Ruth Watson is the former presenter of Five's Hotel Inspector, co-proprietor of the Crown and Castle at Orford, Suffolk, and star of Channel 4's new series, Hotel Rescue, which hit screens last week. She spoke to Daniel Thomas about the new show, which follows the highs and lows of wannabe hoteliers
Caterer Tell us about the new show
Ruth Watson Rather than going in and criticising the operation of existing hotels [like in Hotel Inspector], we get in right from the start - when people are building and designing the hotel. The producers decided to start with the smallest hotel last week, but we also look at people who have invested millions of pounds in their properties.
Caterer What's the most common mistake would-be hoteliers make?
RW Despite all the available advice and TV programmes, people still have the idea that opening a hotel or guesthouse will be a life-changing experience. The underestimation about how much money is required is rife - and people never leave enough for working capital.
Caterer What's the most important piece of advice you can give them?
RW Don't get carried away and think that opening a hotel or guesthouse is not a business. A lot of people on the new series are property developers who seem to think the industry is about nice little touches, such as treatment rooms. It has to be underpinned by normal business principles.
Caterer How's business at the Crown and Castle?
RW This has been our best year ever. We have seen year-on-year rises in turnover every month since March. I attribute this to good marketing and great service, meaning we get lots of repeat business. And we have not discounted, instead opting to add value with, for example, our first ever five-day package, which included extras like free entry to the castle.
Caterer What's your view on the tips debate following the change in legislation last week?
RW We have, for 25 years, never imposed a service charge and shared all tips equally among staff. When I was a member of the Restaurant Association 20 years ago, I sat and argued with the big boys that a service charge not entirely shared with staff was iniquitous - I have always deplored this. It does make me laugh that restaurant operators are beginning to do this now.
Caterer What's next for you?
RW I'm going to write a book on hotels, which I haven't started yet, but the main thing for me next year is to spend more time at the Crown. There is a fantastic team here, meaning customers don't notice when I'm not around, but I still love being a hotelier even after 25 years. It's because every day is different. Just the other day, we had a guest in the office who wanted us to cut his walking stick to size! It was absolutely symptomatic of what the hotel business is all about.