A Tale Of Two Hotels: Same Problem, Different Responses

A couple of weeks ago, I stayed at Atlanta’s sumptuous Lowe’s hotel downtown. I like the hotel a great deal, but room service at breakfast is ridiculous: essentially you might as well order the deluxe pig-out, which could feed a family of three. The way the menu is set up, you pay the over $25 for any other choice and get half as much food. This is primarily because a pot of coffee costs more than ten dollars, and only the deluxe breakfast has coffee included.

Even though all expenses were being paid by the client, I hate this, so I decided to order a couple of muffins (still about $15 without coffee, not counting tax and the automatic service charge) and tolerate the free instant coffee that is  offered by the little single cup machines in the room. I was a good plan, but the damn thing wouldn’t work. The water didn’t heat. Annoyed (no coffee, 6 AM, brilliant money-saving scheme foiled), I called the front desk to complain. They sent up a young man—he arrived in about 15 minutes, after the continental breakfast—who fiddled with the coffee machine. It was obvious that he had never seen one before.  Eventually he gave up, apologized, and left to get another one. By the time he returned, I had finished most of the muffins, but I made a cup of (lousy) coffee anyway.

Last night, I had to stay in a hotel to make sure that D.C.’s $%^&$#@! Rock and Roll Marathon didn’t stop me from getting to my early morning presentation to new D.C. bar members. The streets around the venue were blocked off, and weird traffic was expected; hard experience dictated the expense was the better part of valor. There was breakfast provided at the bar event, so all I needed was some coffee in my room to wake me up sufficiently so that I didn’t wander onto 14th street and die.

This time, the hotel was the J.W Marriott, and again the little one cup coffee machine didn’t work. Just like in Atlanta, I called the front desk, sounding even more annoyed about the inconvenience than the before. (This was unfair, of course; there is no reason the Marriott should inherit my upset with Lowe’s.) The response from the desk was identical after I described my plight: she would send someone up to my room to check on the machine. Great.

When the knock came and I opened the door, I was greeted by the head of guest services, in a uniform. He had a new coffee machine with him, and also handed me a bag containing two large cups of Starbuck’s coffee, ten creamers, napkins, utensils, and two hot pastries. He replaced the machine after confirming that it was broken, apologized profusely, and took his leave.


Now that’s service.

8 thoughts on “A Tale Of Two Hotels: Same Problem, Different Responses

  1. As a former employee of Marriott among other companies in the hospitality sector, I think that was the perfect response. My assumption is it was a franchise location, but they still must meet certain customer service standards. What you must absolutely do, Jack make sure everyone involved in this knows. Send corporate your blog post. From my own experience, it is very rare to have compliments put forward.

  2. Of course the downtown DC JW Marriott is their premier, signature hotel — and since must have been paying at least twice as much at the JW than you paid in the Loews, some real service should have been expected. Nice touch, though.

    BTW, all Kimpton hotels are terrific — the are both pet friendly and they tend to buy up historic hotels that are both beautiful and 21-century tech,

    • Once a year for the last five years I have spent five days at a Marriott in a suburb of a Northern California city to attend a music event, my sole annual treat. The room cost is heavily discounted for the festival guests but I couldn’t manage it if I didn’t put a monthly amount by all year long. I was warned to reserve early because the hotel is always full up with regular guests and our group spills over into two other hotels nearby.

      The first year I had a problem with the shower head that had been fixed in an upward position and well out of my reach … something I had to find out the hard way after already being undressed, barefoot, without my leg brace and already wet from the wayward spurts. It was the busiest arrival time (I had come early to beat the mob) and I knew the check-in lines were long: I could hear pandemondium over the phone. In a couple of minutes a man arrived, dressed in standard business suit and carrying a tool box, and proceeded to remove his jacket and shoes, loosen his tie, and go to work replacing the shower head. When it was done, he asked where I wanted the spray and went on to set the head in the perfect position, dry the floor with one of the towels, smile, and leave before I could recover my surprise enough to say thank you.

      About an hour later one of the maids delivered a replacement towel (I never use all of them, so I hadn’t thought to ask) and identified my handyman as the “boss” manager, adding that she had worked at many hotels all her life and this was “double the best.”

      The following year, in the middle of the night, I found myself trapped in the middle of the queen-size bed. In my sleep I had rolled into the center of one of those ultra soft (either old fashioned or overused) superthick mattresses. I managed to squirm out again finally, stuffed the middle with the extra pillows and a couple of bath towels, and went back to sleep. When I went down to breakfast, I had to stop at the desk to pick up a message and, in passing, told one of the desk clerks what had happened as a funny story. Returning late that night, I was a little annoyed to find the bed made up since I’d left a note to please leave it alone. Grumpily, I collected the towels and pulled back the covers to get the “other person’s” pillows, only to find a brand new hard mattress waiting.

      Except for the first year, when I had to pay the usual exorbitant hotel restaurant prices, and prior to discovering the compact refrigerator under the desk, I always brought my own fresh food along. By the third year, I was taking the fridge for granted and stuffed it with nine or ten meals-worth of picnic.

      The fourth year I forgot to register early (by at least six months) and got the ordinary hotel experience at a nearby well known chain. At least 24 hours of it. Then a no-show opened up at the Marriott and I was Back. What a wake-up call that was!

      Year four was the most excellently surprising yet. Also the most embarrassing. I packed all the goodies in, first-used food on the top shelf, and left to enjoy the music. The next morning I had my usual: milk on the cereal, fresh fruit, some roast chicken, and butter for the (store-bought) cinnamon toast. I took along the tuna sandwich for lunch, putting on the mayo last minute. Had the fixings of a Cobb salad for dinner. Everything nice and cool, drinks included. Come morning, I was into the second layer and realized things weren’t so cool after all. In fact the bottom of the refrigerator was warm and the back was definitely hot. And by the look and smell of the rest of the food, everything else had spoiled. Only the top front where the freezer had once been was operating and it was clear that was not long for this world either.

      I cleared everything out, cleaned up as best I could, unplugged it, and left for the least expensive of the three expensive restaurants, credit card in hand. The desk clerk was most apologetic after I reported the demise of the appliance but said she couldn’t guarantee replacement. For the next four days, every time I passed the counter — several times a day since the festival took up every venue on either side of the hotel entrance – one clerk or another would call out my name and a sad update. Pretty soon everyone was asking about it, so I countered their well meant but negative tales with the amazingly good ones I’d had, and it turned out that most people had had similar happenings at one Marriott or another. It was going to turn out to be an expensive treat though … until I got my final bill and found it pretty much the same as before: they had discounted the restaurant bills, except for tips.

      Last year went without drama. It just added to the enjoyment of the event to know I had good will and back-up behind the scenes. Yes, I’ve sent thank-you letters, by Real Mail, in fact but finally , sadly, when I did post the truth (there were two other really nice incidents of Marriott courtesy and comfort), other commenters took them for trolling. Not surprisingly, knowing the Net – some people believe the Comment section is the exclusive province of nay-sayers. And Marriott agreed they should be removed (the comments, not the nay-sayers, although . . . . I replaced them with mild positive remarks and thought no more about it … until Jack Got His. Welcome to what’s left of the nice world.

  3. Two large cups of Starbucks. The new admittees must have been delighted you got through your four hour presentation in two hours.

  4. I fell in love with Marriott’s a fairly long time ago, when I was traveling with the Texas Department Of Health. Great service, moderately inexpensive, good sized rooms and everything worked. I stayed in The Omni in Corpus Christi, Texas and was a little disappointed (like 10 years ago). Shoulda gone to the Marriott.

  5. Since we’re raving about the Marriott I’ll add my town’s location (which pretty much caters to the constant flow of interviewees for the local tech company, with the occasional convention every couple of months) treats locals like royalty. They have an awesome brunch on weekends and give a discount just for saying you live around town. Service is great and they always treat my three boys (ages five, three and one) with a glass chocolate milk as soon as we seat because they know that’s what they’ll ask for. Whenever I have visitors from out of town I recommend this hotel, even if it’s not the cheapest, because I’m sure my guests won’t be disappointed.

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