Simon Kelner: Hospitality is just not the forte of the British

Kelner's view

Share

I was in Manchester last night, on an intensely private matter. Oh, all right, I was at a football match. Anyway, I was staying at the city centre hotel where I am a regular visitor. In the relatively short time I have patronised this establishment, it has changed names – and, I assume, ownership – three times, and in its latest incarnation it went from a hotel with a short, memorable name – just four letters – to one with a cumbersome, Americanised moniker – three words, 18 letters.

But no matter. It is clean, efficient, friendly and good value. There is nothing special about it, apart from the fact that, in my experience, British hotels are generally found wanting in at least one of those four categories. And that's before we even talk about the overheated rooms with windows that don't open, key cards that don't work properly (sorry to be a parody of a grumpy old man, but how I long for the days when you'd check in to a hotel and be given a key that was actually a key), staff who don't understand the meaning of service, and a dining room where everyone talks in a conspiratorial whisper.

It is a truism that comedy works best when it is rooted in reality, so the success of Fawlty Towers was in some part due to the fact that we had all had experience of similar establishments. The truth is, I think, that the British are not very good at the service industry. Servility doesn't come naturally to us.

Compare the way, in America for instance, you are treated at anywhere from a hotel or restaurant to a dry cleaners. My favourite story of the British service industry happened early one morning at Gatwick airport. I was having a cup of tea in one of the terminal's restaurants and I heard raised voices from the serving counter. I looked up to see one of the staff with his arms round a customer's neck, dragging him across the counter. "If you do that once more," he yelled, "I'll [expletive deleted] kill you, you [two expletives deleted]." The customer skulked off, and when I went to pay my bill, I noticed that the member of staff was wearing a badge. It read: "My name is Michael. I'm here to help you."

I remember a conversation several years ago with Tessa Jowell, then a Cabinet minister who had responsibility for tourism, telling me at a Labour Party conference that she'd just had a deputation from British hoteliers wanting government help. She said they might have had a more sympathetic hearing if she hadn't been paying an extortionate amount for a tiny room at a hotel where she was unable to order a cup of tea on room service.

It does make me wonder what visitors who come for the Olympics will make of it. The overcharging, the inefficiency, and the fact that many hotels seem to be run for the convenience of the staff. How many times I've heard that triumphant message, delivered with unfailing good cheer: "Sorry, the kitchen is closed for the evening." Whatever else, don't expect Team GB to qualify for the final of the 100 metres hospitality.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Focused Business Analyst - Finance and Procurement System Implementation

£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM - A high q...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tory whips have warned the Prime Minister that he could face a Tory revolt over the European arrest warrant  

A bizarre front for the Tories’ campaign against Europe

Nigel Morris
 

Daily catch-up: EU news, and other reasons to be cheerful

John Rentoul
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker