Reply To: BA T5 First lounge…disaster.

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I’ve just come across a post on another forum from someone who has posted on this site from time to time. A quick private message asking if I could repost his comments here came back with a positive response. So, here it is:

From Continental Club:

Whilst I don’t for a second wish to suggest that others’ descriptions are anything less than accurate, I thought that I might make a few observations having unexpectedly found myself at T5 yesterday – and specifically in GC South.

I got in at about 2pm, expecting to see the place bereft. As it was, there were three troughs of slop (one up on the usual pre-Baxter Storey), one of pasta and two of rice. They were all well topped-up.

There was also one chiller counter filled with trays of sandwiches, which are now triangular. Finally, there was a chiller filled with bowls of salads which looked visibly better than the previous offerings, and there were rounds of quiche. At the back is the soup crock, with rolls and various seeds and crunchies to sprinkle.

Drink selection is as before, but with more jugs of fruit juices out. Yes to only one flavour of Kettle Chips and the cookies were there in the jars, as were the snack mixes. Purely personal, but given the option, I’d go for the jars every time, and the biscuits were excellent. First place to Chocolate Ginger, second to Lemon Cream and third to Apple Crumble.

There was no apparent dissent amongst the passengers there-present, and no obvious suggestion that platefuls on tables had gone uneaten.

This whole episode (and the response to it) has clearly gone noticed by some at BA though, because the next thing was that I was joined by an FTer – and who has something of a connection with lounges.

I was invited down to Galleries First. We went straight to the dining area, at about 3.15pm. The afternoon tea was out, with scones, Victoria Sponge, cheese board, sandwiches (finger-style, and with different fillings to GC) and salads/charcuterie.

Somewhat surprisingly, where the steak pies etc., used to be, were Galleries Club troughs. We looked in more detail at these; the mustard chicken looks grim but actually tastes pretty good. The rest looks fine in itself, but it’s IMHO wrong (and probably unnecessary) for Galleries First.

A burger went past, which looked much better than ones I’ve had before, but it sounds as though looks can be deceiving.

Again though, there were plenty of people eating, no piles of filled but abandoned plates, and no-one approached us in the time that we were there.

We had a look at the visitors’ book, which was open and filled with a double-page spread of complaints. Oddly, there were six more completed pages after the one that was open, with barely anything other than general comments on them.

Back up in Club, the slop troughs had gone, and had been replaced with cake trays and more sandwiches. All (subjectively) looked fresh and as abundant as the pre-Tea spread had. The soup carries on throughout apparently.

So, my overall impressions – which I shared with my guide – were that the GC salads, slop and snacks are all absolutely fine and better than almost any comparable lounge. Certainly better than KLM Crown at AMS on Friday evening, for example.

To me, there’s not much wrong with arresting the slop in the afternoon either (OK – timings may need tweaking) – but bread, cake and soup is not a suitable choice combination IMHO, no matter how good it looks and tastes. Too many carbs; too much bulk. Even replacing some of the sandwiches with wraps would be a start (I’d actually had quite a nice lemon chicken wrap inbound in ET from BCN), or perhaps topped crispbreads. I can’t comment on the morning service, obviously – I’ll see that in a couple of weeks’ time.

In GF, the slop just doesn’t look or feel right, again notwithstanding taste and quality. What was particularly obvious was that whoever had been at it yesterday afternoon had done a spectacularly efficient job of straining every bit of solid out of it and leaving only sauce for everyone else. This has long been an artform in GC, but clearly Floungers are far more adept even with only a few days’ practice. The rest of the spread was surely sufficiently varied for the grazers, between the salads/cheese/meats and afternoon tea for self-serve, and the to-order options for those wanting something slightly more substantial.

One other thing – there are senior staff front-of-house everywhere. Bringing out food, freshening presentations and even clearing tables. I’ve never seen that before.

What I was uncomfortable about was the visitors’ book which looked like it had been staged, the inarticulate and barely legible comments that were apparently highlighted (not BAg Lady’s :-*), and so much of the stuff, especially on FT, which seems to be from people trying to co-opt changes in lounges that they never visit to try and bolster their own complaints. Speaking professionally from a CR point-of-view, that’s a sure-fire way to dilute an argument. There are people arguing that there’s no choice or expected variation in the new menus, but bemoaning the loss of dishes that have not changed since T5 opened. Many comments seem to suggest that what went before was Utopian. I for one thought that it was often pretty cr*p.

One of the visitors’ book rants was about ‘I can get Thai Curry in Bankgkok, Boeuf Bourgignon in France (…) I don’t want it in London – I WANT BRITISH.’ Not quite sure what afternon tea is but, really, wouldn’t ‘I miss my pie’ have been a bit more accurate and actionable?

What I was told is to a certain extent what we’ve already been told here and elsewhere; there are now chefs in the kitchens and they are there to cook. The data from Restaurant Associates was wildly divergent from what Baxters have found. The T1 changes have been postponed in part due to the hugely increased demand (over forecast) from T5. The T5 changes are to be phased in over a 90 day period – but at this stage Ops don’t know exactly what is still to come. I was told that the quiches in GC are to be replaced quickly though, as they’re frozen and don’t meet Baxter’s quality standards. The replacements will be fresh. One of the problems with the current ones is that the crusts fall off.

In GC, the move to delete slop in the afternoons (irrespective of the ‘it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere’ argument that does appear to have some validity given the nature of the airline business) was largely driven by the amount that was being chucked out by Restaurant Associates precisely during that period. Whatever the theory might be about timezones and bodyclocks, I’m told that take-up was slack. Likewise in GF, the definite strategy is towards cooked-to-order and away from buffet. I’d be surprised if that costs less, but I wasn’t told. I’d be unsurprised if it’s a real response to real research though, especially from American respondents who tend to have a plated preference – I’m thinking of hotel breakfasts here. As everyone of breeding knows, a gentleman serves himself at breakfast ;).

So, that was it – I’m in GF and the CR on separate occasions next week, in the afternoon and then the evening respectively.

By then, Baxters may have thrown in the towel completely and it may be utterly horrific (or shut), but the above is what I saw and was told yesterday, for the benefit of those who may not yet have passed through (and/or who may never venture to the dizzy heights of the second floor).

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