How Not to Deliver on Your Mission

rex-familyI’m sitting here in my hotel room at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in downtown Toronto. It could have been an amazing experience… even though the room itself is tiny, the bed is functional but definitely not plush, and there’s quite a bit of road noise. You see, there’s a world class jazz band playing downstairs right now. Perhaps they haven’t even started… I’ve no way to know.

I arrived here around 8pm after a long, 10-hour drive from the fantastic BIF10 meeting in Providence. Although the reservations desk was closed, a nice sign instructed me to go to the bar, where it was very easy to order a beer and a sandwich and get my hotel room and bar tab taken care of in one fell swoop. It felt nice. I was enjoying the ambience, until halfway through my second beer when an older man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“You’re going to have to vacate this seat for a paying customer. There’s a band coming in at 9:30.”

This was kind of confusing to me, since I was on my second beer, was done with my sandwich, and had just invested $115 in a room for the night. “I’m staying here,” I let him know.

Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everyone has to pay the $15 cover. It’s not included in your room.” He was gruff and unyielding, kind of like a New Yorker. (I wasn’t expecting that… I thought Canadians were far more collegial, eh?) He walked away, leaving me to think about what just happened.

About 10 minutes later my bartender came over. “Would you like another beer?” he asked.

“Well, apparently I can’t have one,” I said. “Some other man told me I needed to vacate unless I wanted to pay a $15 cover, even though I’m staying here.”

“That’s right,” the younger guy cheerfully acknowledged. “The shows are not part of the hotel room. Either you pay the cover or you have to leave.”

I’m not one to argue, but this made me really mad. I let him know that this “very important detail” was not on the Hotel’s web site. Nor had anyone told me about it. “Well,” he said, “if you had arrived earlier, the doorman would have told you, and it’s also on your information sheet.” So you see, it was all my fault already. I was late and I didn’t read the sheet.

“Where is my information sheet?”

“Upstairs, on the bed, in the room you haven’t checked into yet.” (Whew. I thought I’d missed it.) I explained to him that I came a half hour out of my way to experience the Rex. I could have stayed in the ASQ conference hotel, nearer the airport, for less. But I came here for the experience of a hotel and a jazz club, together – the home-like nature of being able to weave in and out of the club atmosphere as I’d like. I was so encouraged by their marketing materials that said I’d “feel like part of the family”. He said he was sorry, again, but there was nothing they could do. (Really? It would have been so nice just to be able to sit there and finish that last beer for the evening. I probably would have headed upstairs shortly after the show started, anyway.)

In addition to a “sorry” — he tried to convince me of the value of this very prominent New York band that was about to start, and it was important that they collected the extra $15 from everyone. More important than just letting me finish my dinner.

(Apparently, you interrupt the family while they’re in the middle of their dinner to pay $15 or give up their seat.)

This sent a very strong message. In fact, it felt like extortion must feel (to a lesser extent). You’re not welcome unless you pay ANOTHER $15. You need to leave your seat NOW so someone who’s willing to pay can get in!! Doesn’t matter that you have paid quite a bit. You need to pay more. Sorry.

Could I at least come downstairs a little later (after I write my blog post to vent about this service experience) to get a beer and take it downstairs, I asked?

“Sure, if you pay the $15 first. We’re happy to direct you to other bars.” Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve directed me to other bars (and hotels) permanently. Or maybe it’s fortunate. It would be difficult to feel less wanted and welcome somewhere else.

Dear Rex, I do not feel like part of the family. I am upstairs in my room, feeling like the wayward child who’s not included from the festivities because she didn’t bring an extra $15. Feeling like I couldn’t even stick around to finish my dinner. I wish I could leave now where I feel more welcome — even at a nameless, faceless chain hotel that doesn’t say that it would LIKE me to feel like family, but I’m parked in overnight public parking, and I don’t have anywhere else to go. You claim that you are “attentive, convenient, and down-to-earth friendly.” But all I got was a “sorry you didn’t see our policy.”

LESSON TO SERVICE PROVIDERS: Include that extra $15 in the room charge. Make the guest feel welcome at the show, even if they choose not to attend. If they didn’t know the policy (because you don’t have it on your web site), figure out a way to make accommodations. Or they might see fit to write a blog post to 100,000 quality practitioners across the globe who might be able to learn from this and not make the same mistake.


  • Hi, sorry about the less-than-Canadian experience in Toronto. As an alternative, there is a Residence Inn very close to the Rex on Wellington (south of King). I stayed there when working for a client, and enjoyed their spacious rooms with a full kitchen, free breakfast, proximity to restaurants and public transit. If time permits you to make a switch, I recommend it. Meanwhile go to the nearest Tim Hortons for “therapeutic” Timbits and a double-double.

    • Don’t worry Dan, I will not draw negative associations with ALL OF CANADA just based on this one experience 🙂 But I could!! I mean, this really shows the power of one experience.

  • That’s ridiculous! I can’t believe they’d want to show better service to a transient audience for the band than for a paying guest who might, if the service were good enough, want to stay there again, and who might recommend the hotel to others. Did the hotel management respond to your complaint (I’m assuming the paragraph in italics was the formal feedback you gave them)?

    • The best “response” I got was “well maybe you’ll be happier talking to the people who will be at the registration office in the morning”. I didn’t even mind the $15 cover… I minded getting kicked out of my seat. There are so many different ways they could have handled this… even just being allowed to stay to finish my last beer would have been fine. But no… I was banished upstairs to my room. With a “please don’t come back unless you’re willing to pay the $15 cover.”

      I think I’m just going to leave them the link to this article when I check out. I have to give a talk in 2 hours and I’m not in the mood to get riled up again.

  • Ah, dear friend, apparently the customer is *not* always right! I would have felt the same way. A less dictatorial response would have been…well…professional.

    That said, if there was a venue management company (as often happens for music gigs), the venue manager takes over the venue until the venue closes. In that case, the contract between the hotel and the venue management company dictates what happens during that venue time, giving the hotel no wiggle room. Even if that had been the case, hotel management would have been wise to kick in the $15 for a solitary guest caught unaware.

    Lesson learned: be nice or I’ll tell all my friends. [insert evil laugh here]

    • Hey!! Yeah, fortunately, the customer had some work to do so it wasn’t like I showed up SPECIFICALLY for that one show. I was most turned off by the cheerful “oh, well sorry, that’s our policy and it’s always been that way!” Turns out it hasn’t always been that way… found someone who had stayed there in mid-2000’s when they actually let their hotel guests weave in and out of the shows.

      • Oooooh the dreaded “we’ve always done it that way”…GAH! Well, at least that suggests some degree of predictability. ugh.

  • Hello Nicole – I’m happy to hear that you made it to Toronto. (I live near the city),….. I’m very proud of Toronto, but am embarrassed about what happened. On behalf of all Canadians, (yes we can all speak for each other) I want to apologize to you for this anti-quality experience you had.

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