No friendly debate in the real world of politics

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BHA summitThis week I took part in a debate at the BHA Summit, opposing the motion “Traditional hotels are dying when faced with the growth of serviced apartments”, chaired by Piers Brown who manages both Boutique Hotel News and Serviced Apartment News.

My partner in the debate was Rafi Bejerano whose family own Pride of Britain member hotel The Arch London.

We were up against George Westwell and Paul Rands, two leading figures in the Serviced Apartment sector who made powerful opening speeches in favour of the motion. A lack of modesty allows me to report that we won hands down, largely because the hotel sector is doing demonstrably well, despite all the challenges it faces. It was interesting, though, to learn about how profitable apartments can be and the growing demand for them in big cities.

All this was of course a very friendly affair with no terrible consequences for the four of us. What a contrast with the real world of political debate and the dirty tactics used. Like many I watched the general election unfold with my head in my hands – the stability and certainty Mrs May hoped to bring to our country has proved as slippery as a bar of soap in the bath.

TV interviews encourage us to hate at least half of the politicians we see. The few I’ve met in person have all been absolutely charming so this is a cruel distortion – like or loathe ‘em most have gone into politics wanting to do some good. Perhaps we need to learn to be kinder to them, and allow their best qualities to shine?

What a life

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Wiltshire LifeThe June issue of Wiltshire Life magazine (a seriously good read) gives a double page spread to someone almost nobody has heard of, one Peter Hancock, who happens to live and work in that lovely county.

You wouldn’t believe the flack I’ve had since. “Surely that’s not your house?” Well no, it’s Whatley Manor Hotel as stated in the article. “My word, you look grumpy” Yes I do rather, can only blame the sunshine.

The best was from our chairman at Pride of Britain who was intrigued by a reference in the piece to the smallest church in England which forms part of the view from my office window. So I sent her a picture of it. “My word, it really is tiny” was her response. Not something a fellow likes to hear too often.

 

 

Hospitality heroes

BTTF33 weeks on and everybody is still talking about “Back to the Floor”, a dinner held at The Grosvenor House Hotel on April 7th in aid of our industry charity Hospitality Action.

As you can see from the picture, our splendid brigade of waiters and sommeliers were all leading figures from the hotel and catering trade and our host, Stuart Bowery, made the whole thing possible with lots of professional help from his team behind the scenes.

The event was the brainchild of Philip Newman-Hall and Danny Pecorelli and my supporting role as compere included running the live auction which gave our 370 wonderful guests a further chance to show their generosity, with the whole event raising an astonishing £92,000 for the charity, which helps those from the hospitality industry who find themselves in crisis.

Obviously it would have been even better to reach that magic figure of £100,000 so if you’re feeling flush please feel free to bung an extra £8k to http://www.hospitalityaction.org.uk/get-involved/take-action/donate/

Roll on 2019 at The Dorchester when we re-create the magic all over again!

No place for bullies here

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A recent piece in The Guardian newspaper alleges that bullying and the routine abuse of staff working at restaurants is rife in this country. The claims made in the article are likely to deter young people from wanting to join our industry, just when we need lots more of them to help us cope with the high demand caterers and hoteliers are currently enjoying.

There are indeed some disgraceful people in positions of authority, especially in kitchens unfortunately, but these are the minority we need to weed out. Most people in hospitality have rewarding jobs and the best of them are making great lives for themselves thanks to their happy customers.

Several of us felt so strongly we contributed to a rebuttal.

Here’s the full response in The Caterer: https://www.thecaterer.com/articles/499101/hospitality-leaders-hit-back-at-guardian-article-which-highlights-poor-treatment-of-staff

 

Missing the big picture

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BudgetThe day after Philip Hammond’s first budget much comment surrounds his use of National Insurance changes to meet the rocketing cost of public services. And as with all budgets, there are both winners and losers.

But these are petty details compared with the overall effect of being sensible with the public finances. This country has an enormous pile of debt (measured not in millions but in trillions of pounds) yet remains wonderfully credit-worthy, and so our interest rates are low because the likes of “Spreadsheet Phil” do not spook the markets in ways that more reckless politicians – greedy for popularity –  might do.

I can remember working for a hotel owner in the late 1970s who was paying 18% interest on his substantial borrowings. Imagine dealing with that today and suddenly the other burdens look relatively mild.

Service charges and our reputation

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This week’s Caterer magazine (10th Feb 2017) includes a compelling piece by Bob Cotton and Miles Quest on the damage our industry has done to itself by failing in some cases (we don’t know how many) to pay the National Living Wage and in some cases (again, we don’t know how many) failing to distribute service charges to their staff in a fair way.

I am sorry to say that a high profile restaurateur made matters worse recently by attempting to defend the latter practise on the grounds that it’s the only way to keep his business afloat, and the former on the grounds that he simply didn’t know it was happening. This isn’t good enough if we want to attract bright people into the hotel and catering trade at a time of high employment in this country.

As the authors of the article say, transparency is key to restoring any faith the public may still have in the way service charges are handled. Various codes of conduct have been suggested but at the moment each business does things its own way, with some abusing the system appallingly while others go to great lengths to ensure their teams are properly rewarded.

It is regrettable that such a thing should be necessary, but I believe the time has come for all establishments to declare in writing (for customers and staff to plainly see) what they do with any service charges they collect. The best are already doing this. For the sake of our industry’s reputation, others must follow without delay.

Let us entertain you

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BTTF3Around 30 of the top men and women in the hotel & catering trade have been persuaded to go “back to the floor” by serving as waiters and sommeliers for those lucky enough to bag a table for one very special evening on April 7th at The Grosvenor House (a JW Marriot Hotel) Park Lane, London.

This will be the third and by far the largest “Back to the Floor” dinner organised by Philip Newman-Hall and Danny Pecorelli with all proceeds going to our industry charity, Hospitality Action. I shall be there as MC and auctioneer so please come ready to spend, spend, spend.

Tickets are selling fast CLICK HERE TO BOOK

 

 

 

Ah, the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd

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Little did any of us expect, when agreeing to take part in a little show called Springderella (based on Cinderella of course) with the Springboard charity, that we’d end up in a beautiful modern theatre (Kings Place in London) with all the technical support afforded to proper actors including a well stocked “Green Room”. Picture shows yours truly as the Court Herald with insurance legend David Noble of James Hallam Ltd as a mouse. “Where’s my tail gone?” he cried “It’s behind you!”

SpringderellaThe most alarming aspect of it all was the regular sight of butch fellows in tights and wigs - enjoying it all rather too much if you ask me – knocking back the wine through straws to preserve their garish lipstick.

Over two nights our audiences seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show and I marvel at the main players who had them in stitches throughout.

Find out more here

Panto pic

 

Don’t wait till they’re dead to celebrate greats

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With the passing of each significant figure in 2016 there has followed a public outpouring of shock and sadness, made all the greater by social media. The sheer number of well-known individuals who’ve died in a single year may not be unprecedented, but it feels like it.

Always my reaction is to wonder whether the person realised how much they were liked and appreciated while they were still alive. Wouldn’t it add to the tragedy if he or she went to the grave unaware that thousands (in some cases millions) loved and respected them enough to grieve as they would for a member of their own family?

Catey statuette Oscar statuetteAll of this, I think, strengthens the case for celebrating success through giving awards such as the Cateys (see statuette, far left) which honour the greats in hospitality and of course the Oscars, their equivalent in the world of entertainment.

I recently asked my big brother how he would like to be remembered when his time comes. He said he’d like people to say “It was better when he was here”. As British understatement goes, that modest aspiration is in a class of its own.

If you mean it, say it now.

General Managers’ Conference

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The first non-work thing in my diary for 2017 is an event in Cambridge with the Guild of Professional International Toastmasters which should be fun, if a little noisy! The third non-work thing in my diary for 2017 is “Springderella”, a pantomime organised by the Springboard charity showing at Kings Place in London on January 19th & 20th. See details here

Please come if you can – you will be entertained by a galaxy of leading figures from the catering trade, and I have a small part in it too.

But the second event is in many ways a high point of the year – the General Managers’ Conference organised by the Master Innholders (Hilton Bankside Jan 16 & 17) at which I have the honour to act as session chairman on both days. It’s a bit like being given a Rolls Royce to drive…all the hard work has been done by others and you simply point the thing in the right direction at the appropriate speed…and just be careful not to prang it. All the details are here

Excuse me while I knuckle down to a few more Pride of Britain tasks before all this.