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Farm shop owner: Time for tourism to fix all that is Fawlty

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: October 13, 2012

Martyn Pring with The Wurzels at the launch of the new cider section at his store in Bere Regis

Martyn Pring with The Wurzels at the launch of the new cider section at his store in Bere Regis

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Farm shop owner Martyn Pring has backed a call for catering establishments to pull their socks up and improve their service, to stop tourists being driven away.

He says a TV reality show may be needed to improve front-of-house services, in the same way that Gordon Ramsay has done for the kitchen.

Mr Pring, who runs The Rural Farm Shop Company Ltd at Bere Regis was responding to Western Daily Press farming commentator Chris Rundle’s recent article taking some businesses to task for a lack of professionalism, and apparent lack of interest in their customers.

“Chris Rundle’s article is extremely thought provoking,” he said. ” As a rural Dorset resident, a farm shop proprietor and reasonably frequent day and short-break visitor to other parts of the South West, I have to say that I find much in the piece to be a realistic appraisal of the general standard of the hospitality to be found in many parts of the West Country and far South West.

“True, there are some real gems to be found and not always charging inflated prices for the service they’re providing but for large swathes of the hospitality industry, ‘mediocre’ is the best word that I can find to describe the service that one encounters.

“In Swanage we have recently had the same debate following a visitor writing to the local newspaper complaining about the experience he had over a week when staying in Swanage.

“Essentially, this echoes the comments made by Mr Rundle, which seem to suggest that a general malaise has crept in to overall standards. To quote a former PLC company jeweller who used the word ‘crap’ to describe some of his company’s products, what do we do to highlight the worst customer experiences encountered in the hospitality industry? And what’s to be done?

“Well, a general ‘pulling up of socks’ is the minimum response and call to action but for many employed in the hospitality industry, it should be a wake-up call that the South West has no right to expect visitors to return time after time and put up with an unforgettable host and table experience.

“There are lessons to be learnt from elsewhere. In Ireland following the years of the Celtic Tiger, when it was impossible to find an Irish person at reception or behind the hotel bar, some hospitality providers have rediscovered the ‘Failte’ by re-employing Irish staff. Some might argue this has only occurred because of the plight the country now finds itself in but the traditional experience of Ireland is a wonderful selling tool.

“So could we develop a similar response here in the South West? I would like to think so, as the traditional warm-hearted West Country welcome to be found in great pubs, hotels and tea rooms is certainly hard to beat.

“There are some great initiatives being employed by independent and micro-brewers and small hotel chains.

It will take a lot of effort to undo what has probably been a 20-year or so general decline in standards, especially in the PubCo sector, where some of the worst excesses can be seen – but it is certainly not impossible.

“Perhaps what we need is a television reality show to highlight the problems. Gordon Ramsay certainly did it in the kitchen but what we need is a new personality to take to front of house. Come on independent producers and commissioning editors, there must be some ideas!”

WHAT CHRIS RUNDLE SAID...

From my own observations this summer, there are areas of the catering industry which are woefully short when it comes to professionalism, and some establishments whose proprietors clearly should have chosen a difference career path.

Tourists, by and large, can put up with the remoteness of the South West. They manage to cope, by and large, with our substandard roads. They will even put up with appalling weather.

But if on top of all that you offer mediocrity of cooking and service as well then you can hardly blame them for deciding that they’ll go somewhere else next year.

To boast to the rest of the UK that the finest food and drink is purveyed in the finest of pubs, hotels and restaurants across the South West is a generalisation which, sadly, provides a perfect smokescreen for fifth-rate, overpriced establishments which are doing their entire sector and the entire region a serious disservice.

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