Although there is nothing I like better than having a pop at hotel operators, I thought long and hard about posting this particular letter. Partly because the recipient is likely to be less than pleased at having it shared on the internet (i.e. cowardice) but mainly because the company concerned is actually rather good. Unlike Easyjet therefore, reasons to complain are few and far between. Of course, that makes it all the more important to let them know that one of their properties is letting the side down badly but it would, I decided, be unfair to name and shame in this instance.
The letter is written to the Chief Executive Officer who, for the sake of this post, we shall call Steve. The very successful business he runs we shall rename as Well Posh Hotels. As for the offending hotel itself, I think we will call it Snooty Manor.
Oh, and the name of the bar isn't 'Manuel's' either.
Everything else is accurate.
Snooty Manor Hotel, Nether Scrotum
I need to tell you a little story. It’s a completely true but rather unhappy story and it’s one that needs to be told to you personally - not some faceless character in the customer relations department – because ultimately Steve, it’s your fault that the story isn’t a happy one. The buck stops with you.
Here is my story:
Once upon a time (well, back in August actually) my wife and I had occasion to celebrate the fact that we had managed to stay married to one another for precisely thirty years. To mark our Pearl Anniversary, we booked a long weekend at one of your ‘Countryside’ properties - Snooty Manor, in the picturesque village of Nether Scrotum.
I have to say that when we arrived, the hotel was everything we had hoped for. It was a remarkably pretty building in an exquisitely pretty village setting. The bedroom was delightful, the bed was blissfully comfortable, the bathroom was spacious and beautifully fitted out. It all looked terribly promising.
We had driven a couple of hundred miles to get there and having endured quite enough travelling for one day, we elected to eat at the hotel. As we intended to dine more formally in the restaurant on the following night (our wedding anniversary) we opted to eat in the ‘Manuel's Lounge Bar' – where, according to the hotel website, “guests love to graze the delicious bar menu…” It sounded good.
My wife decided to try the “traditional scampi” – served with sweet potato wedges and a sour cream dip. Quite what was meant by “traditional” we were not sure but I have to confess Steve that we were expecting fresh Dublin Bay prawns or pieces of Norwegian lobster bread-crumbed and deep fried to crispy golden perfection. I’m afraid that we weren’t even close.
Traditional scampi at Snooty Manor, it seems, is the sort of traditional scampi that is found lurking at the bottom of the discount freezers in Iceland (the frozen food supermarket, not the country). Traditional in this context meant little fragments of over-processed seafood of indeterminate origin deep fried not to crispy golden perfection, but to dark brown, tooth-breaking hardness. If we had thrown one at the window, it could have smashed its way through and injured an innocent passer-by.
Unfortunately, the sweet potato also had hardness issues. The wedges were generally the right colour so they had obviously been in contact with heat at some point but alas, it had not penetrated into the vegetable at all. The wedges Steve, were completely raw. Mrs. M would not be able to “graze the delicious bar menu” without risking broken teeth and severe indigestion.
Trying to introduce a note of levity into the situation, I said “Well, at least they couldn’t mess up the sour cream dip”. Unfortunately Steve, I was wrong. At this point, we realised that the sour cream dip was still in the kitchen. My wife’s meal was completely ‘sans dip’. However, as there was nothing edible to dip in the dip anyway, the complete absence of dip was somewhat academic.
So, we flagged down a passing waiter, politely pointed out that the meal was not fit for human consumption and asked him to return it from whence it came. He returned a few minutes later with an unwanted but complimentary glass of sauvignon blanc and a mumbled apology. No-one from the kitchen or from the management came to enquire what was amiss with the food and I was left to finish my own totally unmemorable meal (so unmemorable I can’t for the life of me remember what it was) whilst Mrs. M reflected on her unfortunate menu selection and contemplated eating her napkin.
Things could only improve at breakfast the next morning.
I honestly thought that I could expect a decent cup of coffee with breakfast at a Well Posh hotel. I was wrong again. The urine-coloured water that was served up was simply awful. The Full English Breakfast was as cold as the plate on which it was served and the poached egg was hard and rubbery enough to be substituted for the ball in a vigorous game of squash.
Another plate of food was returned to the kitchen uneaten. Was anyone in the slightest bit concerned that the guests weren’t eating their food? No Steve. No-one gave a damn.
So Saturday evening arrived - the actual evening of our anniversary - and not surprisingly, we abandoned our plans to eat in the hotel restaurant. As luck would have it, we found a delightful little bistro in a nearby town and the contrast could not have been greater.
The menu and the wine list were explained with passion by someone who actually knew what they were talking about. At Snooty Manor, they were wordlessly handed over. At the bistro, the sauvignon blanc came perfectly chilled in a huge glass which allowed you to savour the wine. At Snooty Manor, it arrived in a glass barely big enough to hold the measure and which looked like it came free with six gallons of petrol. The bistro coffee was exquisite. No cups of urine here.
This little bistro wasn’t expensive and didn’t pretend to be anything other than what it was - but it did what it did extraordinarily well. The bistro had class. Your hotel did not.
In the breakfast room the next morning, our sense of disappointment continued to grow. I made a point of asking for a strong coffee and I certainly got what I asked for – you could have creosoted the fence with it – but it was still a significant improvement on the previous day’s homeopathic offering. The same wasn’t true of the food. Wary of repeating my mistake with the full English breakfast, I opted for the original-sounding mushrooms on toast with gruyere cheese. I had visions of delicious button mushrooms nestling in steaming melted cheese on a doorstep of crunchy toast. It sounded mouth-wateringly good.
Luke warm mushrooms on soggy toast with a sprinkling of cold grated cheddar was what actually arrived. It looked like something you might be served at a food caravan in a lay-by on the Wolverhampton bypass.
The constant disasters emerging from the kitchens were not the only annoyances however.
For instance, the in-room coffee and tea tray had one sachet of indifferent instant coffee (from Lidl or Aldi perhaps) one sachet of sugar (you get more sugar on a fruit pastille) and one Tetley tea bag. My wife likes peppermint or ginger tea and I take two sugars in my coffee (and two sachets of coffee come to think of it) so the tray was perfectly useless.
Another example was ordering a double measure of single-barrel, vintage bourbon as a nightcap only to have the barman tip it down the sink whilst I visited the toilet. I got a replacement of course but that isn’t the point. This sort of thing just shouldn’t happen, but it did – all the time. The members of staff were consistently friendly, courteous… and inept. It wasn’t their fault of course. They may as well have worn badges saying “Don’t blame me - I haven’t been trained properly!”.
Nonetheless, despite the many infuriating cock-ups that served to spoil our weekend, it was not until the third and final morning that my patience finally snapped.
There is nothing I like better than eating kippers for breakfast. I don’t know about you Steve, but I am always a little self-conscious about inflicting that very strong smoked fish aroma on my neighbours in a hotel breakfast room. However, I was running out of options on the breakfast menu and so I decided to go for it and order my favourite breakfast. Surely this time, I would get to enjoy the first meal of the day.
You guessed Steve didn’t you?
When it arrived, I simply could not believe my eyes. Here, in a Well Posh hotel, along with more urine coloured coffee, I was being served ‘boil-in-the-bag’ kippers (the Chef had obviously been to Iceland/Lidl/Aldi again). However, the shock my eyes received was nothing compared to the shock experienced by my taste buds when I was foolish enough to try what was on the plate. The first thing I noticed as that it was completely drenched in lemon juice. The second thing I noticed was WHY it was drenched in lemon juice. The fish (which it must once have been) was so far past its sell-by date that it could have climbed off the table and gone for a walk round the village. It was without doubt the single most disgusting thing I have ever tasted in my life and quite possibly the most dangerous.
I very nearly vomited all over the table.
Soon after, I finally asked to see the manager.
She listened patiently to the story I have repeated here to you. She made sure a little money disappeared off my bill and I’m sure that she must have apologised at some point. However, the one thing she didn’t do is lead me to believe that she cared. I came away utterly convinced that she would do absolutely nothing about the concerns I had raised – which is why I’m now telling you the story.
Please go to Snooty Manor Steve. Count the sugar sachets. Have a look in the freezers. Check out your crappy little wine glasses. Take a peek at those training records. Order the kippers if you dare.
Then do something about it.
You said yourself in the Well Posh Annual Report that “the finest dining has always been a cornerstone of the enduring popularity of any of the Well Posh hotels”.
Well Steve, as things stand, I think that’s complete bollocks.
To his credit, Steve replied personally my letter:
Thank you for taking the time to write to me following your experience at Snooty Manor Hotel in August of last year.
Please be assured that we have made a significant amount of changes at Snooty Manor since your visit, including menus, staffing and the implementation of a training programme throughout all departments within the hotel which is now seeing positive results.
I believe your concerns were dealt with on departure as you were not charged for any food and beverage taken during your stay.
Please accept my sincere apologies for the issues you experienced and I hope we will have the pleasure of welcoming you back to Snooty Manor or another hotel in the WEll Posh Collection in the future.