Welcome to Juniper Hill Inn in picturesque Vermont, where Chef Gordon Ramsay finds the rooms are outlandishly priced, the staff goes unpaid and underpaid, and the co-owner is a closet hoarder that can't understand why his business is floundering.
Juniper Hill Inn, if it were a ship, would be one that has taken on considerable amounts of water and is nearly to the point of sinking. At the end of Part 1 of the two-part series premiere of "Hotel Hell," Chef Gordon Ramsay simply had had enough with the arrogance of the two owners of the country inn, Ari Nikki and Robert Dean II, and walked out. But he's still willing to help them turn it around, so it's back to trying to reason with Robert.
Chef Ramsay quickly discovers that after the horrendously mismanaged dinner party the night before, where the clientele were mostly Robert's and Ari's friends, the staff received no tips. And Robert's been taking part or all of their tips for years. Not only that, but he and Ari are allowing friends to stay, eat, and drink for free -- to the tune of $20,000 in just the last six months. Ramsay confronts Robert with the missing money and Robert says he often takes his share of tip money when he works as an incentive for his staff to do things his way. Chef Ramsay is incredulous, calling it the worst business model possible. But Robert insists that although his friends have stayed for free, they were supposed to tip the staff. He says he will call and ask them. Ramsay calls his bluff, stating that he hasn't got the gumption (Ramsay used a more colorful term). Robert immediately calls up a patron/friend that was at the inn recently. They inform him that they had left the tip with him. Ramsay storms out of the RV (Robert's "motor coach" home), stating he couldn't believe that the inn's proprietors, on top of all their other problems, were stealing tips from the staff.
Angry, Ramsay drives away. Robert appears to be hurt by the accusation and may truly have not known that the money left in payment included a tip for the staff (consider that the inn had no standards for accounting for drinks and attaching them to a patron's bill, not to mention the exorbitant prices Robert and Ari were charging for meals). However, Chef Ramsay only gets so far before he decides to turn around, hoping he can find a way to save the staff at Juniper Hill.
He has decided to take stock of Robert's antique collection, bringing what appears to be the most valuable pieces into the Inn's main lobby area. It is a lot of stuff (but nowhere near the amount of hotel equipment and other antiques Robert has boxed away in the basement and in five trucking containers out back of the country inn) and he tells Robert that if he's serious about making changes to the hotel, the first thing he has to do is reward his staff for the loyalty and hard work while he was busy driving the business into the ground. Robert agrees, estimating the roomful finery and art to be worth about $300,000, enough to keep the Juniper Hill in good running order for at least a couple years.
But Robert and Chef Ramsay are both shocked when the head auctioneer from famed Bonham's auction house in Boston tells them the entire room of stuff is only worth a collective $25,000 at best (most of the antiques are beaten and worn, the silver dishes are plated, and the priceless painting is a copy) and her auction house wouldn't bother to touch it. Robert appears a bit dumbfounded by the revelation that his collection is not what or worth what he thought.
The next step: Customer feedback. Ramsay takes Robert and Ari upstairs to his room, where he has assembled the previous night's guests. They complain about the lack of greeters and having to wander around to get checked in. One gentleman notes they had to use three space heaters to keep warm overnight. Ari said it was like a sauna and the woman who had complained earlier asked why he appeared angry. Ramsay asks Stephen Tallon, a hotel inspector for the Diamond Collection (compiled by AAA) he had personally invited (unbeknownst to all assembled), his impressions. Tallon says he's disappointed. Apart from the hospitality of the staff, the Juniper Hill Inn failed to satisfy. When Ramsay's asks how many would stay again, not a single customer raises their hand.
Robert apologizes as the guests leave and when Chef Ramsay tells Ari bluntly he seems bitter, Ari has nothing to say. Robert speaks for him, says they want to make the business work. Ramsay tells them they need to seriously consider staying in the business going forward.
So it's time to get to work or get out of the business, and Chef Ramsay leaves it to the owners to decide. They decide to make a go of it.
To get him on the right track, Ramsay decides to pull a trick fans have seen him use on "Kitchen Nightmares" a few times with underappreciated chefs. He has Chef Giulian prepare two three course meals: the high-end, three-course $79 meal on the Inn's menu and a three-course set of his own devising. Chef Ramsay has Robert try both, telling him that he, Ramsay, had prepared the chicken-centered meal, which would be priced at $29. Robert says the cheaper meal is delicious and Ramsay tells him his own chef prepared it. Robert then apologizes to Giulian for not giving him the freedom to prepare menus of his own creation.
Then it's time for full disclosure and a meeting with the staff, where Robert, again speaking for himself and Ari, apologizes for all the miscommunications, the taking of tips, the belated paychecks. He also tells them that they aren't as well-heeled as they had thought (referring to his antique collection). And he says they need to mend their ways not only with the staff but with locals, who see them a wealthy and to the manor born. His staff is forgiving and readily agrees to help him turn the business around.
Chef Ramsay takes Robert to a local micro-brewery for a drink and suggests that Robert and Ari get out more, not to mention courting contracts with the local beverage establishments. While there, he gets Robert to stand and address the patrons and invite them up to the Juniper Hill for a drink. He gets applause for his trouble and Ramsay finds Robert's ability to appear sincere and welcoming a good sign that there might be some hope after all.
Chef Ramsay brings in his team and they refurbish and redecorate the lobby, the dining area, and the bar, not to mention hanging signs so people can find their way around the place. He takes Ari and Robert and the entire staff upstairs to show them the changes made to the rooms. He reveals that he's changed nothing, noting that the rooms were beautiful and were in no need of retouching -- except for the Honeymoon Suite, which he had a plumber working on (because he had discovered the hard way in Part 1 of the premiere that the beautifully appointed room smelled like sewage).
He then takes everyone into the made-over bar area, where they find the place full of locals, the place actually open for lunch for the first time in years.
In a show of good faith, Robert also pays the estate manager, Ryan, giving him a $100 bonus for his loyalty and simply standing by and keeping things going for the past few months.
But what would be a relaunch on a Gordon Ramsay show without at least one hitch? Since it had been previously decided that Ari, a man of very stiff bearing and evident hauteur, simply wasn't a people person and should operate in the background, Chef Ramsay was annoyed at finding him aiding (hindering?) Robert while he kept up the business end of Inn by checking in and billing customers. But just as soon as Ari was out of sight, assistant manager Sara Maurer has to chase the owners' dog out of the dining area. Ari scolds her, saying he'll take care of the dog, bringing the woman to tears. Ramsay notices her absence and finds her in her room. When she confides in him, he tells her they need her downstairs, and he gets Ari to agree to apologize. And he does.
Chef Ramsay has invited back hotel critic Stephen Tallon, who finds the place charming, the revamp just what the Juniper Hill Inn needed.
As he heads out the door, he hands Robert a plaque, emblazoned with the coveted Diamond whereby AAA rates hotels. He has one parting piece of advice as he drives away, although it's suggested in narration. Noticing the five storage containers still out back, he says if he were Robert, he'd lock Ari in one of them.
After such a strange start, where Chef Ramsay had to play policeman, psychologist, career guidance specialist, auditor, refurbisher, and business model supplier, he might think better of this series about halfway through and either quit or ask Fox Television for a bigger portion of the next season's proceeds...
"Hotel Hell" airs on Fox Television on Mondays at 8:00 p.m. (EST).
(photo credit: Allan Warren, Creative Commons)