[Part of my report into that strange day - 26th June 2007 - index
It's 4 star, it has a posh Bradford-on-Avon address, and it has "Best" in its chain name. But if this is the best that B-o-A can do, as seen at last night's FSB Regional meeting, then Melksham can do far better. An excellent opportunity, again, to see what's done by others and learn.
A sit-down dinner for just under 40 people, and we were crammed into a room that's perhaps two thirds of the size of our "Wilts". I would have felt comfortable seating perhaps 30 people in that room for a seminar / presentation but 40 for dinner was over the top. 6 per table, 3 each side; being in the middle, I felt I had to syncronise my eating arm movements to those of my neighbours very much as I would expect - economy class - on an airline flight. Except this was a swish hotel with four stars and not the cheap seats on a flying bus.
I also noted that part of the room was taken up with a tea / coffee service area, restricting room further and making it even less comfortable at the corner. Seminar / presentation? Yes, there was one of those set up AS WELL in the room, with a group of 6 young enterpreneurs telling us about their school company with the aid of projector, laptop computer and display panels.
The room was just off the hotel's reception ... and I noted with a wry smile that the reception counter was being used as a counter for the food that awaited service to our group. I suspect it waited there quite a while, as the beef stew (and it was tasty!) came with a skin over the gravy by the time it reached us.
After the meal, we took a five minute comfort break while the same room was re-organised into a big conference table for the meeting to follow. Nothing wrong with that re-use of the same room ... but the tables (I didn't look under the cloth!) were clearly of different origin / heights and there were a couple of steps of perhaps 2 or 3 inches across the table. Didn't actually make a huge difference but my goodness it looked tacky!
You'll see my account (if I post it - it may be a private meeting that I cannot describe in detail for legal reasons) of the meeting separately. What you won't see on the "meeting" side is my comment about just how noisy it was. Outside was a large wedding party (in fact, they were all over the hotel) and smart-dressed young ladies, gentlemen in kilts, and others laughted, joked and shrieked on the lawns just outside. We tried closing the windows; the sound muffled for a couple of minutes, the temperature rose .... and one of the windows sprang open again under its own weight ... much to the amusement of attendees at what was otherwise a very turgid meeting.
My / our lessons? Don't cram. Don't sell clashing events in too close a proximity. Ensure you can serve the food fresh and not with the gravy dried to a crust. And ensure that you have parking for all as well.
Now - under normal circumstances I would be inclined to give the hotel the benefit of the doubt over an unexpectedly big booking / clash, and / or raise it with the staff and manager. As an attendee, I didn't feel that was my place, and having had a previous email correspondence with a second hotel in the same management group a couple of years ago, I know that it's standard group practise - in fact I think I'm free to share the experience of last time with you too!
My wife, my father and I at your Clevedon hotel on Saturday night last, and we were very disappointed. I raised a couple of matters with senior staff and management, but didn't feel that they were able to answer adequately or resolve the issues. I'm taking the extraordinary step of dropping you this note to give you a taste of our experience; we provide customer service in our own business, and I know that I would want to know if any of our clients got what they felt was a service that was well below par.
The Walton Park's advertising describes it as a lovely hotel where you can eat a meal in the restaurant looking out over the Bristol Channel, relax in friendly atmosphere, or in one of 45 spacious bedrooms, most of which (it is said) have sea views. It says that you have ample parking and a team of award winning chefs ....
Perhaps all this is true, but little of it was available to us on our visit due to a wedding. We had to eat off conference tables in a back room. We couldn't park in the car park and had to search for street parking. We were given tiny back rooms that didn't fit your descriptions. We had to push through crowds and parties which made it far from relaxing.
The staff serving your "non-wedding" customers tried to be helpful, but were being trained on the job. We sent back one dish that was incorrect, didn't bother with a second such error, nor did we comment on food that was medicocre at best - it certainly wasn't "only finest local produce". This was a special weekend away so we really didn't want to ruin what atmosphere there was, nor did we want to make a scene once we knew the score. We ended up laughing things off as best we could and taking comfort in the fact that we weren't alone in receiving this treatment.
At breakfast, we were allowed into the restaurant and seated at a back table, with Dad's chair sticking into the entrance doorway where all the wedding guests were giving their room numbers for breakfast. A request for a better table was denied. When we checked out, the one receptionist was having trouble sorting out the bills of the various Griffins ahead of us and grumbling about how hard it was with everyone with the same name, and the reception / lobby area was doubling as a smoking room. The rest of my party waited outside while I was obliged to queue in the smoke.
I'm sure that on other occasions the Walton Park is a lovely hotel, but I do feel that you had grossly overbooked your facilities at the weekend, and you did not have adequate trained staff. I would much preferred that you had warned me of the wedding when I phone to book. We could have chosen another weekend when you able to provide the service you advertise to your "rack rate" guests. As it was, we all agreed that we would have done far better at a Travel Inn / Brewsters for the night, spending about 130 pound between the three of us rather than just over 200 pounds.
As I said at the start, I'm writing to let you know about this because I know that in your shoes I would want to know. Please do feel free to ask for any more specific details from me if you like.
And here is the response which, in hindsight, is probably a pretty standard letter ...
I am very disappointed to read of you dissatisfaction following your visit to our Walton Park Hotel, Clevedon. Disappointed and surprised because we are very proud of our Walton Park Hotel.
Your communication has been discussed with the Management Team who are obviously embarrassed at the points you make, particularly that they were 'not able to deal with the issues'.
Clearly we let you down on this occasion and I am very sorry. I would hope that you will give us another chance, and if so, I can promise you a substantially reduced rate. Our Sabrina COX will check availability and make those necessary arrangements should you so wish.
a) At Well House Manor
we do not do wedding receptions. We don't have the space, we don't have all the facilities, and we could not do a good job.
b) We have and know the limits on our parking and rooms. I have a full house of TWENTY FIVE in "The Wilts" tomorrow night which is less than half the density that the Leigh Park applied for a seated-at-tables event. We can go up to 2/3 of their denisty (40 guests)
c) When a room is in use at near-capacity, serving and other facilities to be provided from outside the room.
d) A maximum of one large group at a time. And if that large group occupies over 60% of the facilities, whatever's left over is NOT to be greed-sold to any other organisation or individual guests who don't realise there's a "biggie" going on!
All this is not to say that we get it perfect - we don't. But we can sure as heck do our very best, put anything raised right a.s.a.p, and put ourselves in our customer's shoes so that we can spot any obvious problems before they're problems.
(written 2007-06-27, updated 2007-07-06)
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