How to pull off the perfect event, with Tom and Lisa May Lewis

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How to pull off the perfect event, with Tom and Lisa May Lewis

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    Tom and Lisa May Lewis, Monachyle Mhor. Copyright Planday 2023

    How to pull off the perfect event, with Tom and Lisa May Lewis

    The festive season’s party time. It’s music, guest chefs, brand collabs and pop-ups. Special events are your chance to wow. As long as you get them right. To inspire you, we sat down with the brains behind one of the most wildly creative hospitality businesses – who create special events everyday.

    Visiting rural Perthshire’s Monachyle Mhor is like stepping through the looking glass. Tom and Lisa May Lewis’s hotel/motel/ecolodge/cottage/restaurant/farm/bakery/shop plays by its own hospitality rules. And it perfectly encapsulates the creativity of its owners.

    In times like these, when backs are against the wall in the hospitality game, it’s essential to have a must-do/can-do attitude. Tom’s farming background provides just that. Alongside Tom’s brother, Dick, the Lewises have created a multi-faceted Mhor empire, gnarled with twists, turns and triumphs.

    Meet the team

    Tom Lewis: hotelier, acclaimed chef and consistent winner of AA Rosettes and an Egon Ronay Guide Award.
    Lisa May Lewis:
    hotelier and Monachyle Mhor's front of house mastermind.
    Monachyle Mhor: 
    an unique, boutique hotel by the loch and at the foot of stunning Scottish mountains. 

    Be true to you; magnify what works

    “I’m just a farmer who diversified,”

    laughs Tom Lewis. And Lisa May’s people were fairground folk, which explains the front-of-house pizazz.

    Since 2005, every part of the business has either grown organically, or evolved through intricate master-planning. The Lewises go with the flow, examining each opportunity, seeing where it leads and building on the ones that work best.

    That’s meant tapping into a growing interest in wellness breaks and building two ‘apipods’ where guests can book bee therapy relaxation sessions. Perfectly in tune with the hotel’s environment and the proprietors’ creative spirit.

    Protect your core offering – but don’t play it safe

    Being delightedly overwhelmed is part of the Monachyle Mhor guest experience. But there’s order in the spontaneity too.

    A two-person team marshals accommodation and restaurant bookings for both the main house and Mhor 84, the nearby motel on the A84. Weddings (around a dozen whole-house hires a year) are also carefully managed as a dedicated desk task. So far, so normal.

    The trick up the sleeve is how Tom and Lisa apply vision to their offering.

    While the dining room is celebrated for the quality of its distinctly Scottish provenance dishes and straightforward short-break stays are a staple, Monachyle Mhor isn’t a ‘restaurant with rooms’ or a ‘gastronomy destination’. It’s a countryside micro-hamlet, orbited by year-round special experiences and events.

    “We’ve all done wine tastings, everyone standing round in a room having a chat about this bottle or that bottle. It can be quite boring,”

    Tom says.

    “So we want to offer something different. Like 74 people, mostly strangers, braving the weather for a Wine Safari on a Perthshire hill. In October."

    Matching the wines with hampers of food is a given. But picking all the pairings from Scotland Food & Drink Awards winners awards is something else. So’s filling your glasses beside Loch Voil, then walking to the top of Creag an Tuirc.

    “Bring the dogs. Meet new people. And then down to the church or the Dutch barn for the next wines, all candles and fires lit and what have you.”

    Whiskey safaris are available too, naturally.

    The team also makes the most of the location with large-scale, open-air events. The Mhor Festival has been running since 2012.

    “We thought ‘Diamond Jubilee, what can we do with that extra bank holiday?’ Hold a three-day celebration of music, like a mini-Glastonbury, with local food and drink and camping on the banks of the loch.”

    Those who like to lace their cross-country running shoes aren’t forgotten; three Run Mhor events, between April and August, carry enthusiasts over the heather-covered hills and far away from their everyday.

    Getting an idea of the scale of the Lewises’ ambition?

    Test, tweak, hone a winning formula – it pays back

    The Mhor madness makes perfect commercial sense. Their events resound with full-spirited spontaneity – but they run the same kind of events year on year, to perfect them and for positive word of mouth to spread far and wide. The formula at Mhor is ever-evolving, never formulaic.

    People often book an event as a trip with friends or as a gift – a one-off always makes an amazing present. Two events always book out early – Hogmanay (which you might have seen on Tom Kerridge’s recent BBC2 series The Hidden World of Hospitality) and Burns Night. Both are close to Tom’s love of native Scottish produce and his partnerships with local suppliers.

    Lisa May starts sourcing performers for the Mhor’s Burns Night banquet (25 January) rituals in October. By that time, bookings are already mounting up based on previous years’ positive reviews. Her only worry?

    “Power cut. We can plan for almost anything but that.”

    Have fun and share it – it’s infectious

    A wide-ranging events-based calendar gives you a great reason to talk to people: Here’s what’s coming up and what recent experiences guests loved. Wish you’d been here? Try the next one.

    Unlike some businesses that over-post and underwhelm, Monachyle Mhor keep their social content vital, fun and beguiling. Photos and captions ring with authenticity and express the living feel of time, place and emotion to a tee.

    “When we post about an event,”

    says Tom,

    “we’re just saying ‘this is us, this is what we’re doing – next time you’re passing come in for a coffee or a drink and say hello.’”

    And Insta talks to more than potential guests.

    The industry as a whole is fraught with recruitment challenges, and no one knows that better than owners in rural locations. 

    Yet the Lewises maintain a strong, loyal core team, and manage to attract a crew of additional staff when the occasion demands; some pulled in from the businesses across the Mhor Collection, some former staff, some locals who love to pitch in when there’s a party. They all energise the events and add their personalities to the spirit of the place. Which (surprise!) isn’t choreographed white-gloved clôche-raising but Scottish hospitality with an irrepressible smile. 

    Work + fun = a powerful recruitment tool. Few places manage to make the equation work better than Monachyle Mhor. For the Lewises, it reads like this:

    “To make things work, make work fun.”

    Event planners’ words to live by.

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