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Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel
me afro
frandowdsofa wrote in 2011illustrious
Given the scarcity of hotels that are physically capable of hosting Eastercon in its current form, it seems inevitable that it will be considered for use again. Please help us put together a report, which we can use to support any future bids in their negotiations.

So:

what you liked, what you didn't, what worked, what didn't ...

My biggest issue with the hotel is the failure (or non-existence) of aircon in the function rooms.

I was very pleased to have had a sensible deal on car-parking prices, and that there was availability of good beer.


pricing, pricing, pricing

- shouldn't be able to book cheaper outside con than inside
- con food too expensive for teeny portions
- queues at check in and out horrendous due to too few staff. I expect staff if paying that much
- wifi messy (but dongles good. Con mifis?)

BUT
- rooms v nice
- did not get food poisoning this time! (a first at the metropole)
- space was good

I'd be happy to go back if there was a better deal available :) I think Richard did a fab job hotel wrangling also ansd making things run smoothly.

Price was my biggest problem - I couldn't afford the Metropole, and since no other events were going on at the NEC the route back to my hotel became a nightmare after 11 PM, when tbey closed the passage to the station.

Food alternatives - again, with nothing on at the NEC the nearest cheap food was the station's Subway or the airport restaurants. I don't think I saw the NEC pub open at all.

Soft drinks very pricy.

WiFi - I used a 3G stick instead, it cost £15 to top up. Unfortunately there wasn't 3G reception in some con halls and rooms, which caused problems when I was trying to check some facts during my talk.

metropole likes&dislikes

likes: close to airport, some outdoors walking (lake), nice restaurant, large lounge area dislikes: room price and especially internet cost, almost no restaurants at walking distance

The good...

I liked everything being on one floor. It felt a lot smaller than (for instance) the Radisson non-Euclidean, in a good way (it had, I think, as many rooms if not more but they all felt much closer together). The lifts worked as well, even if everyone did feel compelled to make references to the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

The car parks, similarly, were reasonably located. A little more information before arriving, in the form of Google Maps links perhaps or other maps of the outside, would have been useful but the lack wasn't drastic. The lake and area round it might have been a bit better advertised as well (or maybe not, as those of us who did find it had it to ourselves).

The staff were wonderful, definitely among the best I've seen. Helpful and friendly even when getting weird requests ("Where can I get an electric shaver on Good Friday?"). Although I was a little worried that some of them seemed to be there for the whole weekend whatever time I looked, I hope they did get some sleep...

Real ale (which I don't drink) and real ciders and perries (which I do) -- double plus good! Admittedly, the ciders and perries changed whenever they finished a box and brought out another at random, but that was part of the fun. "Which ones are on now?" almost became a catchphrase, and being able to sample some 20-odd varieties (if you wanted to drink that much) was better than I've seen anywhere.

Breakfast food was good. That's important as for many of us it's the main meal at a con (and free). But also see below.

The bad...

Some of the ceilings seemed low, giving an impression of gloominess. I'm thinking of the main bar (the one by reception) area in particular. Oh, and the stairs (with a ramp) near the main hall down which it was not possible to push a hotel trolley (because of the bit on top which hit the ceiling).

The food and drink prices. Oh my. Way out of line. The food from the main bar was at least plentiful, but 12 pounds for a burger and chips and 4 quid for a pint? 10 pounds in the con restaurant for beef and veg. was reasonable, or rather would have been from a pub with waitron service, but high for a buffet type system and very high for a convention. And worst was that there was no practical alternative (like a McD's) around. The evening food is a great idea, but again was overpriced and they ran out of alternatives too quickly. Hmm, is this a way to persuade people to work as gophers etc. so they get groats in order to eat?

Also, the con restaurant closed at 14:30 on Sunday. That's fine, but they told me (when I turned up just after that time) that they would be open again in the evening (from about 5pm, I think). They were -- in the fan lounge instead. But by the time I got there at least (i.e. after tech teardown) there was almost nothing left, I think I had about the last of the pizza (I did have the last bit which had meat on it).

There was also a lack of non-alcoholic drinks, it was mostly just Cola, Fanta or water (I believe there may have been some 'diet' versions as well). Not even orange squash (oh yes, there was orange juice but that causes problems with my stomach). No J2O or equivalent. And again the prices were not good. Their 'corkage' even for Ops and Gopher Hole was ridiculous.

The ugly...

What was with the extra breakfast room? Having an overflow room, after the queues on Saturday morning, was reasonable, but several of us felt that we were being pushed there with statements about "this one's full" when we could see lots of empty tables (if all the people from those tables were collecting food at that time the counter must have been creaking with the strain), and some wondered if it was being reserved for mundanes. Or maybe they were directing singles and couples there (although I wasn't asked if I was with anyone) but not saying anything about it.

To summarise, if someone can get the food prices way down, and especially the corkage, I would be very happy to go there again. Oh, and make sure that room prices are negotiated including VAT...

Previous cons in that hotel (Discworld in '08 and/or '10; I forget which) had used the Pavilion room for con breakfast; that might be something for future cons to look into. This was with the added note in their readme that the hotel had been briefed that we would seat ourselves (and would have to ask for tea/coffee instead of being brought it automatically). I think that style worked, and is certainly one for future cons to consider.

What worked: The staff were very good, the hotel was spacious. Food in the restaurant was excellent.

What didn't work:

Prices. Enough has been said about the room costs, but leaving out what I spent in the dealers room, that was probably the most I've ever spent on/at a convention, by a long way.

Air conditioning in my (south-facing) room was feeble. There was one towel rail, but nowhere with room enough to dry a towel. Only two usable free powerpoints. No fridge. In-room internet access very expensive.

Long waits for lifts, and no obvious way to get the ground floor by stairs.


Re: To start off...

The Metropole is American styled. The stairs were clearly labelled... as fire exits! :)

The room pricing was confusing and frustrating. I ended up getting a room at the expected con rate (100, rather than 100+VAT) by paying in advance on one of their other special deals. Not everyone would be in a position to do this. The con rate should really be at least as cheap.

I had only good experiences with the staff. The conference rooms were nice, once the air con was finally turned on. The main bar had good food, but was very expensive.

The fan food was reasonably priced, but the food was average. The ale selection at the fan bar was impressive.

What I liked:

The hotel was lovely, my room was okay (had a lingering smell of damp which wasn't bad enough to want to get moved) but the pool was magnificent and facilities where fine. The staff were good and helpful, location was easy to get to, the car park reasonable. I know other people had problems with check in and out but I didn't.

What I disliked:

I think the con was done on food and to a certain amount drink (and room cost). I got a meal in the bar which was only a couple of quid dearer than the con menu but a lot more satisfying. 4.50 for a bacon barm was fairly rum. Slightly isolated.

What worked:

The layout of dealer's room and fanlounge was good

What didn't:

Function space that was far too hot and I'm not sure that that the long run of rooms worked too well. The con food was a looooooong way from the fan bar.

Edited at 2011-04-27 01:57 pm (UTC)

Relative to other Eastercon hotels we have had recently, I liked this one very much, and with better prices for rooms and some better arrangements for food I would be happy to go back.

Location: As a matter of fact, last Easter it took me two hours to drive 40 miles to the Radisson while this Easter it took two-and-a-half hours to drive 150 miles to Birmingham. Relative isolation of the hotel from other facilities is a feature of the infrastructure and doesn't bother me.

Physical space: Some of the best we have ever had. The hotel bar at reception provided some very good social space. The range and quality of conference rooms, and their proximity to each other, was also very good. Aircon seems to have been a problem sometimes - I froze in London and Gladstone. Being able to walk through the bluebell wood and around the lake, was a considerable plus! As was the swimming pool. Very nice bedrooms and party suites. Very good, clean toilets, and reliable lifts.

Food: It was really nice to have a hotel that understood vegetarian and allergy/intolerance requirements, and had soya milk etc., and (good) vegetarian food available on menus as standard. Breakfast was excellent. It is a pity the Boulevard restaurant in the hotel was not open for business. The hotel bar charged restaurant prices for cheap cafe food, which was good to eat but offered some very poor value for money. Con food was generally quite good, but apart from the baguettes, which were pretty good value and quality, prices were too high for what was on offer and portion sizes were variable.

Drink: All kudos to the real ale and cider bar. £3.40 a pint is the London price I personally am used to paying, but lots of people thought that was high. Soft drinks were quite expensive too. Not many people were buying rounds! Nice to be able to buy low-alcohol lager in the hotel bar.

(Note that the high price of food and drink meant money not spent in the Dealers Room.)

Services: Staff and service in the hotel bars and reception was good to excellent. Table service in the bar was appreciated, and free lunch for children 10 and under was excellent for those of us who found out about it in time. Staff in the con bars were not as good, and could have used some training on tills and serving real ale, but generally okay - generally better than at the Radisson.

Price: We stayed four nights instead of our usual six because the room price was so high. I think the hotel did not maximise its revenue because so many people stayed elsewhere, did not come at all, or stayed fewer nights. (And of course there was a knock on into the con from missing those people.) That said, the hotel gave good value for much of the money in service and comfort. And you can't blame the hotel for VAT.

Website: I tried and failed to make my room booking via the hotel website and had to phone.

Children: An excellent hotel for children. And I would imagine we had very few problems with disabled access...

Parking: £3 a day was a good price.

Mobile Phone/Wi-fi: My Orange phone worked and gave me internet access when I wanted - no problems.

What I liked. I thought the function space excellent for a con this size. The breakfasts were also excellent - and so they should be at that inclusive room price! The staff were very good to us, and the room was fine. I don't like to be on the internet at a con, and five days without it actually made me happy. Great pool, and wonderful outdoor space around Pendigo Lake.

Real ale and cider also excellent. But, but, but... (here we go with what I didn't like) two glasses of an indifferent wine should not cost nearly £20, unless you are in the Savoy or the Ritz (in which case the wines would have been much better.) The food was not up to the prices charged, either. (I don't mind being charged high prices for excellent food, but it had better be excellent. The local gastropub here - in Chigwell - could knock them into a cocked hat for both price and quality, even in Millers.)

So, basically, I'm saying the same as everyone else. The function space was very good and swallowed a large con attendance with no problem - though it was better with the aircon working. The chairs were comfy. However, the pricing of the food and drink, even in the fan areas, was too high for what it was. And really, you need the food and drink in the same area!

More praise for the convention room space, the single-level layout, the sizes (I don't think that there were any items that had to be moved for lack of space in the assigned venue), and accessibility. Also the electronic labelling of rooms - once the hotel had started using it - is a plus that could have been made more use of.

Given the proximity of the airport the place was very well sound-proofed. The lake and bluebell woods were an unexpected (and surprise) bonus. Apparently fishing is allowed on the lake, which might interest some angling con-goers, and the hotel does accept dogs - so there is somewhere nice to walk them if necessary).

Car parking worked well (once we had that con-rate sorted).

Our basic room was good - the balcony would be an asset to a smoker (cough) and in cooler weather it would have been a useful alternative to the fridge that the room lacked... Room service (as in the rest of the hotel) was very good - though I was disappointed that the Hilton is not subscribing to the 'green option' that most hotels run (soap and towels only replenished when requested). This probably reflects that fact that it rarely has more than one-night occupancy and is something that a future con com might explore.

The swimming pool facilities were excellent.

Like others, I think that (apart from the fan bar) the costs and food and drink situation does need serious negotiation. At Easter, with the NEC closed and no easy alternatives it did feel that the hotel was taking advantage of its monopoly. I'm no fan of pre-packed sandwiches, rolls and sausage rolls but it would have been nice to have the option of some 'fuel' food rather than bistro-style buffets at London prices.

Apart from the real ale and cider this is the only convention that I've not had a few mixers and spirits to round off the evening - but after paying £19 for two glasses of very ordinary white wine I didn't dare think about a dram of my usual Macallan.

The irony is that I'd probably have spent more on snacks and cheaper drinks than I actually did on the expensive bar food.

I've been to the Metropole before so knew most of the drawbacks beforehand.

Good:

Breakfast - very good on all three days. I saw the big queue on Saturday morning, and also how fast the hotel staff moved to deal with the problem.

Rooms - well laid out. I liked the way we had a choice of sizes and that mostly the room size was right for each event I attended. I didn't have any problems with room temperature.

I very much liked the way the real ale bar and the dealers room were big, near each other and tucked away from the rest of the hotel.

Hotel staff were very friendly and helpful throughout my stay. I had no queues on check out and a short wait on check-in (when all desks were manned).

Access to the spa.

Trains to and from the centre of Brum for £2 return.

A fair choice of nearby restaurants if you have a car. I had an excellent curry on the Saturday night within 10 minutes drive of the hotel.

The wifi in the lobby was BTOpenzone, my mobile is on Tesco/O2, so access to that was bundled into my tariff at no extra cost.

Not so good:

Leaving aside the room pricing fubar, the Hilton is pricey to eat in, but its a hotel and I at least expect that kind of thing. I didn't actually eat any of the special deal con food. TBH it looked neither healthy nor appetising and instead ate lunch & dinner outside the hotel throughout my stay.

I'm never impressed by any hotel that charges me extra for parking. I'd much prefer it if they just added it to the room rate, even if that puts the room rate up.

I upgraded to an exec room. One of the drivers for this was that I had been told wifi access in the lobby was at extra cost and the hotel's blurb indicated that wifi access was included in the upgrade in both the room and exec lounge. It turned out that this wifi access was at additional charge, but the 'charged wifi' in the lobby turned out to be free for me on my phone tariff. I felt misled by the info provided by the hotel at the point of booking over this point, although enjoyed other aspects of the exec upgrade.


The hotel is a good hotel, its rooms and public spaces are good, the frontline staff are without fail polite and most often cheery. Even when they had to say no on a couple of occasions (notably the number of kids an adult could supervise in the swimming pool, and the mimimum age for using the gym equipment) they could explain why simply and succinctly, which gives me the impression they've received proper training on what they're supposed to do.

Room booking: once the local booking had been sorted out, it went very smoothly, even when I had to add a child to the party and then change the dates. Quick, efficient, and polite, it more than made up for earlier hiccoughs.

Food: breakfast good, and not cut down as with some cons, and its inclusion in the room price made the room rates reasonable. Con food ranged from adequate to good, but it was on the expensive side. I was not impressed by the pizzas offered up in the bar by reception: I can, and have, got better out of the freezer section in any supermarket you care to mention. Even Lidl.

On the subject of VAT. It is ILLEGAL to quote prices in this country without it, unless you explicitly say you're doing so. This isn't just a gripe at the committee and the negotiations, it's also a comment on the final bill presented to a pair of fellow-fans who'd been quoted one price for upgrading to a suite, and got another on the bill.

Back to room rates: apparently going through booking sites rather than the hotel meant some people got cheaper rates than the con ones. Kudos to them. but it rankled a bit.

Overall, provided I was satisfied that any future committee had handled these points to the best of their ability, I'd almost certainly go back there again and take the family.

And if I haven't made it clear elsewhere, my thanks to the Illustrious committee in all its forms and incarnations for making it happen.

I think the problem with the VAT is probably because when they deal with conferences/conventions they are dealing with VAT registered companies and the attendees will have their bills picked up by VAT registered companies - it may not be legal, but it is something hotels who deal with the conference trade do, if only informally.

I thought the con food was reasonably priced, except on the Monday, when the portion size dropped radically. All the other days I was handed a substantial plateful. From what others are saying, did I get lucky?

Perhaps the con food lunch times could be extended to 3pm, since it and panel items ended simultaneously at 2.30.

More variety in the bagettes? I tend to avoid eating the veggie ones in case I'm depriving vegetarians of their only choice, so perhaps they could do a couple of additonal veggie options and I could eat one without feeling guilty!

Hotel staff were unfailingly polite and friendly.

I tried twice (once online and once by phone) to sign up for an early check-in of 1pm. Apparently it is 'optional' - to the hotel, not to the guest! In the end it worked out fine and I was checked in by 1.10. But later on I ended up guarding the luggage of a friend who queued to check in, was told there were no rooms available, so he hung around a bit and then had to queue again. The 3pm check in needs to be mentioned in the final PR and/or the hotel needs warned that LOTS of people will want rooms before then.

I like the function space all being on one level.

If the room rates were cheaper, I probably would have arrived on the Thurs night rather than on Friday.

Good:
I like the function space and the layout, dealers room and fan lounge combo was excellent. There was some noise bleed fromt he disco/ceilidh into the adjoining rooms, but it wasn't loud enough to cause problems on late-night panels. The hotel staff were great, including letting non-hotel guests use the airport shuttle bus which is how I got back to my offsite hotel at 2am. When they had problems with the con food they dealt with them as best they could, and gave me free pizza after I had to wait for chips.

Bad:
Pricey, as everyone has said. The cheap drinks were fine, cheap spirits/wine would have been good as well for the non beer drinkers. It wasn't clear that the prices for soft drinks were different in the main bar to the con bar, so there were some expensive pints of coke. Food options nearby were lacking, that's not really anything that can be fixed as it's down to what happens to be on in the NEC but it meant that I ate a lot of burger and chips. Some function rooms were overly hot/cold at times.

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