Stephen Ayers

How food and beverage has changed

I have seen a veritable revolution in all aspects of food and beverage in hotels over my career, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the roller coaster of historical changes that it has taken me on.

However, before I write further I must go back in time and tell the humorous story about my Lausanne hotel school administration ‘stage’ or ‘practical’ that I chose to do in London England during the winter of 1973. This was the era of the State of Emergency, the three day work week and the power cuts. Harrods and Marks and Spencer were lit by candle power. Offices had no heating and work hours were dictated by daylight.

The trade unions took on the government and Britain was in complete chaos with coal reserves down to their last hours as some speculated.

Against this colorful backdrop I travelled to London, a young and enthusiastic hotelier in the making, a fresh graduate out of Lausanne, to take up my position as assistant to the food and beverage manager at a small hotel group that was owned by the then great Grand Metropolitan Hotels.

Of course my work was super important. I received the handwritten stock counts of every one of our hotels, between 10 to 12 in count as I recall. In the pre-computer days all end of month stock takes were done in giant ledgers, huge pages upon pages of pounds and ounces in illegible handwriting, coupled with shots remaining of every type of booze then available.

For two weeks out of every month that was my only job, checking those damn ledgers.But here is where it gets interesting. You gotta love the Brits, of which I am a proud member, for their keen sense of priorities.

You see, the most important part of my job description as put to me by my manager and the HR manager there, was to be in charge of the ‘Tea and biscuits room’ of the managers and board members. Each manager had his or her preferred type of tea or coffee and more important, their preferred brand of biscuit. You name it, they liked it. I mean, couldn’t more than one manager like the same damn biscuit?

Shortbread, ginger snaps, rich tea, milk chocolate covered digestives (my favorite so I ordered more), Garibaldi, Jaffa cakes and so many more. They all went into my mini ledger along with the Tetley, PG Tips, Harrogate, Twinings of course and more.

I managed the tea and biscuits room so religiously that I actually drew many compliments on my management capabilities. Perhaps the fear of ruffling English management feathers on the biscuit front has contributed in large part to my pedantic and detail oriented side of my management style. God bless my compatriots.

The other two weeks of the month I spent ‘inspecting’ the hotels in our portfolio. This was for me, the most enjoyable part of my stage. The hotel managers and F&B managers knew I was the corporate assistant to the group F&B manager. They did not however, know how important I was on the ‘brand importance scale’ if I can call it that.

So they took no chances. They rolled out the red carpet for me. They cleaned up their kitchens in advance of my inspection visits, repaired and cleaned their facilities for me to inspect. I must point out that at this early career stage I did not really know what I was looking for but I was very serious in carrying out these rounds.

The best part? I got to eat a really good a la carte lunch with free choice of anything on the menu. After all, I was also sampling food and beverage to check standards.

But back to our headquarters. The company was a hotel group but in reality was more a real estate venture, and our head offices, located in hotels, were sold on at least two occasions during my six months in charge of tea and biscuits.

At the start of my stage I was given a work station in the accounting department which was made up of a bunch of six absolutely great, fun loving British girls. We went out on pub lunches with multiple beers, cornish pasties and steak and kidney pies, the best of British pub nosh.

I loved those lunches and during my work hours with the girls I found out where to buy the best bras, skirts, stockings and all the clothing that young girls crave. It actually began to drive me crazy but I was saved when we moved offices yet again and I was given an office all to my little, starting out self.

The new offices took up a whole floor of an old hotel in South Kensington, and each office was in actual fact an old guest room. This was magnificent and truly practical for ‘apres’ pub lunch naps in the bathtub. What better way is there for sleeping off those beers and pies?

Back in those days I used to park my ‘Swiss number plated’ mini minor (750 cc’s of cruising power) at the front of the offices on the street where parking was not allowed. But, the British coppers being British coppers and so polite, all I got for this was a pile of small ‘brochures’ informing me that parking was not allowed on this stretch of road and would I kindly refrain from doing it in future. Do that today and all you will find is a sticker telling you where they towed your car.

Soon my six wonderful months as the assistant food and beverage director were over and it was time to go out and actually get a real job, but I always smile when thinking of those times during the chaotic winter of 1973 in London, when strikes were plenty and wild cat strikes hit you on the tube on your way home.

It taught me that there is no other people so humorous as us Brits, no one who takes tea and biscuits so seriously, and no one know how to keep a stiff upper lip, that so British quality of uncomplaining stoicism that they showed during the winter of 1973.

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