Coaching in the coach companies
At VfL, we have long been aware that coach holiday companies provide a viable and generally inexpensive holiday option for older people who have the time and sufficient mobility for such holidays. However, what sort of service do they provide for the vegetarian/vegan section of the older population they serve? I decided to do some research in this area.
I initially contacted seven companies by letter, introducing our work and asking for their input at the end of July.
By the 20 August not one response had been received so I followed up the letters by telephone and email. Needless to say, a number claimed to have never received the letter – surprising as the post here in Scotland is very efficient and letters do not have a habit of disappearing in the ether!
Only one company, Travelstyle Tours Ltd, confirmed that they had in fact received the letter but they did not think that it warranted a reply! This resonates with my own experiences of a mercifully short trip with them to the Isle of Wight many years ago when both the accommodation and the vegetarian catering were pretty poor.
Of the others, despite a further email in October, The Newmarket Group, GrandUKHolidays and Hardings did not bother to respond at all. The operations manager from David Urquahart Travel responded as follows: "We cater for vegetarians and vegans and indeed will endeavour to accommodate various dietary requirements as long as customers inform us at the time of booking." Not a very full response but better than nothing.
The most positive responses were from Lochs and Glens and Shearings. Lochs and Glens own their own hotels, which is an advantage. They responded by phone and email to confirm that they are always willing to cater and, although their choice is not wide, the menus are posted in the morning so the guest can make changes if there is nothing suitable.
I quote from their email: "As we discussed on the telephone, our chefs make every effort to provide a choice of meals that will suit the majority of preferences and cater to most dietary needs. At the moment, this includes consideration towards diabetes, vegetarian and low fat requirements. We also offer to label and refrigerate specialised products that customers sometimes choose to bring with them on holiday, such as gluten free, soya or medical dietary products. However we hope you appreciate that we may not be able to successfully cater to all our customers' individual needs. We do recommend that when people book a holiday and they have special dietary requirements like coeliac that they mention to the booking team member this diet as we can make a note on their booking, this is then shared with the hotel, equally we recommend that they bring their own bread with them."
Shearings group purchasing manager also sent a very helpful response and they were the only group to bother sending me sample menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They all sounded pretty good and they do at least provide vegetarian sausages for breakfast, rather than just the usual meat breakfast without the meat!
He stated: "In response to your enquiry regarding Shearings Hotels and how we cater for vegetarians and vegans: Shearings Hotels operate 50 hotels throughout England, Scotland and Wales. There are 12 of these hotels in Scotland of which 2 are in our Coast and Country Brand and 10 in our Bay Hotels Brand. We have for many years catered for and included options for vegetarians on all our breakfast and dinner menus. All our chefs have additional options available to cater for vegans plus other dietary requirements including gluten free. We encourage customers to speak to the Restaurant Managers to discuss requirements and often the Head Chefs have meetings to discuss dietary requirements on a one to one basis. We have recently held Head Chefs workshops across the country and part of this was as section on dealing with customers requirements including vegetarians and vegans."
Certainly of my research so far (more to come) those are the two I would go on holiday with, but perhaps our readers have other experiences?
VfL would love to hear your coaching tales – good and bad – for our travel blog. Please email me your stories or suggestions for other groups you may want me to follow up.