Friday, 8 March 2013

Criticism hits the mark

One of Britain’s most successful hoteliers was highly critical of the quality of service in Australia hotels – and the response to his observations was telling; with nine out of every 10 readers of the story online agreeing with him.

David Levin (pictured), owner of the award-winning Capital and Levin boutique hotels in London and a mentor to leading chefs including Gary Rhodes, said guests were in many cases being offered lower standards in top Australian hotels than they enjoy in their own homes.“Many of the staff in leading Australian hotels don’t understand the meaning of hospitality – a lot of them don’t have a clue,” said Levin, who has visited Australia every year for 42 years and recently concluded a six-week visit to Sydney and Melbourne. 

“It is a tragedy that Australia has so few privately-owned and managed hotels,” Levin said. . “Most hotels here are managed and run by large groups who are rewarded for their efforts by earning a share of the hotel’s profits. That naturally means that corners are cut in terms of quality furnishings and staff levels. It’s a conflict.”

And Scottish-born Levin, who began his hotel career in 1952, says restaurant meals in Australia are far too complicated. “Thanks to shows like My Kitchen Whatever, there are far too many ingredients in some dishes,” Levin said. “People are simply trying too hard. Often simpler would be better and people might be encouraged to eat out more often. If you have a lovely piece of turbot, or plaice, you don’t need to do much with it. It simply tastes good. Sometimes 25 ingredients can be too much.”

Levin said he hoped his comments came as a wake-up call to Australian hotel owners – saying some of them were charging prices far higher than those in other major cities in the world. “And they’ve forgotten about service,” he said. “You can’t say to a guest who is maybe hungry and jet-lagged that ‘breakfast service is over’. You should be giving your guest what they want. That is the meaning of hospitality and it seems to be getting lost.”

Levin has a career history of being ahead of the curve in the hospitality industry, starting  Britain’s first "gastro pub" in 1965. He opened the Capital Hotel in London in 1971 and it has for over 40 years been regarded as one of the world’s top boutique hotels.

Rowina Thomas, part-owner of the privately-owned and -run Lyall Hotel and Spa in South Yarra, says boutique hotels have several advantages over chains when it comes to staffing and quality service - including flexibility and quick communication. “We look for nice people, who are genuine, with humility and willing to serve and who are intuitive – those three things cannot be taught,” she says. “We prefer staff with experience and a personality, but all our front-line staff are given authority to act quickly to guests’ requests; no matter how diverse. We don't say ‘No’.”

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