Michele Mariotti on high life in the Highlands

19 October, 2023

Managing 11 outlets across a single estate is no mean feat, and factoring in sustainability and locality adds to the enormity of the task. Gleneagles head of bars Michele Mariotti talks Oli Dodd through the job.

Michele Mariotti is a hotel bar veteran beyond his years. Having cut his teeth at some of London’s finest hotel bars, namely the American Bar at the Savoy and The Blue Bar at the Berkeley, he’s now found his way, via Singapore, to heading up one of the most lauded hotel bar programmes in the world at Gleneagles, in Perthshire, Scotland.

“One of the things that I noticed when travelling for guest shifts is that, in London, we tend to be quite London-centric. This feeling started to grow in me that I needed to do something slightly different to make me a bit more complete, so I moved to Singapore. I was there for two years working with [bar consultancy] Proof & Co and opened a bar called MO Bar.

“I was the opening bar manager there, and it was a great experience. I was working in a completely different culture with people who had different backgrounds to mine, and that’s something I was not getting in London.

“In bars in the UK, we value technique and knowledge. In Singapore maybe some technical elements weren’t as fully formed but the focus on hospitality was phenomenal. The ultimate focus was on guest satisfaction and that was an absolute joy to work with.

“After two years in Singapore, I was looking for a way to relocate closer to Europe, there were the first signs of the pandemic, and it was difficult being in Asia. That’s when we were approached by Daniel [Baernreuther, hotel manager at Gleneagles], I used to work with him at The Savoy and also at The Berkeley. He told me about Gleneagles. When he told me about the scale of it, and how much impact I could have across the whole programme, I realised it was the kind of change I was looking for.

Mariotti joined as head of bars at Gleneagles just before the pandemic closed the hotel’s doors, but while months of closures weren’t in the plan, it gave him a chance to assess the vast array of venues that he would be managing. Guests at Gleneagles have the choice of 11 beverage outlets across the estate, including three dedicated bars and a whisky shop.

“One of the challenges here is creating internal competition. Most of the time, you try to differentiate yourself from your competitors while keeping your products within your hotel homogenous. Here we have to make sure that each outlet has a very specific identity. How should an Espresso Martini in our most luxury outlet, the American Bar, compare to one in our pub? They’re essentially the same drink but they come at different price points, so where’s the added value?”

High concept

And herein lies an interesting question. Most guests at a luxury estate hotel in Perthshire would be more than satisfied with a Rob Roy or a glass of decent Scotch, but the American Bar is high concept. Its menu explores botanical berries with each of the 18 drinks dedicated to one, from coffee to pumpkin to avocado. But what’s a world-class bar worthy of any metropolitan centre on earth doing in the middle of the Scottish countryside?

“It brings credibility to the entirety of the food and beverage offering. Having an outlet that looks at sustainable practices and at locality and tries to conceptualise drinks in order to package them in an innovative way, shows to a guest, who's paying quite a lot of money for a room, that there is an intricate level of detail in everything that we do.

“Everything you find in a five-star hotel should have an element of luxury and detail to it, from the coffee cups to the bedsheets to the colour of the carpets and the scent when you walk into your room. At the end of the day, a bed is a bed. There are hotels that charge half of what we charge for a room, and there are some stunning cottages out there that might have larger rooms and maybe even better views, so it’s about adding value and making sure we provide layers of detail.

“You have to stay in Gleneagles in order for you to experience the American Bar.”

But there’s also a balancing act that Mariotti performs. Creating these impressive and forward-thinking layers of modern luxury while also keeping hold of the tradition and identity that makes the hotel unique.

“The first thing I did here was to identify the key pillars of each beverage-led concept. By making sure whatever degree of innovation that is introduced is aligned with those pillars it allowed us to make change without losing our identity.

“Five-star properties live in a weird limbo between always being accommodating and saying yes but also having a unique identity. If you always say yes, you’ll end up serving pizza in a two Michelin-starred restaurant, but if you always say no because everything has to fit in a concept, the service will be horrible.

“We try to diversify and provide options while managing expectations – to make sure we stick to our concepts but have an element of flexibility and know which battles to take.”

The greater appreciation for hospitality that Mariotti found in Singapore is present in everything he does in Gleneagles, and in August, this attention to detail was recognised as the hotel was awarded the Art of Hospitality Award ahead of the inaugural World’s 50 Best Hotels.

“It was amazing for us to get this recognition because our bars have played a key role in achieving the award. Hospitality is, of course, central to the success of a hotel, and it’s the same for our bars.

“It’s something that I learnt in Singapore. The fact that we managed to place MO Bar in Asia’s 50 Best within a year, and the World's 50 Best within two, made me realise that people don’t go to a bar to listen to someone talk about Scotch for three and a half hours– they got there because of personality.”

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