26 ways hotels have changed since Elvis checked out of Heartbreak Hotel

We were all reminded on August 16 that it has been 40 years since we lost the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, an anniversary which we honored here at the George Lagos with specially created bourbon cocktails and a live performance of some of his best songs from our Elvis-loving house band.


Many of my hotelier colleagues born in the ’50s or ’60s will remember only too well where they were working or what they were doing on the day that Elvis left us, a sad and memorable date which inspired me to write this post, and to think about everything in our business that has changed since the fateful day in 1977 that gave us all the blues. 

On that bright and sunny summer’s day I was working in the kitchens of a hotel in the beautiful English seaside town of Hayling Island and preparing to set off on my first adventure in Africa.

At that time:

  • A pint of English beer in our hotel bar cost 40 pence (US$1).
  • A standard room in our hotel was priced at 10 pounds a night, with English breakfast.
  • The set menu lunch in our bar was 99 pence, with prawn cocktail, chicken Kiev and peach Melba the most popular items.
  • There were no credit cards in use – everyone paid cash or by check.
  • We had no cable or satellite TV in the hotel, only three channels, BBC 1, BBC 2 or ITV.
  • No-smoking rooms or areas did not exist in the hotel – everyone smoked cigarettes, pipes and cigars, even in the cafeteria and kitchen!
  • There was no gym, pool or spa. If guests needed to exercise or swim, we pointed to the road and to the sea outside the hotel’s doors.
  • The reservations team used a Telex machine.
  • The reception staff used racks for all in-house bill tabs, which is where the expression “rack rate” comes from, I presume.
  • All guests signed a large, leather-bound hotel register.
  • Conference delegates used overhead projectors and chalkboards.
  • Guests were given metal keys with large metal tabs so they would not be forgotten about in trouser pockets.
  • We had no sprinklers or fire alarms, and no fire drills.
  • We placed books of matches in every room, even if there were children present.
  • There were no telephones in the rooms and no room service.
  • The hotel had no air conditioning, so it became a little stuffy during the occasional warm English summer.
  • The accounts team used hand-cranked IBM calculators.
  • Every cold item on the buffets was covered in sticky aspic jelly, which tasted revolting.
  • We often served mock turtle soup and asparagus from cans.
  • We received long memos and attended even longer daily and weekly staff meetings.
  • We received our weekly wages in brown envelopes, which were often lost after more than a few 40 pence pints of beer on a Friday evening.
  • We marvelled at a new import from America called a “club sandwich.”
  • We had a coin-operated jukebox filled with Elvis records in the smoke-filled bar.
  • The carpets in the hotel rooms reeked of smoke.
  • The beds were covered with candlewicks, which were rarely cleaned. 
  • Only certain types of rooms had televisions and private bathrooms.

Do you remember where you were when you heard the news about Elvis, and can you tell us what has changed in your hotels over the past 40 years since Elvis “left the building”?