Room 614 – Prima Donna




“Hello, dear. I’d like to check in, please.”

The woman standing before me at the front desk had made a stylish entrance to the hotel. She had parked her brand-new Range Rover (still sporting temporary paper license plates) under the large carport, which ran the length of the hotel. I watched her through the large windows of the lobby as she got out of her car and looked around as if she were lost before finally entering the reception area through the sliding glass doors.

The woman looked like she was around 65 years old with flawlessly styled silver hair. She wore large gold earrings in the unmistakable Chanel logo. Her flowing, loose-fitting turquoise blouse and white slacks radiated a Giorgio Armani vibe, and she carried a silver Louis Vuitton handbag, which matched her silver shoes – undoubtedly designed by Prada. The floral scent of an expensive perfume created an unseen cloud around her that anyone standing in a 10-foot radius would undoubtedly smell. Everything about this woman exemplified “money” as her outfit surely cost more than my entire wardrobe. And although I worked at an upper mid-scale property, my first thought was, “What is the lady doing slumming in my hotel?”

“The reservations under Donna Harrington,” she said with a nasally, pretentious tone. I couldn’t help but feel “less-than” as she addressed me like I was definitely “the help.”

“And, dear,” she continued with a smile of arrogance, “I trust my upgrade is available.”

I attentively responded, “I’ll be happy to check on that,” while typing her last name into the computer. I found the guest’s reservation; Donna Harrington, a one-night stay in a standard king room. I checked if a penthouse was vacant to which I could meet her request for an upgrade, but no dice – there were none available as we were completely sold out.

“Oh, I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” (was I, really?), “But we have no upgrades available this evening.”

She stared at me and I offered her an apologetic smile. She then slowly unzipped her Louis Vuitton and retrieved a sequined wallet, which she opened. She produced a white, pearlized plastic card and laid it on the desk with a snap. She then looked at me and said, “Uh, White Gold member.”

Member rewards programs are a standard in the hotel industry, and the property that employed me was no exception. Guests enrolled in the program have the opportunity to earn points based on the amount of money and the number of nights they spend in a hotel. The more the guest spends and the longer they stay, the higher they climb on the rewards ladder.

There are different levels of association based on the total nights occupied annually at a property. Ten nights a year would earn you a basic membership. The Gold level was reserved for guests who spent a minimum of 30 nights a year at one of the properties. The Rose Gold level required 90 nights a year, while the coveted White Gold membership required spending over 180 nights annually in one of our guest rooms. Quite frankly, the White Gold level guests generally spent more nights sleeping on one of our hotel mattresses than they did in their own bed.

With each level of enrollment came perks – upgrades, gifts, no-fee cancellations, and even a personal concierge. At the White Gold level, guests like Mrs. Harrington received almost every amenity the hotel had to offer, on the house. Albeit those perks were exclusively available upon request and based on the offerings of the hotel.

The tone with which Mrs. Harrington used to inform me of her rewards status was inflated, much like an unknown would ask, “Maybe you don’t know who I am?” She clearly expected me to concede instant respect and submissiveness. White Gold members like Mrs. Harrington candidly believe they’re God’s gift to the hotel chain and, in reality, their revenue accounts for a sizable percentage of income for the company.

“Well, I appreciate your White Gold level of membership. You’ll be earning double points for your stay with us and parking is complimentary. But unfortunately, and I do apologize, but there are no upgrades available tonight,” I repeated.

The guest’s comportment instantly turned negative. I never understood why people don’t grasp the logic behind a negative response to their inquiry. Hotel agents don’t make it a practice to disappoint the guest, but unfortunately, requests such as different room types or connecting doors do not magically appear just because of an earned reward status. If it’s not available, it’s simply NOT available.

Mrs. Harrington looked at me in disbelief and asked, “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” I said, “that all of our penthouses are occupied for tonight.”

She stared at me as if I had just given her the explanation in a foreign tongue, so I continued.

“If you were to open every door to every penthouse in this hotel, you’d find a guest on the other side. I have none available for an upgrade this evening.”

She paused for a moment and then slowly pushed her card towards me with a perfectly manicured fingernail. “But I’m a White Gold member,” Mrs. Harrington proclaimed.

“Yes, I realize that” I stated, “And I understand that guests of your status are entitled to a complimentary upgrade. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there are no penthouses vacant this evening. If you read the guidelines of your membership, you’ll note that all upgrades are based on availability. Unfortunately, an upgrade is not available this evening.”

I didn’t know how else to explain the situation. I had remained as professional and calm as I could, however, the guest continued to gawk at me with that bewildered look on her face. She placed both hands on her hips and a loud gasp escaped her lips.

“I do apologize,” I offered. I knew we had a definite disconnection, yet I continued with the check-in process in my system.

“Fine, fine,” she said waving her hand in my direction, totally dismissing me. “I guess you don’t understand.”

I kept my thoughts to myself – ‘I don’t understand?’ – and continued checking the guest into the computer.

“Just give me the key to my room and have the valet park my car. I left the keys in the ignition.”

Most travelers believe a hotel is a hotel and don’t understand the difference between full- and select-service properties. I concluded this was Mrs. Harrington’s setback.

Full-service hotels are just that: full service. There’s an array of associates waiting to accommodate the specific needs of each individual guest. They offer amenities like valets, bellmen, concierges, and room service – to name a few. These properties house several restaurants, spacious gift shops, and tranquil spas, and offer daily turndown service. Their rates reflect this level of service.

Select-service hotels are likewise intent on providing the guest an infallible stay, they don’t offer the same level of amenities and services, and consequently offer much cheaper rates. At a select-service hotel, the guests park their own vehicles, carry their own bags, and must make their own arrangements for activities. There is no staff available to deliver food to the guest room from the lone restaurant on property which generally only serves breakfast. There is no gift shop, no spa, and forget about turndown service.

Mrs. Harrington clearly didn’t realize she was standing in a select-service hotel.

“Ma’am, the hotel does not offer valet services,” I replied as I handed her the key to her room.

“What?” She asked with a surprised expression, which then turned very snarky. “I AM in a hotel, aren’t I?”

“Yes, Mrs. Harrington. But we’re a select-service hotel. We don’t offer the same features as our full-service counterparts, such as valet parking. However, as a White Gold member, you do enjoy complimentary parking during your stay. I’ve included your parking pass with your key. Just place it on your dashboard.”

Mrs. Harrington looked horrified and asked, “There’s really no one who can park my car?”

“Well, you can,” I optimistically added. “Just pull around to the rear or the hotel. Your room key will get you in the back door and the elevators are just inside. You’re in room 614, which is on the sixth floor.”

I was astounded at Mrs. Harrington’s disbelief. She was obviously a guest who stayed exclusively at full-service hotels and was used to full-service offerings. She was plainly distressed that my select-service property couldn’t rise to her expectations.

“Fine,” she said, exhaling loudly before defeatedly announcing, “I guess I’ll park my own car.” Mrs. Harrington walked towards the sliding doors and then stopped and turned back to me just as they slid open. “Do I just leave my bags on the curb for the bellman?”

This was strike three: no upgrade, no valet, no bellman. Mrs. Harrington was in the foreign land of select-service hotels. I tried to point this out to her again.

“Ma’am, we don’t have a bellman. This is a select-service hotel where you not only get to park your own car, but you carry your own bags to your room as well.”

“What?” she pleaded. “What is going on? Am I in the twilight zone?”

“No, you’re in a select-service hotel,” I answered.

“But I’m a White Gold member! This is absurd!”

We stared at one another for a few moments, then she finally turned with a huff and walked out to her car. I figured Mrs. Harrington didn’t intentionally behave in a condescending, superior manner. She had just been conditioned to expect certain amenities we simply didn’t provide. I continued my work at the front desk and all thoughts of Mrs. Harrington slipped from my mind until about 10 minutes later when my phone rang, and “RM 614” appeared on my caller ID screen. I took a deep breath and picked up the receiver.

“Good evening, this is the front desk,” I recited.

“Hello, dear, this is Donna Harrington in room 614. I can’t seem to find the complimentary champagne they usually leave in my room.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. Here we go again.

“Oh, my apologies. We don’t offer complimentary champagne at this hotel,” I explained.

“Oh, perhaps you aren’t aware,” she stated with her snootiness in full drive, “I’m a White Gold member.”

“Yes, I’m aware of your rewards status and appreciate your loyalty. At the full-service hotels, our White Gold members are provided with complimentary champagne, but this is a select-service hotel. Unfortunately, we don’t offer that benefit.”

“Hmm…” came the reply, followed by dead air.

I finally broke the silence. “Is there anything else I can do for you Mrs. Harrington?”

She said nothing but just hung up.

Admittedly, I was frustrated by her lack of manners. I tried not to let her behavior affect my mood, but it’s difficult to remain cheerful when being treated poorly.

Less than 30 seconds had passed before she called me again.

“Front desk,” I answered.

“I am sorry to bother you again. This is…”

“Mrs. Harrington, room 614.” I finished her sentence for her.

“Yes,” she replied. “Look, I don’t want to cost anyone their job or anything…,” her pretentious voice suddenly reminded me of Mrs. Howell from “Gilligan’s Island,” and I had to stifle a laugh.

“However,” Lovie continued, “I’m unable to locate the complimentary robe and slippers that usually hang in the bathroom. I’m about to take a shower.”

With all my strength I remained calm, humorously recognizing the absurdity of Mrs. Harrington and her requests. I plainly asserted what I had explained to her previously.

“Ma’am, this is a select-service hotel. The amenities you’re accustomed to receiving at a full-service hotel are not available at this property. We do not offer valet services, complimentary champagne, or a bathrobe to our guests. While we do respect and honor your White Gold status, we do not offer these amenities.”

There was a click on the phone as she hung up. I slowly returned the receiver to its cradle on the desk. It wasn’t five minutes later that Mrs. Harrington rounded the corner from the elevator and was marching towards me.

“Look,” she sternly said through a very condescending smile. She was pointing her perfectly manicured fingernail at me and was still marching toward the desk as she began her rage. “You are not providing the treatment I deserve as a White Gold member.” She stopped and cleared her throat before continuing. “You may not be in a position of authority or associated with those who are among my circle of friends, but I AM! And I DESERVE a higher level of attention than you are providing.”

I was dumbfounded.

“First of all,” she continued, “I have more money than you’ll ever make in your measly lifetime. Secondly, I’m a personal acquaintance of the CEO of this company and I can have your job just like that!” She snapped loudly with the hand she had used to point at me moments before. “I understand that you’re a lowly, blue-collar employee on the bottom of the totem pole, pathetically working the front desk of a ‘select-service’ hotel.” She made a sour face and her voice sneered as she said “select-service.”

Her haughtiness was escalating to a level I couldn’t tolerate, yet her demeaning comments continued.

“You probably have no education whatsoever and you’re presumably making minimum wage based on your appearance. I am accustomed to a lifestyle that supersedes your world or anything you could ever imagine! You’ll never understand that my entitled perks may be an unheard-of dream to you, but they are a necessity for me.”

My astonishment grew intensely, and I couldn’t believe she had the gall to speak to anyone so rudely.

She pointed at herself. “I am the guest. I am the important one here. MY wish should be YOUR command.” She paused before going on. “May I suggest that you go out and FIND me a bathrobe and some slippers, and maybe even that bottle of champagne I’m entitled to, and you deliver them to my room – AT ONCE!” She glared at me before adding: “And I don’t care what you need to do to get them. JUST DO IT!”

Something inside of me erupted like a volcano. I’ve always considered myself a pretty even-tempered person, especially when dealing with the public. I had learned in my years at the front desk to let comments like Mrs. Harrington’s roll off me like water off a duck’s back. But old Donna Harrington had just struck a chord I didn’t appreciate and had pushed me too far. I had taken her abuse long enough. I stood firmly and replied.

“First of all, Mrs. Harrington, despite my personal financial status or level of education, I am a human being and deserve to be treated accordingly. Your wealth doesn’t give you the right to demean me, nor does your status as a White Gold member. I do not appreciate the belittling scolding you continue to dish out to me. No one deserves to be spoken to with such a tone!

“Secondly, I understand you’re a White Gold member and are entitled to complimentary champagne and bathrobes. But that only applies to full-service properties. I don’t have access to those items at this property and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go retrieve the items for you. YOU were the one to book a stay at this select-service hotel. We don’t have a valet. We don’t have a bellman. There’s no concierge or butler. We don’t have a masseuse, room service, or a helicopter landing pad! You reserved a room at a SELECT-SERVICE hotel!”

My voice was on the verge of shouting and my heart was racing, yet I continued.

“I understand the amenities White Gold members are entitled to receive at a select service hotel, and I can say with confidence that I have provided you with each of those amenities. So, go ahead and call the CEO if you’d like, although I’d bet my measly paycheck you don’t know him from Adam! But, on the off chance you do speak to him, go ahead and report to him that I didn’t do my job. Because regardless of your perception or report, I can stand here and state with all confidence that I absolutely HAVE done my job!”

I managed to maintain my composure and calmly added, “Now, is there anything else I could help you with this evening?”

Mrs. Harrington gawked at me with wide eyes. A surge of emotions came over me – including everything from pride and relief to fear of losing my job! I had stood up to a guest, calling her out on her deplorable behavior, an act I was not trained to do in hospitality. But I had also defended myself and rebutted the abusive behavior Mrs. Harrington had delivered. I felt positive about the words I had chosen and determined they could be justified. I had met the expectations set forth by the company in relation to White Gold members and provided the guest with the appropriate amenities. I had stood my ground and feared no repercussions.

Mrs. Harrington spun around and stomped her way back towards the elevator. Surprisingly, I didn’t hear from the guest for the remainder of her stay. Our encounter had been draining, and by the time I had completed my shift, I couldn’t wait to head home.

I arrived at work the following day at 2:30 in the afternoon. I was relieving Lydia who had been at the desk since 7 that morning.

“Hi, Lydia,” I said when I arrived at the desk.

“Hi, Deven. Hey, do you remember the guest in 614?”

My heart sank and my thoughts immediately went dark. Had she called my bluff? I nervously imagined her speaking to my boss, or even worse, demanding we get the CEO on the phone for her and relating a distorted view of her side of our encounter. I would be painted as the enemy, denying Mrs. Harrington of her simple rights as a White Gold member, not to mention the rant I had delivered. I could only imagine how she skewed my self-defense as a personal attack on her.

I quickly took inventory of the words I had chosen and considered whether I had crossed any lines that could be detrimental to my employment and still felt secure in my course of action.

“Yeah,” I said. “How come?”

“It was weird,” Lydia said. “She called the desk just after seven this morning to order room service!”

“What?” I chuckled as Lydia continued.

“I told her that we don’t offer room service because we’re a select-service hotel. I don’t think she grasps the concept. But then she said that you told her it was available.”

My chuckle turned into laughter. Had she not heard or understood anything that I had told her the entire night?

“No way! Was she snobby?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Lydia confirmed. “We’re talking snooty central. In fact, the last thing she said when I checked her out was, ‘This is the last time I have my assistant book my hotel.’”

Clearly, my explanation of select-service versus full-service hotels didn’t register with Mrs. Harrington whatsoever.

I never had any further contact with Mrs. Harrington – I perceive my assumption of her unfamiliarity with the CEO was correct as I never heard about our interaction again. Perhaps she’d realized her treatment of the working class was shameful.

But I was confident regarding my actions. I had stood up for myself and tried to communicate hotel policy and procedure, but evidently, the message was never received.

Same planet. Different worlds.

Deven Matthews is a hotelier who has worked in the hotel industry for more than 23 years. A professor of hotel management at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, Deven enjoys instructing the future managers of Las Vegas hotels. He holds a master’s degree in business management and is fascinated by all things hospitality. When not immersed in hotels, Deven enjoys playing the piano and spending time with his wife and their six children.


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