Last year’s food-poisoning scare at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, was the stuff of Max Clifford’s nightmares but also illustrated how to recover from the wrong sort of news headlines.
It’s an issue you can’t ignore, with hygiene stories a media favourite with TV stings exposing questionable cleaning practices, TripAdvisor publishing the Dirtiest Hotels list and the food safety scores for Gordon Ramsay’s kitchens still filling plenty of newspaper inches.
While most incidents aren’t as extreme as these examples, customers will note the condition of your restaurant’s toilets, complain about grubby sheets in their hotel bedroom and demand another drink if it’s served in a dirty glass.
What to do if the worst happens?
“Only a fool would say they get it right everytime,” says John Lederer, managing director of the eight-strong Brasserie Blanc. “The most important thing is to be honest and to apologise”.
Lederer espouses a carrot rather than stick approach to encourage his managers to admit when they get things wrong. “If I find out they’ve tried to hide something from me that’s actually the point when all hell breaks out”.
With a business model that see site managers as shareholders, ownership is encouraged as is taking time out. “We have a rule where the manager has to step outside of their restaurant for five minutes and think about something else other than work. It’s so they return with fresh eyes and spot the sorts of things that area managers typically do within minutes of arrival.”
Emailed complaints go direct to Lederer who makes the time to reply to each personally, not with a “insert name here” identikit letter.
Much the same approach was used a certain Heston Blumenthal after his restaurant nightmare. The three Michelin-starred chef sent a personal letter to diners who complained of sickness and diarrhoea as a result of eating at The Fat Duck, albeit for legal reasons after the restaurant was cleared.
Using technology to track hygiene performance
Premier Inn, the UK’s largest hotel group, uses its guest satisfaction survey to pin-point and address problems. Logged centrally, managers are encouraged to respond to complaints at site level. If no resolution is forthcoming within four days the complaint is pushed up the management chain and resolved.
Tina Hobart, quality guest insight manager at Premier Inn, says: “Our success has come through keeping our brand standards simple and easy to understand. You shouldn’t make cleaning complicated but you should make sure your staff have the tools they need to do the job.”
Premier Inn’s system also allows respective teams to check their performance score on a site basis, providing feedback on what they’re doing well and what could be improved.
The final word however goes to Lederer. “It’s generally a myth that there are customers out there determined to get all they can from you,” he says. “Saying sorry goes a long way in most situations”.
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