Thomas Kochs is managing director of Corinthia Hotel London. The German-born hotelier trained with the Steinberger Hotel Group in Germany before taking up the role of banqueting operations manager at the Hyatt Carlton Tower in London in 2000. He joined the Berkeley hotel in 2005, then moved to The Connaught in 2007 as hotel manager. Two years’ later Thomas moved to Claridge’s as hotel manager and was promoted to general manager in 2011. While there he starred in the hit BBC series Inside Claridge’s and oversaw the hotel’s 10 day pop-up restaurant A Taste of Noma. He left Claridge’s in late 2015 and later joined Hotel Café Royal, London where he was managing director for just over a year before joining Corinthia London in May 2017. Later this year the hotel will see the opening of chef Tom Kerridge’s first London restaurant Kerridge’s Bar & Grill.
It’s really interesting for me to work with a younger hotel. Corinthia London is seven years old and previously I have been involved in hotels that have been more established and around for much longer. On the flip side, The Corinthia isn’t new any more because it has been around for seven years so and is now established in the world of London luxury hotels. Whatever the age, there’s a lot of work to do. Always.
What you saw on Inside Claridge’s was genuine and honest. I think what made it successful was the people in it and the love and admiration those people had for their jobs and Claridge’s. It’s just a legendary and iconic hotel and the group of people that come together in those hotels are sincere about what they do. People would say ‘that was just for TV’ and I’d say, ‘no, you can come here next week and spend a day or two with us and see that people are in reality exactly like those you saw on TV’. It is an amazing hotel too.
You should never use food and beverage as a support division in a hotel. If you look at it saying, ‘oh we have to have somewhere for people to have breakfast and lunch’ then you are really devaluing the proposition. You need to look at F&B in a way that this is something you want to have and with its own business model. I’ve always tried to have restaurants and bars with their own identity, so it’s very clear for the guests and customers about why they are going to the place and what they are getting there.
When I looked into our restaurant portfolio, I felt that having culinary chef partners was really beneficial to the guests and the hotel, so we looked at a lot of different options. A lot of our guests come from the U.S. so we could have worked with an American chef, or opted for the not-so-new trend of Asian food where you mix sushi and a grill element, but at the end of the day it’s important that the hotel has a feel like where they are. At Corinthia London we really want to feel British and be a London hotel, so we looked at the British chefs we could partner with. Tom Kerridge is just such a wonderful hospitality person and when we met we just got on immediately. When you look at these partnerships, you have to get the chemistry right and that your approach to hospitality and how you look at a restaurant is the same. It was easy to get to know Tom and he focuses a lot on looking after the team and operating with a happy team to look after customers and provide the hospitality that comes with that and that’s the same approach as we gave here.
We don’t want the restaurant to feel like a hotel restaurant. I would like it to feel like an independent restaurant and therefore you need a strong confident operator. A hotel like Corinthia London obviously wouldn’t want a pub, but what Tom does in Marlow is very different, because his is a pub with two Michelin stars. What the pub side brings is the accessibility, the great hospitality, friendliness, people wanting to return often and a great atmosphere, but to do this combined with two Michelin stars, to have real credibility and the food offering, I personally think that’s hugely attractive.
I’ve eaten at the Hand and Flowers more than once. I love it. I don’t often eat in pubs, however and what we are opening here with Tom Kerridge won’t be a pub. It’ll be called Kerridge’s Bar & Grill. Half of the restaurant will be a bar area serving bar food and bar snacks, then there is the restaurant side which will be more like a grill and rotisserie where they’ll (the chefs) prepare delicious things.
I always have the deepest of respect for our partners, so if it was Gordon Ramsay at the time, or Helene Darroze or Rene Redzepi from Noma and now Tom Kerridge, I’ve let them be who they are. These chefs need to have a lot of room to bring their own identity into the restaurant. After all, that’s the reason why you partner with them. Squeezing them into a hotel pattern doesn’t work. You also have to think about the guests. Ask, what do they really want, not what would we like them to have. If you put the guest at the centre of the decision-making process you’re well on the way to having a successful food and beverage offering.
We are partnering with Michael Sager and Marcus Dzelzainis of Sager + Wilde in East London. Marcus will be a bar director for our Bassoon Bar and Michael Sager will look after our Northall Bar, which will become more of a wine bar. That’s happening now and I’m so excited to see it taking place.
I love to travel. I always try and do one trip a year where you discover the world and get to know something new. Then in the summer I will holiday in Europe. We are all very blessed that we live in Europe and what a beautiful place it is. Italy is a go-to place for me, I love the Amalfi coast, but I also adore the Greek islands so it’s normally one or the other.
Sometimes hoteliers are used to doing things in the same way, so breaking out of the same patterns and having the courage to do things in a different way is actually quite interesting. The world is changing quickly around us and I think that anyone would agree we need to change with it. How we operate hotels today is very different to how we used to do it 10 to 15 years ago.
Technology is evolving fast. Just look at how we all work with social media today, it’s so different to how it was 10 years ago when we all thought Facebook was revolutionary. People have moved to mobile devices for booking and we have to adapt to that. I sometimes sit there and listen to marketing managers who are 25 years younger than I am and I think ‘what are you talking about?’ but you have to understand what is going on.
If you approach things positively and have a great team of professionals around you you can achieve anything. What we’re doing is not open-heart surgery. Nobody dies, so I generally have an optimistic and positive approach to every day here.
Planning is getting more and more difficult. There’s way more last minute pick-up than ever before. It seems to get even more short notice. It throws up questions like ‘how do you plan your staffing levels, how do you forecast accurately and record that and what will the demographic look like?’ That’s definitely a challenge, because if you don’t know what your revenue structure is like it’s hard to manage things.
Let’s see what Brexit will bring. Recruitment isn’t exactly getting any easier and I think again any hotelier will tell you that it’s a challenge. To find great people with passion and love for their job is hard. We need to make sure that London remains an attractive workplace.
We have futurists in residence at Corinthia London. We have a partnership with the Future Laboratory and they are with us for a year during which time they’ll host regular events, breakfast briefings and dinners and talks. We have a package that people can book and they’ll work with the Sager + Wilde to create drinks of the future, that kind of thing. They are showing that there is a creativity and innovation in the hotel, which is great. There are certain things you can do when you’re seven years’ old.
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor