Welcome Back: Chat With Robert Whitfield, Regional Director UK and General Manager, The Dorchester

Overseeing one of the most iconic hotels in London, The Dorchester on Park Lane, and its sister property across the street, 45 Park Lane, as well the countryside counterpart, Coworth Park in Windsor, Robert Whitfield has his pulse on how England’s luxury hospitality industry is navigating COVID-19.  London correspondent Emily Goldfischer had a catch up with him now that all three Dorchester Collection properties have reopened after lockdown in the U.K. 

First, how was the lockdown for the hotels?

We followed the U.K. government’s guidance and shut down in March. We were able to reopen Coworth Park in the countryside sooner, over summer, than we did here in London. We are happy to say we have retained all our employees across the company during lockdown; it’s the people that make the magic happen and our priority was to keep them employed. The U.K. government gave us help, which was great, but in the cases where it was less than the normal salary, we topped the employees up to make their full pay.

Now that you have reopened everywhere, how is it going?

Our staff are thrilled to be back and we are trying to keep things as normal as possible: No stickers and minimal signage; all distancing guidance is done through employees stationed throughout the hotels and by the elevators. It’s working well—we are maintaining social distance; in some areas, employees are wearing gloves and some food and beverage servers are wearing masks. So, while we are following government protocols, we have managed to do it in a discreet way. Also, guests get it by now, so it is quite easy to manage. I guess the biggest, most visible change is that we have hand sanitizer everywhere!

How is occupancy?

Depends. In the countryside, Coworth Park had the best August in the history of the hotel. The fall is well-booked and we expect more last-minute reservations, though we do have lots of bookings already for Christmas. People want to celebrate but remain concerned about the ever-changing quarantine restrictions. Most bookings are happening inside of 28 days. We have seen a reverse pattern in the city, the hotels are busier on the weekends with U.K. guests driving in for celebrations or to enjoy London. 

You’ve recently announced several food and beverage changes, was that due to COVID-19?

No, it is just coincidental but we have a “new” executive chef in Mario Perera, who actually first joined The Dorchester over 18 years ago and has risen through the culinary ranks, most recently working directly under his predecessor Stefan Trepp. In his new role as executive chef, Mario has responsibility for overseeing the brigade of more than 100 chefs within The Dorchester's six kitchens, serving The Grill, The Promenade, The Bar, private dining and events, in-room dining and The Spatisserie at The Dorchester Spa. Over at 45 Park Lane, Jamie Shears has joined as executive chef, overseeing the culinary direction of the hotel, including Wolfgang Puck's famed restaurant CUT at 45 Park Lane. At the moment, we’re known for the best steak in London, Jamie will develop CUT's menu to celebrate locally sourced ingredients with an emphasis on fish from his home town in Devon, as well as highlighting vegetarian and vegan dishes, further enhancing the hotel's commitment to quality produce.

How are the restaurants doing?

Really well, actually—people want to get out and eat well! We’ve recently opened new terraces at both The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane, which have been a big hit. China Tang has been open since July, the three Michelin-star Alain Ducasse has opened for lunch and dinner, and we just reopened The Grill. Our ever-popular Afternoon Tea is back in full swing; we’ve even added a very interactive “scone trolley” with a selection of scones and homemade jams rolling through the lobby. Guests love it. Also, as government guidance still allows weddings and religious ceremonies for up to 30 guests, we have been quite busy doing small gatherings in our event spaces. 

Have you opened the spa at The Dorchester?

Yes, the spa and gym have reopened by appointment, mostly for hotel guests, though there are some local members.  The protocol is to clean in between each guest, which is working well so far. We have seen locals coming in for facials and massages, so business at the spa is picking up. In a few weeks time we will open a new 10,000-square-foot spa at 45 Park Lane, in conjunction with the 24 new Mayfair Park Residences, which have been developed adjacent to the hotel. The spa is incredible, state-of-art facilities with a 2,250-square-foot, state-of-the-art gym, 20-meter (65-foot) heated swimming pool, separate sauna and steam rooms, hydrotherapy and personal training.

What else is new?

We are making an effort to make the hotel more interactive for guests coming into London. We have added some new “behind the scenes” experiences, from historical walking tours of Mayfair with our head of marketing, to exclusive wine dinners, cooking classes with the chefs and even small floral arranging courses with our in-house florist Philip Hammond.

For inquiries about VIP Bookings at the Dorchester Collection UK properties, email Alison Rutherford, regional sales director [email protected].

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