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.

 

 

Too poor for an auctioneer?

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PH at NSIF 2Among a whole series of very enjoyable speaking engagements in recent weeks I found myself at St Andrew Church in Holborn last week as MC for a Christmas concert organised by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation, which benefited from a super choir called Walton Voices.

One of my tasks was to introduce the various readers who included some of the famous patrons of the charity. One such was Lord (Jeffrey) Archer who gave a highly entertaining rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas by John Julius Norwich.

Taking the chance for a quick chat with him afterwards I told the best-selling author that whenever I am engaged to conduct an auction (usually for charity) someone usually reminds me that the absolute master of the craft is Jeffrey Archer…and I know this to be true. No doubt seeking to make me feel better about my inferior skills he said “It does help if you are a Lord…and if you’re rich yourself”

Two perfect excuses for being the underdog, then!

 

 

First among equals…again

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Last week I had the privilege to share a stage with three great friends: Tim Etchells (whose company, SME London, organises the Independent Hotel Show) Bronwyn de Cholowa (who is a director of Sky Business, a company that has quickly established itself within the luxury hotel sector and names several Pride of Britain members among its clients) and Kate Levin (General Manager of The Capital, Knightsbridge and chairman-elect of PoB).

This year for the first time a “Hall of Fame” has been created to properly recognise all shortlisted nominees for the title “Independent Hotelier of the Year” but it was Kate who triumphed. Some 3,900 of the visitors to the show cast their votes, the highest number ever, and it was an honour to play a small part in the proceedings as MC.

Tim Etchells, Bronwyn de Cholowa, Kate Levin, Peter Hancock (photo: Edward Lloyd)

Tim Etchells, Bronwyn de Cholowa, Kate Levin, Peter Hancock (photo: Edward Lloyd)

 

Time for a tea-drinkers fight back

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TeaWhat a contrast. Go into any of the thousands of coffee shops that now line our high streets and malls and chances are you’ll be behind someone asking for a weird variant of the popular beverage such as a tall sugar free vanilla latte with soya milk, trying to sound like a New Yorker with sophisticated taste. These drinks take several minutes to prepare, with lots of tapping and squirting and steam while the queue lengthens.

All I ever want is a cup of tea but I wouldn’t dream of ordering a Twinings Earl Grey boiling water with lemon slice in a china cup, it’s just “one tea please” and you get a cup of fairly hot water with the bag still in and maybe some helpful guidance along the lines of “milk’s over there”.

When did tea drinkers become second class citizens? Why isn’t there a machine the size of a printing press with its own squirting noises just for us – or at the very least something to put the bloody bag in afterwards? Tea is a wonderful drink with a huge choice of flavours and brands, not to mention beautiful crockery in which to serve the stuff. Grand hotels swell at 3 o’clock every afternoon with smart guests there to enjoy the theatrical refinement of afternoon tea, often at fancy prices too. Surely it deserves better than most coffee shops provide.

So what do I want? Bean and leaf parity. When do I want it? As soon as Mr triple non fat caramel macchiato has been served, please.

Sharing the limelight

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Today in the post I received a copy of Monica Or’s brand new book, Star Quality Experience – The Hotelier’s Guide to Creating Memorable Guest Journeys.

Star Quality ExperienceMuch to my delight, there are wise quotes from several hotelier friends and the Foreword that Monica asked me to contribute has not fallen victim to the editor’s knife.

This book simply adds to the great work already being done by the likes of the Gold Service Scholarship in raising standards for the front of house aspects of our industry and I’m proud to be associated with both.

Apparently it’s a category bestseller with Amazon at the time of writing this post so buy one now if you can.