we added hand-woven Gainsborough silks on to the walls and our Royal Suite has the same beautiful silk that graced the first-class dining room of the RMS Titanic.”

“We have also introduced some glamour to the lobby with hand-painted wallpaper that shows a whimsical scene portraying English parkland complete with exotic animals – we wanted guests to imagine that all the animals in London Zoo had escaped. Getting a designer in and spending money is the fun part of running a hotel and it’s great to be involved, but the real work comes after. You want your guests to have a great experience and the team really makes the difference. Finding those people isn’t always easy, so that’s why we strive to win awards; you can attract the most hospitable when you have the right environment. You know early on whether someone has the right attitude. You can train people to have the right skills, but the best attitude comes naturally. We are looking for people who would open the door for someone on the street, not just someone while working in the hotel; people who possess real warmth.”

“We are the only five-star hotel that is over 100 years old and continuously owned and run by the same family. We are lucky to have true hoteliers who see themselves as custodians, and look to leave the hotel in a better condition for the next generation. I believe you inherit the hospitality gene and that makes you genuinely focussed and if anything goes wrong, you try everything to make it better.”

“I believe the London hotel market is really rocking and there are many properties opening in all shapes and spaces. Shangri-La in the Shard, Rosewood London and the re-opening of The Lanesborough are making the market even more competitive, so it’s important to regularly test and measure our service standards. My fear for the future is that with all the extra rooms, available hotels will drop their prices and in turn reduce staffing levels and standards may slip.”

“Some guests are looking for a well-being stay, but there are always guests who want  a luxurious stay. For me, this is all about the experience and being cared for. Why not stop and have afternoon tea, almost like going to back to a bygone era. Well-being, can, of course, mean massages, yoga and the like, but why can’t it also include being given attention that completely focuses on you; that’s what luxury really is.”

The Goring also has a long-term link with Buckingham Palace and the entire hotel was taken over for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. “It’s lovely being a hidden gem, but this exclusive booking really did raise the hotel’s profile,” says David.

“I often say there are three reactions to London’s five star hotels; ‘I know of the hotel and I’ve been there’; ‘I have heard of the hotel’ and ‘I have never heard of the hotel’. For us, the third option was completely removed – we’re even pointed out on the London bus tour! It was an amazing, but tough, six months following the royal wedding. Our website traffic increased significantly and continued for some time and we see spikes whenever coverage is repeated on television. We have never given an interview on the event, and believe our discretion is why we were chosen originally. I would call The Goring traditional, and we celebrate where we have come from. These days we are often referred to as ‘impeccably English’. I do feel like I’ve won the lottery working here. The team around me are so passionate, I feel blessed to have them.”

“Recently our service lift was out of operation for six weeks and all kinds of things had to be carried up and down the stairs, yet staff never once complained. I truly believe housekeeping departments are the unsung heroes of hotels; and will never understand why guests don’t tip those who do these important jobs.”

“Hotels are a unique business; hoteliers are friends, but also competitors, and we take pride in showing our property to others. We were recently dubbed ‘the benchmark for detail in London’ which is a favourite accolade of mine, because if your peers rate you, you must be doing something right.”