FIVE STARS don't always mean five star service. One of my favourite hotel experiences was when I was a student, long before I started staying in luxury hotels. A friend and I were visiting Washington D.C. and had unfortunately logged onto a review site and read some rather bad reviews about the small independent hotel we had booked for three nights.
Leaving for the airport at 6am the next morning we formed a plan to go to the hotel but if we felt uncomfortable we agreed that we would immediately book into another hotel. To be honest our expectations were at rock bottom. While we weren’t paying a lot, we still expected somewhere clean and comfortable.
As the taxi pulled up outside the hotel I felt a wave of apprehension… as we stepped into the lobby we both took a deep intake of breath as we tried to witness the strange aroma mentioned on the website. Luckily for us it smelt clean and was actually extremely welcoming.
The staff at the front desk couldn’t have been lovelier. Before we knew it we were checked into our room, which was clean, comfortable and perfectly adequate. Had the website lied to us? Heaven forbid a consumer review site was corrupt! One evening after a day of sightseeing we called down to the front desk for something, I forget what, and instantly a member of staff came up to our room and he was wonderfully friendly and helpful - a real personality! The staff gave us great information during our stay, revealed some great local, insider tips about the city and waved us off in the morning then welcomed us back in the evening. As we checked out we were actually sad to say goodbye.
Fast forward a few years later…
Last month I was staying in a well-known luxury London hotel which had won an award a few weeks earlier. While I fully acknowledge that everyone has a bad day in the world of luxury travel and paying guests, service is everything.
We checked in during the early afternoon and had a great time at the spa and the room was gorgeous. Dinner was amazing; my steak was mouth-wateringly fantastic! We enjoyed a couple of nightcaps in the hotel bar, which had the most wonderful atmosphere, before heading back to our room. The King sized bed was marshmallow-ly soft and the view from it, over the night-time city, was the cherry on top.
We loved this hotel; we were having a great time and were already planning our return visit. Until we went to breakfast before checking-out….
We waited for quite a while until anyone came to see us for our coffee or tea order - never a good start to the day (you don’t want to see TLTB before our morning coffee!). We waited and waited ..and waited little longer before having to literally wave a member of staff over to take our order. It was all becoming rather ridiculous, and it wasn’t just our table… other guests were become equally as annoyed at having to wait.
Breakfast was delicious; its wide ranging menu of local, organic produce is everything that I love about a hotel breakfast. but without good service the food meant nothing. It almost seemed that we were an inconvenience for being there, wanting to enjoy the breakfast that the hotel was so proudly promoting. And heaven forbid that we had actually wanted another pot of tea… in the end we did without. Waiting an age for another just didn’t seem worth it.
As we drove away it was the lack of great service that was our lasting memory of the luxury hotel. Any thoughts about returning were erased by our complaints about the service.
My point is, I have stayed at many wonderful luxury big-brand hotels and they can start to become rather cookie-cutter-ish. But the thing that you remember is the service that you receive. OK, the D.C. hotel wasn’t the best, it didn’t have any stars on the doors and the London hotel might have just been having a terrible day but the different levels of service is THE one thing that I remember.
Luckily my tastes have grown; I wouldn’t choose to check into a hotel like that one in D.C. today, however if I can combine high-count Egyptian cotton, a great spa, a couple of Michelin Stars AND fantastic service I’m a happy gal. All hotels (from luxury to budget) should remember that no matter what, it’s the service and the staff that guests remember overall, even many years after they check-out.
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Sarah Bryans 6/2/15