Saturday, June 10, 2023

A Night to Remember

It was a typical Saturday night, like many others during my short career in hotel management.  We had a dinner function for 150 in the main banqueting suite, the evening wedding reception for 100 people in the function room adjacent to the restaurant and a full restaurant service for 160.  I was the duty manager for this four star hotel in the south of England overlooking  Poole Bay.

A Night to Remember

I had been on duty since 2pm, so had seen the bride and groom arrive for the afternoon reception, helped “turn” the room so that it was ready for the evening reception and buffet.  A more senior colleague had also been on duty while I “worked” the hot plate for dinner service in the function suite.

Normally, once the food service is taken care of the hotel runs along well greased rails; department heads and the restaurant team know what they need to do and reception is quietening down.  My colleague called it a night, left me to it and went home. As is typical within hotel management, I had the late shift Saturday followed by the early shift Sunday.  It can be a bit harsh but it creates continuity and it is  not as if I had far to travel home, living in the management flat on the third floor.

It started to go wrong when the fire brigade turned up. Two crews, engines with blue lights flashing, suddenly heading my direction with purpose.  I met the chief at the front door, very politely asking if I could help him.  No, I hadn’t called them.  No, there were not any alarms sounding and if a member of hotel staff had called, it was their responsibility to tell me.  But the fire crew are obliged to investigate even if they believe the call is a hoax.  It turned out the call had originated from a phone booth to the side of reception, but, unfortunately, out of sight of reception.  We had our suspicions who the perpetrator might be.

Shortly after the fire crews left from the front of the hotel, citing a false call but with no bad intent on behalf of the hotel, the police and an ambulance pulled into the rear car park.  This was going to be a long night.

The easiest way to access the function suite was across the rear car park from the back door of the reception area.  As you entered the hotel at the main front entrance, the reception was directly in front across the lounge / lobby.  To the side and rear of reception, now famous for its phone booth, was a door with an “airlock” to the rear car park. (in effect  2 doors with a small lobby between). Just coming through the first of these doors from outside was a lone police officer with a gentleman in a dinner suit – clearly a guest of the dinner function. What happened next seemed to take place in slow motion.

In the space between the two doors the guest pushed the police officer.  The officer restrained the guest and radioed for backup.  Within 2 minutes we had five more police vehicles, with lights flashing, come screaming into the rear car park!  Let me explain.  Firstly, the assaulted officer was a rookie and used a code whilst calling for backup that implied he was in imminent danger.  Secondly, our hotel was about to host the Conservative Party political conference and we were due to have the entire British government staying with us.

But what  about the ambulance?  Over in the function suite a guest had taken ill, another guest had pushed through the crowd, stating that he was a doctor and “prescribed” a large whisky.  Friends of the patient had then set on the “doctor” at which point someone called the police.  The “doctor” was last pushing à police officer. Fortunately, someone else had the presence of mind to call an ambulance, the ill guest was having a mild heart attack.  The ambulance and patient left without any further hassle.

We have now dispatched the fire brigade, the ambulance and the police (no charges pressed) I felt like calling the Coastguard just for the hell of it.  But the night was far from over!

As reception was shutting down near 11pm, one of the receptionists was surprised to find the phone system not working.  On investigation we discovered that someone had broken into the PBX (phone system) room – most likely one of the little oiks from the fire call, and  pulled out a load of cables.  Phone systems were not, and are still not, my thing.  It was time to get help. The hotel front of house manager shared the management flat with me, so after being roused from a very peaceful sleep he was able to reinstate the system. 

At 6am I was sitting in the front lounge, still wearing my dinner suit from the night before, as the morning housekeeping staff started to arrive for work.  Hotels of this size never sleep, there is always something going on, so I went to shower, change and start the day shift wishing that I had had some sleep.  By 4pm when I eventually finished I had been on duty for 26 hours. Fortunately, the news on our guest who had been admitted to hospital was good and he was expected to make a full recovery.

The above article is completely true without embellishment.  This Is the first time I have put this story in writing and, reading it back, it is no wonder I only spent a further two years in hotel management before moving into the far more sedate world of restaurant and pub management! My wife has a better story of hotel management sagas.

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Dave Winteridge
Dave Winteridge
I am a restaurateur in the South of France but originally from Great Britain. I have spent around 30 years in the hospitality industry and over the past 12 years I have opened restaurants in Spain and France. I am a keen skier, living in the Pyrenees, and ideally for the future I would like to spend less time at the stove and more time at the keyboard.


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