Chief executive of Best Western, David Clarke, left the comfort of his office for two weeks to film the first episode in a new series of Undercover Boss, which was screened today (Thursday) on Channel 4. He took part in the programme believing it would help him to understand how the business works at grass roots level. He talks to Janet Harmer
Caterer How did the opportunity to appear on the programme come about?
David Clarke The programme was a huge hit in the USA and after two pilot episodes were screened last year in the UK, Channel 4 commissioned the first full-length series here. They wanted to include a hotel company and liked the idea that Best Western represented independent hotels with a lot of character.
Caterer Did you consider that it could be a risk?
DC Yes, but I realised the programme is about going undercover in your own business - I thought it would give us an opportunity to find out how to improve our offer and benefit the business. I also wanted to find out who are the stars in our hotels.
Caterer What was your undercover disguise?
DC I grew a beard and became Andy Green, aged 60, who was seeking a change of career, accompanied by a documentary film crew. I went into three hotels - in Watford, Ullesthorpe and Kendal - and was introduced to a variety of jobs working as a chef, maintenance man, housekeeper, waiter and green keeper on the golf course.
Caterer Did the experience turn out to be as positive as you'd hoped?
DC It was very positive. There are some great people working in our hotels and it was very easy to identify many heroes. Despite the long hours, the staff have an enormous amount of pride in what they do. Although the programme shows the hotels, warts and all, it also shines a positive light on British hotelkeeping and Best Western and confirms what I have always known: that working in hotels is very enjoyable.
Caterer How do you think Best Western will benefit from the programme?
DC From the programme trailers alone we have received calls from hotels interested in joining Best Western. They are keen to be associated with a brand that is brave and I think taking part in the programme was a brave thing to do.
Caterer What has the experience taught you?
DC That we are not doing what we originally set out to do in making personal recommendations and referrals to other Best Western hotels. This surprised me and I will be rectifying it. I also found that the hotels are going to extraordinary lengths to stay in the brand.
Caterer What was the reaction of your staff when they discovered that you were working undercover?
DC There was a great deal of emotion. Everyone was very supportive. I went on to explain the changes we want to make and the ways we want to show appreciation to the employees who've been doing such an outstanding job.