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Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsey's Newest Order: Improving Hotels

By Rita Sherrow, Tulsa World, Okla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 13, 2012-- Look out hotels. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is putting your establishments to the test in his new reality series "Hotel Hell." And he's not mincing words -- if you know what I mean.

In the television series, which premieres Monday and Tuesday on Fox, the star of "Kitchen Nightmares," "Masterchef" and "Hell's Kitchen," takes on arrogant owners, clueless managers, pigs in the basement and massive clutter.

Just because a hotel room looks pristine, doesn't mean it is, he told reporters during a teleconference Thursday.

"You can find problems anywhere," said Ramsay, a native of Scotland who was raised in England. And he knows what he is talking about. He is a chef, an owner of a string of restaurants and owns a boutique hotel in London.

"Just because it looks neat and tidy, it doesn't mean it is clean. The worst scenario with hotels is the fact they're open 365 days a year. Airplanes can't even fly that long," he said. "They need to be reassessed and repositioned and re-engineered."

Ramsay tackles all changes -- from pigs in the basement to moldy bathrooms, from incompetent staff to incompetent owners. He's not above using a blue light to scan bedding for stains or telling an owner the expensive but impractical furniture he had designed was a complete waste of money.

The series grew out of hundreds of emails he received from fans telling him hotels are "ripping customers off."

"I think the one thing we (customers) never do enough of is that we never complain," said Ramsay, who is known for hard work, getting results and his potty-mouth.

"Every hotel is up for negotiating and bartering those prices down. Like restaurants, the sad news with hotels is anybody can buy one and I've come across some very arrogant, inexperienced owners of hotels -- because they've got the money, they think they've got the right to dictate what they should be serving to the public. ...

"That's not always the case."

Monday, in the first of a two-part series premiere, Ramsay checks into Juniper Hill Inn in Windsor, Vt., where the place looks like a million bucks but stinks of sewage and is run by an owner who treats his staff abominably. In Tuesday's second part, the owner's arrogance forces Ramsay to consider abandoning the already sinking ship.

Ramsay considers the situations he found in these small hotels to be due in part to their locations "off the beaten path" but on the way to a big resort or Disneyland. It's a situation owners can and do take advantage of, he said.

"They think because there are 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."

The key is fixing up the hotels top to bottom, including modernizing websites and doing community outreach, and then maintaining that level service.

The chef relies on feedback by using multiple mystery shoppers and mystery sleepers to check in on his string of restaurants and hotel.

"... I spend over $100,000 a year paying for complimentary meals in order to get good feedback I need on a daily basis to handle the volume of customers we deal with."

But, he said, like everyone else, he makes mistakes. All he can do is 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 viral. We get to deal with it. And we nail it immediately."

It's a lesson he tries to teach hotel owners. For some, the problems are as small as having proper coat hangers in the wardrobe closet, making the bed carefully and attention to detail like getting rid of decorative bed pillows no one uses.

So far, results in the featured hotels in this first season have been good, he said.

"We do have a good above-average rate and five out of six are working brilliantly," he said. "One, sadly, has entered foreclosure. That was due to substantial loans and that was really beyond my control."

HOTEL HELL When: 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday

Where: Fox, channel 23, cable 5

Rita Sherrow 918-581-8360


(c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

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