Do visitors to the UK want plastic restaurants and hotels?

Apparently Visit Britain chairman Christopher Rodrigues fears foreign tourists could be put off by low standards in UK hotels and restaurants. What puts me off visiting hotels and restaurants is their plasticisation.

We used to live in Windsor, a charming place once, but now full of plastic bars and cafés with no feeling of authenticity. At least the castle has been there longer than five minutes.

I agree that bad service in terms of poor quality food, dirt and unhelpfulness is damaging, as I remember from many years ago when measuring airport customer service performance as a member of British Airways’ Quality Team. But I also think excessive standardisation and the simpering from staff with idiotic grins on their faces, which some mistake for good service, are just as damaging. 

Many of the best hotels, guest houses and restaurants I remember have been quirky. Some of them even had their own rules, like a gentlemen’s club. If the service, accommodation and food is superb, then what’s wrong with a few rules? Better than places which try to please everyone and end up getting everything wrong. Recently, in Oxford, we were asked if we had any special requirements as we requested a table in a lookalike restaurant we had mistaken for another one. “No, we’re just two normals,” I replied.

A little quirkiness added to an otherwise superb venue can add an element of exclusivity too.

So don’t worry about reasonable rules, as not every establishment can hope to deliver everything: better that it does what it can do superbly. I know guest houses with rules who get people coming back again and again, because the rules enable the owners and staff to achieve excellence in the defined service they offer.

I hope UK venues don’t standardise too much and throw away the characteristics that create the best possible experience.

1 thought on “Do visitors to the UK want plastic restaurants and hotels?”

  1. Having lived both in the UK and US, with British parents, I find the quirks and rules of smaller English establishments just part of the culture and strangely comforting. This should not change. I think that most Americans find the ‘directness’ of the English a little unsettling, simply because the nature of customer service in the US is that no request is too much trouble. This is true of retail shops and hotels, and is done without fail in the southern and western states. So, to be told that one can’t have something like brekkies after a certain time, well, that’s almost like being cheated. No sense of humour when the wallet’s open. Not to worry, they’ll get over it…Americans generally are quite fascinated with Brits.
    I do agree with Mr. Rodriguez on one point – it’s not appetizing to encounter a previously-enjoyed bar of soap in any hotel room. I once stayed in a lovely country hotel in Somerset – and was delighted to find thick, welcoming towels, but disgusted when they actually smelled of mould!
    The Ilfracombe’s B&B’s I have stayed in have all been of fine quality service, cleanliness and food. Some things that could improve the “Ilfracombe tourist experience” (maybe they exist, I haven’t found them): 1. A friendly, convenient laundry near High St. or the harbour; 2. A detailed map of the central streets of the town showing where things actually are (the only good one I ever got was from a dear old fellow at the museum who hand-drew it for me). Because my parents once lived in Ilfracombe, I had a compelling reason to come back. For the average North American, getting to Alfrincombe is challenging – running the gammit of Heathrow, trains, car hire, driving on the wrong side of the road, getting around the sheep on Exmoor…perhaps that’s why most settle for a plastic London hotel.


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