Wednesday, 15 June 2016

No more flowery twats

Many of our once distinguished newspapers now seem to be sadly reduced to purveyors of clickbait. However, one such piece that was worth reading was this one in the Telegraph entitled 13 things being a B&B owner has taught me about the British.

It led me to reflect on my own experience of staying in hotels and guest houses around Britain over the years. The general standard has certainly greatly improved, and the horrors of Fawlty Towers are now a thing of the past. A factor in this has been the abandonment of evening meals by most mid-range establishments, given the growth in the choice and quality of restaurants. That was a prime opportunity for getting things wrong. Chain hotels such as Premier Inn and Travelodge have also had a huge impact, by providing a consistent standard, that may never rise above the good side of adequate, but virtually never plumbs the depths.

However, an independent guest house is still better if you can find a good one – in particular I remember staying in Perth in 2010 at the Dunallan Guest House which was impossible to fault in any way. You will also tend to get a far better cooked breakfast in an independent. But it can be difficult to sort the sheep out from the goats, whereas with a Premier Inn you know what you are going to get. I can also tell some horror stories about B&Bs, such as when you realise that, despite it looking good on paper, you’re the only guest and the owner is a bit of a nutter.

In the past, you would look in the AA handbook or some other guide, or get a printed brochure from the local council, and look through the list of establishments to find some that met your requirements and were within your price range. Then you would ring a few up to see if any had rooms available. Now it’s all done on the Internet, which has many advantages, but can mean that independent places struggle for attention. Maybe they need to look at better self-promotion strategies.

These are a few suggestions I would make to hotel and guest house operators based on my experience, some minor niggles, some important. I’m sure Martin Taylor will have some thoughts on this, as he has far more extensive experience of British guest accommodation than I do.

  • Provide a hook to hang coats and jackets either on the back of the door or – if that is felt to conceal the fire escape instructions – close by.

  • Make sure the shower works, and it’s obvious how it does work. In the last (generally very good) hotel I stayed in, the knob selecting the flow between the taps and shower came off in my hand. In another, I got into the shower and then realised I had no idea how the controls worked. And why is it still beyond the wit of man to design a shower where temperature and flow can be controlled independently?

  • Rooms in modern blocks without air conditioning often lack natural ventilation and can get uncomfortably stuffy even when the weather isn’t particularly hot.

  • TV remotes – they’re not all of a standard pattern, and the functions are often far from obvious. I’ve had to call reception for an explanation more than once.

  • Storage space – many hotel rooms have woefully little room to store clothes and other items. If you’re staying for several days you’re really not going to want to keep all your stuff in your suitcase.

  • Efficient wi-fi is now a general expectation, so make sure it reaches all rooms and is free, fast and reliable. For a long time, Premier Inn held out against free wi-fi, until it became the overwhelming cause of customer complaints. Yes, I have defended traditional pubs that don’t provide wi-fi, but it’s not acceptable in a guest house or hotel, particularly one targeted at business customers.

  • Premier Inn self-service breakfasts are generally OK, with the exception of the ridiculously slow and unpredictable manual toasters. That lets down the whole experience, and can be embarrassing if, like me, you’re a lover of burnt toast.

  • Provide Marmite along with the jams at breakfast. Fortunately more places now seem to do this.

  • Bacon needs a bit of cooking. It isn’t acceptable to serve it up virtually raw.

  • Unless you’re in a city centre, most guests will be arriving by car and expecting onsite parking. Don’t be coy about what you can offer – it’s better to be honest rather than leaving people uncertain. If you’re in a dense urban location it may be reasonable to charge extra for parking, but if you’re on an out-of-town retail park it’s just taking the piss. Travelodge, I’m looking at you.

  • Unless you’re operating at the very bottom end of the market, nobody’s interested any more in rooms without a private shower (at least) and WC. If you’re an independent guest house and still offer them, either get them converted or take them out of use. This should be taken as read.
Another niggle, although not one that affects me personally, is the frequent appearance of this sign:

No, it is not illegal to smoke in hotel bedrooms, so please stop pretending it is. Obviously “my gaff, my rules” applies, but you do have to question whether it amounts to discrimination when all the large chains choose to impose a blanket policy. If you’re concerned, you could try looking at


  1. "I can also tell some horror stories about B&Bs, such as when you realise that, despite it looking good on paper, you’re the only guest and the owner is a bit of a nutter."

    Sadly, I've not travelled the UK enough or long enough to have ever found a Farty Towels. I suppose the closest we've (Mrs & I) come would be a B&B in Ruthin, where the reviews were great, the house delightfully old (half-timbered), but then the bath was dirty as if it'd just been used. And then while breakfast was good, our hostess explained to us how you could tell then-PM Brown was a "child-buggerer", just by how he looked. I can't recall how that came up.

    A real problem with modern hotels is the lack of fresh air. No windows to open, and of course the air-conditioning & ventilation are much too weak to get air circulated properly, leading to early mould build-up and general stuffiness. At least in older places, you can generally open the windows. Not all that far, maybe, with you lot's preference for tiny little windows that don't open much, but still.

    I can highly recommend the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate -- classic old house with character overlooking the sea, even to France. Excellent breakfast, including honeycomb. Apparently family-run. Dogs allowed. Should you ever find yourself down that way, anyway.

    1. OMG OMG OMG!!! In looking up the Royal Harbour (to confirm the name, I tend to drink a bit when in Ramsgate and details get sketchy), I see that the current googlemaps image was made DURING MY STAY! The top-floor window open with shades down, July 2015: that was me!

    2. I did look at that, and it sounds good, but:
      (a) room rates start from £80 a night, and
      (b) "complimentary on-street parking" does not sound like a great offer

    3. I paid £50 a night for a tiny single. Must've been a special rate for furriners.

    4. suggests 55 quid a night during the week for sea-view single. Seems to double on Saturday though, and I was there Sun - Fri. We had no trouble parking along that stretch, further on into town, even. (The holiday flat we like is next to the closed Foy Boat.)

      I envy you your visit, regardless of where you stay. Rose of England, Monte' Arms, and Artillery Arms should be all you'll need. Right in Ramsgate, anyway. DO NOT MISS the Brown Jug, White Swan, or Neptune in Broadstairs though.

    5. All of those in Ramsgate are on my list. I have been reliably advised by both the GBG and pub guru Mr Taylor.

    6. For the record Nick is Mr Ramsgate and ought to be accommodated free by the Tourist Office on his visits. If Nick had a blog post on Ramsgate pubs it would be all you need; his tweets from this April are wonderful.

      On B&Bs, as you know I have a rather lower nightly budget than some of your correspondents, and would always stay in a Premier Inn by choice as I prefer to be able to turn up late, get a clean room and not have to talk to anyone. I like to eat breakfast in a good modern café rather than the hotel. We're all different.

      Your criteria are very sound though.

    7. Ah, Martin, you're too kind. But I have totally fallen for Fanet.

      If it were me travelling alone, I'd be happy with a room with a shared bath upstairs from a dumpy pub, even a Sheps pub. The Wrotham Arms in Broadstairs does singles for 35 pounds without breakfast. Or the Hotel De Ville in Ramsgate, with sour Gadd's No 7. That'd be fine for me, if I were travelling there to check up on renovation work on a holiday home investment or something like that. But yes, with Mrs, standards are significantly higher.

      I do quite well with a couple of sandwiches from the Co-op for brekkies.

    8. @Martin - I agree on the "it does what it says on the tin" aspect of Premier Inns. Jut hate those *%$£@?!! toasters. Unless you can get a special deal, though, I always feel that I'm paying about £15 a night more than I really feel it's worth.

    9. A good thing about Premier Inns is that they usually have a pub attached. A pretty ghastly pub, I must admit, but better than nothing and selling passable food and beer at reasonable prices

  2. You always struck as the the type of nutter that spent 50-100K on a caravan to clog up the roads towing it slowly then spent your time sitting on a Go Outdoors 9.99 camping chair & eating spam sandwiches & drinking tea from a Thermos.

    Funny how you form a mental picture from a blog.

  3. I've used a fair number of B&Bs over the years, as well as some hotels. Overall, I've much preferred a good B&B to a hotel: the breakfast is usually much better for a start, and it's less impersonal. I've had bad experiences in both B&Bs and hotels, but at least I paid a lot less in the B&Bs. It isn't pleasing to pay hotel rates for poor service and a breakfast that's been sitting under heat lamps for half an hour, but I blamed the hotel for not employing enough staff, rather than the staff themselves who were run off their feet trying to keep up. My official complaint made that very point; funny how the management didn't reply.

    I don't agree with you about closing B&B rooms without en suite facilities: such rooms are cheaper than rooms with facilities, which may meet a need. After all, you will know what you'd be getting, so simply don't book them if they don't suit you.

    1. "All rooms ensuite" is a massive plus point when browsing B&Bs on the Internet. Yes, of course there is a market for more basic accommodation, but places need to decide on one or the other.

    2. I don't see why. It is clear what you're kind of room getting when you book, so there isn't a problem.

    3. No idea how that text became scrambled.

    4. I agree with RedNev on non en suite rooms. I'd prefer my £20 inc bfast room in Blackpool a couple of years ago with immaculate shared shower room to a horrid room with a terrible en suite I once paid more for in what turned out to be a London dosshouse (tbf, the reviews did warn me).

      And why would a small business owner close perfectly good rooms when they could be used and earning money?

  4. Apart from Christmas when we rent a cottage, Mrs B and I tend to stay in pubs when we go away, especially ones out of the GBG. They're cheaper than hotels, you usually get a decent breakfast and you can have a late night drink without worrying about driving.
    Totally agree about the Marmite. It should be the law.

  5. Professor Pie-Tin15 June 2016 at 19:00

    It's years since I've stayed in a B&B on account of work paying for me to stay in good hotels and being comfortable enough to be able to keep on affording to stay in them when I retired.
    But last week I found myself in a marvellous B&B in the small Cornish coastal village of Porthleven.
    Comfortable room,good shower and a cracking breakfast with a full fry,kippers,free-range eegs and decent coffee and tea all showing how much effort the owners put in.One attention to detail I liked - apart from Marmite they also had jars of Vegemite and Bovril in the selection.
    We paid £78 quid a night for a room overlooking th harbour.
    Great value I thought.

  6. I’ve stayed in quite a few B&B’s and also several pubs in recent years, whilst visiting my ageing parents in Norfolk. All were good, and I’ve no complaints about any of them.

    Several years ago, whilst walking the South Downs Way with a friend, we had a couple of poor B&B experiences which although not quite up to Fawlty Towers’ standard, weren’t far off it! We managed to laugh both experiences off though; easy when you’re a couple of blokes with bellies full of beer, but not much fun when you’ve got your missus with you!

    Generally speaking, the rest of the places we stayed in along the SDW were excellent.

  7. Hmm. I stayed in a bad B&B with friends in London during the late 1970s. After nearly a year in France and travelling around Europe, it was the worst ever.

    That was a pity, because we had just stayed in an excellent B&B in Edinburgh, where the hosts -- a middle-aged married couple -- couldn't have been more accommodating.

    As for the smoker-friendly hotels, there are none now. Sky Plaza Leicester might have a new web page, but the one listed looks as if it could be for sale. Lyndhurst Hotel's page is out of action. Clayton -- formerly Maldron -- doesn't list any smoking room options. Finally, Radisson Blu went non-smoking in 2015.

    This post brought back a load of memories from the 1970s, one good and the rest bad, of B&Bs not only in Britain but also Ireland. Never again.


  8. Another common niggle is failing to provide enough coathangers.


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