Feature: The heart of Scotland

Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard is an award-winning guesthouse in Pitlochry, Perthshire in Scotland. Bill Lumley takes a peek inside the highly-acclaimed B&B that first opened two decades ago.

Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard privately owned by husband and wife team Calum and Jane MacLellan. The luxury B&B offers meticulous four-star standards that elevate guests’ ratings to outstanding. It has won numerous awards for its breakfast, most recently winning Breakfast Destination of the Year at the Scottish Food Awards.

Both Jane’s and Calum’s families have both long been dedicated to the hospitality industry, so it came as little surprise that the two of them have followed them into the trade.

Jane tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast: “Our younger years were spent helping out at our family hotels and guest houses and turning our hands to most roles from housekeeping & KP’ing to waiting and taking bookings – plus everything in-between!”

In 1998 the couple decided to take the plunge and buy Craigmhor Lodge. Jane says: “Back then it was a rather dilapidated lodge with a cottage in the grounds, and everything needed to be stripped back and completely remodelled with new wiring, plumbing and heating – all the while trying to retain the beautiful Victorian features wherever possible.”

They first opened the guesthouse two decades ago in July 1998. “Following a successful first 10 years, we decided to demolish the cottage and build the courtyard in its place with 12 state-of the-art luxury guest rooms,” she says.

The Courtyard itself was finally opened in May 2008, after costing an eye-watering £550,000. It has henceforth been known as Craigmhor Lodge and Courtyard with the lodge the original Victorian building and the courtyard the external development that houses the primary guest accommodation.

“When we bought Craigmhor Lodge in 1998 it consisted of the Victorian lodge and an external L-shaped cottage with additional guest accommodation.  Our courtyard now stands in the footprint of where the cottage originally stood,” she says.

As just about everybody running a luxury B&B knows, keeping everyone happy all the time in this business is nigh impossible. How- ever, like many UK luxury B&Bs, Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard’s reviews are overwhelmingly five-star rated, and 97% of theirs are either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.

One of the most common pieces of advice concerning best practice when it comes to online reviews whether good or bad is always to respond, but to do so proactively. Meeting the expectations of those guests, particularly those who post enquiries via review websites, can be tiresome and hugely time-consuming.

Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard rises to this challenge with impressive attention to detail. So justifiably confident are the owners in the consistently high standard of their service that they are able to offer a frank response to all their reviews, notably one of just two one- star reviews that compare in number with the 1,600 or so excellent ones that will only endear Calum and Jane to anyone reading through the reviews.

“Of course, we can’t please 100% of our guests all of the time and there have been very occasional less than perfect scores on reviews. We handle each of these instances individually and try to give a balanced and impartial response,” Jane says.

She contends that the delivery of such well-acclaimed hospitality is mostly down to attention to detail. “Even before a guest arrives, we’re thinking ahead on how we can make their stay extra special. For instance, if they tell us they are dairy-intolerant, we have soya milk in their guest fridge for arrival or if they say they’re coming for a special occasion, a card is always very well-received,” she says. “All the way throughout their stay, we have  little touches, such as a DVD library for guests to borrow from, umbrellas they can use when it is raining, and paraffin burners for setting the scene for a relaxing bath.”

She adds: “We also like to be spontaneous and go that extra mile, for instance picking up guests from the train station or finding ways to help make their stay more special. They also say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, and for this reason we pay a great deal of attention to our breakfasts. So much so, we have won awards in numerous years for Best Guest House Breakfast in Scotland. Our breakfast offering is extensive and features locally sourced produce where possible, all of which is detailed on our menu with a provenance map,” she says.

Breakfast at Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard is served in the recently refurbished, cosy and informal, sunny dining room which blends traditional and contemporary styles that enhance the Victorian features of the property.

Jane says: “We work extremely hard to en- sure every guest has a wonderful experience when they come to stay with us. We like to gauge how their stay is going by developing a friendly and relaxed rapport with our guests, without being intrusive. Checking in now and again with guests – over breakfast or when they arrive back in from their days’ adventure– keeps things on track and gives us opportunities to act upon feedback to enhance our guests stays,” she says.

“With regards to encouraging reviews, guests are prompted at breakfast with a re- minder on our menus to add a review of their star on TripAdvisor or Google.  We also send a post-stay email to our guests thanking them for their stay, reminding them to review us and also highlighting any relevant forthcom- ing offers or news.”

Providing a consistently well-received breakfast is an acquired skill. Jane and Calum have a first-class approach to spectacular delivery of the first meal of the day.

Jane explains: “Breakfast is our main con- tact point with our guests and our chance to shine, so we do everything we can to make the experience an excellent one.

“Our breakfast offering is extensive, catering for most guest needs with an extensive buffet which we adapt seasonally to suit our market at that time. For instance, Northern Europeans tend to like to have meats and cheeses, the Italians like sweet pastries and cakes and so forth. We also always have gluten free bread and muffins available for what seems to be a growing customer requir ment,” she says.

The Craigmhor’s buffet is accompanied by the cooked menu, which is cooked fresh to order. Jane says: “None of our breakfast dish- es are pre-cooked, and as such we are able to adapt any dish to cater for the majority of dietary requirements or allergies. Our dishes are simple but the quality of the produce shines through. Accompany this with meticulous presentation on top quality crockery (warmed, of course), and we find our guests are thoroughly delighted with their breakfast.”

The dishes featured on the breakfast menu make use of the varied and wonderful local produce available on the property’s door-step, she says. “Our local theme is carried through to our friendly waiting team of local ladies who are on hand to charm our guests and provide first- hand local knowledge and recommendations on things to see and do,” she says.

Besides the buffet table, the Craigmhor breakfast offers main courses of free-range poached eggs on wholemeal toast, boiled eggs with toasted soldiers, creamy scram- bled eggs served on toast or a bagel, devilled mushrooms with wholemeal toast, or peat smoked buckie haddoch.

When it comes to poached eggs Jane offers a tip: “Only fresh eggs will do.”

Breakfast is the only meal the property’s restaurant serves. However, the Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard offers packed lunches and hampers for dinners. Jane explains: “Our supper hampers were created to cater for guests who might be arriving late. They have however evolved over the years and we now find guests requesting them for a pre-theatre snack or if they just want to cosy up and have a light meal in their room.

“Our range includes a variety of options from homemade soups and freshly baked rolls to local smoked salmon, cream cheese and fruits. We have something to suit every palate and try to focus on dishes that can be served simply and easily and delivered from our kitchen across to the Courtyard with minimal fuss.

“Our guests really do appreciate the option to make use of these hampers and they are relatively popular, with approximately 10 sold per week in the summer season and 12 per week in the winter months,” she adds.

Cheerful and helpful staff providing helpful service are a core part of a luxury B&B’s offering and ensuring a  consistency to such standards can take a long time to achieve reliably, although it helps being in an area where tourism is a prominent local form of business. For example among other attractions, Pitlochry is famous for its Festival Theatre, a sophisticated venue drawing more than 100,000 visitors each year. Perthshire itself is the geographic centre of Scotland and is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, with many lochs, glens, rivers and high hills.

Jane says: “We’ve been in business for over 20 years now and as such we’ve developed a wonderful team of local experienced staff. Pitlochry, being a popular tourist location, has its fair share of hospitality businesses, and as such much of the workforce has had some experience in the trade. Our approach with our team is very hands on to start with and we are more like a family than colleagues.

We always try to instill the desire to ‘wow’ our guests with excellent service, so much so that it has become second nature.”

“Alongside our breakfast and waiting team and our housekeepers, we have two front-of- house assistants who support Jane with office and reception duties.

“Our staff certainly seem to like it here, with many of them having worked here for a long time.”

Consistency of standard when  it  comes to furnishings is certainly an important part of a luxury B&B that accommodate a high number of guests during the course of the year. Many high-end guesthouse owners choose only to use top-quality suppliers for their furnishings.   Jane says: “We start with  a plan which is created in collaboration with

Catherine Wilson of Revamp Design and then the items we need are sourced from Select Furnishings in East Kilbride, Coachhouse Interiors and Pacific Lifestyle.

“Smaller items and decorative touches are sourced though our sister business Taste Perthshire at Bankfoot (which we both own and Calum runs) which has a homewares department and many contacts for wholesale interior ranges.

“We use trusted local suppliers for making the plans a reality in terms of decorating, plumbing and so forth,” she adds.

Approximately 60% of Craigmhor Lodge & Courtyard’s bookings are direct. “This is comprised of repeat bookings, bookings by phone & email, through our website and through redemption of gift vouchers,” says Jane.

She adds: “As we revenue-manage our rooms, we do not always give OTAs all of our inventory on any given date. For instance, they are completely blocked out for weekend availability throughout the main season. We use OTAs to support our business in the quieter period, so we do find that they have their use.”

Asked what the secrets are behind winning so many industry awards and achieving such consistently high standards of guest reviews, Jane says: “Listen to your customers and give them what they want. We have built our business on listening and responding to guest feedback. As a business we never stand still but continually evolve our offering to delight our guests. If you have happy guests and a business than is continually re-invested in, you won’t go far wrong.”

Finally she offers some tips that have evolved from the approach of her and her husband to the business that has proved so successful: “Research what others are doing. When time allows, go and stay at accommodation providers who inspire you. Learning from others who are doing a great job can really help you shape a business to be proud of.

“We also research and keep up to date with industry trends through attending trade shows and reading industry magazines such as your own.

“Fortunately, we seem to attract a more mature market at Craigmhor Lodge, many of which come to Pitlochry to visit the Festival Theatre. We also benefit from a high percentage of return visitors whom we know well,” she adds.

Looking at the evidence of exceptionally high standards of accommodation, service not to mention breakfast delivered by the guesthouse, this is last point is not surprising.

This profile was first published in the October 2018 issue of Luxury B&B Magazine