Sunday, 25 October 2009

Britain and the Hospitality Industry

What is it about service in Britain that’s so difficult?

After I finished a walking tour in Glastonbury yesterday some of us (twelve initially) headed into a pub for a drink and a bite to eat.

Now admittedly the manageress (?) on seeing so many of us said that we could sit in the (empty) restaurant and order from the bar menu. Great; nice gesture. But once it became apparent that we wanted to pay separately (uh, yeah?) we suddenly seemed to become A Problem.

Things were compounded when four other people from the tour spotted us and came in to join us. Suddenly we were somewhat accusingly told that we were “more than twelve”.

Then we were told that we needed to order food via her (“because the kitchen wouldn’t be able to cope”). Even drinks had to be ordered via her (“because the bar wouldn’t be able to cope”; what kind of bar is this?! We could then only pay at the bar if she was herself in attendance (“as the bar wouldn’t understand what we were paying for”).

Yes, okay, suddenly there were a lot of people all wanting to order. But you know what? No-one else seemed to be eating in this place at all. The alternative is that no-one comes in. Hey, wouldn’t that be better eh? Service provision is so much easier if there are no customers.

I’ve seen this in quite a few places when handling groups, even quite “informal” ones. Turn up in Australia or Germany under these circumstances and people Work Out a Way of Doing It. Turn up in Britain (or France, actually) and suddenly you’re a nuisance.


  1. Terry Wogan famously referred to BBC hospitality as "hostility". D'ye suppose that it was a simple case of greed on the part of the manageress who wanted any tips there might have been - no doubt in the end there was no custom - for herself?

  2. No, I genuinely don't think it was tips-related. I think it was just too "unusual" a situation.

    People often tend to "panic" when faced by something "outside the box" as it were. Not that I regard 12 or even 16 people wanting food in a place dedicated to doing exactly that that unusual a situation!

  3. I would note that it's not uncommon for Australian restaurants to refuse to split bills... but what you saw seems to be the kind of thing that inspired Basil Fawlty.

  4. In the last few years I've noticed a few times restaurants (the "Ask" chain is one of them" putting up signs saying "One table = one bill", too.

    Frankly, I find that deeply annoying; the concept should be what the customer (who is *paying*!) wants, not what makes life administratively easier for the restaurateur.

    As for the Basil Fawlty thing that isn't uncommon even now in smaller seaside establishments, a subject which actually came up during the pub meal which sparked off this thread. And any such officious proprietor immediately gets labelled "Basil Fawlty" here!