Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels, hears some surprising opinions on the hotel experience from flower show attendees
Do you serve potatoes with the eyes still intact? No, of course you don't. But this was one of many bizarre enquiries made of us by members of the great British public during our recent exposure at two leading flower shows.
I'm not making this up. A small, earnest-looking lady glanced at our brochures, which present Pride of Britain Hotels as a luxury collection, then gave us a stern lecture on the nasty habit that, apparently, some restaurateurs have of allowing spuds to go unpeeled to the table with the eyes peering back up at the customer. "That's not luxury" she said. Naturally we promised to investigate the matter urgently.
You never know what to expect at these exhibitions - I made the mistake of ignoring one couple because of his baseball cap and her garish stilettos (we were on grass) - only to discover they had recently stayed in the best suite at one of our most expensive member hotels. Yet again I recalled the mantra "don't judge a book by its cover".
What came as a very pleasant surprise was the general bonhomie of our garden-loving visitors and their ongoing interest in staying at good hotels, despite all the economic hardships we hear about in the news. This is certainly borne out by our own findings, with the value of reservations placed in the year to date some 25% up on last year. It doesn't seem to matter how little GDP grows or how vast the national debt becomes, people still want to go to beautiful places and be treated well and are quite prepared to pay for the privilege. As has been said before, in challenging times it's always a good idea to be either the cheapest or the best in your sector, leaving those in between to fight for their share of a finite middle market.
A further revelation came in noticing a north/south divide in terms of cheerfulness, with those in Cheshire seeming to have fewer cares and a greater willingness to engage in conversation than their counterparts in Surrey, the county from which I originate. Based on the conversations we had, their spending power appears to be equal.
When asked about their favourite hotels, the same themes keep cropping up: the welcome, the consideration shown to their children or dog, the views and surroundings, the professionalism of front-of-house staff, the extravagant luxury of the bathroom. Several made the point that a great hotel should be better than their home - a moving target - and a true escape from work. When asked about hotels they hated, two themes dominated all others: food and price.
Please excuse me now - I must get back to scrubbing the Jersey Royals.