Our industry image is suffering
I note Jeremy Logie's open letter proposing an employer's code of practice and inviting suggestions on its content (Caterer, 11 September, page 24). I have several comments:
First, congratulations on the initiative - I distinctly remember proposing this at a meeting of Prestige Group hoteliers 25 years ago and getting a negative response, but I was only 29 at the time!
Arguably, the definitive code is already established in the familiar Investors in People (IIP). Sponsors of this approached my management some time ago, but I opposed it on the grounds that we were already doing all they wanted and why should I pay a government department to tell me so?
In fact, I relented and we passed recently with flying colours. However, it was a paperwork exercise, for fundamental employment policies have changed not one iota from those we set up in the 1970s.
The above notwithstanding, my hotel still suffers the recruitment problems that face most industries in regular cycles, and the hospitality industry at present. I know by impartial testing (IIP) that my company is a good employer, that we provide all that is expected of us, and yet still we experience difficulty in recruiting and retaining sound personnel.
Alas, our industry suffers - not entirely deservedly - a poor image both of working conditions and remuneration. I know the British Hospitality Association is at present addressing the former, but you cannot do so without involving the latter.
Finally, it is an unfortunate coincidence that in the same edition of Caterer as Mr Logie's letter there appeared an article in which we were told that violence in hotels and restaurants is commonplace. In 30 years I have never seen it, nor have I had a first hand account of it. To my mind, such reports are misrepresentative and a disservice to our industry.
Smiley faces for B&B standards?
I have read with interest the joint consultation document on harmonised quality standards submitted for our consideration by the AA, RAC and English Tourist Board.
I should like to share my views with other readers on the issue of a symbol for guesthouses, inns, farmhouses and B&B accommodation which has yet to be decided.
I don't think that either crowns or diamonds give the right feel to this type of accommodation. I believe that the symbol chosen should give a feeling of warmth and friendliness, which of course is the essence of a successful guesthouse, inn, farmhouse or B&B. To me, crowns and diamonds denote both grandeur and opulence and are too remote and formal to describe accommodation that is, by its very nature, far less formal than a hotel, townhouse or country house.
I believe icons, not letters, are the way forward into the 21st century. My personal suggestion would be a smiley face. It is a symbol both easily and universally recognised, and one frequently used in communication. It is a happy, endearing, warm and welcoming symbol. It is "people-friendly" - the epitome, in graphic terms, of all that a smaller, less formal establishment such as ourselves would wish to convey.
Were it felt that the aspect of "quality" required more emphasis, then perhaps a smiley face with crown might be appropriate.
I would be interested to hear the opinions of other proprietors of small establishments, and given that this is the only opportunity we all have to be involved in the evolution of this new scheme, I am concerned that our voices should be heard and our views noted before we are simply presented with a fait accompli.
Bedknobs (B&B), London SE22.
Training is vital - don't poach it
Am I alone in my concerns regarding the current poaching of staff from my establishment?
For many years the Cumberland hotel has prided itself on the training and development that has been offered to all of its employees, which has culminated in the hotel achieving Investors in People accreditation on two occasions, a National Training Award, and the Employer of the Year award in 1996 from North-west London TEC.
It now appears that the resources and effort that has been placed towards training and development is being syphoned off by an ex-member of my management team, who feels that certain individuals would benefit his own career path, by working with him at an alternative establishment.
Is it really necessary for us to include in contracts of employment that managers may not make any approaches towards employees for a period of six months after termination of employment?
I am a strong believer in the fact that there is not currently a skills shortage within the hospitality industry, but that the responsibility lies firmly at the door of hotel proprietors and general managers to offer structured training programmes that will further develop those employees within their workforce.
Retention of staff is always very difficult in an industry that offers so many opportunities, and one would never wish to prohibit the movements of individuals that would enable them to enhance their careers.
But is it really necessary for those managers that we encourage and develop to take the first opportunity of fragmenting your staffing? Surely not all hotel operators have taken to being recruitment consultants or executive search specialists? Indeed, a number of companies are now making incentive payments to managers for the recruitment of staff. How this industry has changed.
At this hotel we offer NVQs, structured training and managerial development programmes to ensure that our team remains professional and competitive. This, particularly to an independent operator, becomes a costly procedure when larger organisations then poach your carefully recruited and developed staff.
How very cost-effective for them. One wonders how much of their budgets is set towards the further training of such individuals, or are they simply taking from the smaller, dedicated operators?
Cumberland Hotel, Harrow, Middlesex.
Not just a problem with women
Regarding in-house prostitution in hotels (Caterer, 4 September, page 66), I worked for many years in some of the best-known hotels in the country.
Contrary to the remarks made in the article by Carrie Mitchell of the English Collective of Prostitutes, it was not the female employees I noticed doing "a bit on the side", it was the young male room service waiters who boasted of extra earnings with both male and female clients. Some of them even had regular "customers".
Brighton, East Sussex.
A centre to bring us together
It is good to see the increasing momentum building for a new world-class conference and convention centre for London.
Such a centre, bringing people together from all over the world, would seem to be a most appropriate memorial for Diana, Princess of Wales.
Knight Frank, London W1.