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Hold the Log, Keep the Service

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By Steven Tingle

April 26, 2011

I was pretty sure it was the Cure. As in band, not remedy. It was playing a little louder than you would expect in a hotel lobby and it made it hard to hear the front desk clerk tell me, yet again, that my room was not quite ready. I told him, yet again, that it was 2 hours past check in. The remedy would have been to find me a room, the Cure was playing “Maybe Someday”; the irony was not lost on me.

I was travelling with one of the smartest, funniest, sexiest, word of mouth marketing experts on the planet. The hotel was her choice, not mine. I like to think of my taste as being classically oriented with a certain sense of style, grace and understated elegance. I call it old fashioned, she calls it stodgy. The Hudson Hotel is neither. Located at West 58th street in Manhattan – you better know the address there’s no sign, yeah it’s one of those kinds of places – the Hudson tries really hard to be hip. “A luminous glass tunnel of vivid chartreuse-colored light houses an escalator that transports you, both literally and figuratively, to a dream world that is both captivating and unforgettable.” That’s the Hudson’s way of saying “there’s an escalator from the street to the lobby.” See what I mean?

After being told to wait yet again the clerk handed me a pre printed card, “Good for 2 Cocktails.” Note to managers: If you have pre printed “freebie” cards on hand to randomly reward guests good for you, if you have them on hand to constantly appease guests you might want to reevaluate your service. But not one to turn down a free drink I was temporarily appeased. The Hudson has several bars to choose from, one a book lined space reminiscent of an old English drawing room, another a bizarre area with an illuminated glass floor, painting ceiling, mismatched yellow furniture and a giant log with wooden seatbacks drilled into it. It was like having a drink in a David Lynch dream sequence. “Dianne, I’ve just paid 22 dollars for 3 ounces of gin while a dwarf on a white horse……”

Someday finally came and the room was ready. It was about the size of my daughter’s closet but I didn’t care. I was just happy to be there with the promise of the world’s greatest city right outside. A night of cocktails, sushi, laughter and the continued debate of old fashioned versus stodgy.

The next morning I called down to room service, ordered a bagel, an English muffin and large pot of coffee. Twenty minutes and $47 dollars was the promise; only half of that was delivered. An hour later breakfast still hadn’t arrived. I was about to call down to cancel the order when there was a knock at the door. The attendant brought in the tray and I attempted some sort of witticism. His English was a little shaky which was probably a good thing, my humor usually plays better to an audience without a good grasp of the language. As soon as he was gone I realized there was no cream cheese for the bagel. There was butter, there was jelly, there was a receipt for $47, but there was no cream cheese.

I considered calling back down but decided it would have been faster to take a cab to my sister’s house in Jersey and ask her for cream cheese than get anything from room service. I had settled on butter when there was another knock at the door. It was the room service guy, tray in hand. “I’m sorry sir, I forgot your cream cheese.”

And that’s how the Hudson got me. Not with the teleporter to the lobby, or the free cocktails, or the loud music, or the log; it was a small act of service from a room service attendant. He could have never realized he forgot the cream cheese or realized it and thought, “if he wants it he’ll call back”. But he didn’t, he realized his mistake and made it right. He cared. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s what sticks and it’s the same in every business. No matter whether you’re selling ultra hip room nights or dirty water hot dogs the human aspect will always trump atmosphere, marketing and price cutting. Knowing that the lowest paid person on your staff is still a representative of your business, with the ability to create memorable moments good and bad, is a lesson many managers have yet to embrace.

So is remembering the cream cheese on par with getting the sweater to the bed? Of course not. Does it make me want to give a pretentious hotel another chance? Let’s just say I’ll contemplate these and other burning questions on my next trip to the Hudson. “Dianne, I’m in a bright room, sitting on a giant log listening to a gorgeous blonde marketing expert tell me my blue blazer with gold buttons is a little Thurston Howellish…..”

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