Play it again, Sam 13 December 2019 Sam Harrison returns to the floor at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where his brasserie is set to be a blockbuster
In this week's issue... Play it again, Sam Sam Harrison returns to the floor at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where his brasserie is set to be a blockbuster
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Picnic in the bedroom

01 January 2000
Picnic in the bedroom

TWO or three mornings a week, I wake up in the hotel. If I've worked late the night before, I might decide to forego a battle with the Underground and grab a spare room. As well as being convenient, this gives me a chance to see how the hotel operates from a customer's point of view.

If I have stayed overnight, I'll enjoy the luxury of eggs and bacon - and I'll always taste the coffee and pastries to check the quality of our supplies.

If I've come in from home, I'll get in between 8 and 9am. The first thing I'll do is read the night manager's book and check up on the overnight occupancy and room rates.

My morning will be spent around reception, chatting to guests, opening mail and speaking to maintenance and housekeeping. This is a small hotel - only 38 bedrooms - so my job as general manager is very much hands-on. We're all multi-faceted here. For instance, we don't have a personnel or training manager, so my job encompasses both those roles.

Every Tuesday morning at 11am, I meet with the other hotel general managers in the Firmdale group at the company's head office in South Kensington. There are just five of us, all managing small, luxury hotels in London. The others are women, which is great because they're so chatty. I know that's a sexist thing to say, but I have to be sexist because I'm the underdog.

At lunchtime, I'll spend some time in the kitchen watching the service. I'll then nip out for a sandwich from the deli on the corner. I could get something to eat in the hotel, but it's important to get off the premises just for 20 minutes, especially if I've stayed in the hotel the previous night.

It's also necessary to observe what's going on in the local area. For instance, by going out of the hotel, we discovered that many of our US guests were skipping breakfast in the hotel and grabbing a bagel from the deli before jumping into a taxi en route to their meetings. So we've now introduced "Breakfast to go". Five minutes after ordering it, guests can pick up a Dorset Square Hotel paper bag - containing juice, coffee and a pastry - from reception as they go out the door.

At about 2.30pm I disappear into my broom cupboard of an office to get on with some paperwork. This is also a chance to develop new ideas. It's important to be creative. You can't afford to stand still - it's good for business and it stops the staff getting bored.

My latest project is "Bedroom picnics", a name that we're going to trademark. The idea stems from last summer, when I returned from the theatre one night with a girlfriend and we felt a bit peckish, but weren't sure what we wanted to eat. Our head chef, Trevor Baines, said he would put together a few nibbly bits. It was great - a selection of all the kinds of things you like to eat in a relaxed away.

We've now developed the idea for room service. It is served on a large wicker tray with a green gingham cloth - perfect for putting on the bed to eat while watching the television, planning your next day's meeting, running the bath - or even in the bath. We wanted to get away from formal room service and provide something that guests can pick at with their fingers in the relaxed setting of their room.

The contents must be simple enough to be put together in a few minutes, even by the night porter. A typical picnic would include vegetable crudités and a dip, a selection of cold meat such as salami, Parma ham and turkey, hot Toulouse sausages with an onion and mustard dip, prawns in filo pastry, smoked salmon, cheese, bread and freshly sliced fruit.

I am just as likely to deliver the Bedroom picnic to a guest's room myself as is one of the restaurant staff.

At about 6pm I write personal arrival notes to all the guests, which are delivered at turn-down. We know every guest's name and what kind of business they're in. Every Thursday evening between 6 and 7pm, all guests are invited for cocktails in the restaurant.

I'll eat dinner in the hotel restaurant - the Potting Shed - two or three times a week. If not, I leave the hotel between 8 and 9pm. By then most of the arrivals are in, the turn-downs are done and the restaurant is buzzing. Going home to Docklands is a great antidote to all this - I read or watch TV. n

Interview by Janet Harmer

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