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HBA, beware – or the net will get you

I WONDER if fellow hoteliers have become as depressed as I have with the wholly unprofessional attitude of so many hotel booking agents (HBAs). The larger they are, the worse they seem to be.

They make bookings at “preferred” rates but take no responsibility for payment or for “no-shows”. They rarely, if ever, pass on to the client information about the hotel’s location, about the room booked or the room’s location – especially important in our case as we have three accommodation buildings. They never bother to establish if their customer wishes to reserve a table in the restaurant; and where they are responsible for payment, you can wait for months.

Yet, it is “their” customers to whom they display such lack of service. Surely it would be much better to inform the guest of the bedroom location, size and type, and to inform him or her that a table has been reserved and give directional guidance. How simple to go that extra mile, or in this case a metre or two.

This week, a major HBA booked with us a group from a major retailer. The client must be important to the agent, and must book many thousands of bed-nights each year.

During the guests’ first evening here, the facts emerged. They only had a £15 dinner allowance and £5 for breakfast, and yet the HBA had booked them into a country house hotel with a dinner price of around £25 and a full breakfast cost of £8.

For nights two, three and four, we prepared a daily menu so that the HBA’s clients could eat three courses. We also ensured that they left here each day after a hearty breakfast.

So wake up, HBAs. Provide a full, professional service or the Internet might get you.



The Cottage in the Wood,

Malvern Wells,


A good breakfast is worth the wait

I WRITE as a frustrated traveller to report that the British breakfast is, it seems, the property of only a declining number of well-run hotels. Good for them! Perhaps I should stop being tempted to stay in the conveniently located national hotel chains until something is done.

I refer, of course, to the ghastly buffet-style breakfast which seems once again to be spreading in epidemic waves through the hotel industry, particularly in the national and international chains.

OK, we’ve heard all the arguments from hotel managers regarding speed of service and reduced labour overheads, but these so-called managers obviously never sample their own fare by eating breakfast in their own establishments.

The breakfast buffet, having been coughed all over by unhealthy guests, and the cooked elements left stewing in bains-marie under hot lamps, is the most unpalatable fare imaginable. It might be quick, but what do guests most remember about their stay in a hotel? You’ve guessed it – the breakfast.

As for me, from now on I’m going to stay only in proper hotels that treat their guests to a decent, freshly cooked breakfast – and if I have to wait a few minutes longer and pay slightly more for it, then good!




Don’t do it just for show

PLEASE let’s cut out all this snobbery (Richard Partington’s letter, Caterer, 15 January, page 24) and get on with our jobs. Why should we wear tie-pins to prove we are professional? I don’t want to – in fact, I wouldn’t.

I know I’m professional in my approach to my work. The response from my employers and their customers says all I need to know. I don’t have time to sit exams – I’m too busy working.

It appears to me that Mr Partington has either a lack of self-esteem or a jealousy of people who have worked hard and are fortunate enough to work in reputed establishments.

Does he think that by wearing a badge he will automatically gain career advancement? In my experience, you get that from rolling up your sleeves and working hard, not by sitting tests and saying: “I’m professional – look at my badge!”

Please, Mr Partington, just get on with your job and stop dreaming of Oscar awards for “F&B Services Professional” and you will get the recognition you deserve.




A fair chance for contracting out

THE concept of contracting out restaurant and banqueting services within hotels has to be one of the most exciting opportunities of the future for both the hotel and the contract catering sectors of our industry. The benefits could be enormous, and I agree with Jon Hewett (Caterer, 8 January, page 22) that this is a logical way forward.

I believe contractors at the top end of the market are ready for the challenge and have much to offer – first-class food standards (frequently exceeding those in hotels), significant purchasing power, and effective cost control and administrative systems, to name but a few benefits.

However, I wonder whether the hotel sector is ready to accept them. I wonder how many hotel managers rejected a career in contract catering for the “glamour” of hotels and still associate the contract market with school dinners, hospital meals and factory canteens? Those at the leading edge of contract catering know this image to be false, but how many others do?

I reiterate Jon Hewett’s view. Be open-minded, take up the challenge and see what companies such as Everson Hewett can do for your customers and shareholders.


Managing director,

Food Service Associates (Henley),


A little bit of exaggeration…

The figure of £1,000 reported as potential earnings for staff working New Year’s Eve in 1999 (Caterer, 8 January, page 6) was actually an invention of the national press and is not what we anticipate at Reed Catering Personnel.

We trust that such high figures will remain tabloid fantasies. However, in spite of this, staff shortages are still a serious issue for the catering industry.

While we are already offering free silver-service training to staff in anticipation of rising demand, I welcome any further proposals from readers which might help us tackle this problem together.



Reed Catering Personnel,

London KT6 7RF.

… might make your boss annoyed

AS AN Acorn Award winner, I was very flattered to see the article “Prestige position” (Caterer, 15 January, page 81). However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “the reports of my job have been somewhat exaggerated”.

The true holder of the position of general manager of the Savoy is Michael Shepherd, who joined the hotel in September 1997. My position is as the “Number two” at the Savoy, effectively executive assistant manager responsible for day-to-day operational matters.


The Savoy,

London WC2.

start as you mean to go on

iFMY sales were down 50% in December (Adopted Business: Hylands Hotel, Caterer, 22 January, page 58), I would NOT wait until February. I would convene a management meeting on New Year’s Day.

Colin Devitt

Euro Hotel,

London WC1.

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