Forget 007. I’m introduced to Smith, Harry Smith.
‘Smith’ – is one of the AA’s Secret Inspectors – charged with the onerous job of ensuring that gold standards are kept golden across the AA’s selection of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.
It may sound like a dream-job to most, but this undercover agent’s mission was to inspect the place to an inch of its life and to report on the highs and lows of our visit. Ultimately, Smith’s report decides the fate of the establishment’s star rating – a measure that is relied upon by the AA members throughout Ireland.
I was excited to get a glimpse into this intriguing role and happily consented to wing woman status!
The nit picking started as we entered the car park…signage location, ease of access, dimensions of car spaces…just a taste of what was to come.
5:00pm: Smith checks in under his alias with a false credit card. I’m impressed already!
6:00pm: I join Smith in the bar for pre-dinner drinks, all the while, he is clocking the every move and utterance of the staff. I’ve been instructed to observe the volume of the music; the sparkliness of the chandelier; the sharpness of the menu pages…you name it – he had it covered. After over 30 years in the industry including up to 12 years inspecting hotels at all levels up and down the country, Smith was no stranger to seeking perfection.
7:00pm: The restaurant manager seats us. He is effusive in his welcome and quite possibly the friendliest person I’ve ever met. Have we been snared, or are they just on track for a 5-star award?!
7:30pm: I’m hungry. I want fish and chips but am asked to put on the hat of the AA Secret Inspector and order something a bit more taxing for the kitchen. To start – scallops. It looks too good to eat, and it looks like I’m going to have to wait when Smith’s starter doesn’t make an appearance. Uh-oh. Will this be the cost of one gleaming golden star?
8:00pm: Mains arrive. Pan roasted duck accompanied by a black cherry jus. It looks like a masterpiece. However, it’s not all about the presentation, Smith reminds me. “Remember Vicky, it’s not all about the look. It’s the quality, the freshness, the combination of colours, the seasonality and the balance of flavours that count”….it seems there’s more to hotel inspection than I realised.
The next day, breakfast faces the same scrutiny, though Smith seems happy – mind you, his poker face is well practiced!
To finalise the report, a thorough inspection of not one, but several rooms needs to be completed. But first, Smith needs to reveal his identity and asks for the General Manager. A confident, but genuinely surprised guy courteously agrees to a grand tour, where pillow fluffiness; undersides of cushions; tile grouting; teabag selection; dust count and sheet creases are all examined. The eager, but slightly petrified GM awaits the verdict.
“So… is it good news or bad news?”, he stutters….
They’re not called secret inspectors for nothing…I was politely asked to leave!