This is my third and tentatively final broadcast about Fox’s new hotel-centric adventure-thon following celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay as he navigates the frightful corridors of ‘Hotel Hell’. When I first watched the premiere, I was elated. Finally, a show about quirky hotels with some solid lessons packed into an entertaining hour.
But I cautioned that you can’t fully judge a show by its opener. As the second full episode, then the third and fourth have come to pass, I now have a broader understanding of the tone and story arcs of each installment. And I’m not partially enthused to keep blocking off an hour for this.
What irks me about Hotel Hell is that it’s all style and no substance. Take the fourth episode for instance where Ramsay finds himself at the Keating Hotel in San Diego, a Ferrari-themed, pretentiously overpriced doomsday dwelling of 35 rooms. One female guest even described the décor as reminiscent of a brothel. I was hoping for a property that was a bit more grounded than in previous episodes so that we could glean something practical and not have to allegorically transmute every action on screen into a real-world ‘lesson learned’.
Instead, we were treated to another stubborn, egotistical owner who also happened to be the hotel’s interior designer. It’s probably that same ego which convinced him to sign up for the show in the first place! And does any manager find it useful to know that an owner shouldn’t also handle all the furnishings and color coordination themselves? Call me a snob, but grade school lessons like these are not what I signed up for. It’s as if during the background checks the producers threw out any owner’s dossier that contained formal hospitality schooling or professional training.
And then there’s the food focus. I was initially fond of this portrayal because cuisine is a vital component of a hotel’s operations, particularly given Ramsay’s expertise. But now I see that the show has been reverse engineered to cater to his bread and butter. There’s too much food and not enough of everything else (even if the fourth episode did feature a chocolate bacon pizza). Ramsay et al would have you believe that all you need to do is perfect your F&B and you’ll be frolicking in green pastures.
I wish it were that simple. Mind you, this was the first time Ramsay actively broached the topic of room service – another key part of F&B that may go overlooked. But again, the lessons learned from Ramsay’s in-room dining experience were too juvenile for serious discussion. The mistakes were so blatantly obvious – for example, serving food out of disposable containers – that it really would take someone with no prior hotelier experience to make them. I can’t relate to these problems and as such, I tune out.
Maybe it’s just me. The producers aren’t making this show for the pragmatic hotelier niche audience. Hotel Hell has to have mainstream appeal and outrageous situations are a nifty tool towards this goal. I guess the nuts and bolts of successful hospitality management are more National Geographic than reality television on Fox.
As a caveat, there are still kernels of insight shoehorned in at random intervals. Like when Ramsay invited all the guests at the Keating Hotel to meet the owner and he asked for a show of hands to see who would venture returning for another night’s stay. Lo and behold, no one raised their hand. Although the scene was inserted more for dramatic effect, I looked between the cracks to observe that managers have to talk face-to-face with guests about their experiences. You never know what you’ll learn or what issues they’ll emphasize. But I had to do some heavy digging to find that one.
So, now that this show has found it’s footing, the best I can give this is a lukewarm recommendation. If you want to learn a basic lesson about properly executed F&B or get some quick decoration inspiration, then give it a watch. But for the keen hotelier, Hotel Hell is too sensationalized to be a practical teaching tool. Think I’ll go back to my beloved Blue Jays. Even watching them lose is more entertaining!
(Article published in HOTELSmag on September 5, 2012)