Hotel 41: How personalised service took the boutique hotel to the top

By Liam Garrahan

- Last updated on GMT

Malcolm Hendry's Hotel 41 is renowned for catering to the individual needs of guests
Malcolm Hendry's Hotel 41 is renowned for catering to the individual needs of guests

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In the next installment of our Spotlight on Service campaign, Malcolm Hendry, general manager of London’s five-star Hotel 41, explains why front-of-house employees are integral to creating a positive guest experience.

When receiving Trivago’s Top Hotel Award, Hendry recognised the commitment and quality of his staff as the all-important cog in Hotel 41’s machine, praising their desire to exceed expectations and give guests personal and individual experiences at the hotel​. This connection between employee and guest is what drives the hotel’s success.

“With guests it’s about understanding the individual - what they might want in terms of service might not be what I would want,” Hendry told BigHospitality.

“For instance I don’t like to be fussed over and if I want something I get it when I want to - but some guests do like the fuss.”

Understanding individual guests needs, Hendry said, involves staff asking questions and requesting them to fill out preference forms to see how the hotel can assist with their visit to the capital.

“Getting as much information [as possible] about a guest’s stay gives us opportunities to top and tail their experience – if they’re going to a restaurant where we have good contacts there’s an ability to get that great table, or whatever ticks their box individually,” he said.

“The key is actually asking these questions consistently and every time, and trying your best to get the questions answered. Everyone can have a preference form but you then have to have a system set up that ensures that it’s used every time, and when the information is given that it’s used at an operational level.”

With a ratio of two members of staff to each guest, Hendry can ensure that guests at Hotel 41 get the experience they want and that, although some target time standards do exist, guest who like extended service will receive it. This is all part of the hotel’s ‘service journey’.

“There are guests like myself, who want to check-in quickly, but we have a lot of guests who don’t. We’ve got four types of champagne, rooming, and hotel familiarisation, so it can take as long as you want,” he said.

“There are some guests that love that as an experience and it could take you over half an hour to check-in, so for me to say you will get the check-in done within a target time is unfair because I’m asking the team to understand what the guest’s preference is and to tailor the experience to that.”

Good service gets recognised

Hendry’s idea of good service involves displaying genuine hospitality and showing warmth and willingness to serve, giving the guest an easy and seamless experience.

Good service does not go unrecognised by hotel visitors. At the end of their stay they are supplied with a feedback form which allows them to praise individuals who have stood out.

“It re-personalises the visit, it really allows the guest to think about who they liked and reconnects them to the personal aspect of our service,” Hendry said.

“By getting that information as a manager it allows me to pass that on, because the essence of hospitality is providing an experience that guests enjoy and when you meet and exceed expectations you’re thanked and appreciated. If team members see that guests recognise them as an individual it motivates them, it encourages them.”

Encouraging staff

But staff recognition at the hotel does not stop there. Hendry has put in place a variety of ways to recognise his service team’s contribution to the hotel, from giving hand-written notes to notes to staff and running employee of the month year awards, to throwing donut-days and putting ice cream machines in the staff restaurant to celebrate achievements.

When recruiting new members of the team, there are certain qualities that Hendry looks for in a candidate, with personality shining through over experience.

“We look for a warmth and willingness in their attitude, we look for the wish to please and to serve, but sometimes when we interview someone they don’t want to work in service and usually they’ll be more clerically-based rather than personality-based.

“Our receptionist would probably make a lousy receptionist at a doctor’s surgery, no offence to her, but she wants her personality out there, she wants to engage with guests and she wants to find out about their day. So I think that a surgery wouldn’t have the time to do that or the wish to do that, so there has to be a match there.”

The emphasis on teamwork at Hotel 41 is what makes the boutique hotel tick, and Hendry explained that everyone is an equal-sized cog in the well-oiled machine.

“Every single member in every single department has service roles to carry out, and if they’re all doing it they create the overall experience. It’s a complete team effort, there’s not one person who’s more important and I include myself in that. Everyone is as equal and as important as one-another.”


To access a wide range of online courses for the hospitality industry, go to Appetite Learning.

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