I have experienced the worst of the UK hospitality (and I use that word loosely) industry this week. Two different hotels in the space of a few days, one a well-known international chain, one a smaller operation with some half a dozen hotels worldwide, including in the UK.
The first cooked some good, if expensive, food, while failing abysmally at its housekeeping. At £124 a night over a five-night stay, we were faced with filthy pillows with one pillow case that you wouldn’t let your dog sleep on never mind your own fair head, a broken bath handle, clogged up extractor fan, stained carpets and walls and a room that remained completely unserviced one day to barely serviced by 3pm the remainder of the stay (people who stay more than one night go to the bottom of the pile apparently as the pressure is on to turn around the one night room stays).
Little apology and no offer of reimbursement except for a complimentary bottle of wine. We didn’t want a bottle of wine, we wanted what we had paid for… a clean and serviced room.
In the second, superb standards of room facility and cleanliness, but once in the restaurant, three main courses that took 45 minutes to arrive, on cold plates with a piece of charred lamb so inedible I sent it back. Despite there being just one other party in the restaurant we were told at 7pm that they “had run out of vegetables”. It’s like a Chinese restaurant running out of rice. Again, not so much as an offer of a complimentary glass of wine or a reduction on the bill. That’ll be the full total, thank you very much.
I cringe to think what visitors from abroad think when they arrive in the UK and face this abysmal lack of customer service.
Of course, poor service is a symptom of an illness that starts when you undervalue your employees and pay them as little as you can get away with. According to the excellent and quirky website The Poverty Site, the sector with the highest risk of low pay is, yes you guessed it, hotels and restaurants and retail and wholesale. Two thirds of those who work in the hospitality sector earn less than £7 an hour (2010 figures) three fifths of them are women and a high proportion of them are under 25.
No wonder service levels are so lacking – people are paid a pittance and the young ones have developed few of the life or people skills needed to deal with difficult customers and situations.
Why do we underrate people who cook and serve us good food and clean our rooms ? Surely these things are as much of a skill as being able to use Microsoft Excel or drive a car? It’s no wonder turnover in the industry is sky high.
I know my experience may have been extreme and there are some wonderful restaurants and hotels around the country( including bed and breakfasts) who would be shamed by the above – and I have stayed in some of them.
But the larger chains have got to shape up and start justifying their charges by incentivising their staff a bit more which in turn might lead to a significantly improved customer experience.