What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you at a hotel? Pipes burst? Stolen computer? Mouse sighting?
It differs by the guest, and it’s fair to say that one person’s worst nightmare—say, a rat—is another’s “let’s-see-if-we-can-get-it-to-drag-a-slice-of-pizza!”
Such was the situation I encountered at a motel up in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on a recent vacation. The room was about $160 a night, quiet, and—at first blush—neat. But closer inspection revealed that if I was Miss Muffet, this would be the worst spot ever: three spiders’ nests lurked in the suite.
Now, I’m cockroach-phobic, but spiders don’t really trouble me. I gave them a wide berth, and upon checking out the next morning, casually mentioned it to the staffer at the front desk: “I’m not afraid of spiders, but your next guest might be; you probably want to have housekeeping take a closer look at 11B.”
Her eyes widened. (She was a spider-phobe.) She thanked me profusely and said she’d look into it. No discount was offered, and I didn’t ask for one.
But did everyone handle this correctly? I reached out to Carol Peterson, general manager of the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas, and Daniel Post Senning, great-great grandson of notorious manners stickler Emily Post and co-host of the “Awesome Etiquette Podcast.”
“We’re a small historic hotel in a very remote location,” said Peterson, “and my feeling is that we don’t ever want a guest to leave without feeling totally satisfied with their stay. Each guest is important to us in terms of future business.” Gage staffers make small talk with guests, asking how they like their rooms, throughout their visit, so “If someone says, ‘You know, there’s a weird spider creeping me out,’” staffers can say, “We’ll get a person over there right away.”
Peterson emphasized, “we like to find out about a problem before a person checks out. I hate it when [I find out] after the fact. That’s the most unpleasant situation.”
She enables every single staffer to “take care of a problem with a customer,” whether it’s offering an apology or a discount, and in my spidery scenario hopes her employee would have said, “We’re so sorry that you had that experience in your room, we’re glad you let us know, and we’ll definitely look into it.”
And when it comes to a discount, might a squeakier wheel get the grease? How should the guest act? “We [have] employees try to read the customer; if they feel like there’s a lot of discontentment they will try to offer a discount right away.” But with some guests, whether she offers gift certificates or discounts, “Some people cannot be pleased.”
And throwing a fit won’t help your case.
“We’re all humans,” Peterson points out, “and the nice ones at our hotel will get…the same outcome as the ones who stamp their feet.”
Daniel Post Senning agrees. “One of our principles of good etiquette is recognizing the work of others, but also honesty.” He suggests you ask yourself, “How bad was it, really?”
He thinks everyone handled my spiders appropriately. “If it was an easily corrected and egregious error—they owe you,” he says, such as if things were “so bad that you weren’t comfortable in the room.” But for that price, he notes, “you probably weren’t expecting it to be like the Ritz.” True.
And would I have been rude to ask for a discount? “No,” he replied, “as long as you’re prepared to accept the answer that you get."
Question your motives before piping up, he suggests. “If it’s, ‘I see a cockroach, oh, sweet, this will be 20 percent off my bill!’” you’re not looking at the situation correctly. “On the flip side, if you see one and run screaming from the room, and you don’t feel comfortable, then you head right down to the desk.” In the latter instance, he thinks a new room, a refund, and assistance finding someplace else to stay in town are all appropriate.
As long as you’re kind. “We all need to learn how to deliver bad news well. Everybody is shining when everyone is on their best behavior. The real challenge is when you’re presented with someone difficult or a difficult situation—or when you haven’t been at your best. That’s the real test of your grace and poise.”