Thursday, June 13, 2024
Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomePeopleInterviewsScotland's Top GMs - Focus on Alan McGuiggan - Prestonfield

Scotland’s Top GMs – Focus on Alan McGuiggan – Prestonfield


Tell us a little about yourself.

I am originally from Northern Ireland. I came to Edinburgh to study and I have a BA in Business Studies from Napier.

My start in hospitality was at Belfast Castle but after a move to Edinburgh and a stint working at some of the city’s hotels I found myself working for James Thomson at his Witchery by the Castle. At the time it was his sole enterprise and had a staff of only 40, now he employs almost 300. Shortly after I started in 1998 he opened the rooftop Tower to huge acclaim and it is still going strong as it approaches its 20th anniversary!

I’ve now spent most of my career working for James and have seen how one exceptionally-successful restaurant has grown into a collection of inspiring businesses with a renowned collection of Witchery suites and the very wonderful Prestonfield.

What drove you to choose your career path?

I believe in playing to your strengths and I found hospitality to be a great fit for my personality; it is about making your guests feel welcome and able to make the most of their experience with you .

Being internally-promoted can be hard, you need to clearly be the obvious choice for the position and outshine the external candidates. You become that by working hard and consistently to a high standard but James likes to develop his team with internal promotions when he can – it is important that we share his passion for what are very personal businesses.

What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?

The only reason to choose hospitality is the sheer buzz of interacting with both our guests and the team. I love to be hands-on, I suspect a trait I’ve inherited from James who’s still not afraid to get stuck into polishing glasses when needed! I try to spend as much time as I can with staff and guests around the hotel so I can see and experience what is happening – you just don’t get that from a basement office. James expects us to be out there with guests whenever possible, he’s a hands-on boss at each of his establishments, but guests expect it too and we try to get to know them well, even if their stay with us is short.

How many hours do you normally work?

People perceive long hours and poor pay but hospitality is increasingly seen as an exciting and vibrant industry – at our 5-star level it is certainly challenging but very rewarding too. I probably work about 50 hours a week but I expect senior management in most companies do something similar although emails do keep coming.

What do you do differently from your co-workers or peers in the same profession?

James’ ethos is to deliver a uniquely-memorable experience to every guest, whether they are just here for afternoon tea or staying for a week. To do so your setting needs to be incredible, but it is our staff that are at the core of our guests’ experience. Happy staff make for happy guests so we try to recruit good staff that will add to the team and we give them all of the knowledge, training and kit they need to deliver for our guests. The guest feedback we get about our staff is great and we know they are a huge part of our guests’ experience at Prestonfield and contribute to a thriving business.

What do you do differently from your co-workers or peers in the same profession?

I spend a lot of time with schools, colleges and youth charities, encouraging young people into the Hospitality Industry and letting them know how varied and exciting it can be. James Thomson was a pioneer in this area and continues to lead the way. He’s a passionate advocate for the industry and puts a huge amount of effort to supporting The Prince’s Trust which helps young people into education, training and employment. The Trust is one of our house charities and we’ve brought lots of fantastic staff into employment who otherwise wouldn’t have had that chance. With a busy hotel, restaurant and the many exciting events we host it offers lots of variety and lots of opportunities too.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the job? What is the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?

I really enjoy meeting the interesting guests that come to Prestonfield and trying to make their visit as enjoyable as possible. The worst part of the job is if things go wrong and you let a guest down. It doesn’t happen often but if it does it still hurts so we do all we can to make amends and win the guest back – we normally do.

The comments that we get from our guests are one of the most motivating factors for all staff. There is a big team behind the scenes who all contribute to the magic and often they don’t get to see how much guest appreciate what we give them. Sharing feedback with all of the teams lets them know what guests think and helps us constantly improve and respond as guests’ needs change.

What are you most proud of?

My proudest moment was when James decided to trust me with Prestonfield as GM as it is still a hugely-personal project for him. To see that work and investment recognised when Prestonfield became Hotel of the Year was the first hotel in Edinburgh to be awarded Five AA Red Stars (at a time when there were only 34 Five AA Red Star Hotels of which 20 were in London) was incredible too. It is still a thrill to see Prestonfield every day as it gently evolves and develops.

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