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The Traveler's Lament
Hotels and Restaurants
Copyright © 2003-2008, 2010, 2014, 2015 by David E. Ross
After some 40 years of business travel (on and off, not continuous), I developed some ideas about what is good and bad about hotel accommodations. My thoughts were confirmed by my 2003 trip to and across Canada and later personal travel.
- When a wing of a hotel contains 90 guest rooms along a single straight corridor (45 rooms on each side), the elevators should not all be at the same end of the wing. If only a single bank of elevators can be installed, it should be at the middle so that I do not have to walk the entire length of the wing to reach my room. Better, there should be two banks of elevators, each a quarter of the distance from each end of the wing.
- A lobby with easy chairs and small couches should be located near the main entrance, not far from the registration desk. This is especially a problem in Las Vegas, where many hotels have no place in their public areas where someone can sit and wait for someone else (all public spaces being occupied by gambling).
- An energy surcharge on a hotel bill is fraud! It is merely a way for the hotel to quote a lower room-rate than it actually charges. If actual costs go up, the hotel should increase its quoted rate rather than hide the increase as a surcharge until a customer checks in — or worse, checks out. (This applies to all surcharges, not merely to energy surcharges.)
In many cases, an energy surcharge does not relate to the amount of electricity used by a guest within a hotel room. Instead, it pays for the excessive lighting of the hotel's exterior. This is especially true in Las Vegas.
- While most hotels have their own restaurants, many motels do not. It is very much appreciated when a motel without a restaurant provides a continental breakfast. It's even better when they expand the definition of "continental breakfast" — which generally includes only juice, coffee, and a sweet roll — to include cereals, bagels, and even waffles.
- A hotel that provides rooms tailored for the handicapped is commendable. However, hotels sometimes book non-handicapped guests into such rooms; and a handicapped guest sometimes has a non-handicapped spouse or other traveling companion. Indeed, many handicapped individuals never travel alone. Thus, while a closet with a hanger bar at waist height is suitable for someone in a wheelchair, the closet should also have a higher hanger bar. A sink in the bathroom with space underneath so that a wheelchair can maneuver close to it is good, but the counter around the sink should still be large enough for the toiletries of two persons. In any case, non-handicapped travelers should be informed at the check-in desk that their room is tailored for the handicapped; they should then be allowed to choose a different room.
- Business travelers might not care if they are awakened at 6:00am. After all, they need an early start for meeting clients, suppliers, and colleagues. But travelers who are on vacation might want to sleep late. At 6:00am, vacationers do not want to hear "beep, beep, beep" from trash trucks backing up or the crash of trash dumpsters being emptied. Hotels should advise their trash services not to collect until after 8:00am.
Generally, a hotel accommodation consists of only two rooms: the bedroom and the bathroom. Here are some comments about both.
- Two nightstands should be mandatory, along with an unused electrical outlet at each. I have sleep apnea; I stop breathing when I am asleep. For that reason, I have a machine — a continuous, positive air-pressure (CPAP) device — that forces me to breath. I need a night stand on which to place my CPAP and an outlet into which I plug it.
Note: An electrical outlet hidden behind a bed — a bed that takes the effort of two persons to move in order to access the outlet — does not meet my requirements. Neither does a single, two-receptacle outlet when a lamp on each of two nightstands and a clock radio are all plugged into that outlet by using an "octopus". There should be a separate, two-receptacle outlet for each nightstand, visible without moving any furniture and reachable from the nightstand without an extension cord.
- There should be a guide that shows which cable TV channels correspond to which broadcast and satellite channels. This should be on a card affixed to the TV set so that (a) it doesn't wander off with a departing guest and (b) I don't have to tune to some other channel and wait several minutes while the entire list slowly scrolls.
- A room with adequate heating does not need a comforter or duvet on a bed that already has a blanket. It does need a bench or other place where I can put the bedspread (or comforter if you insist) when I turn down the bed.
- In the TV show Seinfeld, George was most definitely correct. The blanket and top sheet should not be tucked in along the side of the bed. They should be tucked in only at the foot.
- Drapes should close completely. The rising sun should not shine through any gap.
- The closet should provide a bar high enough to hang hanging luggage and wide enough to open such luggage. It should not be necessary to hang such a bag from the top of a door (the only available door usually being the bathroom door).
- A room with beds for two guests should have adequate dresser drawers and closet space for two. This is necessary whether the room has one king- or queen-size bed or two double or twin beds. My wife and I once stayed in a luxurious hotel in San Francisco (operated by a major European airline) that had no dresser at all. The closet was barely large enough for one of us, let alone both.
- Phone charges should be indicated on a card adjacent to the room telephone. There should be no charge for calling a toll-free phone number (e.g., 800 area code).
- A room should have a chair. If there is a desk, the chair should fit the desk. If a room is intended for two guests — either there is a king-size bed or there are two beds — there should be at least two chairs. Guests should not have to sit on the bed to read, work on business, or watch television. Of course, this means a room should be large enough to provide space for chairs.
- A clock radio with an alarm on a nightstand is a very nice feature. When housekeeping prepares a room for a new guest, however, they should make sure that any alarms have been turned off.
- A bed that is extra high looks very elegant. Climbing into such a bed, however, is not an elegant activity without the skills and equipment of a pole-vaulter. No bed should be so high that it requires a step-bench to get into it. One hotel where my wife and I stayed not only required such a step; but also the top of the step was highly polished, making it unsafe if either of us was wearing socks.
While you generally spend much more time in the bedroom, bathroom deficiencies seem to be much more annoying.
- A built-in dispenser for facial tissues (e.g., Kleenex) is nice. It's not so nice when it shreds every attempt to remove a tissue.
- I realize there is a breakage hazard with glass. However, I far prefer a real drinking glass over a plastic cup. And there should be at least two drinking glasses per person, one to actually use for drinking and one where I can park my toothbrush. If they must be plastic, they should be heavy enough that one will remain standing up while holding my toothbrush.
In no case whatsoever should I have to call a hotel's housekeeping department to get even a flimsy, disposable plastic drinking cup.
- If I had to choose, I would choose a demountable shower head on a hose instead of a massage shower head. A demountable head allows my wife to bathe without wetting her hair (which does not always fit a shower cap). At home, our shower heads have both features.
- Plumbing codes apparently now prohibit a single-knob control for showers, if they allow for shut-off and turn-on without changing the temperature setting. We still have these controls at home. Newer single-knob controls, however, turn on the water at cold; turning the knob further brings on warmer water. As a safety measure, a person will not be scalded when first turning on the water. Instead, someone wanting to shower gets a major shock of very cold water. Better would be two-knob controls, one knob for turning the water on and off and adjusting the flow and the other knob for adjusting the temperature.
More important, however, is that temperatures between scalding and arctic should be allowed. The control should be tested periodically to ensure that temperatures in between are indeed possible. (I wrote this because — more than once — I stayed in a motel where scalding and arctic were indeed the only temperatures available.)
- In a bathroom sink, tub, or shower, the "cold" faucet should always be on the right, and the "hot" faucet should always be on the left. If there is a single lever or knob, left must be "hot" and right must be "cold". This orientation is so well known that reversing it can result in serious injury and may be a violation of the plumbing code.
- I once stayed at a Holiday Inn that actually had a stall enclosure for the shower tub. Why is that so rare?
At least, if there is a shower curtain, it should be a double:
A double curtain has one curtain inside and one outside, eliminating both problems.
- A curtain inside the tub keeps the water from getting on the floor; but during a warm shower, it allows a draft to enter along the bottom.
- A curtain outside the tub keeps the draft from entering along the bottom, but it doesn't stop water from getting on the floor.
Further, the shower curtain(s) should be at least as wide as their curtain rod. If curtain rings are missing or built-in holes in the curtain are torn, they should be replaced immediately.
All of this discussion about shower enclosures was written some time ago. Today, the fashion seems to involve clear glass shower enclosures with doors that have no frames. While this appears quite elegant, it is also problematical.
- In a home, clear glass enclosures quickly become water-spotted. Any elegance is destroyed if the glass is not frequently cleaned. In a hotel, this is not a serious problem if housekeeping cleans the bathroom daily.
- More important is the fact that the silicone stripping around the edges of the door is usually ineffective in preventing water from leaking out onto the bathroom floor. In 2015, I encountered an instance where the overlap of the door and its silicone stripping were actually aligned to promote the flow of water out of the shower enclosure and onto the floor.
- Soap dishes should be provided, both at the sink and built-in for the shower-tub. They need to be large enough for the bath-size bars of Zest that I bring with me (Zest being one of the few brands whose perfume does not give me a rash). Of course, a built-in soap dish needs to drain; however, the opening in the dish or (for a sink) the depression in the counter for draining should be sufficiently small to keep my bar of Zest from easily sliding into the sink or tub.
- The counter by the sink should be large enough to hold toiletries for at least two persons: hair brushes, toothpaste, bottles of pills, etc.
- It is possible to over-do water conservation. The flow in a sink should not be so restricted that it takes forever to rinse soap off my hands. The flow is far too low if it takes a full minute to wet a washcloth to wipe my face. Flow restrictors in shower heads merely mean that I leave the shower running longer, eliminating any savings of water.
On the other hand, water should not come out of a sink faucet with such force that it ricochets off the bottom of a drinking glass and soaks the counter and mirror or even my shirt.
- Every shower and tub should have a grab bar for the handicapped. No, I am not handicapped (at least, not in that way). We have such bars installed at home. They are very handy to hold while washing my feet. In a slippery tub or shower, even the very fit would find a grab bar helpful.
I once stayed in a motel that did not have a grab bar. To steady myself as I got out of the shower tub, I put my hand on the top of the tub enclosure, which was only slightly higher than I am tall. The ledge at the top of the enclosure was dirty! I had to rinse my hand before reaching for a towel.
- If a hotel provides only single-ply toilet tissue, I will use twice as much as I would with double-ply. If the hotel thinks they are saving money with single-ply, they are deluded.
- No matter how large and thick they are, towels that are a blend of cotton and polyester do not properly dry hands or body. They might appear luxurious, but they are worthless.
Drying my face with a hand towel that makes me think of rubbing a scouring pad across my nose will cause me to stay elsewhere on my next trip.
- I had a motel room that had a stall shower instead of a shower-tub. Since I always shower, this should have been okay. However the shower stall was so small that, when I dropped the soap, I had to turn the shower off and open the stall door in order to bend down and pick up the soap.
- A bathroom should be large enough that a person can shut the door without first having to climb into the bathtub. This might seem obvious and not necessary to state. However, my wife and I shared a motel room where the only way to shut the bathroom door was indeed to stand in the tub.
- When lifting or lowering the toilet seat, if there is less than 2 inches of clearance with a full roll of toilet paper, the toilet is too close to the wall or cabinet where the toilet paper is mounted.
- Bathrooms should have a towel bar to hang wet bath linens. A room for double-occupancy should have sufficient towel bars to accommodate the bath towels, hand towels, and wash cloths used by two adults.
Under various names, business centers have become more common in both hotels and motels. In some cases, a large room is set aside for this purpose; in other cases, it's merely a corner of the lobby.
- At a minimum, a business center needs a stapler (with a box of additional staples), scissors, regular and large paper clips, pens, pencils, two colors of highlighters, and scratch pads. Someone should check at least twice each day — including weekends — to ensure these are still available.
- A shredder is very nice. It should be a cross-cut shredder and not merely a device that cuts long, continuous strips.
- Computers are especially nice in a business center. Of course, they need printers (and again a visible supply of extra paper).
While security on a computer is important to prevent viruses from affecting users, security should not be so rigorous as to make the computers unusable. In one hotel, I could not use my flash drive (memory stick), where I had my phone list or Web bookmarks (favorites); for the sake of security, external data devices were prohibited. I wondered what would have happened if I could indeed access my flash drive and then tried to execute the program that decrypts my lists of passwords and credit card numbers. At that hotel, I never saw anyone try to use the computers. What a waste!
- Copiers and fax machines are also very welcome. An extra supply of paper should be visible so that users don't have to contact housekeeping or the front desk when a machine is empty.
As with hotels, I have some comments about restaurants, too.
NOTE: My use of "waiter" and "busboy" is intended to be non-gender specific. To me, there are female waiters and busboys.
- Why do busboys (and waiters too) insist on filling water glasses from the side of the pitcher rather than through the spout? What a mess this maneuver makes!!
- Whoever came up with the idea of polyester table napkins should be strangled with his own creation. They are non-absorbent, neither mopping up water spilled by the busboy refilling my glass (see above) nor removing grease from my hands. And they are too slick, refusing to remain on my lap.
On the other hand, I commend whoever thought of putting a button-hole in one corner of a table napkin. I can discretely fasten the napkin to my shirt without tucking it into my belt.
- Waiters: Do NOT ever collect my signed credit-card voucher until after I leave. Don't be in such a rush to recycle my table. At least wait long enough for me to pocket my credit card and leave a cash tip. (I never charge the tip.) If you rush me, you might find the tip missing.
- When I give my name at the reservation desk, I tell them "Ross". I am Mr. Ross, not merely Ross. Not only am I possibly three times as old as the service staff (definitely at least twice as old), but I am also paying their wages when I pay for my meal. I deserve respect instead of familiarity. (At one restaurant, when asked for my first name, I said "Mister".) Similarly, unless I am a frequent diner there, I really do not need the name of my waiter.
The worst is when a waiter reads my name from my credit card and calls me "Dave". I am David. That is what is on the credit card. Those who really know me never me call me Dave. I am not Dave to anyone. Sometimes, I ignore someone who calls me Dave. For a waiter with this very mistaken level of familiarity, I sometimes leave a 5¢ tip. I would leave nothing, but I don't want the waiter to think I forgot.
The service staff in a restaurant — or in a store or hotel — are employees of a business. They are not my friends. (I have started addressing some of my doctors by their first names because they address me by mine.)
- Waiters should know what ingredients are used in cooking. If asked and they don't know, they should promptly ask in the kitchen. In that case, someone in the kitchen MUST know. My wife has diverticulitis; she is not supposed to eat nuts or seeds. She also is lactose-intolerant and has trouble digesting milk, cream, yogurt, and most cheeses. She has to know which items are safe before ordering her meal.
- My wife's problems (see immediately above) are actually quite common. This means that menus should have some entrée and dessert selections that have neither milk products, nuts, nor seeds. For several meals while traveling by train, Evelyn went without dessert because every item on the menu had either whipped cream, ice cream, or nuts. On the train from Toronto to Montréal, she could not eat half the poor breakfast for the same reason.
- Despite the fact that a restaurant has a self-service buffet (as is common for breakfast in hotels), the staff should ensure that salt, pepper, and sugar are at each table. For breakfast, cream is also necessary. If utensils are not available at the buffet, the staff should ensure that there are enough place settings at each table. Most important, the buffet itself must be kept fully stocked with food during the posted hours of operation. During breakfast, there is absolutely no excuse for self-service coffee to be empty or cold.
- Both my wife and I like shrimp very much. When served as a "finger food" — fried or in a shrimp cocktail — leaving the shell on the tail makes sense. The tail then serves as a very good handle. However, when served in a salad or in an entrée with a lot of sauce, leaving the shell on the tail is stupid. Either we have to get our hands very messy, or else we have to leave part of an expensive meal uneaten. I cook shrimp at home, usually buying raw shrimp with the shell. It's not really hard to remove the ENTIRE shell, even from the tail, before cooking.
- Yes, I'm overweight, as are many, many other persons. That is why I prefer a table instead of a booth in a restaurant. But in some restaurants, tables are very few or even non-existent.
When I have to squeeze into a booth, I would like enough room between the table and my belly to insert a napkin. Perhaps one less booth in a row would allow more space within each of the remaining booths. It would also be very nice if the table were movable and not fastened to the floor. That way, when I sit on one side and a thin friend sits on the other, we could adjust the table for both of us.
- Waiters should be truthful and not over-sell menu items. On our 50th wedding anniversary, my wife and I had dinner at a highly recommended restaurant that specialized in Louisiana-style Creole food. The menu mentioned jambalaya with both full and half servings. When we indicated that we would share the jambalaya, the waiter insisted that the half serving would be too small; so we ordered the full. We could not finish even half of the full serving; there would have been some left even if we had ordered the half serving. I reduced the waiter's tip for not being truthful about the size of the servings.
Updated 9 August 2015
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