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Are we being served?

Des McLaughlin asks what kind of ‘class’ act we’re delivering in hospitality

The UK was famously referred to as nation of shopkeepers by Napoleon. More than 200 years later our nation continues to be built and internationally known for providing a wide range of services from finance, to consultancy, education, medicine and tourism. And, yet, despite Britain having built a reputation for world-class service, I’m not convinced the hospitality industry is very good at it.

Service is something that touches us all daily and so I have reviewed my experiences of the service I received last week.

Monday – Dinner at The White Hart in Barnes. We waited over an hour for our main course despite the restaurant being quiet. The waitress also refused to take my coffee order telling me to order it from the bar myself.

Tuesday – Saw The Rolling Stones at The London Stadium. Chaos trying to enter the stadium. My ticket wasn’t even checked or scanned. Very limited food, long queues and severely overpriced. The Stones were great as always, the customer experience was not. For once I felt some sympathy for West Ham fans if this is their usual home game experience.

Wednesday – Stayed at The Lygon Arms in Broadway. Lovely hotel which has been much improved since my last stay. Unfortunately, service at dinner was non existent meaning our table had to play the well known ‘hunt the waiter’ game. In fairness, service was much improved at breakfast.

Thursday – The Jury’s Inn Oxford. One receptionist checking all guests in and out as well as controlling meeting room information and taking money for drinks. Painfully slow and very frustrating when all I wanted was directions to my conference room.

Why then do we struggle to provide the high service levels found in other countries? 

In my opinion it boils down to our age-old class system and the fact that we see service as being servile and therefore beneath us. The Spanish, French and Italians, in contrast, consider waiting as a skilled and respectable profession. In the US, McDonalds claim one in every eight workers has been employed in their restaurants. Waiting tables is the norm for American students, their countless aspiring actors and two million others.

When Brexit finally kicks in, our hotels’ and restaurants’ labour pool will be further diminished with the reduction of immigrants who provide so much of our industry’s labour currently. 

Added to this, hospitality and tourism are seen as future growth industries meaning ever increasing numbers of staff will need to be found or UK service will be worse than ever. 

The hospitality industry, therefore, urgently needs to change the perception that it offers poorly paid jobs with little training, career prospects or job satisfaction. If it can’t change people’s attitudes then we’d better pray that automation and AI in hospitality is as labour-saving as is being claimed and that it’s just around the corner.