Friday, 28 August 2009

Fair cop at the Fairmont

Whenever I interview hotel owners, they inevitably claim ‘nothing is too much trouble for our guests.’

It sounds good – and is surely the cornerstone of good hospitality - but in practice there are often excuses. Luckily for my seven friends and I, the five star Fairmont St Andrews makes good on its promise to put guests first – and then some!

It would be fair to say we put them through their paces – eight excited Glasgow girls on a hen weekend are usually the stuff of nightmares for hospitality staff – and yet not once did their geniality slip.

When we turned up on Friday, the Senior Open Golf Championship was in full swing -much to our surprise, as the deal we had secured for two nights’ b&b plus dinner on the Friday and spa treatments, had led us to believe the hotel would be quiet.

After an afternoon barbecueing on a hidden cove reached by a subtle path through the undergrowth by the fourth fairway, we approached the catering staff to see if we could decorate our dinner table. They had no objection to pink tulle bows around each seat, flowers and helium balloons as a centrepiece and silver confetti scattered over the tablecloth. It also seemed that our waiter was delighted to be serving us, checking a little too frequently that everything was OK. When it wasn’t – one main course arrived a good fifteen minutes late – he apologised profusely and gave us a complimentary bottle of wine.

We moved on to the bar, accompanied by some new American friends who insisted on picking up the tab, and the barstaff played along with my ‘tutored tasting’ of Islay whiskies, even presenting the empty bottle of Bruichladdich to the gentleman as a keepsake. He was so delighted that he suggested we buy a bottle of gin for the table. Unfortunately there was no cucumber available – unusual for a hotel with a catering operation of this size – so we refused the Hendrick’s and instead opted for Belvedere vodka. I must confess this was my idea – I discounted the Smirnoff because, well, it’s Smirnoff, and Grey Goose is more a marketing ploy than a decent product in my opinion, so Belvedere was really the only option ; ) I didn’t see the bill – although I did see his reaction as he signed it – but the staff were quick to insist all the mixers were on the house and brought over an eye-watering display of glasses, bottles and jugs of juices.

We left the bar around two out of respect for the staff and carried on the party in one of our spacious bedrooms. None of the guests complained – although a few joined in. They turned out to be broadcasters covering the golf and insisted we make an appearance the next day. What a request that turned out to be….

The next morning, our table was still beautifully decorated and laid out for breakfast. We were greeted like old friends and had our fill of fruit, fry up and fresh baking to soak up the hangover. Luckily our plan for the day involved nothing more than chilling out in the spa and so, clad in fluffy gowns and sporting pink eyemasks as hairbands, we trooped in to our very own relaxation room. Again we were allowed to decorate to our hearts’ content and the staff provided jugs of iced water and Champagne glasses for those of us brave enough to get back on it. When the therapists arrived to take us away for our appointments they were delighted – not horrified as we nervously expected - to see our balloons and booze – and wanted to know all about the upcoming wedding. To a woman, we were fair chuffed with our treatments – my facial and head massage chased away the dregs of my hangover beautifully – so we left them some of our snacks as a thank you. We had a transformation to complete…

I must pause a moment to mention the lovely guy who came to our door to replenish the minibar. He made not a comment that all the water and crisps had disappeared – but when he returned at 4pm and Cheetara answered the door, his face was an absolute picture. The theme of the hen weekend, you see, was ‘superheroes’. My roommate had chosen her favourite female from Thundercats and went all out with bronze swimsuit and leggings, gold bodypaint and leopard print hair extensions – and then answered the door. Ever the professional, the poor guy handed over the drinks and walked calmly down the corridor. He may well have warned his colleagues, because no one batted an eyelid when Supergirl, Batgirl, Robin, She-Ra (from He-Man), Lara Croft, Cheetara and the Fashion Police emerged from the lift into the foyer. Well, no one except the concierge, who insisted on a photo and promised to take care of all our transport down into St Andrews. We just had one thing to do first….

It was 4.30 and the final golfers were coming through at the Senior Open. To the bemusement of the waterproof-sporting crowd, eight superheros turned up amongst them, clapping politely as the Italian sank his putt. Our broadcasting friends from the previous night screamed up in the golf buggies, their mouths hanging open, to see for themselves and instruct the cameraman to point the lens in our direction. Apparently we made a brief appearance on Sky Sports. A charming golf club employee gave our hen – Batgirl – a lift back up to the hotel in a cart. We had missed the courtesy bus, but the concierge called a taxi for us and we headed into town to frighten the locals.

The next morning only two of our number were feeling the effects of the previous night’s excesses – although one was convinced the limbo dancing competition in the Lizard Lounge had put her back out. When another returned with an enormous omelette on her plate, two of us were quick to visit the chef, who cooked up two delicious concoctions and garnished the plates with a Dairy Milk and a Galaxy – an unexpected and quirky personal touch. As we loaded our bags into the cars the valet brought round for us, we were truly sad to leave – but the most unexpected thing was that we really had the impression they were sad to see us go.