All in the preparation

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Hosp ActionI have been lucky enough to play a part in two successful events recently. That they went well is largely down to meticulous planning (by others) and the generosity of friends and sponsors.

First was the The University Caterers Organisation awards dinner at Warwick University. This followed some intensive competitions and the atmosphere was fantastic. TUCO has a large and appreciative membership and they wisely entrust the running of events like this to Jamie Robbins and his team at H2O Publishing. So by the time I mounted the stage as MC everything had been planned to the minute, allowing us to relax and have a few laughs along the way. Thank you, Jamie.

A few days later I was at Deer Park in Devon as MC for a fundraising dinner with Hospitality Action and the “Rugby Legends” whose presence added excitement and laughter, such that the dinner raised £40,000 for the charity. Again, superb planning by Giuliana Vittiglio and her colleagues made everything easy for the rest of us.

Pic shows stars of pass and pitch checking the gravy.

Owning up to failure

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The other night I performed an after-dinner speech that went quite badly.

You won’t often read confessions like this because, well, it isn’t good for business. However I feel compelled to own up to this, if only to get it off my chest and in the hope of learning something from the experience.

And so to the night in question. It all started well, the people were lovely and I’d been given a nice build up by the MC. As nobody at the dinner had heard of me (a consequence of being a non-celebrity and in any case too camera shy to ever appear on television) I imagined expectations were modest. My fee had been paid in advance, the microphone worked properly and most guests had already downed a few glasses of wine. What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, lots. To start with I made some very pompous remarks about myself which is never a good idea. Perhaps it was due to nerves. Whatever the reason, I have already made a strict note never to repeat this.

Next, I tried some really old jokes that were out of context and while some got decent laughs others fell as flat as a pancake. Worse still, I kept looking down at my little piece of paper with the reminder notes on it, only there to be used in an emergency when the memory fails. Note to self – don’t do that again either.

The stupidest thing of all was when a story I told about my actual working experience got good reactions I failed to expand on it and instead went to a completely unrelated story that wasn’t all that funny anyway.

On the drive home I vowed never to do another after-dinner as long as I live. Leave it to the professionals, I told myself. Then I remembered what is booked in the diary already, plus the dozens that have gone well before and the copious positive feedback I’ve received (oops, pomposity creeping back in there. Stop it, Peter)

So, time for this old dog to learn a few new tricks. Henceforth if anyone is mad or desperate enough to engage my services they will get a much more honest, and hopefully interesting, account of the ups and downs of my working life and some of the famous people I’ve had the luck to rub shoulders with. They’ll hear about my passion for great service and why the hospitality industry depends so much on it. And if we’re very lucky, some of this will be pleasantly amusing too.

 

 

The Spirit of the Time

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MIConf 2018Just look at this image for a moment. It represents 450 of the top hotel General Managers in Britain gathered for a very special two-day conference organised by the Master Innholders, which took place at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms on Jan 15th & 16th.

I had the pleasure to act as MC on the first day, which ended with a superb talk from motivational speaker, Nigel Risner. My friend Jeremy Rata hosted the second day which closed with Olympic gold medallist Crista Cullen and there were plenty of sessions covering issues of interest or concern to the modern hotelier, although as always it was the networking over coffee and drinks later that really mattered most to the delegates. That is because running a hotel, or any other business, can be a lonely task and it is rare to get the chance to mix with literally hundreds of like-minded people facing similar challenges and joys.

I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

 

30 years in one eyeful

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PoB plaqueIt was a heart stopping moment when I saw this image and realised how long I’ve been involved in hotel marketing. It shows the stone gatepost at the entrance to Ockenden Manor in Sussex, adorned by an original bronze Johansens plaque and their splendid Pride of Britain one. These two organisations have been my life for just over 12 and 17 years respectively – the best part of 30 years altogether.

As well as demonstrating my rather limited personal horizons, the picture depicts two organisations that have stood the test of time in a very fast moving sector. That both remain relevant in the age of online travel agents and Tripadvisor is a tribute to all concerned, especially when you consider how many “competitors” have fallen by the wayside (Egon Ronay, RAC guides, Distinguished Hotels and others).

Will Pride of Britain still be around in another 30 years? I don’t see why not, so long as we continue to reinvent ourselves and are driven by the needs of the hoteliers we serve. Of course, I may very well be under a stone myself by then!

So much to learn, so little time

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MI confHas there ever been a time when hoteliers needed more skills? The basic stuff is almost taken for granted these days – creating a welcoming environment with good food, clean rooms and decent service. In the dim and distant past, when I worked as a hopelessly untrained general manager, those were the only objectives to be met. Customers seemed to just appear as though by magic and if you felt the urge to make a bit more money you simply put the prices up.

Not now. Managers must be masters of revenue management, digital marketing, cost control, HR, IT, PR and loads besides. They pay to discover what occupancy and rates their competitors are achieving and worry daily about how to fill vacancies and retain their best staff.

With such busy lives it is necessary to cram as much useful intelligence as one can into the shortest possible time, so as to keep ahead of the game. Here’s my top 5 (in no particular order) events made for the purpose:

  1. Independent Hotel Show
  2. National Hotel Marketing Conference
  3. HOSPACE (organised by HOSPA)
  4. General Managers Conference (organised by the Master Innholders)
  5. Pride of Britain’s Sales & Revenue Seminar (members only – sorry)

Your time is precious – use it wisely.

 

A gold plated career in hospitality

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It is perfectly true that some workers in the hospitality industry are grossly underpaid, that some do far more hours than they should, and that lots of people are put off by the idea that serving customers means being “servile” or lacking a proper status.

Despite these undisputed facts, hundreds of thousands of talented individuals are making good lives for themselves in a huge range of jobs from front of house to marketing, from cooking to reservations and from cleaning to general management.

In recent years the “stars” have often been those head chefs able to achieve recognition from the leading guides while building a profile through recipe book sales or TV appearances. Their equally-gifted colleagues on the other side of the kitchen door have tended to go unrecognised, perhaps in part because a fantastic waiter, waitress or maître d’ gets on with their job in a quiet unassuming way. The best of them are sometimes described as “ghosts” due to their ability to shimmer in and out of the room cosseting their customers so discreetly one doesn’t even notice the service being given.

Stephanie Beresforde GSS 2017Well, all that started to change five years ago when the Gold Service Scholarship was launched. Pic shows the current scholar Stephanie Beresforde with chairman of trustees Alastair Storey OBE and chairman of judges Edward Griffiths CVO.

This is one of the toughest competitions to win but the experience has been life-changing for virtually all of the finalists and winners to date.

Entries are now open (until Sept 29th) for this year’s contest: http://www.thegoldservicescholarship.co.uk/#/enter

 

Like moths to a light bulb

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The Independent Hotel Show has steadily grown in popularity since its launch 5 years ago to the point where instead of being asked whether one attended, one is more likely to be asked which of the two days.

IHS 2017My interest is twofold as I shall be taking part in a couple of talking sessions and helping to host the awards ceremony on the Tuesday evening, all the while rubbing shoulders with some of the best in our business.

It just seems to get better every year and I think credit is due to the organisers for resisting the temptation to stuff the hall with too many exhibitors – the ones who are there actually fit our needs at the luxury and boutique end of the industry.

Their only lapse is in allowing old grizzlies like me onto the stage but I shouldn’t complain about that. We flock to wherever the great and good are gathered, like moths to a light bulb.

http://www.independenthotelshow.co.uk/

Giving hospitality students the edge

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PH at Edge Hotel SchoolOne evening this week I had the enormous pleasure of meeting and speaking with students at The Edge Hotel School near Colchester. It is a unique enterprise which operates as part of the University of Essex and has the advantage of being incorporated into a real working hotel, Wivenhoe House, so students can gain proper hands-on experience in all departments alongside their academic training.

All this means that after two years (yes, they cram a three year course into 24 intensive months) these budding general managers are industry-ready as soon as they graduate. The hotel’s GM, Oliver Brown, prefers to use a culinary term and describes them as “oven ready” – I think we know what he means.

The group of young men and women that I met were keenly interested in all aspects of the trade and several had already set their sights on a specialism, such as marketing or event management, though the course is ideal preparation for a life in general hotel management. According to its Principal, Andrew Boer, almost 100% of graduates over the school’s first 5 years have gone straight into hospitality jobs and yet, amazingly, they have vacancies on upcoming courses waiting to be filled.

My personal feeling is that before signing up to some other degree course with only a flimsy chance of it leading to an actual job, school leavers should be encouraged to consider the hotel industry with it’s endless opportunities for rapid promotion and world travel. And I really couldn’t imagine a better place to start than The Edge.

Find out more here: www.edgehotelschool.ac.uk/EHS100

Edge Hotel School

I agree with Nick..sorry, Peter

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Do you recall the general election of 2010 in which Gordon Brown famously tried to spoil things for David Cameron by claiming to agree with Nick Clegg during the leaders’ debates?

I was reminded of this at the recent National Hotel Marketing Conference, organised by Martin Evans and the Hotel Marketing Association, where several speakers kindly said they agreed with comments I’d made in my own presentation near the start of the day. The gist of my piece was that although we are judged by the number and value of rooms we sell, what we’re actually selling is service. This is especially true at the top end of the market, given the many luxuries our customers already have access to at home, such as beautiful rooms and bathrooms and a good wine cellar.

Peter at NHMC 2017A high point of the day was an interview with Eamonn Elliott, chief executive at Pride of Britain’s current ‘Hotel of the Year’ Rockliffe Hall. He gave generous credit to members of his team for the hotel’s success, saying each of them drew upon their “inner demons” to work harder and achieve more.

The conference is always a pleasure to take part in and, as I have proved, you don’t need to know very much to make a useful contribution.

Voice of the balls?

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Last Tuesday night I had the extraordinary privilege to be the “Voice of God” at the 2017 Catey Awards, presented by the publishers of The Caterer magazine at the Grosvenor House Hotel. There were 1,250 guests at the dinner and our sparkling host was Canadian stand-up comic Kathryn Ryan.

Cateys 2017(Picture shows the room while the technical team rehearsed behind the scenes before the event)

On arrival I was shown to a small table that had on it a small lamp, a pair of headphones plugged into a two way box, a script and a large microphone. To this I added a vital packet of lozenges and some lime cordial for the long task ahead.

Beside me was Julia our ‘Show Caller’ who made everything happen at precisely the right moment; 22 awards plus various speeches and bits of video. She must have the same kind of brain as an air traffic controller to be able to do that – amazing.

The best part of it for me was having such powerful amplification at my disposal, easily enabling my voice to be heard over all the talking and music. On nothing more than lime cordial I felt drunk with power!

Afterwards a leading hotelier commented that I reminded him of Alan Dedicoat (the BBC’s “Voice of the balls” for the Lotto draws). Quite handy if I should ever be offered bingo work, I suppose.