Few hoteliers appreciate the benefits of having all their staff live out, and equally few staff appreciate the benefit to them of living in. That being the case, why bother providing staff accommodation? Not only do staff ignore the true cost to the employer - indeed, they take it for granted for the most part - but so do unions, parents and other interested parties.
At one time I had three staff houses that cost some £6,000 per month. I'm sure I don't have to tell fellow hoteliers of the disproportionate amount of time, cost and effort that went into providing this facility.
They were furnished by absentee owners whose private personal effects were locked in a cupboard or attic. Not for long - in almost every case, padlocks were broken and locked doors were prised open, more for curiosity than any thought of vandalism or gain. That such effects went missing when "no one" was there to notice, and that "no one" was responsible, will come as no surprise.
Possibly like you, I was hardly surprised to lose tea, coffee and milk to staff quarters, though crockery, cutlery and even a kettle might lift the occasional eyebrow. However, I drew the line at the migration of the laundry's sheets, pillowcases and towels, and Body Shop toiletries from the rooms.
I was disappointed to note that rubbish was not put out for the refuse collector, and saddened by the scampering of the odd rodent. What got me most was when a member of staff tipped me off that a toaster, electric fire and record player had been carted off to a pawnbroker in Brighton.
Add to all this such nuisances as the presence of a filthy nomadic caravan parked in the drive of a perfectly respectable housing estate, the regular parties, and the irritation of neighbours, and soon the hotelier is spending more time dealing with staff than with customers.
You would hope that house agents would help to police the situation but, alas, their monthly visits simply antagonise sleepy staff as they point out the latest furniture scratch, broken window or missing item. A £2,000 bill followed one such visit.
That was the bad news; now for the good…
During a dinner visit to Chewton Glen in Hampshire, I asked the duty manager how many staff houses they had for their 150 staff. "None," was the reply. Stunned by this, I asked: "How come?" I was told: "They all live out in B&Bs around the town."
Why had I missed this gem of wisdom on other visits to this excellent establishment? No doubt because, like you would be, I was more interested in the food, the wine list and the menu. Indeed, the total ambience lends itself to thinking about other matters than your own staff.
Over the years, it seems, Chewton Glen has made every effort to find local residents who might enjoy the cash benefits of housing one, two or three of its staff on a weekly £40-£50 B&B basis - even to the point where forgoing breakfast on two or three mornings can equal the provision of a dinner.
Armed with this information, I hot-footed it back to my own establishment and changed everything. It took three months to close down our three rented staff houses, but we have never looked back. One of our managers has the job of finding local "safe houses", as we call them, and maintaining a relationship with each one's landlord or -lady.
We write to the house owners and promise to be responsible, and to keep rooms filled as staff move on. Someone is always available to hear complaints about a member of staff's misdemeanour, and goodwill is maintained by an unwritten contract. For instance, only last week I paid a £75 phone bill that was not discovered until after someone left.
So, does it cost more? The short answer is "no". It did at first when we adjusted the salaries of those living in. However, in time, the differentiation diminishes as you apply a rate for the job. The main thing is to point out when advertising that the job is "live-out". Surprisingly, it then no longer becomes a topic for conversation.