Hospitality standards have dropped under the cover of Covid and customers are being short-changed
The whole concept of Hospitality Customer Service has changed as a result of Covid – for the worse
It will probably have escaped your attention, but last Saturday was the first-ever National Hospitality Day, an initiative to encourage people to celebrate “our brilliant and resilient restaurants, hotels, pubs and bars… by venturing out and re-engaging with the places they love”.
It is a noble enterprise because the hospitality sector has had a particularly savage time of it, the twin blows of Brexit (causing staff shortages) and Covid (causing customer shortages) resulting in a perfect storm for an industry that, in normal times, contributes £60bn to the national purse and employs more than two million people.
Hospitality’s contribution to our national wellbeing is inestimable. As the Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge says: “All our biggest moments go on in hospitality venues, from first dates to weddings, and baby showers to wakes.” And now, as some semblance of a post-pandemic world emerges, the sight of packed restaurants, busy pubs and hotels full to capacity is a visible, and psychologically significant, indication that life is returning to normal.
But we should not believe that things are as they once were. The landscape has been redrawn, possibly for ever. It’s not just the waiting staff wearing masks, or the Perspex grilles at hotel receptions, or having to let the NHS know where you are dining. It feels like the whole concept of hospitality customer service has changed as a result of Covid. And not, in my opinion, for the better.
In the past two weeks, I have stayed in six hotels of different standards in different parts of Britain – Yorkshire, Kent, Dorset, and Somerset; town, country and seaside – and I have been dismayed by the ways in which hoteliers have truncated their service to customers, sometimes as a result of restrictions placed on them, and sometimes, to be frank, because it makes their lives easier.
At one hotel, I was told they don’t make up rooms any longer, “to protect their young staff”. Yet rooms were cleaned when guests checked out. Check-in times have been made later and check-out times brought forward to “allow for deep cleaning”. What happened before Covid?
In a post-Covid world, when circumstances have forced us to make our own fun, the concept of service at Britain’s hospitality venues is more, rather than less, important
At another hotel, room service was no longer available “owing to Covid restrictions”. Breakfast times had to be booked, even though it was a buffet service. One establishment – a two-star hotel at best – hadn’t changed its website proclaiming it had four-star status “because of staff shortages”.
At each of the hotels, service had, in small but noticeable ways, been reduced. The only thing that hadn’t been reduced, it seemed to me, was the price.
I realise that this makes me sound like the pampered, over-indulged TripAdvisor from Hell, and hoteliers face far more serious challenges than my breakfast arrangements.
I am highly sympathetic to their plight, but my point is that, in a post-Covid world, when circumstances have forced us to make our own fun, the concept of service is more, rather than less, important.
Yes, we must “venture out and re-engage” with our hospitality industry. But there needs to be an honest settlement meaning that, under the cover of Covid, the customer is not short-changed.
The original version of this article was first published on INews
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