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01 January 2000 by

Egon Ronay plaques no longer valid

ACORRES-PONDENT in your Letters column (Caterer, 6 August, page 21) was quite right to complain about an Egon Ronay plaque being displayed on a coffee shop which, he said, no inspector has visited "in years".

Alas, such cases are not unknown. Those who have been publishing the guide in the past few years are culpable for this neglect.

After having regained, a few months ago, the right to publish my guides, it is my priority to put matters right while making preparations for the continuation of my guides, perhaps in a new format but strictly based on much-overdue inspections.

Meanwhile, may I request, through this column, that catering establishments remove the "Egon Ronay Guide" plaques as a matter of urgency?

These blue, circular plaques, the latest having been issued two or more years ago, have no validity today, yet their presence implies that I recommend the establishment now.

My reliable information is that some other guides (never mind those which blatantly accept payments for entries) simply recommend establishments without actually visiting ("inspecting") most of them, contrary to what the words "restaurant guide" imply.

Your publication should expose such guides for giving the public a false impression while conducting their researches from behind a desk.

Egon Ronay

Egon Ronay Associates,

London SW3.

Think again on millennium closing

I AM amazed to read that Beppo Buchanan-Smith, of the Isle of Eriska hotel, could even contemplate not taking business over the Christmas/Hogmanay period 1999-2000 (Caterer, 6 August, page 24).

What is the difference between the millennium and any other Christmas/Hogmanay? Clients will be willing to pay a fair increase, knowing full well that we will be faced with higher costs and greater demand.

All products and services are dictated by market forces, as they are every Christmas and Hogmanay. When would we be able to charge in excess of £35 per head for a four-course meal offering turkey as a main course, other than Christmas?

If I was a regular client of Mr Buchanan-Smith and was unable to stay at the Eriska hotel for the millennium, I would take my business elsewhere in future. I'm afraid that Mr Buchanan-Smith has turned turkey and does not deserve loyal clients if he cannot be bothered to operate his business when the demand is there.

He is very fortunate to be able to pick and choose. We would all love to be able to work when we want.

Geoff Dibble

Briars Hall Hotel,


West Lancashire.

You can't ignore language training

I WAS disappointed to see yet another article on training for restaurant and hotel staff without any mention of language training (Caterer, 16 July, page 54).

Until the industry recognises and looks after the huge number of foreign workers in its midst, the skills shortage will remain an unpleasant reality.

Many unemployed non-English speakers would like to be beneficiaries of the Government's New Deal but need help with speaking and listening. Equally, social and service skills, which are part of functional language training, would be a boon to a number of New Dealers, foreign or not!

The industry must understand that fluent language and communication skills, including business English for people wishing to move into management, don't just happen, they take time, energy, motivation and money.

There needs to be a concerted effort and investment into retaining staff and supporting their career prospects. In fact, Andrew Currie, whom you quoted, and Lara Collins, at London's Marriott Regent's Park, are doing just that - and reward committed staff, who have made sufficient progress, with promotion.

Sarah Cooper



London SE10.

be realistic on maximum wages

IN response to the letter from Lawrence Brewer on pay and conditions (Caterer, 23 July, page 22): if the new legislation were aimed solely at "fat cats" earning great rewards each year from their share dividends, he might have a point.

However, the British Hospitality Association speaks for all of the industry, including small independent operators, and there can be no more damaging legislation than that which he is suggesting.

What is wrong with a £4.25 minimum wage for all staff? If this represents an average increase of 15-20% on the largest single cost of the business, it's economic suicide. Are we able to generate a similar increase in prices? I think not.

Furthermore, many small businesses do not operate 70-hour weeks, do not abuse staff and do not operate Victorian working practices. They do, however, offer flexible working hours, training and a decent working environment.

The problem with Mr Brewer's statement is as with the legislation: it is ill thought-out and does not bear close scrutiny. Excessive increases in wages are inflationary; they also lead to more part-time and short-term contracts. This does nothing for long-term security for staff.

In our hotel, part-timers' hours revolve around their needs, whereas full-time staff are given rotas to work to. There must be some benefits for this.

As for tips, meals and accommodation, these are all benefits which we provide at a cost to someone. It's the same as the company car - should we ignore that?

There is, as always with these things, some middle ground, but it must always be based on commercial reality. Perhaps we should look at a better structure, such as a maximum working week with overtime, also a minimum wage that applies only to those working a certain number of hours.

Excitable, idealistic nonsense will drive us all down the road to failure. It is Mr Brewer who should remove his head from the sand.

Max Strelling

Mayfield House Hotel,



Americans get greedy on tips

MY family and I have just returned from Florida, where we spent three weeks on holiday: one at Kissimmee, near Magic Kingdom, and two at Captiva Island, just off the Gulf coast near Fort Myers.

While, as always, the service in all the various restaurants that we visited was noticeably pleasant and helpful, there do seem to have been some negative changes recently.

Bar two of the chain restaurants, every single place added on a service charge of not less than 15%, and several times the hand was held out, verbally, for us to leave more. Admittedly, we were a party of six.

As a result, I left more at the two restaurants that didn't add anything on, than at the ones that did.

I hotly disputed the right of two places, RC Otters and the Village Café, both on Captiva Island, to add on 18% without it being indicated anywhere on the menu, and disguising it on the bill, but they merely stated that "it was normal practice".

Several establishments, despite adding on a tip, still had "gratuity not included" at the bottom of the bill.

The other sad fact was the universally poor quality of the food. Maybe it is just that we have moved on so much in recent years in the UK, but I can remember going to the USA on many occasions, and being enormously impressed by the standards of the chain restaurants.

This time, it was the opposite. Even the Burger King that we stopped off at en route to Captiva was dreadful, with soggy buns that were falling apart.

Occasionally, when things were glaringly awful, we sent food back, but most of the time we put up with it stoically, getting prouder and prouder of the fact that we are now genuinely giving the Americans a run for their money, and with greater originality.

The Earl of Bradford



hotel episodes are a trainer's dream

Poor Eileen Downey of the Adelphi, featured recently in an update of the TV series Hotel.

I can't help feeling a little sorry for Eileen, being lambasted by the media and some of your readers for her firebrand management style. Something good comes out of something bad, as they say. The BBC got what it wanted, taking out the boring bits and not showing Eileen or the chef in a very positive light.

However, the six or seven episodes of Hotel were, in my view, a trainer's dream. Even John Cleese couldn't have done it better. The series is an asset to the hospitality industry from a marketing, human resources, supervisory, management and general perspective.

Thank you, Eileen, for a top-notch performance on how not to manage people and guests alike. You have provided me and my colleagues at numerous catering colleges here in New South Wales with an excellent resource package.

Jim McMahon

Food and beverage teacher,

Sutherland TAFE,


New South Wales,


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