Guest blogger, travel writer Sophie Pither, shares her thoughts about what makes really great service, following a stay with her family and dog at The Lanesborough hotel in London.
I stayed at The Lanesborough recently. It was an interesting trip – my partner was writing a travel article for a national newspaper about taking your dog to London’s most expensive hotel.
Not only did we hit the five-star luxury hotel with our springer-labrador cross, but also our three sons, ages 10, 13, and 15. We’re quite used to staying in smart hotels. It goes with the travel writer territory. But we don’t usually bring the pooch. I’m not going to lie, I was worried he’d show us up.
Approaching the discreet front entrance of the Georgian building on Hyde Park Corner, name of the hotel unassumingly displayed without fanfare, we see some elegantly turned-out doormen. Their grey suits, charcoal winter coats, and fetching bowler hats exude British quality and an air of assurance, not least because there are three of them. They open the door – with a soft ‘Good afternoon’, a discreet ‘Are you staying?’… a smiling ‘Excellent’, and a smooth, effortless, ‘Oh what a lovely boy,’ (about the dog). Pats, strokes, smiles, not too much. And in we go, where immediately our luggage is dealt with.
I’m impressed. Somehow, in one swift 30-second entrance, we’d been made to feel totally welcome.
Later, in our suite, dog happily curled up in his Lanesborough bed, the boys handing him supplied treats while nibbling on their own bowlfuls of chocolates, us sipping complimentary Sipsmith G&Ts, I think about what it is that makes great service.
The Lanesborough is very traditional in appearance – elegant marble hallway, suites in muted Regency palace style, gilt-framed 18th ecentury art on the walls. The dining room has the feeling of being inside a Wedgwood display case, a sea of egg-shell blue, white plasterwork, and huge chandeliers; the bar is wood-panelled and dark, with table service and a quiet international hum. But the whole place is also wired with 21st century gadgetry, including, to the thrill of my children, a fake tapestry covering the TV that rolls back when you click the remote on. It’s not trying to compete with the new kids on the block – the Hoxtons, or the Ace Hotels, it’s not trendy, and not the place to be seen – but it is the place to be properly looked after.
Every room gets a butler. He or she is trained to read guests’ emotions, as well as be on hand for everything from unpacking, attending to whims, and walking the dog if necessary.
Service is what makes The Lanesborough stand out. Old-school, unpatronizing, unfussy, attentive, classy service. I’d come back, just for that. And if you’re wondering whether the dog showed me up – well, no. He was made to feel equally as welcome as us, putting me totally at ease. I only regret I didn’t ask the butler to take him for a stroll in Hyde Park, if only for the sight of butler coattails flapping while being pulled along the path by an eager hound.
Here are my thoughts, inspired by Lanesborough doormen and pondered over that tasty Sipsmith gin.
Five things that make great service
- Welcome every guest
Sounds obvious, but a lot of hotels don’t manage it. As soon as you’re in the door, you want to feel like you’re home. At The Lanesborough, this is perfectly done by those old-school doormen – impeccably turned out, with an actual ‘Welcome home’ after we’d taken the dog for a stroll in the park. While we checked out, one chap discreetly took me aside to ask if he should call a cab. It’s this – knowing what you need next and sorting it before you’ve had to ask for it – that is the skill. It takes training and clever hiring.
- Use guests’ names
Do know guests’ names, but don’t overuse them, simple as that. A ‘Good morning, Ms Pither,’ is perfect. A ‘Would Ms Pither like another cup of tea?’ is odd. Be attentive, but normal, not sycophantic or strange. Oh, and smile – genuinely if possible.
- Be confident
Don’t treat guests with kid gloves – this is crucial, I think. Nervous, flustered staff are annoying. Confident, pleasant staff are reassuring and what every guest wants. We’re all human; no one wants to be treated like an alien. But equally no-one wants staff to be too matey. The happy line down the middle is achieved through intelligent hiring and tip-top training. I’d give those Lanesborough doormen top marks in this respect.
- Meet guests’ needs
Again, sounds obvious. But it’s still surprising that so many places operate on a ‘computer says no’ basis. If someone wants something unusual – a meal at an odd time, perhaps, or something couriered to the hotel that’s going to be difficult to accommodate – do whatever you can to make it happen. See the person, not the problem. There’s nothing better than a grateful guest, and nothing worse than a disgruntled one.
- Create a relaxed atmosphere
Again, this one is about well-trained staff, who know the difference between being friendly and helpful and being obsequious. And all staff need to have the training – bar staff, waiters, doormen, receptionists, cleaners, managers. Every single one must be well-versed in customer service. As I said before, the Lanesborough building, while extremely elegant, isn’t doing anything spectacular, what makes the difference – and makes the place welcoming is the people. The other thing I liked about the Lanesborough is that fact that you can bring the dog – it shows a level of relaxed confidence that is good. Taking kids to a smart hotel is a great, test, too. Are they so uppity, they can’t cope with actual small humans? Or will they do everything they can to make the whole family welcome?
The reason I’ve written this for 14fiftyseven, is because what James, Tony, Susie and the team are trying to create, is exactly in line with this idea of effective modern service. They’re all about supplying confident versatile people to help busy successful people achieve a better work-life balance. And who doesn’t want that?
At 14fiftyseven, they get that we’re all human, we all want to make our lives easier, but we don’t want a level of servitude that makes everyone feel uncomfortable. I wish them well, in fulfilling a new kind of household staff remit while ensuring that the staff they supply have an interesting role and are respected and nurtured, too. Great idea. Good luck – I’ll take a butler-chauffeur slash cleaner, please.