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Life on the cheap

Published 27 August 1995
Style Magazine
112th article

Striking a bargain: Michael Winner with Sophia Loren on the set of the 1979 film Firepower

The actress Diane Keaton said to Woody Allen: "I'm from the sort of family where putting your elbows on the table is considered improper." Woody replied: "I'm from the sort of family where buying retail is considered improper." I'm of the Woody Allen group, so those words are dear to my heart. I don't do enough about getting discounts because it's a bit of a bore. I do get electric bulbs wholesale (17p instead of 70p) and a few other things. But I've never extended this to restaurants. Why we don't all say to any establishment or shop we frequent (or even don't frequent) "What about a discount?" is beyond me. The worst you can get is a No, and if it's a Yes you save a few quid.

I am in the mood of discussing this because I recently decided to open an account, or rather re-open it, at the Room At The Halcyon. This is a restaurant in a posh hotel near where I live, and when it started in 1987 I booked a number of movie stars in. They gave me a 20% discount but the food and service were so awful I closed the account. Now it's improved (about time!) so my Mr Fraser wrote to the general manager Mr Robert Wauters and reminded him of our old 20% off saying: "Any discount you could offer today would, of course, be greatly appreciated." In their reply they welcomed my account (so they should!) but said: "We are not in a position to offer a discount."

There the matter would have rested were I not knocking back sortie excellent prawn fishcakes on the balcony of the Belvedere in Holland Park with my friend, the owner John Gold. "What do you mean the Halcyon don't give discounts!" he said. "Of course they do! They're in a thing called Transmedia, which you pay £35 to join and you get 25% off the food ex-service and Vat at thousands of restaurants throughout the UK, America and Australia!" Mr Fraser wrote to Mr Wauters in high dudgeon, pointing out that since they were offering 25% off to members of the public, why should Mr Winner be excluded? Mr Wauters wrote a very odd letter back. He said they were ending their Transmedia membership on September 30 (fair enough) but they had their own discount scheme and he enclosed two leaflets. This showed if you paid £110 inc Vat you got a free meal if you came in with one other person! You also got a large number of other benefits from 15% off if you dined alone (food only) to a free drink at the bar and free room and a lot more. How this tallied with Mr Wauters's earlier letter saying they didn't give discounts, I couldn't quite work out!

You get a new Transmedia list of 25%-off-restaurants every six weeks, and I flipped through the one they sent me. I'd need more than 25% off to go to Tamarind in Mayfair, and most of the places I wouldn't go to if they were free. But there were quite a few very good and known restaurants in the book. "I don't know how they do it." said Johnny Gold, "it's their profit gone."

Sadly I have no hotel or restaurant discounts going at all. Indeed, I was somewhat miffed when l recently booked a Hollywood film producer into the Sandy Lane, Barbados, and the manager Richard Williams wrote to me saying as I'd made the booking the producer and his wife could have 10% off. "What a liberty!" l thought. I've been going there for 14 years, my hotel bill is around £30,000 each Christmas and I've never been offered so much as a free banana daiquiri! Since I started bestowing my sage advice upon you. I've been diffident about asking for discounts in case the restaurant or hotel expected favours. I pay my own way (yah-boo to all the readers who think I don't!) but it is an expensive life. It's also unusual, because when newspaper writers travel abroad to describe hotels they usually get free air fares and free accommodation. That makes their "reviews" suspect, to say the least. I remember when an ex-editor of this very paper wrote something extremely rude about a Caribbean hotel for a glossy, "Aren't-we-chic-and-clever" type magazine. They told him they wouldn't print it because they had an "arrangement" with that particular establishment. So much for an independent press. My friend Sophia Loren is not only beautiful, she's the best discount-getter in the world. She charmed a shop into giving me a Patek-Philipe watch at 70% off. I learned a great deal from her. But looking at the paucity of my discount-arrangements, obviously not enough!


Sorry Michael Winner, I know how you love it but I have to give The Canteen a bad report. Last night our party of six was offered a dumpy little table at the back of the restaurant, so close to the kitchen door as to be dangerous. Naturally we refused the table and I was later amused to note that an attempt to seat another party at the same table also failed. Surely the owner of The Canteen is neither hard-up nor mean enough to cram in a few extra customers. Restaurateurs should realise that even designer dinners will not overcome the discomfort of a lousy table.
Christine Costello, London

Had Mrs M M Davies stayed at the three-star hotel in Cumbria which I owned and ran some years ago, she could have had early morning tea and biscuits served to her in bed, her bed would have been turned down in the evening and a hot water bottle provided in the winter; and her shoes would have been cleaned overnight (Letters, August 20). Exceptional service? No, just what our guests would have expected to have had or liked to have had in their homes. Incidentally, in those days guests did not come to Sunday lunch dressed as if they were going to work on a building site as Michael Winner did at the Temple Restaurant.
Peter B Brown, Marlborough, Wilts

It was with great interest that I read Michael Winner's account of his Sunday lunch at Bishopstrow House (August 20). Four years ago my wife and I stayed at Bishopstrow for four days and from what Mr Winner found nothing has changed in the restaurant. The food was so bad one night we sent the meal back to the kitchen. At breakfast they provided toast which we could not eat. What a disgrace for a hotel to supply a meal, most of which has to be returned as waste to the kitchen.
Donald L Reason, Taunton, Somerset

As to Michael Winner's dessert at Langan's (August 13), he may have had the larger piece but it is not possible to have the "bigger half".
Leslie Stolkin, Bourne End, Bucks