Years ago I worked as a banqueting steward in Manchester’s Victoria & Albert Hotel, which at the time was a Meridian (it’s now a Marriott). A large part of my job was to wait the tables in the massive function room, which people would hire for weddings, conferences, balls, etc. We didn’t do a lot of silver service thankfully – most of it was plated, meaning the chef and his team would prepare a hundred or more dishes on plates and half a dozen of us stewards would distribute them among the tables. I never learned to carry more than four plates at once, but some people could carry six or eight.
When times were quiet and there weren’t many functions on I used to take the occasional shift in the restaurant behind the bar. I can’t give you exact figures because I can’t remember them and inflation will apply, but the place was extortionately expensive. In fact, everything in that hotel was one giant rip-off, and I expect – as I learned recently from a discussion on wi-fi prices in hotels over at Mr Worstall’s – the higher-end hotels rip people off because they assume it will all be submitted as a business expense.
Anyway, between the banquets and the restaurants I noticed there were a lot of complaints and food was being sent back, or we’d be collecting plates with uneaten food. Chefs being chefs, they generally dismissed all this as the customers being heathens who simply wouldn’t know vegetables are, apparently, best served near-raw. I was young then and still had a long way to go towards finding my place in the world, but nevertheless I was able to see what the problem was: it wasn’t that the food was bad, it was that we were charging too much for it.
We were charging a lot of money for the supposed privilege of eating in our fine establishment and enjoying food prepared by our top chef, and so customers’ expectations were sky-high from the beginning. If the slightest thing was wrong they’d complain, and rightly so. But if the same thing had been served up at a lower cost they’d have eaten it gladly. I learned during my time in that hotel that when customers complain it is not so much about quality or price but of unmet expectations.
I experienced this myself when I checked into the Pullman hotel in Cologne some years back and found they charged for parking and wifi on top of the 250 Euros per night room rate (I was paying in Accor club points). Now I know they are just ripping off businessmen but at the time I didn’t and I was incensed. I could understand the Ibis in Heidelberg charging for wifi and parking because their room rate was about 70 Euro per night, but I thought the Pullman in Cologne was ripping me off. I complained and to their credit they waived the charges in pretty short order.
This weekend I am going to Lille, just for the hell of it. I have found a hotel which charges 200 Euros per night, and an additional 20 Euros per night for parking. Reading the reviews, I see that a few people are quite pissed off by this extra charge. Sure it reflects the market rate for parking in Lille city centre, but as a guest of a 200 Euro per night four star hotel, having to pay extra for parking grates a bit. Again, it’s not so much the price but the feeling that you’re being fleeced; it makes you feel that you’re dealing with an outfit more akin to Ryanair than a luxury hotel. I suppose these outfits must run the numbers and find the additional revenue compensates for the complaints and negative comments, but often I wonder how closely the management pay attention to these things.
It appears that British Airways does. Via the ever-traveling Michael Jennings who posted this link on his Facebook page:
In the annual Investor Presentation to the City back in November, British Airways revealed plans to re-introduce Club Europe on UK domestic flights.
This is almost certainly linked to the introduction of ‘buy on board’ catering from next Wednesday. BA’s biggest nightmare is that someone paying £7,670 for a fully flexible Club World ticket from Edinburgh to Tokyo decides to switch to a Middle East carrier or KLM because they are insulted at paying £2.30 for a cup of coffee on the connection.
And that’s exactly what would happen: if you’ve shelled out all that money and then somebody asks you to pay £2.30 for a cup of coffee between Edinburgh and London, you’d never fly with them again. It’s not about the money, but the principle: people don’t mind spending money, but they don’t like being ripped off. It’s more psychology than economics, in fact.