The Best Service I’ve Ever Experienced At A US Luxury Hotel

I don’t envy the job of working in the hotel industry, especially working at a luxury hotel. Every guest has different expectations, and even individual guests’ preferences may differ from interaction to interaction.

Sometimes I arrive at check-in after having traveled for 24 hours, and just want a hot shower and bed, and wish the front office associate wouldn’t say a single word. Other times I’m more refreshed, and am surprised by how little information the front office associate shares. Of course most of the time I’m somewhere in the middle, but my point is that tailoring hotel experiences isn’t easy.

However, there’s one problem I’ve consistently had with luxury hotels in the US, which I summed up in a post last year — “Dear Luxury Hotels: Stop Trying So Hard.” Here’s the crux of my issue from the last post, where I was using the St. Regis Monarch Beach as an example:

For example, as I approached the check-in desk I was asked for my last name, and said it to the associate as I got out my credit card and ID. In the roughly three minute check-in process, he repeated my name 16 times… and pronounced it incorrectly every single time.

Even if he had pronounced it correctly, I’d rather every sentence not start with my name. It just seems so painfully insincere and forced. For that matter, the only time I’m impressed by someone addressing me by name is when they do so from memory, as it shows some effort. If someone is just reading off a sheet of paper or regurgitating what I just told them, I don’t see the point.

While this property has some great employees, many of the staff here seem to be so rigid in how they talk to guests, and I’m guessing that’s simply a function of how they’re trained.

Given the check-in experience, I decided to continue counting how often I was addressed by name. I stopped counting at 100. How many times was my name pronounced correctly? Once.

It would be one thing if an employee actually knew my name, but in this case it was simply the employees using every guest’s name after they gave their room number and name, be it at the pool, bar, restaurant, etc.

On top of the forced over-the-top name calling, I also noticed the other forced vocabulary. The only word most staff members seemed to know when it came to acknowledging a request was “certainly.” Which is a good term, except when it’s clearly forced.

All of this is simply to say that at US luxury hotels I’ve come to expect painfully forced service, rather than authentic, from-the-heart service. I think formal training sometimes gets in the way of remembering that the core of the hospitality industry is to just make people feel welcome, rather than uncomfortable.

Yesterday I checked into the St. Regis San Francisco for a one night stay, and the experience was incredible. It’s funny, because within 10 minutes of checking in I was in love with the service at the hotel. Let me start by saying that my SPG Ambassador, Mike, is incredible. He goes above and beyond all the time, and always asks that I enter my arrival and departure time in a reservation whenever possible, so that hotels know when I’m arriving and can allocate rooms accordingly.

St-Regis-San-Francisco-Lobby

As Ford and I walked into the hotel, the bellman said “and you’re…. Mr. Schlappig? Let me show you to check-in.” I was super impressed — this is something that has never happened before at a US property, but seems easy enough to execute, given that we arrived exactly when we said we would.

He brought us over to check-in, where the front office associate addressed me by name, and it was also the only time she addressed me by name. That’s because she spent the rest of the time talking to us like humans rather than reading off a script. The director of rooms came over to say hello and told us to let him know if we need anything.

I know everyone is different here, but I loved that the front office associate said “since you’re in a suite you receive butler service. Would you like a butler to show you up to your room?” This is the ultimate first world preference, but I wish all hotels with butler service would simply ask, because my answer 99% of the time is “no thank you.” Why? Because I find that initial interaction to usually be something like this scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm:

She said “great. Just remember that you get complimentary coffee or tea 24/7, and if you need help with anything else just dial the butler service.”

Ford and I quickly dropped off our bags in the room, and then we returned downstairs to sightsee (Ford hasn’t been to San Francisco since he was a little kid). I had a rough idea of what we wanted to see, so as we walked outside the bellman Louie said “is there anything I can help arranging?” I said “nope, we’re just sightseeing a bit,” and he said “great, let me just give you a map and some bottled water.”

St-Regis-San-Francisco

What’s my point with this post? Sometimes less is more, and it’s something a lot of hotels could learn from, in my opinion. Within the first 10 minutes of having checked in at the St. Regis I had already decided that the service was flawless ,because they were attentive, professional, and warm, without being over the top.

They realized that not everyone wants to be walked to their room by a butler and have him/her explain how the light switches work, not everyone wants to be addressed by name in every sentence, etc.

What’s funny is that all of the above seems very minor and simple — and it is. But in the US I find service like that at luxury hotels to be oh-so-rare.

So kudos to the St. Regis San Francisco on their employees, as this might just be my favorite US property in terms of service.

What “style” of service do you prefer at luxury hotels?

Comments

  1. I think part of this is generational. Some people love that forced service stuff. My mother, for example. She would be raving about the name calling, unable to see its insincerity and the fact that it’s easy nonsense that allows a service provider to ignore actual service. Millennials tend to be more skeptical and ironic,mand so they see right through the bullshit. Not all baby boomers and older are like this, but enough non-business travelers are that you can feed them slop, put them in crappy rooms, and overcharge them so long as you do it with a smile and showy distracting bullshit.

  2. From the title I was sure this was going to be yet another post touting the benefits of the RC card. Guess that’s coming later today. Gary will only beat you to the punch though.

  3. Twice and exactly twice I have arrived at a hotel and been greeted at the front door by name, and I remember both times vividly because it was such an amazing customer service win that it really stuck out. So very simple to do and very impactful, why isn’t this more common? It really is the little things that make you feel right at home and welcomed.

  4. “As Ford and I walked into the hotel, the bellman said “and you’re…. Mr. Schlappig? Let me show you to check-in.” I was super impressed — this is something that has never happened before at a US property, but seems easy enough to execute, given that we arrived exactly when we said we would.”

    ummmm or they know you are an influential blogger and sent a picture to the staff before your arrival…

  5. @ jay — If that were the case, I’ve still stayed at dozens and dozens of Starwood hotels in the US and that has never happened before. So that would still be exceptional, no?

  6. Agree with all of this!! I actually really dislike the name calling. It makes me uncomfortable. I worked at a department store in the mid 90s and they insisted that we do this, but I just wouldn’t. There was just no way to make looking down at someone’s credit card or check or bill and then addressing them by Ms. So-and-so seem natural. Now every time someone addresses me by name I just want to say, “It’s ok. You don’t have to. I don’t like it either.” It IS a nice touch (and is impressive) if you have a rapport with someone or they remember your name after meeting you and use it naturally.

  7. The idea that you think their greeting at the door was because you gave your arrival time is laughable.

    If they started addressing people by name based on the time people thought they may arrive, imagine how many incidents there would be. Think of how many times this dialog would happen:

    “Oh, hello Mr. Johnson.”
    “I’m not Mr. Johnson.”
    “Oh sorry sir….Are you Mr. Wilson? Mr. Dale?”

    People don’t arrive at hotels close enough to their estimated arrival for this to ever work. Even if people gave the correct time to the minute, this wouldn’t work, because some people arrive at the same time (for example, on an airport shuttle).

    This was obviously because they had your picture and were waiting for you because you’re an influential blogger.

    This kind of review is of no use to any average traveler.

  8. I think this “forced name calling” also has to do with what they pay people. When you are taking people with limited education and paying them nothing, the only way you can bring some kind of air of luxury to their demeanor and presentation is to train them manually to be sophisticated… there is nothing innate about the service. You see the difference in countries where service jobs like this are actually a career with good salaries and prospects for the future.

  9. I completely agree with the less is more philosophy and had he complete opposite at the Westin Osaka. We got there at nearly midnight after getting lost from the train station. All I wanted to do was check in a go to bed. We went to the front desk and after 10 mins with the check-in agent, she realized we were in a Club level room and insisted that we had to check-in in the Club Lounge. So we had to wait for a bellman to take our bag (one carryon) and escort us to the Club Lounge and sit through a very lengthy check in there. I don’t understand why the front desk couldn’t take care of it for us.

  10. Like you, I have my name butchered regularly. It’s a simple Italian name. It’s not so much the initial pronunciation problem that bothers me but after being corrected, the repeated mispronunciation that gets irritating. Frankly, I just want the whole process to go quickly and be over. Just use my name once and be done with it.

  11. Nice 🙂 I love the St. Regis! I think my favorite “fancy hotel moment” was when I got to the RC restaurant very late for breakfast, very hungover, and they were in between service and not open. The host took one look at me and said, “if you could have whatever you wanted from the restaurant right now, what would it be?” and I said, “a big pot of black coffee, a pile of croissants, some bacon, and a bowl of fruit”. She told us to go sit outside on a bench with an awesome ocean view and ten minutes later everything I asked for appeared effortlessly on a little cart.

  12. @Emia –

    “This was obviously because they had your picture and were waiting for you because you’re an influential blogger.”

    What a pretentious load of ignorant BS.

    Greeting guests at the door is a characteristic of true luxury hotels. The same thing has happened to me–a person of no influence or social standing–at the Bel Air and Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.

    So, Emia, you “obviously” don’t know what you’re talking about.

    @Lucky –

    I’m encouraged that you encountered such great service at the St. Regis. I have never been able to get past the St. Regis’ dreadfully corporate and dated decor. San Francisco is an awful city when it comes to luxury hotels. I plop down at the Scarlett Huntington on Nob Hill, even though it’s more of a funky boutique place. The service is just adequate (occasionally it’s very good) but the decor is fresh and tasteful. And the views over the city are, indeed, impressive.

  13. Ben, If you want a quick bite to eat walking around the city try Bun Mee on Market within a couple blocks of where your staying. We always hit it when in the city. Great Vietnamese sandwiches. Cheers

  14. @ Imperator and all

    How would a hotel know who the guest is unless you’re a regular? You’re saying a true luxury hotel would be able to guess what I look like from my name? Would they be stalking the internet for my pics based on my name and add it to my reservation?

  15. Couldn’t agree more. The St. Regis SF has hands-down the best service of any US Luxury Property I’ve stayed at in. They’re polite, inobtrusive, but also excellent at anticipating needs. The location is great too. RC could learn a lot from this particular property.

  16. I’ve had similar experiences at that hotel–I typically arrive before rooms are ready, so all of my check-ins have been done in a cozy corner of the lobby/bar thing with a drink in my hand. The other one in San Francisco that I’ll always remember is the Four Seasons. I went out for a run leaving through the front because it was a hot day. When I returned the doorman had a big bottle of water, a cold wet towel, and a fluffy dry one for me. It’s not that it was a complicated execution, it was just thoughtful.

  17. In the penultimate sentence you mean “simple” rather than “simplistic,” which has a different meaning entirely. It’s not just a fancy word for simple. 🙂

  18. Stayed at the St Regis two weeks ago, i was taken aback by the service and the hotel itself!

    Definetly worth it to stay at the St Regis when in SFO

  19. As a fellow SPG Plat Ambassador, I must agree with Chad that the StR is my favorite luxury hotel in the USA…and among my favorites in the world. I have been recognized walking in the door and I’ve also had service that was top drawer almost every time I’ve been in or staying at the hotel. I’ll be back 3 times in the next few months, in fact.

    As someone who has stayed at 10 Aman properties, not to mention many Four Seasons (including the SF property), Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, and comparable luxury hotels and resorts, and obviously tons of StR and Luxury Collection hotels, I can say without question that the service and follow-up at the StR San Francisco is amazing. In the few instances I’ve had any issues, their service recovery has also been Aman-like. (Ironically, their last GM moved from here to be GM at Amangiri in UT!)

  20. @Matthew

    You ask some interesting questions.

    The Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles has relatively few rooms. I would assume that the number of guests checking-in on any particular day is quite small; thus, the Bel Air’s staff has probably become quite adroit at making accurate, educated guesses as to the names of those walking through the front door.

    The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is another matter. As far as I am concerned, the MOLV’s entire staff is a bunch of sorcerers. I am now a regular guest; however, I was greeted by name as I approached the front desk to check-in for my first visit. I was astonished. And I frankly have no idea how the desk clerk knew who I was! I am a Luddite when it comes to social media so I can’t imagine the hotel learned much about me just by having trolled the internet.

    So, Matthew, I unfortunately don’t have any knowledgeable answers for you. Personally, I am quite content having such things remain a most enjoyable mystery.

  21. @Brian Kusler

    I had a similar experience at the FS Austin a gazillion years ago. I arrived in the wee hours after a long, frustrating days of travel delays without even airline peanuts. When the check in associate mentioned room service hours had ended I said in passing that I understood, but sadly had been dreaming about a hot onion soup and a chocolate mousse for hours. Don’t ask me why – that was my craving of the moment. We joked about it briefly and I went off to my room. Not 15 minutes later, there was a knock on the door – room service with a tray – you guessed it, hot onion soup, chocolate mousse and some lovely crusty bread! They said they knew how famished I was and since there were still a couple of people left finishing up in the kitchen, they did their best! And it was gratis and delivered with a kind note. Needless to say I sent a letter to the GM – this was long before the days of online reviews – and have returned to that hotel for almost every visit I have made to Austin in the ensuing years. There are newer, trendier, etc in the city and I have tried several, but that FS has my heart. Many, many years and many, many hotels of all possible stripes later, this simple gesture has stuck with me more than the most over the top luxury experience I have been fortunate enough to enjoy. So if you see this – thanks again FS for your courtesy back in the Ice Age!

  22. Lucky,

    You are spot on with this one. I just want my hotel to be home, not more, not less. This is much harder to achieve for a hotel than just pamper me 24h.

    I remember walking into one of my most visited hotels (Grand Hyatt Tampa) one night and a new employee saw my status with Hyatt and started to call my name a thousand times and how he can help me etc etc. Then a colleague walked by, smiled, said ‘Welcome back, how was your EDM festival last week. Did you manage to see DJ XYZ?’ And I was home. From that moment onwards the new guy treated me like one of their team (in a good way) rather than an honored guest.

    The ability to adopt to the guest’s needs and wishes makes a hotel a luxury hotel you come back to over and over again.

    And yes, they are rare, especially in the US.

  23. I personally appreciate good service, which I’ve found is nearly impossible to find in the U.S. I stay at this one Marriott about once a month and have done so for three years. To this day, only one or two of the long-serving employees make an effort to greet me by name. Meanwhile, there’s a Courtyard by Marriott that I used to stay at with similar frequency but have reduced to three or four times a year because of client changes. Still, the front desk manager remembers me and greets me. My colleague books a block of 15 rooms for client meetings five times a year at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The hotel has his picture given to staff ahead of his arrival. Needless to say, it’s “Mr. Smith” every time a staff member sees him. He says his clients drop their jaws at how impressive that sounds. I’ve only received this kind of treatment at Asian hotels — not even upscale, luxury Downton Abbey-style hotels in the U.K.

  24. I’ve always been curious what people use a St. Regis butler for on average. Just coffee? I reckon the percent of guests who fully take advantage of the butler service is quite small. Also, is it an actual trained butler as is the case with some of the London hotels? Would the butler fold your underwear or find you a prostitute at 12 a.m.?

  25. Had the same type of experience at the Ritz Vienna.

    I’ve stayed in hundreds of luxury hotels, and I find Ritz hotels to have the best, most unobtrusive service.

  26. Emia, I agree with you 100%. Ben, you got VIP treatment because they know who you are. I’m can almost guarantee that I won’t get the same treatment.

  27. @ Emia

    Someone already told you this, but you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

    I stayed in the Park Hyatt Tokyo with my family, they addressed each of us by name not only when checking in, but also every time we left and returned to the hotel.

    No, we’re not famous. I can’t say for sure how they figured it out, but perhaps in somewhere like Tokyo perhaps it was race-name association.

  28. @Emia — re: your comment that “This kind of review is of no use to any average traveler.” Absolutely true, and utterly besides the point! 99% of posts on blogs of this type are of no use to the average traveler because the average traveler cannot afford the St. Regis, do not stay in suites where they have “butler service,” and don’t have Platinum status at Starwood (or Hyatt or Marriott or . . . ). And yet, they read this sort of post on a regular basis (i.e.: why are you reading it?).

    That said, I do not doubt for one moment the St. Regis experience in San Francisco. I doubt I’ll ever experience it, as I live just across the Bay in Berkeley, but I have experience that sort of reception at the St Regis in Florence, Italy . . .

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    @Imperator — I completely agree with the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas. I’ve only stayed there twice, and yet everyone knew who my wife and I were by name (even upon arrival, and they couldn’t possibly read our luggage tags!).

    I mean I get it at hotels where I *am* a regular, or at a small B&B, etc., etc., but not at (e.g.) the Mandarin Oriental in Vegas, the aforementioned Italian St. Regis, or the Westin Palace in Madrid.

  29. Ben,
    I appreciate you sharing your experience. Having worked at a five star hotel in college I would recognize this as exceptional service, no matter your “status” as a blogger. No offense, not every doorman or bellhop knows who you are; and “preparing” for an arrival at a high quality resort is often convoluted with actual multiple arrivals of people of increasing influence. This sounds like a case of the exceptional management training an exceptional staff of a high caliber hotel, no matter who you are.
    With respect to using your name so frequently, when I worked at the resort it was stressed to always use someone’s name excessively as they instructed us that a minimum of three usages was required to achieve that fifth star, and to not risk being “not heard” by only using it three times. (I don’t know how true that is in ratings, but that’s how we were instructed). As a traveller I don’t care two cents if you remember my name; I care about how genuine you are when asking how my dinner was, how was my flight, etc. Safe travels and I hope you enjoyed Alcatraz.

  30. Hotels and restaurants of any real quality Google their guests all the time to ensure great service. You guys are really naive if you don’t think so. When I worked at a restaurant here in NYC in college we got daily print outs of ppx guests along with photos to memorize. It’s not rocket science when hospitality is your job.

    My favorite bellmen are at the Sofitel Beverly Hills. They always remember me and make earnest small talk and lord knows I am a complete nobody. But as a commenter above said, it instantly makes me feel at home.

  31. Had a very poor experience at MO Tokyo (really bad) but fantastic stay at MO Singapore. Looking forward to a stay at MOLV. FS Beverly Hills was not a pleasant stay either with nasty rude arrogant staff plus my room wasn’t serviced until 4:30 pm!

    My 2 most memorable experiences at luxury hotel were Amanpuri in Phuket and FS Hong Kong.

  32. While it’s nice that you had such a great experience at the St. Regis, I had a pretty poor one: 10 minute wait at check-in, curt and unsmiling front desk, request for a room on a high floor not granted, a couple hairs in the bathroom, and messy pool area with used pool towels not cleaned up. The doorman was friendly (although didn’t offer any bottled water) when I was going out. In short, another very mediocre U.S. hotel stay. I value consistency in my luxury hotel stays, and the St. Regis SF didn’t make the cut.

  33. 1. So how do is your name pronounced correctly?
    2. I’ve had great experiences in SF, at the Intercontinental, Ritz C (great club lounge) and the Clift, where when my husband wanted chocolate cookies and milk at 1 am, he was told that all the cookies were gone, unfortunately, but if he could wait 20 minutes, they would make a fresh batch, and they did!

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