Recently, Gordon Ramsay took the time to chat with a few of us about his newest show, Hotel Hell, which premieres tonight on FOX at 8/7c. He’s going to be tackling hotels and all their issues as opposed to focusing on the usual kitchen disasters.
During the interview, he discussed why hotels, the biggest mistakes, and the show in general. We’ll start with questions from myself and Kyle.
Megan: With your other shows, you were focused on kitchen things. What made you want to branch out into doing hotels?
Gordon: Good question, Megan. I’ve stayed in thousands—literally thousands—and I have a small boutique hotel in London. It’s at Regent’s Park. I think on the back of the ups and downs and the—I suppose the laziness that I started witnessing even coming back from a long day at work or even a holiday with the kids, I always found there was something not quite right within the hotel.
And then, of course, the fortunate positions of these places, because they’re landmark addresses and big buildings, they think that they don’t really have to work as hard as they should do because of their position—so partly, the stuff I’ve experienced and also—scratch beneath the surface. When you see a pristine hotel room. You can find problems anywhere.
Jump ahead and see what else Gordon had to say about his show.
Megan: What’s the biggest mistake you see being made by hotels?
Gordon: The biggest mistake is when they start becoming systematic in terms of, they see a bedspread, and they think it’s new and it looks great. Just because it looks neat and tidy, it doesn’t mean it’s clean. The worst scenario with hotels is the fact they’re open 365 days a year. Airplanes can’t even fly that long. They need to be reassessed and repositioned and reengineered.
Hotel rooms are the exact same; they take such an abuse. You think of seven nights a week, four weeks a month, 12 months a year, 365 days a year—these things are relentless, so they take their toll, but they never, ever stop and completely transform those rooms properly.
Kyle: Going from saving a failing restaurant in Kitchen Nightmares to fixing an entire hotel is a big undertaking. Could you talk about some of the challenges you faced while increasing the scale, and how you go about identifying what those core things you should tackle are?
Gordon: Yes, a good question again, thank you. One hotel in particular was in San Diego, and there’s a young entrepreneur that’s bought it for millions, and he got Pininfarina—as you know, they design Ferraris—and they had all this hi-tech spec furniture that just looked ridiculous. It was so far futuristic, it just felt uncomfortable.
But I said to him, “Look, why would you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a designer that designs Ferraris to furnish your hotel?” He said, “Well, I have a Ferrari, and I love driving them, and they’re unique.” I go, “They’re unique for you, but the furniture is impractical. You don’t sleep in your Ferrari, so why would you get a bedroom designed by a Ferrari designer?” And he couldn’t really answer the question.
He had a bar, a nightclub, a restaurant, room service, banqueting, and 60 rooms. He was completely out of his depth—I mean, really out of his depth, no experience. I mean no disrespect, but it’s like people buying restaurants; sadly, it’s the same with hotels. You can just go and buy a hotel. There’s no certified measures that you need to take in order to obtain a hoteliers license.
So I had a bigger team, and I had some secret, undercover footage that I had as a backup if I was ever to use it—necessary in order to make sure that they were wrong and wrong and wrong every time they stepped into it.
Kyle: You mentioned your backup team. Is the first time that you step foot on the property and meet the owner, is that when we see you in the show, or do you go and visit them ahead of time?
Gordon: No. No. When you see…is literally the first time, but I have a backup team, obviously—a research team—and I have members of the production and members of the public actually staying there, and then I have a wealth of support from a hospitalities organization as a consultancy package that I leave them with, whether it’s the re-modernization of their website, whether it’s a repositioning of their sales. I have a huge team, much bigger than we did on Kitchen Nightmares because the problems, as you can imagine, are so much wider.
Kyle: Finally, will we see you do any kind of follow-up at the end of the season with these and see how they’re doing?
Gordon: Yes, that is a good question. We’re treating this one a little bit like the U.K. version of [Kitchen] Nightmares, so filming over a much longer period, and obviously everyone’s working so hard on there. There will be ones I’ll be visiting that hopefully they’ll let me in, of course.
Now onto some more general questions from our fellow participants.
On how geographical location affects hotel attitudes
Gordon: I think it’s been harder—more so than ever this year—for everybody in the hospitality sector, but I didn’t really see a difference in terms of location, whether it’s in San Diego or upstate New York.
What I did notice more than anything was the fact that when these places are so isolated in the way that they are off the beaten track, and they’re in a small provincial town, then they think that they are almost like historic landmarks that customers will just travel to because they’re en route to a skiing resort or en route to a Disneyland stay.
They think because there’s no big hotels within their area that they can do as little as they need to do to get by because the customers are driving past on a daily basis. They take their position for granted because of the landmark address, and they think that’s good enough to draw customers in. Well it’s not, quite frankly, at those prices.
I really didn’t see a change in attitude of regions. I just saw more of a mainstream, almost incompetence, on the back of their positions where they thought because they’re in a particular area, they had their customers at their feet, and that was never the case.
On why he chose the hotels he chose
Gordon: A bit of both, really—the landmark, historic—because you never want to let go of a historic hotel within the vicinity and what that stands for. The one in White Chapel, again, when you think of where it was, how big it was— the Cambridge pie-a-la-mode was invented there—these places are amazing buildings just for the local community, let alone the business. So it was sad, really, just to see how some of them have not just lost their way but almost given up.
Like I said earlier, these things are relentless. You have to be over everything—more so than a restaurant. A restaurant can close down at Thanksgiving. We can shut it at Christmas, Labor Day. We can close these places down and revamp them, but hotels are taking an absolute pounding seven days a week, and that is a big upkeep. Even if it’s a 25 or 30 bedroom hotel, it still needs to be run efficiently.
I came across one hotel, and I couldn’t quite understand why there was this smell. It was horrific, and the room was gorgeous. And he said, “Oh, we’ve had a sewage problem.” I said, “How long have you had it for?” He said, “Well, it’s been running for the last four months.” “Well how can you rent this place out when it smells?” You can’t smell that on TV.
But then literally two days later, I found there was a pen of pigs downstairs in the basement. They have these pigs—and this is in the winter with snow on the ground, so if that’s what it smelled like in the winter, goodness knows what it’d be like in the summer.
On the attitudes of the hotel owners
Gordon: I found the attitudes a little bit more disconcerting, a little bit more arrogant, and almost like they were a cut above the rest of them—you’ll do as you’re told, and I’m an owner, and what I say goes. So because they buy antiques, they thought they had the right to dictate his favorite recipe on the menu, something like $47 upstate New York. It was more expensive than my lunch menu in the middle of Manhattan in New York. So yes, to be honest, worse than chefs, and I think pretentious beyond belief.
On how he ensures his hotels run smoothly
Gordon: Every day, I have reports, up to 20, sometimes 30 individual reports, whether it’s a coachhouse stay at the York & Albany Hotel in London—a little boutique hotel—whether it’s an early supper at…or The Narrows, or even a steak last night in Vegas. So I have mystery shoppers and mystery sleepers that on a daily basis, seven days a week I spend over $100,000 a year on paying for complimentary meals in order to get the good feedback I need on a daily basis to handle the volume of customers we deal with.
We do make mistakes. There’s no two ways about that. But what I can reassure is that we can nip those mistakes in the bud. Nothing festers. Nothing gets out of control. And the bigger we become, I think the more important that we focus on that customer feedback instantly. It’s not like waiting for a food critic to come in and eat; it literally is five minutes after their experience. It’s viral. We get to deal with it. And we nail it immediately.
On what small touches make or break a hotel
Gordon: Inside the wardrobe, when you hang your clothes up when you’ve just been in transit and you’ve traveled in a suitcase, you want a decent hanger, a proper coat hanger. I find that so frustrating.
Towels—so many towels are small and unfriendly in terms of slightly rough. Those little attention to details—the bed, the way the bed’s made. Is it made with a bit of love, attention? Is it smothered with three or four covers—looks neat, but no one sleeps with that stuff. The first thing you do is pull it off.
I hate when they fantasize the bedrooms, when they put too many cushions on there. You can’t sleep with all those cushions on there. Less is more, and the more relaxed and the more appealing it is, then the better the stay.
I like things to look comfortable, and I hate the corporate side of things, where everything has to be left in the same place seven days a week, otherwise you’re potentially fired. That kind of stuff is just so unfriendly, so cold, in hotels.
It’s so stark and so unnecessary, and they’re scared to change things up because all 400 rooms must look like that because we have an identity. And it’s not really identity, it’s a cold front, and they forget the importance of that warmth.
On what makes a good boss
Gordon: It’s completely different than what you see on Hell’s Kitchen. To ask my staff—you’d be best asking them because I’m not going to sit here and blow smoke up my backside talking to you as a journalist. I never do that.
I’m only as good as my team, and I’m always asked, “Well who does the cooking when you’re not there if you’re such a hands-on chef?” And I say, “Well look, it’s the same people that do it when I am there,” because I look at business two ways: There are people in life that get to the very top and keep the ladder down and allow their team to climb, and there are people that get to the very top in business and pull the ladder up so no one is getting anywhere near them.
I’m of the first instinct in terms of I want that ladder positioned comfortably, and the more successful I become, then the more successful my team becomes. I will expose them and put them in those positions, and they have to grab the reins with two hands and run with it. I can’t force them to be successful. All I can hope for is they listen and they learn.
Sometimes, even when they leave the nest and they come into competition with me—I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do in this industry and came into it on the back of the upset from soccer and a bad injury and didn’t have a pot to … in, and I climbed my way up from the bottom, got my … in France, and came back with a vengeance.
So I’m an unselfish boss, and I think that’s the key when I’m brutally honest. We don’t run Royal Hospital Road, my flagship restaurant, like you see in Hell’s Kitchen. We are a dedicated, 100% unique team that strives for perfection on a daily basis, and that place functions with or without me the same standards.
The secret of a good boss is leveling out your staff. No one calls me Chef Ramsay. No one calls me mister; it’s Gordon, and I never, ever expect them to do what I wouldn’t do. I think when people say bistro cooking,… cooking, American-Italian cooking, fine dining, Chinese, Japanese—I’ve been there. I’ve tasted everything from the … end of Cambodia to a floating village living with a family in Vietnam, and I’m still learning. So I think that’s what I take my inspiration from. I still push myself, and I think Hotel Hell has done that even more on a much bigger scale, and that’s the difference between a hotelier and a chef.
I think the hotelier is a little bit more arrogant because they’ve sat in their little kingdom with their moat around them, and they think the village or the town locally aren’t good enough to grace their floors, so they pitch to businesses in Paris, New York, and they forget what’s on the ground. There’s a big difference there.
On dealing with the frustrations
Gordon: Sometimes I need a release, and do you know how I get a release? I go for a run because running is relaxing. I don’t get stressed out; I just get this built-up frustration I need to release. So my release is going for a run. I’ve taken that run to twelve London marathons, six ultra marathons in South Africa, and I’m currently training for my first-ever Iron Man in Lake Taupo in New Zealand, March 2013.
So my frustrations are getting bigger; the idiots are getting worse; and I still cannot believe that these individuals are running big concerns, big hotels with big bills, big amount of staff dependence on them, and the idiotic positions they put themselves and their staff in frustrates the … out of me.
That’s all with Gordon Ramsay for this interview, but be sure to catch his new show, Hotel Hell, tonight on FOX at 8/7c. It’s excellent educational entertainment.