Guest Service

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.

Business versus Leisure: Blurring the Lines

Business versus Leisure Traveler

Traditionally, hotel managers divided guests into two buckets: business and leisure. Each had its own broad characteristics. While business travelers tended to be in house on the busiest midweek nights, Tuesday and Wednesday, they had shorter lengths of stay. Longer lengths of stay, including weekends, were more typical of leisure travelers.

While many business guests had discounted rates negotiated as part of a corporate managed travel program, they still tended to pay a higher ADR than the even-more heavily discounted rates paid by their leisure counterparts.

Operationally, these two types of travelers tended to have different profiles. Self-sufficient business travelers were likely to leave early in the morning and be gone all day, vacating their rooms and enabling the housekeeping staff to clean early in the day. Leisure travelers, on the other hand, were more likely to come and go and, often be in the room when housekeeping came knocking, making cleaning more complicated. On another level, leisure guests are less likely to be as knowledgeable about the location, thereby requiring more support from the front desk, guest services manager and/or concierge.

But the lines have blurred significantly in recent years. The latest evidence: this year’s Gensler Experience Index, compiled by the Gensler design firm, reported that 69 percent of business travelers polled said they pursued leisure-related activities during their business stay, while 20 percent of leisure travelers reported conducting business during their stays.

The Gensler survey isn’t too surprising, considering that so many business travelers, chronically stressed by work deadlines and commitments, would try to find time for some R&R on business trips. It’s also no surprise that many leisure travelers, unable to leave their offices fully behind, would take time every day to at least check their office email to keep on top of what’s going on.

For hotel managers, the message has become clear: avoid easy labels and stereotypes. View each guest as his or her own person and be prepared to provide whatever services and support needed (likely a mix) to ensure a successful stay.

Why ADA-Compliant Rooms Matter

Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South Accessible Hotel Guest Room

Double Large Window City View Accessible Guest Room, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

On nights when occupancy is high and regular guest rooms are not available, a hotel front desk associate will assign a guest to an ADA-compliant room, a special room type designed to meet requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some of these guests will comment on TripAdvisor or other review sites, expressing discomfort at having to spend the night in such a room. Certainly, such awkwardness is understandable, if only to a degree. Given that the open, extra-large shower, designed for wheelchair access, and the higher-than-usual toilet, again designed to accommodate a person in a wheelchair, are unfamiliar.

Accessible Bathroom at the Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

Accessible Bathroom, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

But our responsibility as hotel managers is to provide comfortable, clean and safe accommodations to all our guests, including those with mobility issues. Indeed, inclusivity is—and should always be—one of our top priorities as hoteliers. Disabled guests and their families also have needs and expectations. They will turn to TripAdvisor and related sites if their ADA accommodations fall short.

Wheelchair-bound guests, meanwhile, are hardly the only ADA population. Some ADA rooms provide features to accommodate both hearing- and vision-impaired travelers.

That said, when checking a guest into an ADA-compliant room, our front desk staff is trained to explain why that room type is being assigned and describe the ADA room’s distinctive features. Our staff is trained to reassure guests they’ll be perfectly comfortable and able to enjoy the hotel’s roster of amenities. The strategy is simple enough: a little foreknowledge goes a long way.