In Conversation with Stuart Procter, COO at The Stafford Hotel London

The Stafford Collection is an independently owned luxury portfolio of beautiful properties in distinct locations throughout the UK. These elegant hotels and award-winning restaurants offer sophisticated, self-assured guests the discreet luxury and anticipatory experiences they seek, in a warm and authentic atmosphere that is dedicated to continuous innovation and the highest standards of service and hospitality. The Stafford London is a proud member of the prestigious Preferred Hotels & Resorts Legend Collection. Read on to learn more about the evolution of the collection and the man that makes it happen, experienced hotelier and COO, Stuart Procter.

Tell us about the Stafford Collection.

The Stafford Collection includes The Stafford London which is tucked away in the heart of historic St James’s, Mayfair, and just minutes from many of London’s iconic landmarks and its vibrant West End, The Stafford London is one of the finest luxury and historic hotels in the capital. Northcote is a small luxury hotel with a Michelin star restaurant situated on the edge of the stunning Ribble Valley, in the heart of Lancashire and Norma Located in London’s Fitzrovia, Norma is a contemporary and vibrant restaurant, inspired by the food and culture of Sicily with an emphasis of the Moorish influences of the island’s cuisine.

The evolution of the collection has been quite simple, I came back to The Stafford London six years ago to try and put it back on the map again and I worked at Northcote when I was 15 years old so I have a great history with the two properties. One evening, over a glass of wine, it came to my attention that I wanted to grow the portfolio and thought why not…. it was as simple as that! We wanted something that connects The Stafford London to the countryside and I was born in the Ribble Valley so it was a perfect fit.

Norma – is just very cool, one of the best projects I’ve worked on and I absolutely love it! Why do I love it? Well, because anyone and everyone is welcome; you could take your partner for dinner, you could take your grandma for lunch, your kids for a bite, it is warm, it’s so friendly and the food is delicious. It’s Sicilian inspired and the menu is really well thought through, the chef Giovann is supersonic and Liz who runs it is absolutely brilliant – it really has a genuine family feel which is so important to running a business. It’s not too big but it is always packed out – the designer has done a terrific job and the layout, ambiance and team all just works perfectly.

Did you always envisage a career in hospitality?

I personally wanted to be a footballer, but I wasn’t good enough, so that was that ha-ha! But I also loved hotels, I loved food, I loved cooking as a kid, I was the boy in the home economics class with 33 girls, then I realised I loved serving people and looking after people, so I became a part-time waiter at Northcote and just fell in love with it. I had a super boss called Craig Bancroft. He is an amazing guy and he really took me under his wing, in fact we still work together – albeit in a different capacity to the old days. I was very fortunate to have met many amazing people along this journey – some are clients, some are colleagues, and some are now best mates! You meet people from all walks of life and industries, hospitality is an amazing sector to work in; you either love it or you don’t – it’s not a job, it’s life.

Any words of wisdom to a younger you if you were starting out again?

I have a younger me, called Florence, my 17-year-old daughter who is starting out as an apprentice within the hospitality sector. I don’t think much has changed really; it’s about working hard and if you show a good application, you listen and show your respect you will go a long-long way.

If Florence does what I believe she will do she will be my boss in ten years ha-ha! I think the opportunity within the industry now is vast, – there are very few people interested in joining hospitality, pre-Covid it was very difficult to recruit talent and post-Covid it’s almost impossible.

There are hotels opening every minute of the day – and we are not just talking about holiday inns and travel lodges, there are luxury properties popping up all the time; with high profile names like Peninsula, Raffles, Mandarin Oriental and Rosewood in London alone, the list is endless and it is really exciting. Graduates within this industry really have the chance to crack on with a rewarding career and just as importantly have fun too!

What are the fundamentals upon which your level of success has been built?

If you say you are going to do something do it, don’t let anybody down. If you are in a leadership role then the most important asset is your team, it is not the chandelier of the fancy plates it’s your team, so never let them down. Lead by example and hopefully, they will follow you.

What is a typical day for you – if such a thing exists?

I arrive at The Stafford London at 7.30am and I start the day with a cappuccino and sparkling water. I have a wander round, check in with everyone, go to the laundry check everyone there, go to the kitchen check on the team there. As I don’t just run the day-to-day operations at this property, I then kick-off with meetings with Sarah my PA, going through all the emails, and then looking at the future for the business really, for example, I have a meeting today about the prospect and feasibility of another hotel – we are looking at growing the business.

Also, a key element of my role is sales and marketing, I have connections around the world so I make sure I reach out to key clients and agents. Next, I go and see my team at Norma, and then I have “people meetings” looking at the strategic element of what we are doing and how we are growing, and training requirements for example. I also put my engineer hat on too, we are currently refurbishing and need to ensure progress is on track. Within my role there are so many different aspects of the business I look after and it’s quite reactive too for example a client may pop in and want to have a coffee. So really no two days are the same. That is the beauty of hotel keeping you are not in a rigid role.

What is the client demographic at The Stafford London?

In pre-Covid times, which we are pleased to say we are coming back to now, 60% of our guests are American as I always say and my predecessor many years ago taught me – if you have America on its own – you are into a strong market.

The American clients love to travel, they spend well, they love the UK and they love The Stafford London and St James area. It is very British; guests enjoy a stately home experience in the middle of London and we service our clients well, which Americans love (and so they should!) it’s not stiff, it’s informal, I don’t want people with name badges on, we are not corporate we like to stick to being an individual and elegant property.

We have got the who’s who staying here, dining here and drinking here – and the reason is they are comfortable. They love it.

Have you seen a trend toward boutique hotels post Covid people?

I think everyone is different, if you are into your points then you are going to want to stay in your Park Lane hotels. I think people want to enjoy their time and spend their money on what is luxurious for them. I think people also won’t tolerate rubbish, they don’t have time for it, so I think the expectations have gone higher and fair enough!

What does luxury mean to you?

Luxury to me is time, having dinner with my children in a cool place.

Which words would you use to describe the Stafford

Informal formality and home.

What is in the pipeline for the Stafford Collection?

We are exploring the market for new opportunities, we will happily manage opportunities people have not succeeded with or are tired of or want to add more value.

In the UK, we are looking at an opportunity in Manchester which would be a good fit for us and add value – we will only expand if the opportunity really feels right. It is an exciting time for the business, we have a super team and they want more, and if we don’t give them more they will go somewhere else.

We are also reviewing expansion plans for Norma, we are opening Norma in Cairo in May, and hope to do more too.

It feels like the business is in 5th gear and raring to go!

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