September 6, 2013 7:23 pm

At your service

Here are some of the hospitality industry’s ‘innovations’ that need an urgent rethink

In a recent issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller, one of the country’s more celebrated chefs offered a great snippet of common sense advice from his corner of the hospitality industry – (and here I’ll paraphrase) only use normal-sized plates that staff can carry easily. This sounds straightforward enough but it’s a message that seems to be lost on too many hotels and restaurants, which believe “fine dining” (a dreadful, meaningless term) should involve complicated set-ups.

I’m almost positive there’s now a global shortage of slate given the amount of restaurants that insist on serving various concoctions on thin slabs. In fact, a recent spate of slate-roof thefts across the southwest of England must be directly related to this as most restaurant staff find if impossible to balance a half metre long plate piled with dainty hedgehog liver and nettle foam macaroons. As it’s next to impossible to carry more than two and manage to place them gracefully in front of guests, most end up smashing to the floor or crashing down on tabletops – hence the shortage of slate.

Having officially wrapped up my summer season with a small tour through northern Italy (Lake Garda, Venice, Como and Chiavenna), I’ve catalogued a few more service “innovations” that are in need of an urgent rethink by hotels, airlines, restaurants, bars and anyone else in the business of providing food, drink and beds.

1. Lighting (part one)

The world’s hoteliers and airlines need to join forces urgently and bring about an abrupt halt to the use of blue-ish LED lighting – no one looks good as a ghoul, no matter how toned and tanned. Add 18 hours of air travel and most passengers look as if they’re ready for the mortuary. On the ground, even the cosiest restaurants and hotels end up looking chilly and uninviting. It’s time for both the hospitality and lighting sectors to admit that this little experiment in energy-saving-meets-aesthetics has simply not worked.

2. Lighting (part two)

Enough with fake candlelight on tables. Either invest in the manpower to light and relight real candles or don’t bother going into the restaurant business.

3. Put in some proper walls ...

Who likes a hotel room with a glass wall through to the bathroom? It might work for honeymooners but, somehow, I doubt it. Also, glass doors to toilets are a bad idea, as are shallow basin sinks. Hoteliers should specify bathrooms that have windows that open (nothing better than a warm shower with an open window on a chilly, sunny October day) and should restore all those nice ceramic tubs they replaced with cheap plastic “designer” versions.

4. ... and some windows that open

On a recent trip to Auckland I stayed in a hotel that had gone to great trouble to bolt all the windows shut. It may well have been beyond the hotel’s control and part of the sinister health and safety syndrome that’s slowly turning the Australasian world into a place designed exclusively for dummies but I think it was a way of saving on maintenance.

5. Is a polo shirt really a uniform?

Why do so many companies put staff in sloppy polo shirts. For general managers who don’t believe there are alternatives, check out the designs of uniform maker Hakui.

6. Know your competition

The world’s biggest luxury hotel groups should spend more time benchmarking. While none of them should be playing those brand promos that run on endless loops in their rooms in the first place, they should also ensure that they don’t choose the same music. While they’re at it, they might also stop using bedspreads, creating mountain ranges out of throw cushions and covering beds with those useless silk runners with cheap embroidery. Proper linen and a good bed (from, say, the Nihon Bed company) is pretty much all you need.

7. Prizes for ...

Awards for hospitality will be handed out to hoteliers who manage the following: to put plugs where they’re most needed (beside the bed), provide a simple remote control system for the TV, bring back bedside radios, place minibars at waist height, and make a bigger effort to use proper wood floors (not cheap veneer) in rooms where possible.

8. Leave it alone

If a restaurant or hotel is doing a roaring business, then it properly means guests are comfortable in the environment. If a property was designed right the first time round, it doesn’t need a trendy makeover when times are good. Familiar environments are those with a few dents and dings. When in doubt, don’t renovate.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

tyler.brule@ft.com

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