Friday, July 1, 2011

Still Life with Robin: What I Did *Not* Write on the Hotel Guest Survey

by Peggy Robin

Last week I stayed overnight at a Marriott hotel in Manhattan. Not a remarkable experience in any way. Marriotts are fairly predictable, I find, and that’s a good thing. They are dependably clean and comfortable and have what I need for a short stay at a moderate price. So this is not one of my curmudgeonly columns that bemoans the current state of something or other. It’s about something that's actually okay, but just could be a whole lot better with a few small improvements.

The hotel asked for my opinion in the form of a guest evaluation card left on the desk in my room. There were questions about the friendliness of the staff, the efficiency of the check-in, and whether everything was in working order. I didn’t fill out the card because I didn’t think my answers to these questions would be very useful to anyone. Nothing was so outstandingly good that it was worth praising in writing, nor was anything bad enough to call to the management’s attention.

But that’s not to say that I can’t think of a bunch of ways to make the hotel a much better place to stay. Nothing I've come up with is specific to this hotel, or to the Marriott brand, for that matter. Hotels all over the place suffer from the flaws I have outlined below. They're not problems that the management of a hotel has much control over -- they're intrinsic to the design or decor of the hotel. Here are five that I frequently encounter in standard American hotels:
  • The placement of the full length mirror in the bathroom. In a small cramped bathroom, the full length mirror may be placed on the inside of the bathroom door if that's the only full-length space available. That's not where it should be when the toilet faces the mirror head on! How could a designer not have considered how bad this placement is? Who says there must always be a full-length mirror in the bathroom, anyway? Why not put it on the inside or the outside of the closet door? If it can't be moved, at least install some kind of a sliding cover over it! 
  • Blackout curtains. You should always have the ability to darken your room in a big city hotel, especially if the windows face lighted buildings or signs that glow all night. Jet-lagged passengers who are just passing through also need to be able to sleep during the day to stay on track with a time-zone on the other side of the world. Blackout curtains are useless, however, if they don’t close one hundred percent. If there’s the tiniest slit of light that shines through, it’s like having a high-intensity beam turned on. Guests should not have to travel with clothes-pins to make the blackout curtains work! 
  • The shower controls. I appreciate having multiple shower settings: pulse, stream, rainfall, mist, whatever, plus all variations of water pressure and temperature. The trick is to let the guest have the options while keeping the controls simple to operate. At some hotels the dials and levers look like the helm of the space shuttle. Yet there are seldom if ever instructions; you’re left to figure out how to get the water to come out the way you want by trial and error. You shouldn’t have to go from scalding to freezing and from dribble to Niagara-strength spray in order to arrive at the proper setting for a normal shower. (Please don’t assume I’m asking for instructions because I’m mechanically incompetent. It’s true, I’m not good with technical things, but I hear this same complaint from those members of my family who are whizzes at whatever new gadgetry they encounter, so I know I’m justified in this complaint.) Better than a clear set of instructions, though, would be a simple and intuitive design that lets you control the temperature with one dial, from red for hot to blue for cold, and change the water pressure on a separate slider from low to high, and set the spray pattern with a third adjuster marked with icons depicting how the water will precipitate. 
  • Do Not Disturb Signs. Those flimsy door-hangers are worse than useless, especially if on the opposite side, it says, “Please make up the room.” Guess what happens when a passerby in the hall accidentally knocks the hanger off the door? The helpful person picks it up and re-hangs it on the door, not realizing it’s now hanging the wrong side out. Next thing you know, a hotel maid is entering with her key, and all kinds of trouble can result. It’s not much of an improvement to have separate door hangers for when housekeeping is or is not wanted, if all that's keeping the sign in place is a hooked bit of paper. The best “Do Not Disturb” sign is the type that must be inserted into the keycard slot. That way, anyone with a key must first remove it, and presumably read it, before entering the room. 
  • Clocks. It's questionable why hotels even need clocks, when we all carry cellphones that show the time and have an alarm function, and when guests can also arrange for a wake-up call as a back-up. Hotel alarm clocks are just a source of trouble, as in “Did the last guest leave the alarm set for 5am, and if so, how do I make sure it’s been turned off?” Housekeeping should, of course, be required to turn off any previously set alarm as part of their cleaning routine before the next guest arrives, but I have discovered, on more than a handful of pre-dawn occasions, that is step often missed. Even if it isn’t, the hotel clock can still be a nuisance. I especially hate the kind with giant red numbers that can’t be dimmed. Even if you turn it away from the bed, it may cast a devilish red glow around the whole room. You try to find a magazine that will cover the thing, and you think you’ve formed a nice, stable tent over the digital display, only to have your architectural creation collapse in the middle of the night with a crash, followed by a piercing bolt of red light. You might think the answer is to unplug the clock as soon as you enter the room, but that entails following the cord down to its outlet, positioned maddeningly far under the bed or behind the immobile nightstand. I guess you could ask the bellman to do this for you as he’s pointing out the “features” of the room, but my usual strategy is to decline any offers of help in getting my bags up to the room, for the slight savings on tips during my stay. 
I’ll stop with these five items, because I know I’ve already written way, way more than those little hotel survey cards could accommodate on their "optional other comments" lines. If anyone knows of a hotel chain that has taken care of all five of these design flaws, please let me know about it. There's unlimited space in the comments section below.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on the full-length mirror! It should be placed somewhere where you'd actually get dressed, and there should be an overhead light at or very near the same place.