How about reviewing guests on a website?
I'm intrigued by the website tripadvisor.com, and find it a refreshing but scary opportunity for Joe Public to relate their experiences as hotel guests for other interested parties to see.
Being a brave, if foolhardy, individual (fabulous criteria for an independent hotelier) I've actually put a link from our own website so guests may review us, warts and all.
Faced with the onslaught of Christmas I have a new idea based on the success of tripadvisor - guestadvisor. This would be a site aimed at hoteliers, enabling us to give reviews on our customers, publish them and log on to see other hoteliers' reviews.
Categories could include, perhaps in order of importance: Likelihood of paying; likelihood of leaving me with a pounding headache; energy efficiency, and sanity (theirs), with a subsection on their effect on mine. For instance:
Name: Mr Jones
Rating: three out of five stars
Special awards: two rosettes for care towards proprietor
Would you want him back? Absolutely, but I would remember to take a credit card preauthorisation this time.
However, as a committed hotelier (you have to be) and fundamentally enthused by the great warmth demonstrated by our loyal guests I would probably enter at least 99.9% of guests under five stars with knobs on.
Keith Makepeace, The Soar Mill Cove hotel, Salcombe, Devon
Don't ignore value of the grey market
CB Richard Ellis's report into how shopping centres are suffering because their fast-food environment puts off older customers (Caterer, 15 September, page 9) is a wake-up call for the hospitality industry.
The current grey generation represents a golden moment for the industry - in that the last major swathe of final-salary pensions has now kicked in, producing high disposable income unaffected by changes in the stock market or interest rates. Someone will typically last 25 years as a marketing target after their 50th birthday - and that's as long as they've been a target while a working adult.
Forty-two per cent of the UK population falls into the over-50 age bracket, and the proportion is rising rapidly. This age group also holds 70% of the nation's wealth, 40% of its disposable income and spends £240m on consumer goods each year. It's a common misconception that the over-50s group is unwilling to embrace new ideas and product innovations. This is ageist nonsense and about as incisive as classifying all women as the same.
Anyone in the industry who ignores the value and variety of the over-50s population is going out of business fast.
Andrew Greenyer, director of marketing, EMEA
In search of balti's origins
I work as a researcher for a London-based TV production company called Takeaway Media. We're currently making a series for BBC2 in conjunction with the Oxford English Dictionary on the origins of six words.
One of the words is balti, and we were wondering whether any of your readers have any information regarding the history of the word.
We've had claims that balti originated in Manchester, Bradford and Birmingham, but as yet no one has been able to provide us with evidence (a dated letter, publication, menu, etc), so we don't know for certain where in Britain the word was first used.
Any information would be much appreciated. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 020 7424 8591.
Edmund Moriarty, researcher, Takeaway Media, London
Helpful site for coeliacs
You recently published a letter from a lady with coeliac disease (Caterer, 25 August, page 18), which is caused by an intolerance to gluten. She drew attention to both the potentially serious consequences of the disease, if left untreated, and the difficulties in finding restaurants that cater for a gluten-free diet.
Coeliac UK is the only charity that provides support to people with coeliac disease. One of the services we have recently introduced may be of interest to your readers - the website gluten-free-onthego.com, which lists restaurants and other eating establishments which cater for the gluten-free market.
Spanish tapas bar La Tasca, with 51 restaurants in the UK, has signed up, and the award-winning Manchester restaurant Le Petit Blanc recently joined.
In giving more consideration to the needs of diners with coeliac disease, restaurants stand to benefit from this potentially lucrative market.
Kevin Monks, external relations officer, Coeliac UK
Not the first Old Etonian
Much as I enjoyed your article on Sam's Brasserie, Rick Stein's mistaken suggestion that Sam Harrison is "believed to be the first Eton boy to go into catering" should be corrected (Caterer, 22 September, page 34).
Among many Old Etonians in catering, some of the best known and longest established are: Mark Birley, of Annabels, Mark's Club and Harry's Bar; Gavin Rankin, owner of Bellamy's, who also ran the aforementioned clubs for many years; Simon Parker Bowles, owner of Green's; Joel Cadbury, who started the company which now owns the Groucho Club, Admiral Codrington and Vingt-Quatre; and Jeremy Cassel, owner of the Grange hotel in York.
These are but a few of many Old Etonians who work in catering, and share Sam Harrison's "pride in this profession". I have owned and run Foxtrot Oscar in Chelsea for more than 25 years, and I can only hope that Sam gets as much enjoyment out of the business as we all have.
Michael Proudlock, Foxtrot Oscar, London
New kit is a good start
Your report into the condition and age of cooking equipment in school kitchens (Caterer, 15 September, page 8) stated that some could be up to 50 years old. That might be taken as a compliment to the build quality of the equipment.
But with that age comes old technology. Catering equipment today is built for speed, versatility, energy efficiency and ease of cleaning. It's a fact that modern equipment needs fewer hands to do the cooking and will produce higher quality food.
Re-equipping kitchens is not the sole route to better school food, but it's one step of many.
Barry Hill, marketing manager, Falcon Foodservice Equipment
Get the right equipment
To prepare healthy meals, school kitchens require equipment that's portable, easy to use, safe and easy to clean and which conforms to current legislation.
It's also vital that any school kitchen that buys this type of equipment for the first time is offered on-site training, demonstrations and an efficient and quick response time for any service call. Free replacement equipment should also be provided if the machine goes down for any longer than a day.
If a school has the desire and the inclination to provide fresh healthy food, then we in the equipment market should respond to help them.
Ian Parsons, business development manager, Kenwood Catering