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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 25/03/2024

Mharsanta is a Scottish restaurant and bar based in Merchant City, Glasgow. Owned and operated by hospitality entrepreneur Derek Mallon and his team, their aim is to offer visitors a genuine taste of Scotland.

Read on to find out how their thriving restaurant business has engaged with the large number of tourists visiting Glasgow and built strong and collaborative links to the travel trade.


Derek has over 30 years’ experience working in hospitality. Having held a number of senior roles across the UK, he has since founded Lomond Leisure Group.

Sophie is Chief Marketing Officer of Lomond Leisure Group, and has over 20 years’ experience in marketing, communications, PR, travel, and tourism.

Both own and operate a number of sites, including:

  • Van Winkle at Glasgow’s Barrowlands and West End
  • The Boat House Kitchen and Bar at Loch Tay
  • The Tolbooth Tavern on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

Mharsanta opened in 2018. Derek held the role of Scotland‘s Regional Food Tourism Ambassador for Glasgow.

How they got started

Opening nearly six years ago, Derek wanted Mharsanta to celebrate Scottish food and drink by creating menus that would have broad appeal with accessible prices.

Mharsanta’s goal is to serve great Scottish food and drink to domestic and international visitors with genuinely warm hospitality. They aim to sell as much Scottish produce as possible and to give visitors a true taste of place.

The menu features Scottish meat, seafood, and dairy sourced from local suppliers where possible. The bar serves Scottish whisky, gin, beer, and cider.

The kitchen is committed to make as much as they can in-house. They create recognisably Scottish dishes and use traditional recipes to celebrate the culture behind the food, as well as the high-quality ingredients.

When the restaurant first opened, they saw the huge volume of international visitors coming to Glasgow. So, they decided to look into opportunities with this market.

The travel trade was a new market to them when they started the business. They contacted our team and we supported them on their journey, helping them to create their elevator pitch and presentations.

An invitation to VisitScotland’s Connect travel trade event was useful in meeting operators and understanding what was required. Sophie also credits Glasgow Life and Experience Glasgow among a range of partners who have been extremely helpful.


Image of Scottish dishes Mharsanta offer

Image credit: Mharsanta 

How the business started to grow

The city centre location attracts footfall from domestic and international visitors. The conference and corporate markets also bring in business. However, Mharsanta has built an organised and flexible offer for the travel trade, which accounts for a sizeable part of their business.

In the summer months, the international travel market can account for at least 30% to 40% footfall. To suit this wide range of visitors, Mharsanta carefully curated a selection of packages to suit different needs.

  • Meeting different needs

    The pre-booked travel trade packages range from competitively priced food and drink packages that can fit into a shorter time window or into immersive dining experiences.

    The lower-cost packages are popular with mass-market tourist operators, who bring in larger volume business from the bigger operators. There are superior, premium packages for a higher spend.

  • Marketing to the right audience

    Mharsanta's Chief Marketing Officer created a full library of marketing collateral to accompany and attract visitors to their packages.

    They have also built and maintained strong links with tour operators to create long-term working relationships.

  • Authentic experiences

    To meet the demand for more niche events, Mharsanta created their "unique experiential dining experiences" which incorporate the whole of Scotland in every sense.

    They feature a five-course menu served with music and video footage, plus talks and tastings from master distillers and brewers.

    They can accommodate 10 to 22 people for this experience in the restaurant and are taking it on the road to accommodate 20 to 40 people in different locations.

Developing the customer experience

Mharsanta, and the wider business, prides itself on excellent service, offering a genuinely warm welcome to every visitor. Derek is deeply proud of his committed and dedicated team. Building a stable, close-knit team is a key pillar in how he wants to do business.

The menus and website offer information on suppliers and sustainability to engage customers. It tells the story of the ingredients, recipes, and the many collaborative measures Mharsanta is taking to improve sustainability.

Staff training is important here too, so that colleagues can share these stories as part of the customer experience.

Customer feedback is taken directly in the restaurant and on all the usual online platforms. The tour operators and guides also provide direct feedback, which is very useful to foster and maintain long-term relationships with partners.

Collaboration with businesses has been crucial. They have paired with Tennent’s to offer a beer tasting experience, pairing beer with food.

They have also partnered with organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland on their mobile experiences and with Hill of Tarvit in Fife, which will host events.


Image credit: Mharsanta

What's been the key to their success?

“Always do your utmost to have great close relationships with everyone you work with.” 

Maintaining a broad target market and being adaptable has helped to generate business from the large number of international visitors coming to Glasgow.

Embracing the mass market has been a very positive move for the business. Long-term planning has also been vital to develop experiences and build a pipeline of bookings.

Investing time in growing partnerships has been absolutely essential to their success. Derek and Sophie emphasise that these relationships take time and effort to nurture, but their perseverance has been rewarding. They stress the importance of looking after every partner.

Visit the Mharsanta website

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