George Orwell was right about hotels: they are often a role-play allowing customers to act slightly posher than they are in return for paying five times over the odds for really bad fizzy wine.
Pick whichever hotel you like, but behind the scenes you’ll find the same staff, drinking gallons of water and caffeine to stay on their feet longer for more tips, doing the same things except in different scratchy outfits to match the price list and brand of pretence.
Most of all, you’ll probably find the same staff thinking the same things about the customer.
A sample from one (now thankfully demolished) hotel in Scotland where I heard much of what was said behind the ‘staff only’ door…
– Afternoon tea: This involves, essentially, spending what would be a day’s pay for your waiter on some sandwiches, a few wee cakes and a lot of flapping about. They aren’t special sandwiches and you aren’t a special customer. Your waiter will be wondering why there’s nothing in the big bad world you’d rather be doing than throwing your money at an am-dram version of Greggs.
– The posh language: One hotel recently had a fire alarm. They told “ladies and gentlemen” they had to “perform an evacuation”, which sounds like something the Concierge could arrange for business travellers. You’ll also find – shudder – wedding ‘fayres’ held in something old-fashioned sounding like the Fetherington-Summerdale Suite despite the hotel overlooking an industrial estate and being built last year. The secret? When hotel staff use ridiculous Downton Abbey patter it is because they think you are the type of customer who’ll be impressed by a Disney version of a hotel. It really isn’t a compliment.
– Prosecco: The staff all know it is a tax on the gullible and vain. They are almost embarrassed, but they’ll play along just for you.
– Tasting the wine: Just don’t. It is a nonsense. And if you have ever said wine with some cork in it is ‘corked’, the staff will all be laughing at you. All of them.
– Making a show of sending the food back: You’ve just told everyone in the kitchen that you really need a hug. Bless.
– The traditional music: Reflects what the management think customers will like. So what does a Long Way To Tipperary – performed on panpipes – say about their view of you and your thoughts on what’s ‘traditional’? As it happens, the last person I met from Tipperary still listens to happy hardcore. But there you have it.
– Gloopy carveries: Staff will assume your taste-buds have murdered by years of excess or that you have been forced there against your will. Secret: they aren’t eating that stuff in the staff room.
– The beer: The staff know there’s no hope of a decent beer as the keg store is a mile away behind the skips in the car park. They’ll be secretly nodding their approval if you drink bottled beer. And especially if you are in the bar of an upstairs function room. Feel free to try a pint from that dusty tap in the corner of the Pennine Suite, you’ll never have to prove your courage again.
– Weddings: The ‘special room rate’ is far from special (supply and demand folks, think about it). And what do the staff think of the weddings? Guess. They work 12 hour shifts for tips; you had a life-changing sun of money and spent it on a stage show and bargain warehouse-grade wine with a five star mark-up instead.
– Bar staff: Are most of them young enough to still be in school? Then the hotel owner is laughing in his/ her office. Surrounded by boxes of really nasty wine. Behind the sleight-of-hand fancy decor you, my friend, have just been taken for a ride.