Hospitality at its very worst! Part 1 Eastbourne to Brighton
Windows, doors, ceilings and floors but zero hospitality!
But while writing my last blog about The Grand Hotel Eastbourne so many other hotel experiences sprung to mind, so I thought I would share some of my hotel experiences that are in total contrast to my experience every time I stay at The Grand Hotel. I can categorically say, there are no embellishments in the accounts in this two part blog. They are all real events. I would imagine the hotel proprietors have long since passed away. In fact, I am sure one or two passed away several years before they checked me in to their establishments. But that’s another story – maybe for next Halloween!
I have spent a fair amount of time in hotels over the past 33 years with Astro. I (along with the majority of our engineers) was away from Sunday evening through to Friday evening most weeks of the year for the first 20 years. We were always on the road looking after our national customers spanning Holy Loch to Hale. Some of our other nomadic engineering team created an internal hotel and restaurant guide. I have experienced the best and the worst hotels along the way. I have a few that I would rate as excellent and a few appalling, some I would even say were unfit for human habitation. I have my favourites for business, others for leisure and some for both. I have even gone back to some really bad hotels to re-experience the bad service because they were so bad they were entertaining.
“…some of the smaller hotels and guest houses would only just scrape through under the category of a ‘roof over your head’.”
Back in the 80s and 90s the Telephone Managers Association organised one of the biggest telecoms industry exhibitions of the year at Brighton. TMA filled several venues including: The Metropole Exhibition Centre, The Brighton Exhibition Centre and the Grand Hotel for their annual three-day exhibition every November, and I was regular attendee in varying capacities. Some years Astro had a team there to host our own stand or hospitality suite. On a few occasions we were contracted to build and manage the technology one of the huge Cable & Wireless stands. If we were not exhibiting or building an exhibit we would visit to catch up with old friends.
Brighton has hundreds of hotels, many of them very nice. Back then when the major exhibition and conference industry was at its peak some of the smaller hotels and guest houses would only just scrape through under the category of a ‘roof over your head’. And as we were usually relatively late at booking our hotel for TMA we had to take what was left. Bearing in mind this pre-dated booking on line. We literally had to ring tens, maybe hundreds of numbers in some instances to find a hotel with available rooms.
One year we had no luck finding a hotel for our team of six for the exhibition that a couple of us drove down to Brighton and literally walked the streets knocking on hotel and guest house doors. On one occasion we found a small but very nice hotel a stone’s throw from Regency Square and a few minutes walk from the exhibition. I walked in and hit the reception bell. A young man stepped out of what looked like a broom cupboard to stand by the reception shelf. My colleague and I were trying our best not to laugh. I asked if they had the four rooms available for the desired dates and he said he would have to call the ‘Reservations Manager’. He picked up one of the old 70s style telephone handsets and pressed a button.
“Why, when all of the other hotels we visited were fully booked for the whole of TMA did this hotel have rooms?”
Before I say any more I must point out that the building we were standing in was an Edwardian terraced house. We were standing in the hall behind the street door. When the ‘Reception Clerk’ who I am now going to refer to as the ‘Son’ called the ‘Reservations Manager’ who will now be known as the ‘Dad’ the phone rang in the next room. We know that for sure because we could hear it ringing as if we were standing next to it. The ‘Dad’ answered and the ‘Son’ formally enquired on our behalf. We could hear the ‘Dad’ in high fidelity stereo, live through the wall and in toll grade speech through the wonders of telephony from the handset earpiece. We could all hear the ‘Dad’ as if he was in the same room as the walls were paper thin.
We were in luck as the ‘Dad’ confirmed that he could provide all the rooms we needed over the days we wanted them. On the drive back my colleague and I started to question our own decision. Why, when all of the other hotels we visited were fully booked for the whole of TMA did this hotel have rooms? We agreed we would find out soon enough when we stayed.
“The General Manager was at the door with a clip board and pen poised…”
TMA used to be a very wild affair and after a long day setting up the exhibition or working on the stand it was party time in Brighton. Sometimes we would get back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning and forego breakfast and head straight into the exhibition. Having set up our stand all day on Sunday and been out ‘preparing for the exhibition’ into the small hours of Monday morning, I decided I would miss breakfast on this day and head into the exhibition to make sure everything was OK before the exhibition opened at 10am.
At 8.02am there was a knock, knock, knock at my door. I opened the door. The General Manager was at the door with a clip board and pen poised, standing erect like a Regimental Sergeant Major. I knew he was the General Manager because that is what it said on his badge. Without so much as a good morning or the slightest glimmer of eye contact, he said: “Yes. Breakfast is served at zero eight hundred hours and you are late.” He seem take real pleasure in emphasising the word ‘late’. My initial reaction was to laugh but this was met with what I could only describe as timid fury. I had also recognised the voice and realised the GM was our Reservations Manager (‘Dad’). Dad continued… “The Chef went to Marks & Spencer yesterday specifically to buy your fried eggs.” It was slowly dawning on me that I had committed such an heinous crime and the only way to avoid a long sentence was to comply. I told Dad I would be at the table in a couple of minutes so he moved onto the next occupied room as indicated on his check list.
When I arrived at our table a few of my colleagues had suffered the same treatment. And what’s more, we had all been given fried eggs whether we wanted them or not. Those that didn’t want them secretly slid them onto the plates of others prepared to eat them to rescue their colleagues from an unknown fate. To be fair, this little hotel was very nice, very clean and the breakfast was cooked to perfection. But, the hospitality can only be described as oppressive. We were given no choice as to whether we wanted breakfast or not (none of my colleagues were prepared to risk missing breakfast again) and it seemed everywhere we turned the General Manager/Reservations Manager (‘Dad’), the Chef (‘Mum’) or the ‘Son’ were there.
Stay tuned for part 2 Brighton to Berwick via Gateshead.