8 Things About Hotels I’d Love to See Changed

breakfast in bed

I’ve worked in the service industry since I was sixteen years old and realize how hard the work is, and how much the people who work in it are undervalued and generally underpaid. On a recent trip I stayed in quite a few hotels, a different one every day for a week, and realized they could be doing a few things that would make things more pleasant for guests, as well as make life easier for the good people that work there:


1. Put amenities in large refillable bottles.

I’ve stopped taking home those tiny bottles of shampoo and body lotion. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I’m no longer that cheap and don’t mind spending a few dollars every couple of months to buy my own. I suspect most people that take them aren’t merely using them as travel-sized bottles for their carry-ons. I’ve always wondered what happens to those little bottles if I use them once. Do they get refilled, or tossed away? I assume they’re tossed, so I no longer bother to use them and bring my own. But for those who just have carry-ons, let’s all make the switch to using large refillable bottles.

2. Give me a checklist with checkboxes asking me what level of service I want.

I am sure there are people out there that like it when someone knocks on their door in the morning, asking if they’re in there so they can clean the room. And I am certain some people like it when they’re watching television and relaxing in the afternoon and someone stops by to see if they need the minibar filled, then thirty minutes later, another person comes by to lift the top of the sheet from the bed and fold it down, otherwise known as ‘turndown service.’

For those people, and for those of us who don’t use all twelve towels in one day, give guests a checklist when they arrive, asking them which services they’d like and which they don’t need. Then the service staff doesn’t have to worry about bothering guests and guests don’t have to worry about the staff coming into their rooms at all hours to put a chocolate on the pillow. Personally, I’d rather they leave a whole stack in the room upon arrival anyways.

3. Put instructions for connecting to the Internet, clearly stated, in each room.

If there’s anyone out there that doesn’t want or need to connect to the Internet when traveling, that’s great. For the rest of us, it’s our lifeline. I cry if I can’t get connected to the Internet. When I check in to a hotel, I’ve probably spent the morning battling lines at the airports and flying all day or night, and I’m not in the best shape to remember a gazillion details or verbal instructions or passwords.

To save me a call to the front desk, and to save the person at the front desk from receiving the same call they probably get from 98% of the guests five minutes after they land in the room, put a plastic-laminated sheet near the desk that tells you 1) What the charge is for Internet connectivity, 2) How to get connected, and 3) What the networks and passcodes are.

4. Decide whether you want to charge a gratuity or tip, but not both.

I always thought a tip and a gratuity were the same thing; a gesture of cash in exchange for good service. That’s the way it is in America, at least, and I’m fine with that. (Actually, I think it’s not such a great idea—but that’s for another post.) So how come whenever I order room service, on the bill are lines for ‘delivery charge’, ‘gratuity’ (added automatically) and ‘tip’?

As mentioned, I get the fact that a tip is a tip. And as far as I know, ‘gratuity’ is just another word for ‘tip’. As someone who rarely orders room service unless I have a very early morning flight (and believe me, anyone that has to deal with me first thing in the morning deserves something special), I understand that room service is a pain in the patootie for everyone involved, hence the marked up prices and appropriate charges associated.

Room service menus usually state something along the lines of “A service charge and 18% gratuity will be added to room service checks.” That’s fine and I’m down with that. So why is there a space on the bill to write in an additional tip? Or if not, why is the waiter hovering for a few minutes too long after they bring breakfast? (It can’t be because they want to spend more time with me.)

If they’re not getting that 18%, that’s just wrong. (However I was under the impression that the hotel got the delivery charge and the waiter got the tip. If not, why are they separated out?) If the servers merit their worth, pay them that or include that in the bill.

5. Get rid of the tips for bellhops.

They work hard, but I often found myself scrambling for small bills to hand out to everyone who touches my suitcases. But as much as I tried, I would sometimes find myself single-dollar(s) deficient. Why not raise their pay and up the price of the room a few bucks and reward those gals n’ guys for working so hard? Or for those who think that people won’t work hard unless they’re tipped (although I’d like to give them more credit than that), put a checkbox on our bill* when we leave for us to write in an appropriate gratuity. Or tip. (But both would be kind of a stretch.)

6. Put a coffee machine in every room.

The greatest joy in life is waking up, slipping on a bathrobe, and drinking coffee without anyone bothering you. I live for that moment every day. And when I check into a hotel and see a stocked coffee bar, I want to hug it and take it to bed with me. (And yes, I would buy it room service for breakfast in the morning.)

The coffee is usually just okay, and I know one can order an Aeropress or Handpresso and schlep that along. But as much as I would like to consider myself an annoying coffee snob, at 6:45am, I’m just happy to have something strong and warm in bed with me. (And I’m not talking about a plastic coffee machine…)

Even better is that you could make a deal with one of those capsule-taking espresso machines and sell the capsules as part of the minibar. I’m not a huge fan of some of the coffee that comes out of them, but I am certain that at least one company would love to have their machines featured in rooms for guests to try. What a marketing coup!

7. Get rid of the minibar service charge.

I understand why the prices are so high in the minibar; it’s usually late at night, or you’ve had a long day, and it’s just not feasible to go out into the night to find a 2 ounce bottle of whiskey. But what I don’t understand is the 10% service charge added. Does the housekeeper get that money? If so, that’s fine. But I doubt it. (And I’m happy to be proven otherwise.)

If not, just include whatever “service” goes into the work that’s done filling up that lil’ fridge that the hotel has to cover. Why is it separated out? (And please don’t say that it’s to cover the extra costs associated with stocking the bar. If the $45 for a half-bottle of California Chardonnay isn’t covering the costs of that bottle, I’d switch to another wine.)

8. Keep up the good work with the fantastic bed and comfy sheets.

I love how hotels have dialed up their sheets and bedding. In fact, I stayed at one place and the sheets were so good, if I wasn’t such an honest sort, I would have stripped the beds—at the risk of making the coffee machine jealous—and taken them home with me.

A few times I found it hard to get out of bed, and each night the idea of diving in to those lovely sheets and terrific mattress made all the difference in the world. As someone who spend nearly 95% of his time in his hotel room in bed, thanks for thinking of me.



*Yikes! This one is probably going to rile a few. As stated, I want those fine young men and women to get compensated for their hard work. Lifting luggage certainly isn’t a walk in the park nor is standing out in the heat or freezing cold. And I would likely tip them even more if I could just write in an amount to add to my bill.

**For those eagle-eyed readers who point out the bottle of water on the nightstand, I don’t usually drink bottled water but like visitors who come to France and ask me “Is it okay to drink the water?”, I had the same questions about water in the states. But in spite of any reservations, I refilled it with water from the tap.


146 comments

  • Hi, David. Love your blog! I, too, have been in a huff about gratuity, tip, and other “add-ons” that seem to double my bill! I’ve recently gone back to school, and thanks to my Hositality and Management prof, I’ve been enlightened. In the hospitality industry, the gratuity charge always goes to the company and isn’t necessarily related to your service. It’s meant to cover the cost of things like broken dishes, thievery (towels and silverware that grow legs…), and oh yea, worker’s comp. So! The only money your server ever sees is the tip.

    Hope that helps; safe travels!

  • David,
    I’ve had friends get ill after drinking the water in Mexico, but think the water in Texas is safe — never heard of any safety issues, unless I’m missing something.

  • David,

    I completely agree with you. This summer I stayed at a hotel in Egypt, that didn’t specify how to get internet, had no coffee machines or irons in the rooms, and the WORST part was that the rooms didn’t even have clocks. With jet lag like that, alarm clocks are absolutely necessary.

    I DO love how European hotels have the heated towel racks, nothing beats a toasty warm towel…except maybe for your Fresh Ginger Cake.

  • I share your particular hatred of people asking you in the morning if they want the room cleaned. Especially if it’s before 8am, especially if I’m checking out that day, and very especially (as happened to me a couple of weeks ago) if I’m getting dressed at the time, the 2 previous conditions apply and they don’t knock but just come in!
    I used to work in a youth hostel – we knew who was leaving and who wasn’t and we were doing all the cleaning on a budget. To my knowledge, we never walked in on people – surely for the much higher rates we pay for hotels, they could manage this too??

  • I’d like to add something to the list: earplugs would be a great addition to the free amenities. I mentioned this at one hotel and their reply, “That would imply our hotel is noisy”. Sigh.

  • This is not really related to hotels, but I am 100% with you on the sheets and bedding. It’s divine to dive into a comfy bed after strolling the streets of Paris for hours and hours and hours.
    I just have to send you a grand merci for the recommendation for the Café du Commerce steak-frites. I was just there a week ago, managed to get a table without a reservation and had a divine rare steak. The best I’ve ever had in Paris. The frites were good and so was my carafe of Costières de Nîmes to wash it down. It was a wonderful weekend– divine weather, the market at Saint Germain, strolling along the Seine, etc. Ahhhhhh

  • Terrific list, David, but I have one more for you. Outlaw bedspreads! When I know that I have to stay in a chain hotel I always make sure that the room has two double beds. I hide the scrofulous bedspread in the closet and strip the sheet from the second bed and use it to cover up the washed-once-every-ten-years blanket. And I’m not even remotely OCD.

  • In Australia, for better or worse, tipping is hardly heard of in any place other than a restaurant. And I TOTALLY here Lynn about the bedspreads!

  • A simple answer to people barging in to service rooms etc would be to hand the guest a card on arrival with a checklist ” What time would you like your room serviced?”
    This would tie in nicely with your idea for a card for level of service. I would have no problem with filling this in on arrival ( or in advance for an internet booking) to obtain the service required.
    When I’ve been travelling with my children I will often phone in advance to organise things in respect to them. I’ve always found people pretty accommodating to different needs. It would be nice though if this could be done in respect to all guests and not just those that don’t speak up in advance.
    The only danger I see with this is that check-lists could in fact become very long and involved.
    Like Australia, in NZ tipping is only done when exceptional service in a restaurant is given – it’s not given as a matter of course.

  • On coffee in every room–whenever there’s coffee, but not tea, I always point out at the front desk that a Lipton’s bag costs well less than a cent at Costco, and would ensure that I don’t feel ignored when I gaze at the hot water maker and swear at myself because once again I forgot to stash a couple tea bags as I ran out the door of my house.

    On the other hand, I always rave to the front desk staff when I get to a hotel that DOES offer a tea bag (w/ CAFFEINE– The Heathman are you listening???).

  • Re: #1:
    The last hotel I stayed in (a Best Western in Seattle) had a dispenser both next to the sink, dispensing soap, and another in the shower dispensing soap, shampoo, and conditioner. The machines looked just like the ones in a public restroom: you push the lever down and it gives you about the right amount that you need.
    My initial reaction was that it looked tacky (like a public restroom) but then I kept thinking about it, and I thought it was genius. As long as the lever is reguarily cleaned, it is perfectly sanitary. No mini bottles are made or thrown away. No wrappers are thrown in the trash. Easy to refill, and less often. And much less soap and shampoo is wasted.

    Now, the question is: how long will it take to catch on? I bet fancy hotels could make fancy-looking ones.

  • Sara: I actually saw some dispensers from the Aveda company, which I was tempted to take. Although they were affixed to the wall, as I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with that idea : )

    Madeleines and Marathons: Interestingly, I stayed in a few hotels that were part of an international chain resort a few years ago and noticed the ones that catered mostly to North Americans had alarm clocks in all the rooms and the other resorts, the ones in Europe and North Africa, didn’t.

    When I asked them about this they said, “Europeans complain if there are clocks in the rooms, but Americans insist on having one in their room.” Never thought about it until they told me that..

  • David,

    I love reading your blog. You cover so many interesting topics. Regarding this particular one, have you ever considered renting an apartment? There’s no comparison, you’ll never want to stay in a hotel again. If you look carefully, many have luxury linens, antiques, a kitchen with cooking utensils if you need them (no minibars, please!), elegant table linens, and no one to bother you for gratuities. If you need cleaning service you ask for it and set it up for the time that is convenient to you. What’s best is that you get to know the natives and savor life among them.

  • I think the over-the-top levels of service (i.e., the constant knocking on the door) and the number of service people with their hand out for a tip are directly related. So I keep the Do Not Disturb sign on the door from check-in until checkout.

    After spending a lot of time in Europe, I’ve really come to resent the tipping policies/mentality in the US. And this is coming from a former bartender/waitress.

    Most of the hotel chains are global corporations. They should pay their employees a living wage and stop asking the rest of us to subsidize their payroll.

  • I just stayed in Brooklyn, NY last week and the hotel offered complimentary umbrellas if you had to go out and did not have one. I was very impressed with that service. You did not have to ask, they put a note on the exit out that stated “Complimentary Umbrellas”. Very nice.

    E.A.T.

  • Here’s one more. The hotel charged me $35 to make a local phone call, and the phone
    company charged my mother $5 per minute for a collect call from me. The hotel charged me $50 for a quart of whiskey bought from across the street. And the only
    airport rent-a-car refused my cash and insisted on a credit card. As a rule of thumb, I
    will not use credit cards. As a result, I am debt-free. Airport be damned, I finally found
    a car rental company who would take cash. Jeez. What a concept.
    If hotel maids disturb my peace or slumber, I make them sorry they did. To refuse a
    person’s right to sleep is a classic form of abuse. Gratuities are thievery.
    And the post office has gotten in on the act. They now charge $1.05 just to use a
    manilla envelope you already paid for when you purchased it. THEN they add the
    postage.
    Hotels, airports, restaurants,…. how many hop toads can we come up with?

  • …and please fresh fruits for breakfast. Can’t understand how people do without having at least one piece of fresh fruit before all that bacon and bread!

  • hmmm lots of good ideas. I like your list. I also second Pink Elephants about making calls out and explaining clearly how much it will cost to use the hotel phone. On a business trip I lost my cell phone and had to use their phone a couple of times. Since it was a short long distance call, I was shocked by how much they charged me for it.

    I never worry about staff coming in during a trip. I immediately put the no service sign out and use the huge number of towels and things over the course of my whole stay.

    I’ve been meaning to find out about apartment rental as an alternative to hotels. There’s a website called airbnb.com that has tons of listings of folks who have a spare room or in-law apartment available for a night or two to the traveler.

  • Regarding the tiny bottles, I used to volunteer for Ronald McDonald House and they collected them (unused of course) from people to put in the rooms so that when the parents of kids in the ICU etc. stayed overnight to take a shower, they could have some soap and shampoo and didn’t have to think to buy some.

    On a completely unrelated note: I made the citrus gelée you made for us in the Central Market class, and if anyone ever asks you, “David, you always talk about rosé, could I use a sparkling rosé instead of prosecco?” I did actually try it (with improved Meyer lemon as the citrus) and can report that not only is delicious, I highly recommend it. So now you have another answer to give besides the standard! http://www.flickr.com/photos/mellowynk/5379234279/in/photostream/

  • What I really want is a power strip with at least six outlets for all of our rechargables. My hot brush, his shaver, both cells, camera, ipod, laptop and on it goes. I hate having to crawl behind the bed and unplug lamps to plug myself in.

  • I feel the same way about the gratuity/tip overlap, I think a lot of people are confused by it

  • FIJI is my favorite bottled water. It tastes different than any tap or bottled water because of the amount of minerals in it. Unfortunatly, the bottler and the FIJI overlords have had it out recently, and I can’t find a bottle of it anywhere. It’s supposed to be back in production, but I’m not seeing it anymore in my neck of the woods.

  • I stayed recently at three different luxury hotels; at all three, I was walked in on by service staff. Once there was no knock at all at 10 a.m. as I was getting dressed, and the other three times (at various hours) there was a brief knock followed by a VERY quick entry by them. I didn’t even have time to answer the door before they were in the room, seemingly surprised that I would be there! Twice the staff ignored the “do not disturb” sign and just walked right on in. I love my privacy and this just drove me crazy.

    When I stay in budget hotels, by the way, this never happens, probably because they are trying to save money and are more than happy to adhere to my request to not be disturbed.

    So here is my question: do most patrons of luxury hotels really prefer to have staff coming and going from their rooms all day long? Perhaps they do …

  • You know that you are a Grandparent when you take ”the little bottles” home to put in the bathtoy bag. When they are empty they make fantastic Mr Glug-glugs. You get different sounds when you emmerse the bottles in different ways and the bottles can be personalised with waterproof Markers. The shampoo bottles, when full and firmly closed, have glutinous shapes in them when you turn them slowly. And what about bubbles? And what about screwing and unscrewing the caps? And floating? A Science Museum in your very own tub! Aha ! Shall blog about it when I get blogging for The Educational Centre for Games in Israel. Will I ever get to be for Toys and Games what David is for chocolate?

  • Linda: Yikes. I never use the phone unless I’m going to make a local call. I know there’s always a myriad of charges that can pile up. But how did they charge you for the liquor you bought across the street? (I know some places really frown on people bringing that stuff into their room, to bypass the minibar charges, but didn’t know it was enforced like that..or could be.)

    Joan: A lot of those big hotels are multinational chains and it’s hard to believe they can’t pay employees a living wage (smaller places I can understand.) And it is odd living outside of the US and coming back, and having to calculate how much to give everyone. I used to think foreigners were ‘cheap’ by not leaving good tips, but it’s deeper than that—it’s something ingrained; that people get paid to do their jobs by the employers, which is the way it’s done everywhere else in the world. Of course, I make it a point to tip the right amount, but I found myself scrambling for bills on numerous occasions so I could pay people.

    Am not sure why the US is still holding out because the service compris model is much easier and better for all: employees know what they are going to make and don’t have to rely on the whims of customers (and they don’t have to worry about getting “stiffed”), and customers know what they’re in for when they check-in or order food in a restaurant.

    JA: I actually often prefer ‘budget’ hotels for that reason; normally they just leave you alone. When I was at a high-end place recently, while I ate breakfast, one person stood next to me with a water pitcher and another with a coffee pitcher, each racing over to refill my glass (or cup) after I took a sip. It was disconcerting to have a semi-circle of people lording over me while I ate (especially first thing in the morning), and I felt a little uncomfortable for them as well, since they were just doing their job. For that reason, I eventually switched to room service.

  • I really enjoy it when the mini-bar surprises me. Surprise me! Put really good food treats in it. And don’t charge a fortune for them just because they are “good” or “gourmet” treats.

  • Regarding unused BARS of soap (not containers): I don’t recall where I saw a story about a program (perhaps the San Francisco Chronicle) that takes the barely used bars of soap from hotels, grinds them up, sterilizes the resulting material and re-makes them into new bars for homeless shelters. Seems like a lot of trouble, but it must be worthwhile.

    Tipping a hotels is something I really hate, not because of the money but because I can never figure out the rules. I’d also rather have several lines on the bill where I can add all of the tips to my final bill.

  • Re toothbrush/coffeemaker from your tweet: Your toothbrush is exposed to only _your own_ waste mist. The coffeemaker? Everyone’s.

  • I also really like the servis compris model because then I know exactly where I stand. I am not from the US so I do admit to getting a bit confused with who I am supposed to tip, when and how much.

    However, I also get a bit irked when things are done for me that I would rather just do for myself (eg carry a small bag) with the expectation that a tip is forthcoming.

    I have never experienced someone walking in to my hotel room whilst mid change-of-clothes (or other such situation), however I hope that should that ever occur, I will have the presence of mind to just carry on with whatever I am doing and let the interloper deal with the embarrassment rather than the other way round!

  • Years ago the Swissotel, in Chicago, had dispensers in the bathrooms. Last time I was there they were gone form the shower and bath and little bottles were in. I loved the ease of the dispensers.

    On the other hand, my trips to Europe are always much nicer when the places I stay offer special soaps and creams from local places. I brought several home with the local olive oil added to soap bars and skin creams. THey are lovely little gifts. I also have the free combs from several places in France and Spain. Their little complimentary sets with combs, shoe shiners, (to get the dust off from all the walking) and the nail files etc. are always much appreciated.

    I’d say we American’s have much to learn on how to make people feel at home.

  • as a waitress, i can explain the gratuity/tip crossover. gratuity is the tip assigned to the task (or large party size) and tip is there if you would like to tip more than the assigned gratuity.

    • Hi Jess: I’m still not clear; if an automatic gratuity is charged–as it is on room service breakfast menu, I may have had some wild times when I was younger, but I find it hard to believe that all that many people have large parties in their hotel room first thing in the morning! : 0

  • Sheets! I sleep very restlessly and as a result I pull the bottom sheet from the bed and have a twisted mess every morning. Often times the top sheet is tucked into the mattress and everything is stirred up before I get in. Fitted bottom sheets, please.

  • All is forgiven when the room has lovely sheets and bedding. I find most hotel rooms cold. But a plush, warm and comfy bed makes all the difference.

    ~Leah

  • When I stayed in a hotel in Malaysia, I hated the air-con. Even if I switched it off systematically when coming into my room (and finally I let a notice asking for not moving the controls), the room service switched it on. So my room was on constant 18 °C while I like at least 22°C. I was uncomfortable, and the planet was not happy either…

  • What, you mean you don’t do this?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZLUS7rnzFQ

  • Because I’m basically cheap, I avoid minibars like the plague. However, at a recent stay at the Palomar in Arlington, VA, we were able to choose two items for free from the minibar as part of belonging to their club. What a great disappointment that both clearly had been there since the beginning of time and were stale!

  • It shows that I’ve been away… 137 comments on ONE posting!!! And I FULLY agree, mostly with the WiFi thingie… :) I keep telling everybody and the postman that this is nowadays the nearly most important feature to have and have it immediately and with all the info provided…. Maybe we see it as an inclusion to our hotel accommodation still while we live!!!! And the very most important thing in a bedroom is – without any doubt – a very decent matress and good bedding….

  • The bellhop guys can make change. The trick is to not be embarrassed or shy about the relationship. You know you’re supposed to give them a couple of dollars a bag so ask for change from that 20. They won’t think you’re cheep for not giving them the whole bill any more than the guy at the quicky-mart giving change on a purchase will. I don’t like the system either but better to treat it like a business transaction.

    From my years in service (pizza delivery, waiting tables, valet parking) I learned not to pay any attention to how much people give, just whether or not they were happy. It all evens out in the long run. If your emotions are changing with every customer interaction you’ll make yourself crazy.

  • I really loved this post, especially the part about checking off the level of service you want. I love a good hotel with great service, but after a long day, sometimes you just don’t want to be disturbed.

  • Catherine: I know what you mean. The few times I’ve been fortunate to fly business class, sometimes they’ll ask you if you want your meal served all at once so you can go to sleep, or in courses, which is really nice (and great for them as well, so they don’t have to worry about hassling passengers.) Don’t know why the hotel industry doesn’t adopt something like this. Would be easier for them, too.

  • As a hotel owner, that was a lot of reading, to hear what people want in an overnight stay in a hotel. OK I agree with nearly all of your complaints and I hope my guests will never have to do this, all they have to do is ask. I have been in the industry for many years and comfit was the first thing I thought of in furnishing the hotel. Privacy is the next thing, most of my guests prefer no daily cleaning. Breakfast (included) fresh & local, fruit, bread, yogurt, honey, cheese, tomatoes, yummy!! It is not hard to listen to what guests want and to provide them with it. Visit Greece.

  • Hi Kristin: My point is that hotels really could do less. I understand that some places really want to focus on service, and some guests want (or demand) it. All those things that you mentioned are spot-on, which don’t seem hard to me–especially since I worked in the service industry for over three decades. I’m not complaining about how hard the people in hotels work, I just think there could be a re-imagining of how much stuff and service guests want and it’d be easier for a lot of hotels and their employees.

  • I enjoyed this post and comments and couldn’t help but recall fond and humorous memories of travel in Europe. To avoid those pesky hotel room interrupts, why don’t hotels include the little door hanger for each room – one side indicates “do not disturb” and the other “make up room please”. How American of me…..

  • I forget which hotel it was but I have stayed in one (only one) that instead of the miniature products had large refillable dispensers mounted in the shower for your body wash, shampoo, and condition. Similarly by the sink for soap and lotion.

  • Tipping as an archaic dumb system. Is it really so difficult to pay people a decent wage? I always feel very uneasy about who and what to tip and especially in the US it is a must. Get rid of it.