The makings of a perfect business

13 January 2012
The makings of a perfect business

Top chefs, hoteliers and restaurateurs reveal their most memorable hospitality experiences, and what should be avoided at all costs

Stuart Procter
Stuart Procter
Stuart Procter
Former general managerThe Stafford, London

Best hotel: The Peninsula, Beverly Hills, California, USA I've visited this hotel every year for the past six years. The level of service is second to none, with all the staff very well trained and allowed to demonstrate their own personality.

There are so many special touches: 24-hour check-in (you can then check out 24 hours later, whatever the time); pillow cases embroidered with your initials; personalised amenities so now when I arrive there are a pair of socks to greet me - some might say this is outrageous, but I think it's great; pool service by the slickest, coolest team offering fresh mango, frozen yogurt or a sunglasses polishing service.

Biggest gripe Personnel who lack hospitality, paying for the internet, light bulbs not working, all show a management that doesn't care; cheap flower arrangements or plants - it's better not to bother at all; highly technical rooms where you need a degree to turn on the TV; and cheap toiletries.

Worst hotel experience It was at a hotel with lots of red stars, set in amazing grounds, but, which from the start, was terrible. On arrival there were no staff to assist the family and the room wasn't ready at 3pm, which is something which drives me mad.

After being told the brassiere only had four dishes out of 15 on the menu, the food we were served was literally thrown together. The water in the swimming pool was dirty, the bedroom was freezing, and to top it off, I got food poisoning in the restaurant at dinner!

Anthony Lee
Anthony Lee
Anthony Lee
General managerMay Fair hotel

Best hotel: La Posta Vecchia, Tuscany, Italy It is a Relais & Châteaux property with a great Sicilian chef and a true sense of hospitality, overlooking the sea. A candlelit dinner on the terrace is one of the most romantic experiences. I have been lucky enough to have stayed in the suite that Getty himself used as his master bedroom, with a dressing room the size of a normal apartment. You can even still smell the cologne he used to wear, now infused into the marble.

Biggest gripe The lack of recognition. People love being recognised - it makes a real difference to their stay in a hotel - and it really does not cost anything. I also absolutely hate to be processed. Unfortunately, too many hotels overcomplicate things and become too intrusive by trying too hard.

Worst hotel experience After booking into an airport hotel in Rio de Janeiro, I discovered there were no windows. Apparently security was the reason as the hotel was almost on the runway. On top of that, the walls were so paper thin I clearly heard the alarms from both neighbouring rooms which went off at 3am and 4am, which were unoccupied. Following a sleepless night, the situation was not helped by an attitude on the front desk which quite frankly should be exported to the next war zone!

Sue Williams
General managerGidleigh Park and Bath Priory

Best hotel: The Reid's Palace hotel, Funchal, Madeira From the moment you arrive within the grand and elegant building, there is a tremendous sense of place. I instantly felt as if I had stepped back into the elegant 1940s or 1950s.

The hotel is built on many different elevations, so you get wonderful views out to sea from every window and terrace, with the natural light that floods into the hotel adding to the magical atmosphere.

My bedroom was very comfortable, with a vast bathroom decked out with more amenities than you can shake a stick at. The service throughout from the Portuguese staff had tremendous integrity and pride, lifting the whole experience to a totally memorable one.

Biggest gripe Staff who treat their guests with indifference and a dirty property are failings which shout "we don't care". I begrudge spending any time in a hotel that does not provide welcoming staff in a clean environment.

Worst hotel experience On a trip to the United States, I once had a room that stank of cigarette smoke and even had a used ashtray in the room. When I complained, it was clear no one cared as I was confronted with a "like it or lump it" attitude. I could not check out as it was the height of season and there was not another room for miles around. It was a miserable stay for sure.

Jason Atherton
Jason Atherton
Jason Atherton
Chef-proprietorPollen Street Social, London

Best restaurant: Quique Dacosta, Denia, Spain The restaurant is housed in an amazing glass structure attached to a small Poblet, a Spanish house, and the design is beautiful and calming. The kitchen is futuristic but traditional at the same time.

There are lots of little inventive service ideas, like a dish which includes a food map and diners guess what they are eating. The food was some of the most original I have ever eaten. It was all based on Spain's coastal region and had titles like the "exploration of the sun and the moon".

Biggest gripe That is simple: rude staff and waiters poking their fingers in my food while explaining what I am eating, like I am a child.

Worst dining experience I ate at a famous two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris and they scraped my wife's leftovers onto my plate in front of me. And they refused to deduct a lobster dish that had been off from my bill. Not good.

Debrah Dhugga
Managing directorDukes hotel, London

Best hotel: Melenos-Lindos, Lindos, Rhodes, Greece A hotel which recently stood out for me was the Melenos-Lindos where the service was first class. I could not fault a thing and for an hotelier that's unusual. Nestling on a gentle hillside under an ancient fortified acropolis, the hotel is built in the style of a tiered village, with exquisite detailing throughout, just 12 suites, a stunning tented restaurant, and views of Lindos harbour.

It really is an authentic Greek idyll. It's difficult to strike a balance between formality and over familiarity and the team at Melenos have it down to a tee.

Biggest gripe Lack of service - if the service delivery is good, all will be fine. And staff ignoring you to talk to a colleague.

Worst hotel experience Just before Christmas in 2008, I booked into a five-star hotel in London, early one afternoon. I was given a room that was full of smoke. After explaining that I was a non-smoker, my room was changed.

I hung up my suit and left my overnight bag in the wardrobe and then went out for the rest of the day. When I returned to the room at around midnight, I discovered another guest in my bed. I am not sure who was more shocked/embarrassed - him or me - and did not know whether to laugh or cry.

I thought perhaps I had the wrong room - but no, my suit and bag were there. Back at reception, I was told the hotel was fully booked and the search began for another room in London, but it was World Travel Market week and everywhere was busy.

It was a nightmare I haven't forgotten. I still don't understand why the other guest did not advise reception about my luggage.

Danny Pecorelli
Managing directorExclusive Hotels

Best hotel: Dar Ayniwen Villa hotel Marrakech, Morocco It was the complete personalisation of the stay that was so impressive. Breakfast was set up outside your room as soon as you appeared in the morning, which included items which the kids had asked for the day before. There were lovely quirky touches such as tortoises wandering around the garden, a Bohemian French design and, most importantly, the attitude of the staff was fantastic.

Biggest gripe Corporate pre-prepared food; staff that don't smile; Wi-Fi you have to pay for; anything dirty; anywhere without a soul; time restrictions.

Worst hotel experience I've been taught never to worry about what people do badly, only what they do well! If I had to generalise it would be any experience in a naff corporate brand of which there are far too many to mention.

Nathan Outlaw
Chef-proprietorRestaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall

Best restaurant: The Seahorse, Dartmouth, Devon We went for a family occasion. It was the first time that my wife and I took our children to experience a restaurant of that quality and they really understood and appreciated the service and what they were eating. I also had the best piece of fish I've ever had - monkfish cooked to perfection over charcoals.

Biggest gripe Restaurants where the staff look like they're not enjoying what they are doing. Lazy food: food that looks like it's been thrown out of the kitchen rather than having care taken over it, no matter how humble.

Worst dining experience Quite recently I took my wife to lunch at a local restaurant and the fish they served was off. The special that day really was "special"!

Robin Hutson
Robin Hutson
Robin Hutson
ChairmanLime Wood Group

Best hotel: Soneva Gili, Maldives We stayed at the hotel as a treat to ourselves after selling Hotel du Vin. The service was very near perfect but in a very unobtrusive way. Their strap line is "No shoes, no news" and they literally take your shoes away on arriving on the island. The next time you see them, they are in your wardrobe.

Our suite, set on stilts in the middle of the ocean, had an indoor/outdoor design and included a private water garden leading down from the bathroom. The orientation of the suite was such that you could walk around with little or no clothes on and was never overlooked.

Mind you, our butler had a habit of appearing when we least expected him, he seemed to know our moves before we knew ourselves!

Biggest gripes UHT milk in mini bars or on tea trays; hard pillows and scratchy linen; small baths; low power showers; cold vegetable purée; skid marks on plates; pompous staff; unpolished glasses and plates; too many rules about what you can and can't do.

Worst hotel experience About 20 years ago on a charity mission to Northern Romania, I stayed in the only "hotel" in the town of Birlad, close to the Russian border. It was quite scary with lots of people running around all through the night shouting. There was no shower and the bath had no plug (in any event, the water was cold), the beds were hard, the walls paper thin. I dread to think what goings on had happened in my room! There was only cabbage stew to eat, so we just drank vodka!

Sat Bains
Sat Bains
Sat Bains
Chef-patronRestaurant Sat Bains with Rooms, Nottingham

Best restaurant: El Bulli, Spain Some of the most exciting and creative cooking I have ever seen. It showcased how a tasting menu could be done, in the right hands, and also led me on my own personal journey of discovery.

Biggest gripe Too much interaction from waiters with the guests - being overly in your space really drives me crazy. Also, overzealous sommeliers rearranging my glasses all night.

Secondly, I hate being overfed. We are obsessively playing with acidity and timings for all our guests so they don't feel over sated too early on in the meal as it would just be unbalanced. I love the feeling of walking away from a table after you've eaten, still relishing each course with a spring in your step.

Worst dining experience A bunch of us went overseas for a gastro tour and the second restaurant had been booked by a British chef who was well known to this restaurant. He had told them to kill us, which they nearly did.

The meal started brilliantly, light and fresh with some fantastic dishes, then half way it went crazy. I've never seen so much protein come out of one kitchen so fast. It was like a Roman binge. This nearly ruined us for the whole trip, but we survived to tell the tale. Phew!

richard ball
richard ball
Richard Ball
Managing directorCalcot Manor

Best hotel: Chiva Som, Hua Hin, Thailand Staff at Chiva Som have that unique humble touch that is so prevalent in this region. The spa facilities are second to none and the whole place is geared towards relaxation and well being, without denial of pleasure, with food that is devoid of sugar, salt and very low fat, but uses natural sweeteners and flavours to create something very special and healthy. The whole experience delivered perfection at a new level for me.

Biggest gripe Over-formality and pretentious restaurants; a chef's surprise amuse-bouche; pre-desserts; pinstripes; tea bags to dangle rather than teapots; "computer says no" behaviour; trendy London hotel bars where residents are not always welcome; intimidating "over-cool" attitude. I could go on, but I'd risk sounding grumpy!

Worst hotel experience It was a hotel in Brighton, 20 years ago, where I was shown to the staff accommodation room in error. It only came to light when I complained that the curtain rail had come away in my hand as I shut the curtain. I asked to be "upgraded"!

Alexis Gauthier
Chef-patronGauthier Soho, London

Best restaurant: Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Monaco The waiting staff made me feel really special. Not at all pompous, they could read my mind and that is the sign of a great restaurant.

When I asked the sommelier what he would recommend, for example, he told me very sweetly that I was here to enjoy myself first. Everyone was calm and smiling - almost trying to seduce me, which made me feel really special to be honest.

One of my guests said that they could not see the menu very well because he had forgotten his glasses and they straight away brought a selection of reading glasses - I was shocked.

Everything I ate was delicious and so very refined. The rum baba was the lightest I have had in my life. And when they served it to me, they knew that it was perfect and were genuinely happy to please me.

Biggest gripe Feeling invisible when you enter a restaurant. Being recommended the most expensive wine on the wine list by the waiter and then feeling the poorest in the room. Having my wine glass being topped up every time I have a sip. Being addressed by a waiter with bad breath. Bad looking staff.

Worst dining experience At Frederick's in Islington, being dropped in the middle of the room by the manager on our way to our table, to give my table away to Jerry Springer, who just happened to enter the restaurant. That was probably my punishment for going there anyway. I haven't been back since.

David Taylor
David Taylor
David Taylor
General managerHoxton hotel, London

Best hotel: Las Ventanas, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico The resort itself is beyond stunning, situated in a wonderful setting and very well oiled and maintained. Silly touches such as a sewing kit reflecting the colour of the clothes you packed and your sunglasses being cleaned by someone using an Evian Vapouriser added to the experience.

Service levels from the team were also unbelievable. They must have had pictures of all the guests as everybody knew your name.

Biggest gripes Surly staff who are more grand than the guests. It is important to remember which exit we all leave from when the shift has finished!

Worst hotel experience A couple of years ago, I chose to stay on the night of an awards dinner at what is allegedly one of the top West End hotels. It was utterly disappointing and felt more like an old people's home with staff who clearly no longer enjoyed their job.

claudio pulze
claudio pulze
Claudio Pulze
FounderCuisine Collection

Best restaurant: Le Bernardin, New York The sheer size of the restaurant and the consistency in the quality of the food, service and atmosphere. As a restaurateur, I find it amazing that they can cope with the huge volume of serving around 600 to 800 diners.

Biggest gripe Without doubt, the lack of consistency so I try to make my manager and chefs understand this. When I have had a good dining experience I can't wait to return to that restaurant. However, the next time I visit I'm often disappointed by the quality of food, the lack of service, or change of staff and do not want to return.

Worst dining experience Last weekend, I took my family to a local Sussex gastropub for some simple food. The food was good, but we had to wait an hour and a half to be served for a single dish, which upset the family and ruined the day for us.

Robert Cook
Chief executiveMalmaison & Hotel du Vin

Best hotel: The Faena, Buenos Aires, Argentina It was the simple things that made the hotel special. The sense of arrival along a long red carpet in what seemed to be a tunnel, accompanied by great music, to an iPad check-in, was seamless.

The staff knew I had been travelling and offered a complimentary spa treatment on my arrival. The bedroom was very clever with the bed in middle of the room with an integrated work space and media hub enabling you to read emails on the TV screen. Ultimately, it was the hospitality and the extra mile from the best team I've ever witnessed that made the experience special.

Biggest gripe Invisible management, design for design's sake - for example, over-lit bars - and restaurants and service that are hot on promise and short on delivery.

Worst hotel experience Not a fair question, in these difficult trading times it's best I leave this one alone.

Kiaran Macdonald
General managerThe Savoy, London

Best hotel: Le Royal Monceau-Raffles, Paris, France I went after its reopening earlier this year following a renovation by Philippe Starck. For me a great hotel has to truly reflect the city or country in which it's located - with Le Royal Monceau's design, art, drinks and people, which were all so French and chic, I couldn't be in any other city in the world than Paris.

Biggest gripe Operational procedures, some of which I even uphold in my business - be it the hoops one has to go through on arrival or the inability to leave the bar or restaurant until you have signed the check.

Worst hotel experience Sleeping in a bed where the mattress was wrapped in plastic made for one of the most unpleasant night's sleep. Mistakes happen, but unfortunately it was the lack of empathy and understanding from the hotel that put this experience to the top of my list!

Andrew Stembridge
Andrew Stembridge
Andrew Stembridge
Managing directorChewton Glen

Best hotel: The Point, Saranac Lake, New York On drawing the curtains in the morning, we were taken aback by the stunning views of Saranac Lake and the Adirondack Hills. Carefully placed on our deck was a flask of freshly brewed coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.

It's not a hotel for everyone as there are no phones in the rooms, no television, just log fires and amazing beds. However, I love to escape the real world and hence this was absolutely perfect.

Biggest gripe Hotel TV systems annoy me. You shouldn't have to press a dozen buttons to find BBC1. I also hate mechanical service - staff that are programmed to deliver timely questions without meaning a word of it.

Charging for Wi-Fi in this day and age is a crime and I can't believe so many hotels still get away with it.

Worst hotel experience It was a hotel in Rhode Island. The sheets were purple and we were convinced we weren't the first people to sleep in them. I don't think we slept a wink.

Mark Godfrey
Mark Godfrey
Mark Godfrey
Managing directorHarbour Hotels

Best hotel: Samode Palace, Rajasthan, India Everything was special, from being collected from the train station in a vintage car to being upgraded to the Maharaja Suite - a beautifully appointed four-poster room with original décor overlooking the hills, outside Jaipur, and the private infinity pool where we were the only two guests.

Biggest gripe Unappealing frontage (first impressions are everything), dead plants and flowers, lack of local information, and - in this day and age - no Wi-Fi, or worse, being charged for it.

Worst hotel experience Being locked in a bathroom for almost two hours and being very late for a sales appointment!

Stephen Carter
Stephen Carter
Stephen Carter
Managing directorDe Vere Cameron House on Loch Lomond; 2011 Hotelier of the Year

Best hotel: Grand Wailea, Maui, Hawaii It is a truly sumptuous hotel, on a major scale. We enjoyed a warm welcome from all the staff; seamless, efficient, yet totally friendly service; fabulous artwork and sculptures; and huge bathrooms with massive baths and showers.

Biggest gripe Finding security coat hangers in the wardrobe, having too many light switches to turn off before going to sleep and worn out batteries in TV remote controls.

Worst hotel experience Arriving from the airport at 10pm at a five-star hotel, going into the bar for a glass of wine and something light to eat - having seen a sign above the bar saying "snacks served 11am-11pm" - and being told food is not served in the bar after 9pm.

I was told to have room service. When I asked if it was possible for room service to serve a sandwich in the bar, I was told: "Sir, room service serves food to rooms, that is why it is called room service"!

mark chambers
mark chambers
Mark Chambers
Managing directorEden Hotel Collection

Best hotel: Fearrington House Inn, North Carolina, USA We received a fantastic warm welcome, great hospitality and a real sense of care and attention to detail. It was a chilly evening and someone had taken the time to light the fires in the room - simple but effective.

Biggest gripe Poor housekeeping standards and the total lack of understanding of the guest experience. I hate it when something is done for convenience at the cost of guests - for example, the cooked buffet breakfast, which is always cold and tasteless.

Worst hotel experience I recently stayed at the Inn on Fifth in Naples, Florida, where I experienced everything you don't want from a hotel and at a huge cost.

Simon Rhatigan
Simon Rhatigan
Simon Rhatigan
Managing directorThe Feversham Arms

Best hotel: Hotel Bel Air, Los Angeles I've chosen it because it was so unexpected and so un-LA. It's a big hotel that feels private and intimate, with rooms and suites hidden away down bougainvillea-covered paths.

It was very understated and European in its décor and approach.

Biggest gripes Pretentious design that's more about look than experience. Someone give me a gun and I'll shoot Philippe Stark.

Worst hotel experience One year when attending the Cateys, I stayed in a very designer-led London hotel. After checking in, I got my DJ on and dashed out to the event. When I got back, I fell asleep, spreadeagled on the bed still fully clothed.

I woke up at about 4am and needed to go to the bathroom. I staggered around in the twilight not being able to find a light switch or even a door to the bathroom because everything was completely white! I padded my way around the walls of the room, eventually pushed against a bit of white wall and fell flat on my face onto the bathroom floor. It turned out that the door to the bathroom was one of those three-quarter hinged doors that has no handle and twists rather than opens

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