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Stranger at the service

Published 24 September 1995
Style Magazine
116th article

Welcoming reception: Michael Winner at the Dorchester with Sarah and Nicholas Gold (Amanda Gibbs)

I've intruded upon a Jewish wedding! At the Dorchester no less. I'd been to Sotheby's on Sunday to check a signed photo of Marilyn Monroe. I bid £2,600, but it went later for £7,500! Vanessa wanted tea, so we entered the Dorchester. I strolled past Michael Difiore and John Wade at their Grill Room door. "Business has gone up dramatically since you praised us," said Michael, the maitre d'. I smiled graciously. It was four minutes past four. A waitress came up. "I'd like some tea," I said. "We're full," she replied sharply. I wandered in further. "That's not taken," I said, pointing to an empty table. "I'll sit there." "That sections closed," the waitress said grumpily. "Nonsense. It's full of people having tea. You advertise tea 3pm to 6pm. Oh, and get me the manageress, will you."

They reluctantly laid up the table. Eventually Claudia Kulasik, the supervisor, came. "If you eat quickly you can stay here, but there's a cocktail party coming into this area," she said, as if doing me a great favour. "When's the party?" I said. But she didn't answer. I asked for the duty manager. A pot of tea arrived at 4.17pm. Vanessa had put some sweet papers in the ashtray. It wasn't cleared. The crockery was lovely, the tea was fine. The assistant front office manager, Mr Robert Gibbs, turned up at 4.20. "This area will be needed very, very soon," he said decisively. I noted, not soon, not very soon, but very, very soon! "What do you mean by that?" I asked. "In the next hour," he said, oddly. A bit later he returned and reported: "There's a wedding in the ballroom. The cocktail party's spilling over. We have to move the furniture." "Are you telling me. . .?" I asked (when I say, "Are you telling me?" Beware!), ". . .that if I'm sitting here at 5.20pm I'll see people lugging furniture through the lobby? Is that what you're saying?" "The loose tables this side of the Grill Room will be moved by 6pm," said Mr Gibbs confidently. "This table?" I asked, pointing at mine. "Well, maybe the side tables will stay," he conceded.

At 4.55pm our cakes arrived. The sandwiches had been dull. No egg mayonnaise as they do at Claridge's, or cucumber and cream cheese. The scones were cold and clammy; at Claridge's they're hot. The pastries were unspeakable. Gooey, tough and over-rich. I left most of my three. At £15.50 per person, even with polite service, it would have been rotten value. I strolled into the adjacent ballroom. A waiter was laying out name cards on it long table. "What time's this starting?" I asked. "Don't know," he said. "I've just come from a bar mitzvah at Grosvenor House." I resettled outside and the wedding toastmaster, Ken Briggs, came by. "Heavy hitters coming tonight," he reported. "Gerald Ronson, Trevor Chinn, Lord Young." "Gosh!" I muttered.

A few minutes later he was back. "Tony Page, the caterer, is in the ballroom. Would you like to meet him?" As the cabaret of moving tables hadn't started and it was now 5.30. I went in. "Don't the Dorchester cater themselves?" I asked. "Not if it's a kosher meal," said Tony. "We even bring our own cutlery and glass. Tonight we're using the blue and white crystal." I ummed and aahed about how lovely it looked and went back to the lobby. At 5.10pm I'd got my bill, but it was now 10 to six and nobody had bothered to pick it up. It lay there on the table with my Coutts Gold Card. I culled a waiter to take it. Rush! Eat quickly! Tables moving! No sign of any of it. Three people were still quietly having tea a few feet away.

A six o'clock bustle! A group in evening dress, with a lovely bride and a handsome groom, came from the ballroom on their way to the Terrace restaurant to be photographed. "Me too!" I volunteered. They seemed surprisingly happy about that. "You stand in the middle." said the groom, Nick Gold. But I demurred to let the bride, Sarah, have centre spot. I'm known for my modesty. After our photo in the lobby, wedding guests greeted me cheerfully. Then they passed through and my end of the room returned to lethargic silence. Where was the cocktail party? Where were the furniture-movers? It was after six. I could wait no longer. It's all been rather jolly, I thought as I walked out. But the Dorchester tea situation? Pathetic! Michael and John from the Grill Room should take command. They know what they're doing!