Guest Service

The Nature of Crisis

Most of what we’ve learned about the global pandemic has to do with public health. But there’s also much to be learned about our response to crisis generally.

In the hotel business, we tend to think of crisis as a local matter, usually involving a hotel itself or, at the worst, affecting the immediate neighborhood. A robbery, an assault, a burst water pipe, a kitchen fire: all on property. A hurricane, a wildfire, a sanitation workers strike: all affecting the local community.

At the least, coronavirus reminds us that certain crises by their very scope can be multidimensional and call for a complicated response. Within days of the virus being identified, questions began to arise as to contagion, transmission and containment. For better or worse, we live in an increasingly global world, as evidenced by the infection’s spread from Wuhan to Milan to Seattle.

Hotels in these destinations saw their occupancy rates and upcoming reservations plummet, a response that accelerated further as more cases were diagnosed across the globe. Owners, managers and brands all shared in the pain, understanding with good reason that they were coping with a situation that was essentially beyond their control.

The brands responded with empathy and concern. A March 4 update from Marriott International, for example, noted that “the well-being of guests and associates was of paramount importance.” In the same update, Marriott disclosed that it was waving cancellation fees through the end of March in eight destinations, including seven in Asia and one in Europe (Italy).

Nor was lodging the only industry affected. Cruise lines, airlines, tour operators and convention facilities have also borne the brunt of the escalating crisis. If it wasn’t crystal clear before, it’s now obvious that the various sectors of the travel industry are inextricably intertwined. In announcing dramatic cuts to both its domestic and international flight schedules, for example, United Airlines’ CEO noted that “the dynamic nature of this outbreak requires us to be nimble and flexible moving forward.” He could have offered the hotel sector the identical advice.

As with any crisis, hotel managers will want to communicate a consistent message, identify a single spokesperson to help deliver that message and refer media inquiries to the appropriate sources (in this case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization).

Yet for as intertwined as the various travel industry sectors may be, hotels would seem to carry a special burden, considering all the uncertainty as to how the virus is transmitted. At the core of the lodging experience, after all, is the implicit promise that the hotel you’re about to check into is not only welcoming, but safe.

Capturing the Impulse Buy

For years, hotels relied on in-room minibars to satisfy guests’ last-minute cravings for a candy bar, can of soda or bag of potato chips. Whatever time of day, although especially in the evening following a long day of meetings and appointments or sightseeing, guests would turn to the minibar to satisfy their sweet tooth or quench their thirst.

Minibars still have their place in the lodging universe because they’re convenient and excel at capturing impulse purchases. Room service, on the other hand, offers a more extensive menu but typically requires 20-30 minutes for delivery, if not longer.

Another recent option that has gained traction with hotel owners, operators and the brands is the lobby market, a scaled-down convenience store near the hotel front desk that sells food, beverages and other frequently requested items. These mini stores offer a far wider range of goods, appealingly displayed, than ever could be squeezed into a minibar.


The Market at the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park

Convenience doesn’t come cheap! The candies and beverages for sale in the lobby market – like at minibars — are priced at a premium.

Ideally, the market is located in close proximity to the front desk for two reasons. First, it allows the front desk agents to keep an eye on the merchandise. Second, the proximity makes it easy for guests to pay for purchases, either with cash, a credit card or putting the charges on the guest room folio.

Like minibars and room service, lobby markets represent an additional revenue stream for hotels as well as widely appreciated guest service. Considering that many analysts expect the lodging industry to enter a downturn in the next few quarters, any additional revenue stream, however modest, is welcome. That said, there’s also a larger benefit that plays to the core of the concept of hospitality: satisfying the guest’s wants and needs.

woman holding cup of coffee

In Praise of Coffee (and Tea!)

With National Coffee Day celebrated in the U.S. in late-September, I was reminded of how the beverage has become such a popular guest amenity. Almost under the radar, interest in coffee — and to a lesser degree, tea — on property has grown dramatically, not only at breakfast but in the lobby 24 hours a day and guest rooms.

Granted, coffee and tea are simple, relatively inexpensive amenities, but hotel managers shouldn’t take them for granted. Just look at the guest complaints on TripAdvisor: poor quality coffee and shortages of coffee, sugar, stirring rods and cream. And woe be it to the careless housekeepers who don’t sufficiently clean the in-room coffee station.

Keurig coffeemaker in hotel room

In-room Keurig at Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

Several brands and independent hotels, seeing an opportunity to raise their in-room service levels, have replaced old-fashioned pots with Keurig-type cartridge machines. They also have swapped generic pouches of generic coffee with popular coffee brands. More and more guests have such machines in their homes and expect to find them in their hotel rooms.

Meanwhile in the lobby, more hotels – even economy brands – are setting up complimentary coffee stations, where guests checking in or returning from a day of sightseeing or business meetings can pause for a cup. Similarly, high-end hotels feature executive or club floors, where lounges also offer complimentary coffee as well as other snacks and beverages.

convenience food options in hotel lobby

Grab-and-go market at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan/Central Park

This surge of interest in coffee and tea comes at the same time as guest room minibars are becoming extinct. To ensure guests can satisfy their late-night munchies, hotels have opened  “grab-and-go markets” in the lobby. Guests also will find user-friendly espresso machines dispensing latte, cappuccino and other high-end coffee-based options.

In this age of Starbucks and baristas, hotel managers can only expect consumers’ fascination with coffee and its variations to remain strong or even expand further (think cold brew, fair trade). Forward-looking managers will work to ensure that not only their current coffee service is of sufficient quality, but that they remain on the front lines of change where it makes sense as new innovations come to the fore.

Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park guest room

When Is a Guest Room Too Small?

Many select-service brands that established consumer expectations in suburban or highway locations – with spacious guest rooms where guests could stretch out like they would in their own bedrooms – now are turning up in cities where space comes at a premium and guest rooms and public facilities are much smaller.

When these guests check into one of these brands in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, they encounter a couple of unhappy surprises, including much higher room rates and significantly smaller rooms. They now must navigate cramped space around the beds and in the bathrooms and may discover their accommodations lack a closet or much space to stash their luggage.

On the one hand, hotel developers understand that the cost of land to build in center-city locations is so extreme that it’s unrealistic to provide spacious guest quarters at the brand’s price points. On the other hand, they are sympathetic to the frustration felt by the unsuspecting guests. It is a dilemma with no easy resolution.

It is encouraging, nevertheless, to read comments on TripAdvisor and similar sites that reveal how guests come to terms with these smaller, more expensive select-service hotels. Here are two examples:  “The room was small, but that was to be expected of any room in New York City.” Another guest echoed, “The room was a decent size by New York standards.”

A third comment took the matter a step further, touching on a truism that applies to guests visiting major, world-class cities as opposed to, say, a beach resort: “The room, although compact, had everything we needed. As we’re in a city that never sleeps, we weren’t in the room long enough to need extra space.”

Given the reality at hand, our job as hotel managers is to ensure that our rooms, although admittedly small, are functional, clean, comfortable and attractive. Also, we strive to reset expectations by providing a higher degree of service to help our guests take small rooms in stride and stay with us again.

breakfast with croissant, eggs, sausage, coffee and orange juice

Dispatches from the Battle Over Breakfast


One of the core amenities of limited and select-service brands is complimentary breakfast. Guest satisfaction surveys consistently rank these breakfast buffets as highly popular, which is not surprising on at least three counts.

First, guests get to eat as much as they like, sampling as many menu options as they choose.

Second is the financial aspect. For value-conscious consumers—families especially—the fact that the cost is built into the room rate is tremendously appealing. Just consider the hefty cost of taking the family of four or five for a sit-down at the full-service restaurant around the corner—and that’s not including the tip.

Third is convenience. It’s in the building and, if you’re in a hurry, you can be in and out in a half-hour or less. Conversely, if time isn’t an issue, you’re welcome to linger over that second cup of coffee.

Consequently, it’s also not a surprise that brands compete aggressively on the quality and appeal of their breakfast offerings. In fact, in a crowded lodging sector, brands view a successful breakfast product as a form of competitive advantage. As hotel operators looking to attract and retain guests to the brands we manage, we heartily support these efforts.

One brand we manage is rolling out prepared-from-scratch omelets. Another is introducing a line of healthy, nutritious items, including shakes. With his brand’s blessing, one of our enterprising general managers has begun offering ramen noodles, a popular breakfast choice with his Asian guests. Finally, one brand is making grab-and-go bags available to guests checking out before the regular breakfast service begins each morning.

As with so many other aspects of managing hotels, guest satisfaction is paramount, at breakfast as well as the rest of the day.