Why do most hotels in the US treat club lounges as a liability?

I’m sure I’m not the only one that has noticed that hotels in the US seem to treat club lounges as a liability. Many hotels seem to keep them just to please elite members that get club lounge access, while offering the absolute minimum possible in terms of food, drinks, service etc. It never ceases to amaze me that most club lounges in the US actually charge for alcoholic beverages, while Embassy Suites offers it free for all guests.

I guess in a way, it’s much like domestic first class here in the US. Instead of offering a decent product that people would be willing to pay for, most US airlines have devalued the product into something that is a great bargain for those getting “free” upgrades, all the while alienating those that would actually pay for first class.

But then there are some exceptions, like the InterContinental San Francisco, which remains one of my favorite hotels in North America. I’ve stayed here several times a year since the hotel has opened, and even through the recession, the quality of the offerings in the club lounge hasn’t changed one bit.

Most club lounges in the US nowadays seem to offer a “very” continental breakfast, cookies throughout the day, and then cold evening snacks.

Then there’s the InterContinental San Francisco, which has five different “servings” a day.

To start, in the morning, breakfast is served for four hours, much longer than virtually any other hotel I’ve stayed at. And the offerings are actually tasty, including fruit, cheese, cereal, all kinds of meats and cheese, salmon, scrambled eggs, bacon, the world’s best almond croissants, bagels, pastries, fresh juice, etc. On the weekends they even serve mimosas.

Then mid-day they serve soup, which seems to alternate almost daily, with all kinds of “toppings.”

Then they were afternoon tea for a few hours. I even once invited a British friend that was in town to join me in the club lounge, and he thought the selection was pretty “legit.” The sandwiches, scones, and pastries are insanely good.

Then in the evenings for two hours they serve appetizers. Again, it’s much more substantial than the offerings at other club lounges, including crab cakes, chicken skewers, all kinds of meats and cheese, plenty of finger sandwiches, veggies, etc. For those that drink, all alcohol is free as well.

After that, for a few hours, they serve cookies, cake, and dessert wines.

While the “hard product” itself is probably the best of any non-Ritz Carlton/Four Seasons in the US, that’s not even what impresses me. It’s the people that work there. The club lounge team and guest relations team at this hotel are what really set the lounge apart. They remember your name every time you enter and just couldn’t be nicer. I could give a million examples, but the people working there are the most customer focused people I can think of. And they’re consistent. Just a few examples off the top of my head:

  • One morning I showed up for breakfast about 15 minutes before it was over, and noticed they didn’t have any more almond croissants. I asked if they had any more in the back room, though unfortunately they didn’t. Of course this is no big deal, though instead of just saying “nope,” they phoned down to the restaurant and had someone bring up a couple of almond croissants just for me.
  • The agents are great at “small talk” and get to know all the guests. One of the couples in the club lounge was planning on going to Napa Valley in two days. The agent asked whether they had planned out winery tours yet, and they indicated they hadn’t. The agent insisted she would prepare an itinerary for them by the following evening, which she did.
  • The well known server in the lounge, Luis, couldn’t be nicer. During my most recent stay, there was an older British couple that was telling Luis “when we go back to the UK we’ll have forgotten a lot of the sights we’ve seen, though we won’t have forgotten you, Luis.”

Anyway, I’ll get to my point. During my last stay, I couldn’t help but notice how full the club lounge was. While Royal Ambassador members do get complimentary access to the club, there aren’t nearly as many Royal Ambassadors as, say, Hyatt Diamond members. So I had a conversation with someone at the hotel, only to learn that they seem to actually sell club access to the point that the club in and of itself is doing “quite well.”

And frankly, even at a cost of $40 per person, I think club access at this hotel is an absolute bargain.

It just comes to show you, a truly good product with even more memorable employees can go a long way.

While I love Hyatt hotels, I’ve yet to stay at a Hyatt in the US where I would have actually paid the rate for club access.

Comments

  1. Strangely enough I have found Doubletree hotels have some of the best soft product of club lounges. The times I’ve stayed at a property that has one, it has become my property of choice for whatever area. The employees are able to make guests happy to the point that the club manager is able to ask for whatever they want, and usually win whenever a bean counter tries to institute cuts to save money.

  2. I’ve found club access can run $75+ a night at many properties (on top of regular room rate), unless I have specific knowledge a hotel actually has decent offerings I would never pay for a club room.

    On a related note when I see how dire some RCC’s are, it impresses me anyone would buy a membership.

  3. @Will – could not agree more regarding RCCs. The Honolulu lounge immediately comes to mind, since that is my home. Very dire indeed. And now that they have closed the President’s Club there, it has actually gotten worse. And I am a paid member. Will rethink my membership at the end of the year.

  4. I don’t understand–the HNL RCC (and most RCCs) provide a quiet place to work, free wifi, and a decent selection of snacks and newspapers.

    No, it’s not like some lounges outside the USA that feature extensive dining options, but I’m very content with RCCs.

    And if you’re flying once a week, they are well worth the memebership price.

  5. Agreed that US club lounges are well below international standards, with a few exceptions.

    My all time favorite, is the Marriott Marquis (Times Sq.) NYC. I’ve booked into that hotel as opposed to the other Manhattan Marriotts just because of it. That lounge even has a check-in desk for Plats. (Golds, too??) It is very nice to give bags to bellmen, take the elevator to the lounge and have a glass of wine while sitting at a nice desk checking in. I don’t even mind paying for the wine. Evening snacks could easily be rated a 2-star buffet.

    On the opposite end, I was in the New Orleans Renaissance (Arts) last week and even for free it was overpriced. At 8:30 I arrived for breakfast (served til 9) and found cold coffee. Attendant said it was too late to make more. I carry Starbucks microground, so I asked for hot water and made some, but then found out they were out of milk.

    My biggest complaint, tho, is that most US lounges close on the weekends (Fri night, Sat all day and Sun AM). As someone who usually flies home Sat mornings, this always ends a stay on a bad note.

  6. I myself have never paid for club access, nor will I ever pay for it with one exception. The majority of my stays are either at a Hilton property or a Starwood property. As a top level elite at both properties I have found the club access to be useful but not worth any money they could charge me. The only exception to this rule that I can think of is at Disney luxury properties. I have and will continue to stay at the yacht club concierge level as they serve the most delicious breakfast you can get on any Disney property. The same is true for tge Boardwalk and Grand Polynesian. Also tge hosts and concierges on tge select levels can, will, and do make anything happen. It’s kind of like talking to Mickey himself.

  7. Many businesses of all kinds are very short sighted and want every element of their operation to either be a profit center or cost them very little. What they often forget are the services that are used by their most loyal customers (like club lounges) – services that help to increase revenue and profits by making and retaining customers in the first place! Any business that doesn’t understand that super-serving their most loyal clients is an investment rather than an expense is viewing their expenditures with a very narrow perspective.

  8. I have to agree that the IC SF has one of the (if not the best) lounge experience I’ve had in the US. I echo Lucky’s experiences there, and as a frequent stayer, the guest relations staff has taken time to get to know me. In addition to Luis, Adrian is a hard worker and very helpful. I’ve arrived 5 min before breakfast ends, and they’ve brought their offerings back out just so I can tak ewhat I want. They bring out more of those delicious almond croissants when I’ve asked (almost every stay =P). Props to Shehani (guest relations manager), Bridget, Regina and Justin who all “man” the lounge. In conversations with Shehani, she’s admitted wishing she could offer more complete food and drink, akin to what you’d see internationally, but that 1) their budget is not large enough, and 2) the cost of food in SF is marginally more expensive. Understandable, but I think they do a fantasmic job as well. =)

  9. Intercontinentals definitely seem to be the exception. I was at the New Orleans one last year and their club lounge offered an excellent level of service

  10. I absolutely loved the club lounge breakfast at the Park Hyatt Shanghai. Such a great variety of Asian, European, and American items. It was a phenomenal hotel to take advantage of with BWB free nights!

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