You have probably studied enough websites, brochures and advertisements to have noticed that most hoteliers and restaurateurs place great emphasis on the food they create and the comfortable accommodation they provide. It seems a sensible approach, given the dominance of these two factors in distinguishing the good from the bad in a very crowded marketplace.
Yet I am not so sure our customers see it that way. Yes of course, when people stay away they do indeed expect to eat and drink nice things and to sleep contentedly. But they can do that at home, can’t they? Apart from business stays, when being in a particular location is essential, most of our leisure guests are free to go anywhere – or nowhere – at the drop of a hat. So what we think we sell is in fact completely unnecessary to at least half of our clients.
I am sure the majority of Pride of Britain’s customers, for example, have all their favourite food and wines in the kitchen at home and a very pleasant en-suite bedroom upstairs. Do we really expect them to drive long distances just to get exactly the same while paying handsomely for the privilege? Of course not. What they come to enjoy, and what they almost certainly do not have at home unless they’re members of the royal family, is a smiling team of professional hosts to make everything pleasant and easy – opening doors, pouring drinks, plumping cushions, taking dirty linen and dirty plates away to unseen rooms and lifting the cares of the world from their guests’ shoulders. Luxury is about service above all else.
Fortunately the industry has begun to recognise this. For decades we have placed chefs on pedestals and, quite rightly, celebrated their talent. Many have become household names through TV fame and I’ve joined in the applause with gusto at countless award ceremonies where dedicated men and women in white tunics have received highly-deserved praise for their roasts and ragouts. Sadly this has often been at the expense of their customer-facing colleagues whose equal contribution to a guest’s enjoyment has for too long been overlooked.
At last we have initiatives like the Gold Service Scholarship, which for six years has run a rigorous competition for the best waiters and waitresses under 28 years old and whose winners have been propelled into senior roles and who have become great ambassadors for the industry themselves. The annual Sommelier of the Year competition similarly puts its frighteningly knowledgeable contestants through their paces in front of an invited audience. Increasingly we are seeing front of house professionals getting the recognition they deserve, encouraging more bright young people into a side of the trade that needs them urgently.
This is perhaps the moment to also mention Fred Sirieix. The star of First Dates on Channel 4 retains his role as manager of Galvin at Windows on Park Lane and, unlike your correspondent, is cool enough to appeal to the younger generation. Watching him smoothly guide guests to their tables and make them feel at ease doesn’t look like “work” at all but as we know it is one of a host’s most important tasks. Who wouldn’t want to be like him?
So perhaps we need to re-evaluate the term “Food & Beverage” and give it a name that better describes the job and its relevance to the customer experience. My vote goes to “Hospitality”.
Peter has been the chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels – a collection of never more than 50 luxury and independent properties – since 2000. He previously managed hotels and restaurants in Sussex and Hampshire, having started out as a waiter