When the Customer Is Wrong: Hotels

  • Pet Peeves

    It’s one of the oldest adages of the retail world: “The customer is always right.” Of course, very often the customer is wrong. Every day customers behave in ways that make the lives of waiters, cashiers, customer service reps and other retail workers miserable. And in many cases, these customers don’t even realize how annoying they’re being. To rectify this, we’ve decided to talk to the people on the other side of the cash register, with the hope of educating consumers on what sort of behavior makes life difficult for the people serving them. In the first part of the series we spoke to people in the restaurant industry; now, with travel season approaching, we’ve spoken to hotel workers to find out what it takes to be a responsible guest. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Have Your Card Ready
  • Have Your Card Ready

    When you call to make a reservation, keep in mind that the people at the front desk are likely to be pretty busy. So please, do your best to make it quick. “They’re taking a lot of calls, guests are trying to check in or out, and a lot of times there are only one or two people at the desk,” says Todd Humphrey, a long-time hotel manager who runs The Hospitality Insider blog. “If you’re calling, have your credit card ready – the average reservation should take no more than five minutes, but typically it takes eight to nine minutes.” And don’t feel like you need to tell them all details of your vacation – just the arrival time, departure time and any special requests are all that’s required, he says. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    About Those Special Requests…
  • About Those Special Requests…

    Make them ahead of time, especially if it pertains to room preference. “Hotels try to honor special requests as much as they can, but we have guests who don’t put a request in [when they make their reservation], then show up at 10 p.m. to a sold-out hotel and say they want a first-floor room,” says Humphrey. “We only have so much room on the first floor.” Make your special request when you call to make your reservation, and if you’re booking through an agent or third-party travel site, call the hotel to confirm the reservation and make the request then. If given enough lead time, hotels will generally be willing to honor most special requests – Humphrey says he once personally visited the local flower shop for a guest who wanted to surprise his girlfriend with rose petals on the bed. But last-minute requests are going to be very difficult to fulfill. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Empty Rooms Hurt
  • Empty Rooms Hurt

    Most hotels will charge customers a fee if they cancel their reservations at the last minute – after all, a last-minute cancellation often leaves the hotel unable to fill the room and therefore losing money. Bill Rowe, who formerly worked the front desk at a hotel in Cape Cod, Mass., says that he dealt with quite a few customers who bristled at the fee, despite the fact that the hotel was very clear about the policy. “The hardest thing is trying to enforce the policies,” he says. “We’re trying to stay viable and keep rooms filled.” If you must cancel, do so well in advance. And if you must cancel at the last minute, don’t scream at the person on the other end of the line – he or she is just trying to minimize the hotel’s losses. Photo Credit: Ben Donley
    Cardholders Only, Please
  • Cardholders Only, Please

    If you’re trying to pay with someone else’s credit card, don’t be annoyed when the hotel asks for authorization from the cardholders, says David Backlin, who has worked at the front desk in numerous hotels. “Every place I’ve worked at, we've required ID of the actual card holder,” he says. “If it's not the guest, we don't accept the card unless mom (or whoever the cardholder is) faxes us an authorization to use the card.” He adds: “Most of our corporate clients understand. Johnny and his hot little girlfriend don't, and they have a fit over it.” Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Reservation Agents Aren’t Omniscient
  • Reservation Agents Aren’t Omniscient

    When you’re calling to make a reservation with a large hotel chain, be aware that the person you’re speaking to may not be at the hotel itself. “When a customer calls a hotel with a reservation or question, the reservation agent may not be on property, [and] thus has little information about local things [like] weather, restaurants, location of electrical outlets in the room,” says Dave Dudar, a hotel industry consultant who has spent more than 25 years in the industry. “Many hotels direct calls to a central reservation agent, even if the call comes through the local number.” In other words, you’re probably better off using the hotel’s website to find out specific information about the hotel and the surrounding area, and third-party sites can usually tell you most of what you want to know about local weather and nightlife. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Your Safety Is Important to Us
  • Your Safety Is Important to Us

    If you lose your room key or need an extra for your family, the front desk will be happy to provide you with another. But don’t get upset if they ask to see photo ID to confirm that you’re really who you say you are. “When the desk asks for photo ID, you’d be surprised how many people that offends,” says Humphrey. “We do it for their security.” Think of it this way: If someone came up to the front desk and asked for a key to your room, wouldn’t you want the staff to check whether he was actually supposed to be in the room? For that reason, says Humphrey, most hotels have a policy of not saying your room number out loud when you check in, lest a thief (or other nefarious person) overhears and tries to finagle a key. Photo Credit: bnilsen
    The Minibar Isn’t Free
  • The Minibar Isn’t Free

    This should probably go without saying, but not every amenity is included in the price of the room. “Be aware of the charges, if any, of all amenities a hotel has to offer before going ballistic at the front office staff,” says Rizwan Naeem, who has worked as both a front office attendant and night manager for Houston-area hotels. He points to guests who “dispute charges on the minibar when the rates are specified everywhere.” (Humphrey adds that the hotel will always take inventory of the minibar after the guest has checked out and charge their credit card accordingly, so don’t bother lying about your alcohol consumption when you check out.) And don’t order movies and then play dumb when it shows up on the bill – as a general rule, the cost of these movies is made very clear to the guest, and the people at the front desk aren’t idiots. “So many customers order movies and call to cancel the charges – especially 15 minutes into an adult movie – claiming it was a clumsy mistake,” he says. Photo Credit: Ben Stephenson
    This Isn’t Top Chef
  • This Isn’t Top Chef

    Naeem also observes that some guests have unreasonable expectations when it comes to late-night room service. “Room service at night is limited to the menu,” he says. “The night butlers are not chefs who can make innovative dishes.” And speaking of late-night service, understand that some hotels may be constrained by local ordinances regulating the sale of alcohol. “[People request] alcohol in room service after the state cut-off time, and they get angry when a bottle of champagne is not served at 5 in the morning,” he says. Photo Credit: Dan Perry
    Respect the Maids
  • Respect the Maids

    “What most people don’t realize is that there are about 100 things you need to do to clean a room,” says Humphrey. That list includes not only stripping and making the beds, but cleaning the bathrooms and mirrors, dusting the light bulbs, emptying the water out of the iron (so it doesn’t get moldy inside), checking for any items left behind by the guest, and making sure all the hotel literature is still there. So if you show up at the hotel before your check-in time, don’t get impatient if you have to wait until the housekeeping staff has finished cleaning. And once you’re a guest, be respectful of the room (“I’m constantly amazed at how people treat their hotel rooms,” says Humphrey) and consider tipping the housekeeping staff. If you’re checking out you can leave a tip on the nightstand, though if you’re still a guest you should hand it to them personally or leave it in the provided envelope. Photo Credit: Aaron Gustafson
    Speaking of Maids…
  • Speaking of Maids…

    They don’t work around the clock. “One of the biggest things that irks staff is when guests have the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign up all day, then call at 6 p.m. asking for cleaning service,” says Humphrey. “Typically in hotels … You’re not going to have housekeeping past 5 p.m.” You can certainly call down to the front desk for fresh linens at all hours. But don’t expect the room to be cleaned while you’re out at dinner, as the housekeeping staff will probably have left for the day. Photo Credit: Getty Images
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