I think she said “Mr. Wallace” about a dozen times in the first two minutes. In fact, she ended all of her sentences with “Mr. Wallace” throughout my entire check-in, like she had a quota to fill, like I had forgotten my own name every two seconds. Very little eye contact, jittery movement, a small show of strain on her brow. The computer’s not behaving, she can’t find the stapler, there are other people waiting. Oh god, get me out of here, I thought. I’ll just go to the bar and have a drink while you calm down and I’ll check-in later.
You never have a second chance to make a first impression and many hotels—big and small—screw up this all-important First Contact by putting their most junior staff on the front desk, often all alone. I see it time and again. They’re unsure of the routine, they ask you the same questions twice, they try to make small talk but end up just distracting themselves and ruining the smooth interaction they know you want. Please just hurry up and put through my card, I think.
I’m never shirty with these junior people, I just smile, smile through it all, but it’s always a much more pleasant and relaxing experience if I’m attended to by someone who knows what they’re doing or is at least not that far away if help is needed. Hotels seem to be worrying too much about the smaller things like the pillow concierge, and they’re forgetting about some of the basics. With all the technology and market research going on out there, please, please, someone make checking-in easier or I’m going to scream.
Even worse is when you have to check out at 5 a.m. or earlier and have to deal with the night managers, who are even less-informed, and often just glorified security guards. “Cabs? I guess there are cabs out there somewhere.” Oh, my stars.
Hotel guests spending big cash on hotel rooms need to feel comfortable in the competence of the staff or they may not return; it can’t get more basic than that. When inefficiency is the leading theme of what should be a flawless check-in experience, people just tend to get their backs up. I realize that the less-experienced have to learn, but first impressions are everything. When that prime moment can be summed up as “dithering,” that’s a problem.
At a top Toronto hotel recently, I was having a totally wooden check-in experience, when a second front-desk person wandered up, smiled and said, “Hi, how was your stay?”
“Um, I’m checking in.” Sigh.