Temperance Hotels now forgotten

Seemingly not many papers have covered the change of ownership of the Bermondsey Square Hotel in Southwark. The Daily Mail did so and its doing so was picked up by Sky News where it was discussed on at 2330hrs on 14th November.

There is now doubt that what bothered Sky News was the new “Muslim” ownership. Throw the word “sharia” into the conversation and negative stereotyping is assured.

The original article appears here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2835406/Welcome-Hotel-Sharia-No-alcohol-English-breakfasts-trendy-venue-bought-Muslim-multi-millionaire.html

Actually the story behind the report is of interest for a number of reasons, none of which was seemingly picked up well – focus was on the word “sharia” in the headline.

Firstly, I do not recall that the UK’s temperance hotels ever received this sort of attention. Yes, some Christians, possibly Methodists, ran alcohol free hotels at least into the nineteen seventies. Methodists were strong on temperance. Even today alcohol is forbidden at social events run in Methodist properties. The now closed village shop behind my house has an alcohol licence in its latter years but was forbidden for a long time because it was a former Wesleyan Chapel and the property deeds included a restraint.

The new village community shop is accommodated in what was the vestry of the current Methodist Church – no alcohol licence allowed.

Lest we forget temperance or abstinence are/were Christian values as well as Islamic. As Britain is a “Christian country” – as we are reminded not infrequently – the requirement for at least moderate alcohol consumption is not necessarily an alien concept. Why all the fuss now that the Bermondsey Square Hotel has gone alcohol free?

Well Sky News struggled with the idea. One of the hotel’s dishes was beer-battered fish. Sky was concerned that “fish and chips” would no longer be available. Excuse me but beer is not an essential component of batter – yet it bothered Sky News.

A more critical issue that could have been given the greater attention was that the switch to sharia compliant cuisine happened very quickly. The website’s menus had not been replaced at the time that the Daily Mail published its report. It would seem that people are arriving expecting one experience but getting another. It is reported that waiting staff were required to explain the change. That presumably has trading standards’ implications. Surely the new owners should have given notice of their intent to rebrand.

Lastly as this appears to have happened quickly I’d like to know if the hotel’s kitchens and food stores were deep cleaned to ensure removal of all or most traces of pig meat. If they did not do so then arguably their kitchens cannot be sharia compliant for Muslim customers and that is surely another trading standards issue.

The Bermondsey is a five star hotel with a fine reputation for it’s dining experience.The Daily Mail points out

  • Bar and grill at hotel previously run by Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace.
  • Previously voted the UK’s trendiest place to stay and where Gordon Ramsay once filmed a show

Going alcohol free alone must have the potential to make a huge difference for the hotel for a clientele used to imbibing with their food. Indeed there is an association between fine dining and alcohol as possibly implied in this Tweet:

  • BBC Radio 4 Sunday Nov 2
  • Is it possible to combine religious dietary laws with fine dining? #halal
Quite clearly The BBC will have know that good quality meat complying with halal and kosher dietary codes is doable and the question arising is can you do it without alcohol? If it’s not possible to have fine dining without alcohol it would appear that the Bermondsey Square Hotel must rebrand accordingly. And that poses another question; Was this fully thought through by the new owners at the time of purchase?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the hotel’s new owners and the manner with which the impact of the changes have been reported, there is an undercurrent. The Brits it seems like their alcohol. The country now has a substantial nighttime economy and its consequences puts pressure on the NHS, especially at weekends.

There was a time when Methodism was a strong Christian force in parts of Britain. Methodism is or used to be associated with temperance. If a new explicitly Christian voice resurrected the concept of moderation, if not abstinance, what questions would UK media informed by “Christian values” ask?

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