The Wolseley Hospitality Group CEO is preparing to launch two major projects this year, Manzi’s in Soho in June, and The Wolseley City later in the year. Speaking to MCA, he discusses why he had to rip out and modernise Manzi’s, staying mindful about keeping the company’s DNA intact, and constantly striving for an exceptional customer experience

Legendary maître d’ Fernando Peire understood well the art of a warm welcome, once explaining how greeting guests by name “gives everyone a warm feeling when they walk in”.

This is particular true if the customer is not an A-list Hollywood film star – or in my case, MCA’s editor arriving for breakfast at The Wolseley with the group’s CEO.

Like Peire, Baton Berisha understands the merit of a familiar greeting. Granted, one might expect a little special treatment when breakfasting with the boss, yet it’s nonetheless a deft, personal touch to be acknowledged so confidently by name.

This is of course the standard of service Berisha has been schooled in while rising through the senior ranks at Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings, and the meticulous attention to detail Peire was famous for at the 1990s Ivy, then under former Wolseley owners Chris Corbin & Jeremy King.

While he remains shtum about the precise method of customer research - a simple LinkedIn scan seems most likely, far simpler than Peire’s days scanning the gossip columns and theatre listings - it’s a standard Berisha is adamant the group will maintain as it grows, both nationally and internationally.

“As an operator I take these things incredibly seriously,” he tells MCA. “They make an impression straight away when you come in.

“What’s important is you ensure those little details are ingrained into everyone in the team. They understand that these things are very, very important.”

Training is therefore critical, with the team for The Wolseley City is already being drilled ahead of the opening towards the end of the year.


Landmark restaurant 

One of two big projects the group is launching this year, the second, seafood restaurant Manzi’s in Soho, is set to open in June.

A long time in the planning, the 240-cover, three-storey site between Soho Square and Bateman Street was first mooted in May 2019, but has faced serial delays amid Covid and concerns over a slow London recovery.

With Berisha taking the reins of the group in August 2022, he has ripped up the plans and invested a further £2.5m in the restaurant, which he proudly says will be a “one-of-a-kind” London seafood restaurant.

“I felt the original design wasn’t right, the original offer wasn’t right. We’ve improved it a lot,” he says.

“The design was ripped apart. The place was 60% built, so we stripped it back completely and went back to this start. We’re completely redoing it.”

Manzi's Wolseley Hospitality Group Watercolour

For Berisha, this modernisation was essential to ensure it becomes a destination location in Soho.

Downstairs will be accessible, where guests can walk in without a booking and have casual glass of wine at the bar.

Upstairs will take bookings, and in a group first will have a DJ – though he is quick to reassure that this will not be a party restaurant.

“It’s more background entertainment, not like the pumping music in some places in Mayfair,” he says with a smile.

“It’s going to be a more sophisticated environment, where you can still have a conversation but enjoy the music.”

This new element is part of a bid to attract a younger demographic than the group is normally known for, which he says is in keeping with its location.

While appealing to a broad audience with its contemporary look and feel, he hopes it will attract artists, creatives and actors.

Despite the high expectations of launching such a long trailed, landmark location, the first under the new management team, Berisha remains confident and relaxed.

Having been appointed to lead the group after a short-lived stint at D&D London, investor Minor International are evidently supportive of his vision.

Baton Berisha - Wolseley Hospitality Group

“I think experience makes you more confident, you know what you need to do in order for the restaurant to be successful.

“I’m not sparing any costs. We’re not going to jeopardise anything - we’re going to make sure everything is done properly.

“I’m not rushing, we’re taking our time. I want to make sure that we do everything right.

“If you want to make the best restaurant in Soho, you need to invest to make it the best restaurant in Soho.

“When it opens it is going to be the place to be. Soho is missing something like Manzi’s, it’s missing a gem.”

Upward trajectory

When it comes to his impact since taking over, Berisha says the numbers are all pointing in the right direction.

Company revenues are in double-digit growth, while profits have grown 100% since his arrival, he says. Guest numbers and satisfaction are also up.

Berisha puts this positive trajectory down to incremental improvements in all areas of operations.

Centralised reservations and yield management systems are improving productivity and the bottom line, while demand has increased because of improved consistency of service and food.

Prices have been left mostly consistent. Meanwhile the wine supply has been opened up to a competitive tender, bringing in substantial savings for the same product.

This approach has been implemented across crockery, glassware, uniforms making “great savings”, Berisha says.


Global outlook 

The group’s focus is not purely on the UK either. With such prestige restaurant brands such as The Wolseley, there is an appreciation that a national rollout could dilute the cherished status of the British institution.

But Berisha and Minor see plenty of scope to bring it to their hotels across the world, where the group already has loyal customers.

In May he will be jetting to Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong. After that Dubai and potentially New York will be scoped out for potential expansion.

For these cosmopolitan customers, The Wolseley’s appeal lies in its grand status as a British institution. Guests in Bangkok for instance can’t wait to enjoy the restaurant’s eggs benedict.

“When you serve it on this plate, it makes a difference,” he says, gesturing to the restaurant’s signature branded crockery. “It’s an institution.

“Hence, I want to make sure that we keep true to the DNA of the sites we have and we don’t disappoint our guests.

“Wherever we go with any of our sites, we need to make sure we don’t cut any corners.”


Operatons mindset 

Returning to the idea of good service and operations over classic speciality dish bubble & squeak, Berisha says his own strengths lie in his background in operations, in contrast to the more typical finance profile.

“I’m not someone sitting in the chair pointing fingers, I’ve never been like that. You have to be close to your team

“What’s helpful for me as CEO, is I’m an operator through and through

“No matter how good your finance is, people come into restaurants because of the environment, food and service. You need to support people on the ground. I need my guys to have the tools to do the job.”

He gestures at the banquettes, which are being reupholstered at a cost of £70,000.

“I don’t want clients to feel like not everything is 100%. Everything needs to be exceptional.

“From the moment you consider coming, to moment you make the phone call, to time that you leave, every single step has to be excellent. That’s what we strive for.”


Talking tech 

Rather than see technology as a barrier to customers at such premium service-led restaurants, Berisha insists it can be used to improve the guest experience, supporting operations with data to do their jobs better.

“As an operator, you know what needs to happen in terms of operational standards. But technology is important when it comes to making strategic decisions in terms factual decisions rather than gut feel,” he says.

“It enables you to analyse the performance of each individual restaurant, at different times of the day, the performance of employees, your own performance.”

That said, caution is always necessary: “The greatness of hospitality is that human contact. There’s only so much technology you can use, you need to use it in the right places. It’s a learning curve.”