Tale number 1: Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin… A lady of our acquaintance thought it might be nice to treat five friends who had seen her through a difficult patch to a stay at Le Manoir aux’ Quat’Saisons. She decided upon afternoon tea, dinner and a night’s stay and duly phoned up to make the reservation, only to be told that it was impossible to book a single night’s stay over a weekend; it was only acceptable to book two nights, a package well beyond her already-generous budget. She rejoined with a decisive ‘Up yours, then’, based on the notion that if they didn’t want her business that badly, she didn’t particularly want to give it to them. The ladies went off to have a delightful experience somewhere a lot less costly and a lot more hospitable towards that budget.
Tale number 2: Another lady of our acquaintance (goodness me, these ladies get about) wanted to treat herself and a friend to lunch at The Hind’s Head, Heston Blumenthal’s pub in Bray. They figured upon a lazy lunch, a stroll by the river and perhaps a drink back at the pub before setting off home. Reservations were made – not without difficulty because tables are hard to come by if you fancy eating there within 6 months of your first intention to do so – plans were laid out and anticipation of an excellent lunch was high. Two days before the lunch, the lady received a text (not a phonecall, nothing so courteous) informing her that her table was only available for two hours and if they were more than 15 minutes late on the day, the table would be given away. No matter what disaster may arise through traffic or circumstances beyond their control; should they miss their slot, they could just b*gger off and take their custom elsewhere. They did indeed, you’ll be glad to hear, b*gger off and take their custom elsewhere.
So what does this tell us? Frankly, it doesn’t reflect well on the so-called hospitality industry. Clearly business is booming if high-end hotels can enforce a two-night rule over weekends (putting it well beyond most people’s treat budget) and pubs can treat their customers with such disdain. And the thing is, these stories aren’t actually especially unusual. Nearly every top-end venue has such rules and regulations – the restrictions on table time are notorious around London particularly, which makes any eating experience, no matter how wondrous the food, something more akin to a McDonald’s, only less restful.
Why do we put up with it? Why on earth should we pay for such treatment before we’ve even stepped through the door? What right have they to upsell in such an aggressive manner and treat our custom with such shoddy disrespect? Well, you might say that they can because people who can afford it are clamouring at the gates to get in, but we don’t think that’s good enough. It’s fine being popular; it’s less fine being princess-y about being popular.
What’s the worst you’ve ever been treated and have you ever exercised your right to turn on your heel and just go elsewhere? Or have you steamed in silence? Let’s name and shame, people…