Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Good Old British Seaside in Feb!

Went to see Derren Brown in Torquay – a real customer experience!

But what about Torquay! Or rather, what about Torquay in Feb!

Well Torquay is the home of one of my favourite restaurant, Number Seven, a first class privately run fresh fish bistro/restaurant which was shut for the holidays but not to worry.

We went to what we were told was a close second – a glorified fish and chip shop pretending to be a restaurant but failing on nearly every count. We stayed in the slightly dilapidated Grand Hotel (nice small spa in the basement), a bastion of slowly fading, and not desperately, enchanting grandeur.

Working in Torquay last year we spent three days at the Imperial. The room cleaner shut and locked the patio door leaving me stranded on the balcony, my phone on the other side of the glass while 180 delegates were waiting for me to present to them downstairs as I screamed and shouted for someone to notice my third floor predicament.

Moral of the story: never trust a room cleaner listening to an IPod. But I digress.

My real concern is the town itself. Come 6.00pm the euphemistically described clubbers, boys and girls of the night, appear ready for some eight hours of non-stop drinking and general debauchery. Torquay culture? While I can live with that, what I found upsetting was that Torquay must really struggle to compete.

Prices were not cheap, service was pretty poor and not desperately interested, and most of the hotels and restaurants were either half-empty or not bothering to open. More importantly, nearly every business needed more than just a quick lick of paint. It felt tired, uncared for and unloved.

I have just come back from skiing in two resorts in France. Both resorts and their outer-environs demonstrated a civic pride and care for the civic amenities as well as in the local businesses. I am not quite sure why a couple of hundred miles should make such a difference to almost every aspect of the customer experience.

Yes I have had some dreadful experiences in France in my time but this is not the rule.

Travelling through France you can find little cafes, restaurants and train station brassieres that deliver the hospitality, and freshly prepared food that very few similar establishments pull off in the UK.

Maybe we get the food establishments we deserve. Our expectations are low (and still they are constantly not met!), we avoid complaining and pay good money for total mediocrity.

Mediocrity is a sin! And we are sinners!

For a special wedding anniversary it is cheaper to take the entire family to Paris for the weekend, stay in a proper hotel and go to a proper restaurant and be served food with respect.

Who wouldn’t want that?

My worry is that Torquay can’t compete. And each of those independent businesses can’t compete on price, value for money, service, the culture and most importantly, the weather.

PS This is not a pop at Torquay but rather I am highlighting the plight of Torquay businesses and many others...

PPS Spent last weekend in Bournemouth - it felt altogether more lively and cared for than poor old Torquay. Not sure what conclusion to draw there.
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