Catering to mobs of stroppy adolescents let loose in a ski resort would seem at first sight to be a hideous task and one to avoid like the plague. Fellow seasonnaires in chalets or working for non-school operators used to commiserate on a regular basis, failing to realise that looking after what is effectively one guest is far easier than having to deal with a random collection of 40 odd (emphasis on the word odd), each one of them with its own unique set of peculiar foibles and expectations apparently based on the contents of someone else’s brochure.
For a start, most school party leaders have some semblance of a clue. It’s not often you get a total noob as a party leader – most of them are already a) skiers and b) seriously battle-scarred teachers who have taken a million school trips and have all the necessary zookeeping skills. And those few who don’t know what they’re doing are so scared witless by the responsibility they’ve taken on that they’re pathetically grateful to see someone who knows the score and will let you tell them what to do all week. This means you end up more or less running things for them, which sounds like hassle but is actually far easier than the usual process of negotiation followed by multiple last minute changes of plan.
The kids themselves are far easier to manage than you’d imagine, mainly because when they walk around the hotel in their ski boots, throw croissants at each other or fill the water jugs with soggy bread, you can yell at them to stop it, behaviour which would probably get you fired if you tried it with adult guests, however much it might do them good.
In fact, a hotel bunked up to the eyeballs with 90 schoolkids is far more fun and less bother than the same building full of 40 adults, each one of whom appears to have read a different holiday brochure, none of which happens to be the one produced by the company for which you are currently working. We expected afternoon tea and free wine with dinner, they say huffily. I can’t imagine why, since the website gives you a detailed breakdown of the catering arrangements and even specifically states that wine isn’t included. Or did you think we were pulling some sort of practical joke?
Personally, I was always of the opinion that abandoning afternoon tea was going to be a bad idea, despite the fact that the average British punter really doesn’t need to scoff wedges of cake shortly before dinner and would in fact benefit enormously from a regime of daily skiing followed by diet lettuce for dinner. Honestly, when did everyone get to be so fat? It’s getting to the stage where you can spot the Brits in resort by the way they waddle.
Likewise the free wine, which was dropped because a) the accountants thought there was money to be made in selling very average wine at ridiculous prices and b) customer feedback kept slating the free stuff as undrinkable. Which it was, though that didn’t stop any of us drinking it anyway.
What the accountants failed to consider was that rather than pay 15€ for bog standard vino on sale in Marché U for a fiver, people will get it themselves and then brazenly drink it in your restaurant and refuse to pay the extortionate corkage charge. Your manager will then nip your heid about unsatisfactory wine sales and customers bringing carry-oot into the hotel, while at the same time failing to have any credible strategy for persuading them not to. (Dropping the prices on the in-house stuff apparently being a completely unacceptable solution verging on an ‘attitude problem’.) The whole idea represented a complete failure to understand human psychology. Skiers are used to getting free wine with dinner. They are also used to complaining that it tastes like paint thinner until half way down the second carafe. But faced with the choice between drinking free turps and forking over a silly price for something marginally better in a bottle, they go for free every time and treat the opportunity to complain as an added bonus. Besides, everyone knows that wine tastes progressively better the more of it you drink.
Adults in groups are even worse than mobs of random individuals, mainly because they are even less likely to have looked at the website to see what they’re getting and whether it’s actually what they want. The party leader rolls up with a rooming plan and a list (usually as long as an orang utan’s arm) of faddy dietary ‘requirements’ which suddenly become optional when the person in question sees something she likes, and everyone promptly starts complaining to the hotel manager about it all. Er, was I actually responsible for any of this? No I wasn’t. Go and whinge to that chap hiding in the bar. The party leader, meanwhile, either abdicates all responsibility or spends the whole week making arrangements which half the party don’t like but don’t have the balls to object to.
Still never mind, you think, they’re bound to drink loads in the bar and have a jolly time, aren’t they? Wrong. After complaining about the lack of free wine, they spend the evening dawdling over half a pint of shandy and complaining about everything else. You take more on the bar with a hotel full of 14-year-olds who aren’t allowed anything stronger than Coke, crisps and milkshakes. And you have a whole lot more fun into the bargain.