Earlier this month, during a trip to Washington DC, I received a lesson in the importance of good service. Not that I felt I needed it, mind you. It's just so easy to forget how big an impression poor service can make that it's healthy to experience it once in a while. It started straight away upon reaching a full-service hotel in downtown DC just two blocks south of the Smithsonian Castle at the National Mall.
No Trash Cans!
Here we travel five to six hours through heavy traffic and fast food drive-throughs and when we get to the hotel there are no trash cans outside the building. Do they think we're just going to let all the garbage from our trip sit in the van for the next three days? Eventually this crap is making it into their waste disposal program, so the least they could do is position some heavy-duty, deluxe-size, aesthetically pleasing trash cans under the porte cochere to keep us from having to schlep it up to the room with our luggage.
As we checked in, my lovely wife handed across a half-empty soda cup and a Wendy's bag full of sandwich wrappers to the front desk clerk who stared at it like we had bare-handed her a pile of dog poop. Instead of pitching it in the trash can under the front desk, she placed it on the counter next to her. A few seconds later she was muttering angrily because she knocked over the cup and spilled the remains of the soda all over her keyboard. Do you know what would have helped her avoid this problem? Trash cans outside the building, that's what.
Then our room wasn't ready for us to check in, so we had to stick all our belongings in the bellman's closet while our vehicle remained outside because the valet attendants were too busy to park it in the garage. Our van stayed in front of the hotel well into the evening. However, this did offer the advantage of easy retrieval of forgotten items, so I really shouldn't complain.
Also, complaining about the condition of the facilities isn't really necessary. A busy, downtown hotel is entitled to show a few bumps, bruises and scrapes. Of course, it would be nice if the carpets were cleaned once in a while. My home carpets might not always be the cleanest but at least the soles of my feet don't turn black when I walk around barefoot on them.
On our first evening in DC, we decided not to brave the Metro and opted instead for the lobby restaurant. The food may have been over-priced but thank goodness its utter mediocrity made it easy for us to justify avoiding future dining in the hotel. The lackluster food paled, however, in comparison to the complete disregard of the wait staff to whether or not we enjoyed our dining experience.
All these issues aside, one person stands above them all. One person sealed the deal and helped put me over the edge -- the pool lifeguard.
This particular hotel boasts a year-round, rooftop pool, and our children were very excited at the idea of swimming in a pool so many stories up. Our first night at the hotel, immediately following our under-impressive dinner, we headed up to the pool. First problem? No towels. How did we find out? The lifeguard sat in his plastic chair next to his plastic table and said "No towels." I went down to the front desk and complained and, within fifteen minutes, a housekeeper entered with a stack of towels. I suspect, at this point, the lifeguard started disliking me.
The next night, same thing: no towels. This time, the front desk proved unhelpful and we made due without them.
On the third evening, I took the children to the pool following a quick dinner at Subway. With two half-filled paper cups in my hands, I entered the pool deck and the lifeguard immediately motioned to me. When I reached him, he pointed over my shoulder and asked "Do you see that sign?"
I knew which sign he meant. "You mean the pool rules sign?" I asked without turning around.
"Did you read it?" he asked. "Read the sign."
"Does it say 'No Drinks,'" I asked, still looking directly at him.
"Yes," he said.
"Well all you had to say was 'no drinks.' You don't have to be an ass about it."
I walked away, threw the cups in the trash and sat near my children who were playing in the water. Once settled into my seat, I took out the camera and snapped the shot included here, showing the lifeguard at his table with a glass bottle of Arizona Tea.
Some people might have complained to the manager but that's not typically my way. It's much too confrontational. No, instead I chose to silently seethe, vowing never to return.
When completing the e-survey that arrived the following week, I detailed my experiences and highlighted the poor service we received. From the front desk, to the lifeguard, to the bellman who couldn't be bothered to move aside when my family and I exited the elevator, the entire experience could not have been less satisfactory. The general manager apparently cares so much that I have not received a response.
Where will I stay next time I go to DC? At the Red Roof Inn in Chinatown. I've never had a problem there, the front desk always seems happy to see me, and the Irish Channel Pub off the lobby has really good food and friendly service -- even live music some evenings. The best thing about the Red Roof? No pool.