Flattery will get you everywhere, says Peter Hancock

25 February 2021 by
Flattery will get you everywhere, says Peter Hancock

Tense times may mean angry words, but operators should be able to display the politeness that they would normally show their customers, says Peter Hancock.

With jobs, livelihoods and businesses collapsing all around us due to lockdown measures, it is perfectly understandable why many from our industry are feeling the need to vent their anger on social media. What else can one do?

Every day I notice hoteliers, restaurateurs and publicans raging at politicians with comments like "Boris: extend VAT cut now!" and "We need furlough and rate relief for at least a year or you'll have blood on your hands" and these are among the milder examples. As I say it is only to be expected. But does it work?

Imagine if we addressed our customers in a similar style. Suppose your best regular guests received, instead of a nice invitation to take up a promotional offer, an email from your business that said "Oi! You! When are you going to come and stay at my hotel again? We need the money. NOW!" I suspect such an approach might fail to woo.

The irony is that most operators in our trade are incredibly polite in all other situations. Surely, they have worked out that courtesy is the way to win people over, and yet some appear to believe elected ministers working 14 hours a day to try to make things better for us all are somehow immune to insult. It makes little sense.

Throughout the pandemic UKHospitality, under the impressive leadership of Kate Nicholls, has made the case clearly and strongly that government has a duty to provide financial support to the businesses it has forced to close. It has done so without recourse to bad language and in fact has taken care to publicly thank the chancellor, for example, each time he has announced new quantities of cash. This is how we want to be perceived, as purveyors of great hospitality and not as an angry mob.

This is how we want to be perceived, as purveyors of great hospitality and not as an angry mob

Of course, this is an emergency, so some degree of cage-rattling is probably appropriate. I do worry, though, that the public may think we have two faces, whereas the charming side is the real one.

Purely for fun I have tried to guess how those same hoteliers, who rage boorishly at Boris Johnson over Twitter, would address the subject if he were on their premises: "Good morning prime minister. I hope you slept well. Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable? Since you are here, sir…please forgive me for bringing this up while you are enjoying your breakfast… We and some of our friends in the industry have been very much hoping your government might consider extending the 5% rate of VAT for a little longer. It really has been a difficult time for us, as I am sure you know, being unable to open for much of the past year.

"Of course, I know you have endless demands from people all the time and it is marvellous how you are getting everyone vaccinated so quickly, and hospitality is just one of many sectors in trouble. Anyway, whatever you can do would be hugely appreciated. Thank you so much for listening to me rambling on like this. Would you care for some more coffee?"

Peter Hancock is chief executive at Pride of Britain hotels

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