My love affair with Catey
I have had a love affair with Catey since 1987 when I worked for North Yorkshire County Council in charge of the Education Catering Service. I had just left Trusthouse Forte where I had been General Manager at three different locations; the last one was at The Craiglands Hotel in Ilkley. This is where a very young Jonathon Doughty worked for me as a student on release from Manchester Hollings University. He went on to much greater things.
In 1987 we were shortlisted for the Group Marketing Catey along with Gleneagles Hotel and Crest Hotels International. When the shortlist was announced Joe Hyam said “North Yorkshire County Council Education Catering Service.” A buzz went round the room as if to say what are they doing in the Cateys? Unsurprisingly we did not win but I vowed to come back and win the following year with a better and stronger campaign as it was good business and it raised our profile. I had been seduced by Catey.
I returned in 1988 as we were shortlisted again for the Group Marketing Catey but it was won by British Telecom. I slowly slipped back into my chair thinking that was the end of our chances for 1988. Suddenly I heard a familiar description and to my delight I had won the Foodservice Catey and I became the first public sector winner of a Catey, a title I am still very proud of, and my love was returned.
My objective was still to win the Group Marketing Catey and I was frequently shortlisted for a range of campaigns and strategies. I was delighted in 2009 when our client, CCS in Cambridgeshire, won for their Ten out of Ten campaign that increased meal numbers by 10%. The love affair continued.
There is a moral to this part of the story. I was taught that “YOU only fail in business when YOU give up.” This is so true and so often we allow ourselves to stop trying and that is when you will never achieve what you want to. Awards are brilliant but you can’t win every time but you can keep trying every time and that is the important issue.
And then we come to the Cateys 2012. What a night that proved to be and it was genuinely one of the best evenings of my life. We set off from Darlington and stayed at the Premier Inn at King’s Cross. This might not be the best accessible facility but this is made up by the fantastic attitude and help provided by the staff.
My wife and two daughters left at 6pm and as usual a taxi ignored us so we booked a HAILO Cab from a downloadable app and the service was outstanding. If you use taxis in London I would recommend this app to anyone. On arrival at Grosvenor House entrance we were expected and immediately taken via the lifts to the Great Room where we had our pictures taken and drinks were served.
Then onto the meal that was inspired by Tom Kerridge, he had done a brilliant job with the Grosvenor House banqueting team and I heard many people say how good the meal was. Next came the big event and first up was the Group Marketing Award in which we had been shortlisted with our client, LACA and their national School Meals Week 2011 campaign. I had thought our chances were good having recently read the entry and it reminded me how successful the campaign for 2011 was. We were up against Best Western and Salthouse Harbour Hotel and my congratulations and best wishes to them both.
The envelope was opened and we had won and there was a very convenient ramp right in front where I was thrilled to be alongside Lynda Mitchell, Chair of LACA, and Irene Carroll, former Chair of LACA. Irene acts as our client and provides fantastic support to the week. I settled back in my wheelchair and applauded all the other deserved winners.
The penultimate award is the Special Award and until the Lifetime Achievement Catey arrived was the top Catey. I sat wondering who I would have given it to had I been on the Editorial Team at Caterer and hotelkeeper as they are the judging panel. The first few lines of the citation meant my ideas had fallen by the wayside. Then as you can see form Amanda Afiya’s video clip the penny drops.
It was me, sheer disbelief, happiness, joy, pride and a whole host of other emotions wash over me. Catey really did love me and I truly loved Catey. But I love Catey for what she stands for and I suspect that were over 1,100 other that love Catey and her many sisters for the same reasons. As Mark Lewis, Editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, says in the magazine (with one very small word removed before Catey), “Two elements in particular combine to make Catey such a desirable accolade: peer-group recognition and a meticulous judging process. Candidates in each category are nominated by the readers of Caterer and Hotelkeeper. Winners are chosen by judging panels selected for their expertise and industry knowledge, and honoured before an industry audience.”
Catey went to bed with me that night and in the full knowledge of my wonderful and very supportive wife. I love her too.
Don't miss out on the Fathers' Day boost
It is difficult not to know that on this weekend it is Fathers' Day. There are adverts in the local paper, posters around restaurants, blogs and tweets, plus banners on the roadside. There are offers of money off, a free steak if you eat after five or that children can eat free with an adult. You might have one, two, three or more sittings as you attempt to maximise sales.
My concern at this peak time of business is that pubs, restaurants, hoteliers and caterers will look at the one day of success rather that how they can stay in contact with their new customers and work to make them regular users. How many customers coming in on Sunday will give their email address or twitter name. I suspect very few but the reason is that nobody asked them to become followers of that pub, restaurant or hotel. The result is an opportunity lost.
You need to see the value of the customer long term and not just this Fathers's Day. So give them an incentive to like your Facebook page or follow you on twitter. Let them say how great their lunch was and sell your services to others. Set yourself targets of followers to achieve but most importantly watch what customers are saying. If you know what is being said about you then you can always jump into the conversation if discussions become negative. The worst thing that can happen is not being part of the conversation in the first place and not knowing what others are saying. These conversations will continue, so make sure you are part of them, they will help you build up customer loyalty.
Taxi App gets it right for customer service
I am used to taxi drivers continuing on their journey and ignoring my frantic waves from the pavement. They pretend not to see me in my wheelchair but I know they have. If they had seen me then they must stop and pick me up by law. Hence they give the impression of not seeing me.
Now I have found a way to get rid of this issue, all I have to do is download the HAILO App. Then to order I give my phone a double tap on that App and it puts me in contact with the nearest HAILO taxi driver who gives me a time for his arrival. I will be sent a picture of the driver, the taxi registration number and colour of the taxi. I can pay by credit award with no hidden or extra charges or I can also use cash and pay the charge on the meter.
That is not all as I could put one of my daughters in a HAILO taxi and when she is dropped off I will get an email to say she is home or at her destination safely. This system has been put together by three black cab drivers and I for one am very impressed at the level of thought that has been put into the customer service provided.
So what are the lessons to learn? The first is that excellent customer service sells and if you view a situation through the eyes of a customer you will make a real difference. This is a simple concept designed around the needs of the customer and making their experience better. Isn’t this what the hospitality business is all about?
As someone that is usually ignored by taxis I will be using the APP from now on and I will help sell its message via social media. If I can give HAILO one piece of advice it is to increase its awareness via social media channels. HAILO could give up to the minute traffic advice, suggest areas of London to avoid and tell you what is happening and worth doing based on customer feedback This would increase brand loyalty with followers from all travellers in London and who knows when those people will need a taxi. When they do I am sure their first choice will always be HAILO. Can you say the same for your catering service?
Avoid the scramble
Managing busy and quiet times is always a big challenge for a caterer and so it was interesting to see two signs this week that did exactly that. The first was in the lift of the Premier Inn at Euston. They showed the different times that breakfast was served and then showed which times were busy and if you were in a hurry are best to avoid. They just marked the times with a green or red spot. I found this really useful as I was able to manage my time much more effectively and have my breakfast in comfort. I am certain other customers found the same. The hotel benefited by reducing pressure on both the facilities and staff, and could manage the service more effectively.
The second sign was outside a pub in Darlington. It was promoting Fathers’ Day and offering a free steak to every father. The offer was qualified as being available after 5pm. I thought this was an excellent way of attracting extra business at the time of day the pub wanted it. It is also a great offer to every Father and I would expect it to be a successful promotion.
Both of these promotions are good examples of a sales promotion. But too often I see sales promotions that are badly thought out and are reducing profitability. There are many reasons for running sales promotions, such as: deflecting customers’ concerns about price; increasing sales at quiet times; launching a new product or service; and adding value to the service on offer. You must decide what you want to achieve from the start.
In today’s economic climate you see sales promotions everywhere and the customer can be spoilt for choice. In my opinion you need to manage your sales promotions much more effectively. You must: set a clear measurable objective at the start; make the offer clearly visible to customers; monitor take up of the offer; look at sales overall and evaluate the promotion before deciding on your next one. Sales promotions are effective in a recession where value for money is so important but never forget their job is to increase profitability. You don’t want to be a busy fool.
The good, the bad and Premier Inns (part 2)
This blog follows on from my story about the lift breakdown in the Premier Inn, Cambridge.
I arrived at Cambridge station and was taken to the Premier Inn in Newmarket by a taxi (£35). Who decides where to build new hotels in locations like this should be shot because this location was a nightmare. We went round the hotel three times trying to work out where to stop and unload my wheelchair and luggage. Eventually we were able to ask a local taxi driver who indicated the best place. It was basically a drive way with a dropped kerb but no signage saying it was a disabled drop off point. There was no parking attached or under the hotel and cars were directed to a very undesirable looking location opposite. Surely a minimum requirement for any hotel is a drop off point.
So to my welcome. I was charged for my room despite being told it was complimentary by the Cambridge Premier Inn. Very poor communication between the two hotels meant one receptionist in Newmarket had a queue of ten unhappy people waiting to check in as she tried to sort my room out. Eventually I was given a room key and asked to come back later so it could be resolved. A sensible solution but one I had to ask for.
The room was large and spacious with some nice views of the park opposite. The hotel had been built twelve months ago and had four accessible rooms, two of which had wet rooms. At least that was some improvement, as was the TV that had markings on the front saying what each button should be used for along with a remote control that was working.
The bathroom was not a great success with one screw working lose from the support arm in the shower.
This was an accident waiting to happen.
The shower curtain went down to the floor and immediately got tangled up in the small wheels at the front of my wheelchair when I had a shower the followings morning.
The toilet paper dispenser was one of those locked cylinders that had two separate packs of paper. When one ran out it was very difficult if not impossible to bring the next lot of paper into the dispenser unless you had the key. I had to ask reception for new paper which she provided but what a waste of time when toilet rolls are so much easier to use and cheaper to install. Also if a stroke victim tries to do this it would be very difficult and frustratinbg.
The clothes hanging space was low which was fine for me but utterly useless for a lady to use or any other able bodied person that could be using the room when it is not let to a disabled person.
The good news is that I was asked if I would need assistance in the event of fire.
I have to say I felt very sorry for the receptionist. She was doing her best trying to help, she was very pleasant but on her own in a busy hotel and so many of the issues I experienced could have been avoided.
One lift breaking down has become quite a saga, I wonder if it is fixed yet.
New course on accessibility takes shape
The last week has seen Tourism for All, Westminster Kingsway College, Tourism SE and AVF Marketing pilot a new course covering the issues relating to people with disabilities and the £2 billion market for hotels. The course allowed the students to temporarily experience what it is like if they lost their sight, hearing, and mobility. The students went round the college, ordered their lunch, buttered bread when blindfolded, researched the best accessible hotel in Westminster, found out what the best products were for a hotel to help people with a hearing loss and learn how to take an order and serve a dish to a blind person.
The feedback was that this was the most important learning experience of the course and helped everyone experience firsthand how the different impairments affected people with disabilities. Some people with disabilities do not agree with this type of training. They see it as demeaning and so inappropriate. I could not disagree more. I remember a few years ago reading an article from The Guardian. This disabled person was recommending that all supermarket managers experience what it was like shopping in a wheelchair with a trolley that spent most of its life going sideways.
Nobody knows if and when they will be affected by a long term impairment. There is no point in worrying about what the future holds but if it does happen then the most important thing to do, in my opinion, is be positive. This might sound harsh but there is nothing we can do about yesterday but everything we can do about tomorrow. These students are now more likely to go into the hotel industry with a far better understanding of the needs of people with disabilities. When this course is rolled out across other colleges it has the opportunity to provide a far more positive future for disabled people when they stay away from home. EUREKA!
Automated check-ins, good or bad?
I am increasingly concerned about the situation people with disabilities will face when it comes to a fire. In the last two years I have only been asked twice if I needed assistance in the event of a fire alarm. That represents about 1% of my overnight stays. A very worrying statistic when you still see hotels burning to the ground in both the media and Caterer and Hotelkeeper.
So one of two things is happening, it might be that the person checking me in makes a visual note and puts me on a register of needing help but does not tell me. I doubt this is happening. The second is that nothing happens and it is all left to chance and I believe this is more likely. If I am on a ground floor that is less of an issue but a wheelchair user can’t access the lift in an evacuation.
The situation is made more difficult when you have the Premier Inn automated check-in. Does that automatically place me as an at risk person and if so how does it know what type of help I need. Do I need evacuation by an evacuation chair, or guidance because I am blind, or making sure I have heard the alarm because I am deaf. Is the person that is sent to my room at night trained in how to deal with each of these situations? I hope so but I doubt it. It would be really helpful to know all this for two reasons. The first is that I will feel safer and the second is that if I feel safe I am more likely to return. So it makes good business sense.
If only it happened.
Are evacuation chairs the best option?
Once a hotel puts an accessible bedroom on the first floor or above they create themselves an issue. They need a way of evacuating people in a wheelchair from their room when the fire alarm rings. The lifts should be isolated and return to the ground floor. So what do you do with the person in the wheelchair.
In my view there are four options. The first is leave the person in the room and tell them you are doing so and that the fire brigade will be informed as soon as they arrive. The second is you place the person in a refuge area that has been specifically created for this situation. The third is you have a lift that has been protected so it can operate in the event of fire for use by people with disabilities. The fourth is you use an evacuation chair. This means training members of staff to use the chair safely and I believe it needs two people, one in front and one at the back. This is is my least favourite option for several reasons. They can be terrifying for the disabled person as they are tipped backwards and forwards fearing for their safety and the safety of the staff.
So what does the industry do? You’ve guessed it, I see more evacuation chairs creeping onto stairways in new build and renovated hotels. Accidents will happen, injuries or worse will occur and this will result in costly court cases.
That money could have been so easily diverted into one of the other solutions. The first of which costs nothing but I am sure needs agreeing with your local fire brigade. But is you have a 45 minute protection from fire on the bedroom door isn’t this the safest and best option?
The story of the good, the bad and Premier Inns
What would you do if your lift broke down on a Friday and it could not be repaired until the following Wednesday?
How many of you would look at the bookings ahead and see if you had any guests due to arrive in a wheelchair?
Then what would you do?
Congratulations to Premier Inns for identifying, in advance, that I would not be able to get to my room as the above had happened. If it was when I was a hotel manager a senior manager would then be expected to phone the guest, make alternative arrangements and either offer complimentary accommodation, a discount, or a free dinner. This would recompense the guest and compensate, in this case, the guest’s taxi fair to Newmarket.
A receptionist was given the job and just offered an alternative room in Newmarket. He was not empowered to discuss anything else with me.
So what did I do?
I realised that this issue was nothing to do with the receptionist and in my mind he should never have had to make the call. I asked for a senior manager to contact me as I was not happy about having to pay the extra for a two way taxi between Newmarket and Cambridge.
In fairness, the front of House Manager, called me to see why I was still unhappy. He did the very sensible thing of asking me what I would need to resolve the situation. This is a clever way to resolve the matter and a technique I have often used. I went for broke and asked for a complimentary room. I would have accepted a free dinner. However, I was delighted to accept the offer of complimentary accommodation when it was offered and I trust I will enjoy my stay in Newmarket.
But how would you have handled this situation because it must happen in lots of hotels? I look forward to reading your comments.
The difference between constructive comments and complaints
A few months ago I had a very interesting experience at the Holiday Inn, High Wycombe. I arrived back from a cruise, returning early morning to Southampton, so we wanted to check in early. I realised I might have to wait but instead I was told the charge to check in early was an extra £25. I was flabbergasted because this has never happened before. I complained bitterly and said I was not prepared to pay it. They then checked to see if the room was ready and it was. So all that unpleasantness could have been avoided.
The receptionist was very polite and understanding and we struck up a good rapport and discussed how well the hotel met my needs as a disabled person. Well in simple terms it didn’t. For example the accessible room featured a bath. And as the receptionist said, “My auntie could not use that bathroom and it is not suitable for a disabled people. I thought that when I was first shown the room on my induction but my comment was not listened to”.
I was eventually given an eight page questionnaire that in all the time the receptionist had been there she knew only one person that had ever filled it in. Is that any surprise when the first question a hotel guest has to answer is – Where are you located most of the time? The form continued in the same theme and quite honestly was a joke.
I continued my discussion with the receptionist and told her how you could not read the restaurant menu because of the level of lighting and design of the menu, that the bed was far too close to the door and so it was difficult to get in. I politely kept her up to date as she wanted me to. She was really interested in learning more.
Much to my surprise and delight I had a call from the front of House Manager on the Saturday night. She asked if she could have a chat and I was pleased to accept. We then went through a number of points on how the hotel could improve its customer service to people with disabilities. It was a friendly discussion and at no time did I complain. It is my effort with the Ramp It Up campaign to increase understanding in hotels when I stay in them.
So imagine my surprise when I get a letter a few days later from the General Manager relating to my complaints. Worse still it was about what the hotel had done instead of listening to the customer and take on board their constructive comments. The letter was designed to protect them from further action but I could not be bothered as I will just not stay there again.
Perhaps the most concerning issue is that Holiday Inns are promoting the fact they are supporting the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I just hope that the Paralympians that stay do not receive the service I did.
A budding future
In the early 1980’s I discovered the power of flowers. I was managing the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny
that is now famous for its afternoon teas.
The hotel did not have the best reputation at the time and I had to work
hard to win over the local market. I
decided to get involved with Wales in Bloom and support the town’s entry. Despite not having a blade of grass in the
hotel I created a fantastic floral display.
There were colourful window boxes, a courtyard with a fountain and
recordings of bird music, and around the car park I built up the walls and
filled them with flowers. Hanging
baskets added to the floral experience.
We won the hotel section for Wales in Bloom two years
running. During that time we had a
massive increase in sales and the investment was paid back many fold. The PR was fantastic and Abergavenny did win
the town section of Wales in Bloom. It
transformed the hotel’s reputation and the Angle Hotel became the social hub of
During this period I noticed a huge increase in guests from
America. One day I was talking to an
American guest about this situation. He
quickly asked me – Do you know why? I
had no idea. He then produced a half
page article in the New York Times about the flowers in the hotel and how
welcoming it was.
The reason for writing this is to remind hoteliers about the
importance of visual impact. I have
driven past hotels while looking for a room. On many occasions I have driven on because I
don’t like the look of it. And nowadays
we can look at pictures on the hotel’s website so it is more important than
How well does your hotel facade promote your hotel? I suggest if you have a country house hotel
in lovely gardens the solution is already there. Chewton Glen for example is in a magnificent
setting but it still has a team of gardeners ensuring the grounds are well
In my opinion City hotels need to do much more to make their
outsides look better than the competitions.
You need to catch the eye of the passerby but instead I see no window
boxes full of spring colour in lovely hanging baskets, often just weeds or
flowers dying from lack of water. I know
they can be costly but I firmly believe the investment pays off. We frequently say we eat with our eyes and I
believe the same applies to the way hotels present themselves and how guests
The best football pies ever?
I visited The Venue at Wembley Stadium for the recent England v Wales game. I had a very enjoyable meal before the game but I did not realise that the best was yet to come. After the match we returned to The Venue on the Club Wembley level. This is operated by Delaware North to enjoy the best pies I have ever tasted at any sporting venue. They were simply magnificent and were made even better when our very helpful waitress asked if we would like more. I don't think I have ever said Yes Please so quickly. I believe there is a competition for the best pie in the Premier League, I can tell you that if Wembley was allowed to enter it would win hands down. A very special word of congratulations must go to Tony Keohane and his team. Tony is the new Director of Catering and has recently moved to Wembley from The Emirates. I wish him continued success.
I want roast not deep fried potatoes
I thought this chef's short cut had stopped. That is why I was so disappointed to be served deep fried roast potatoes as part of my Roast of the Day bar snack. I am sure customers expect roast potatoes with their meal and I am also certain that I am not the only person that can spot a deep fried potato masquerading as a roast. There is no real excuse for this. If you run out of roast then tell the customer and offer them another available alternative. If not then you lose the confidence of that customer as has this hostelry has with me. Will I return? Probably not for some time to come.
Eye level is buying level
The old saying "Eye level is buying level" is still true today. So why in this accessible room is the fire notice at over 6ft high. An accessible eye piece has been provided for the wheelchair user at about 3ft 6ins so thanks for that but am I expected to read this notice. I hope so as it should have useful information about what would happen in a fire. This is particularly important as this room was on the 3rd floor and obviously I can't use the stairs or lift. I was not given any instructions about a fire evacuation when I checked in nor was I asked what help I would need if this happened. So I had no information about what I should do. So do I wait and hope or lock myself in and shout or just keep my fingers crossed. This is just another exampole of an accessible procedure that has not been thought through properly. So what is the solution. Give a suitable notice printed in 16 point with ariel typeface when I check in that relates to the room I have been given. Is it happening? No it isnt!
Room cards and lighting control
I totally agree with having room key cards that you have to insert to a control box to turn on the lights. But I do have an issue with the time delay in an accessible room. I took out the card recently in a hotel bedroom and the lights went straight off...
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