Simon Numphud, managing director of hotel and hospitality services at The AA is head of both the AA and the Visit England rating schemes. It's safe to say he knows a thing or two about how to get accommodation right.
He doesn't just inspect pubs, of course, hotels and B&Bs come under his remit too, so we wondered of there was anything licensees could learn from them. There was only one way to find out – we gave him a call. Here's what we learned...
The Bell at Ramsbury, Wiltshire
Inapub: When inspecting accommodation what are the immediate signs you look for that suggest it is going to be a good one?
Simon: Before we even arrive, we are looking carefully, just as a guest will, at the website and booking facilities. Is the website easy to navigate? Up-to-date? Are there good quality well chosen images that tell me something about the venue, and has it won any awards?
It is around booking, in fact, that pubs often compare badly, often we find booking an inn more difficult that with a B&B or hotel. The phone often isn't picked up or the person who does answer isn't trained to take the reservation. More and more people are habitually online and booking via mobile devices in increasingly common too, so even if you do have online booking set up do check it works well on mobile too.
The Bow Bar in Edinburgh
Inapub: What can pubs to stand out in a crowded market place?
Simon: Pubs have a huge advantage here as one of the best ways to make your proposition unique is to offer a real sense of place. Pubs can often to this through the building – make something of its history and story, guests generally really enjoy that. Your drink offers, too, can be a clear differentiator with local ales, craft beers, and gins are very much in vogue now as well.
Inapub: What can licensees learn from the B&B market that will help them improve their accommodation?
Simon: What B&Bs do very well, overall, is offer a warm welcome. There's the offer of refreshment on arrival and a sense of genuine hospitality. Remember that it is likely your guests will have had a long journey to get to you, so anticipate what might make that first impression even better. It's not rocket science but things like pre-filling in details on forms if guests must register – you'll have all the info from their booking in any case, so why not fill in as much of the form for them as you can? It shows a degree of care and thought.
Make sure the heating is already on and the room is cosy in winter, or cool with a window open in the summer. Draw the curtains and have a light or two on if they are arriving after dark.
On a more practical level, think about what the outside of the building looks like when people arrive. Are the bins overflowing? Are pathways well lit and are there clears signs from the carpark to show the way?
The interior of the Bryn Tyrch in Conwy, Wales
Inapub: Is it the same for hotels?
Simon: Where hotels can stand out is around the design and comfort of rooms – pubs do some great things but I would say because the focus is on food and drink sales the rooms can often seem like an afterthought.
Stay in your rooms for the night to see it from the perspective of a guest. When you do that a lot of things will jump out at you and you can make improvements. It might be as simple as re-arranging the room or taking a piece of furniture out to make it more spacious and easy to move around in, or it might be something more significant like not having enough plug sockets.
Sockets are crucial these days because we have to charge everything, so not only do you need enough of them they also need to be in convenient and obvious places – guests don't want to be crawling around the floor looking for them and neither do you want them there, inspecting the darkest corners of your house keeping standards.
The other thing I would say is around mattresses. Often I find businesses don't invest enough in the mattress. We'd recommend buying a contract quality one not a domestic mattress, as bed quality is paramount to a good night's sleep, which is why people are staying with you after all.