Travel Travails: Another Five Star Story

April 30, 2011

One of the professional hazards in my job is travel. When you travel within India, Murphy’s Law operates big time! You know Murphy’s law, right? Something which states a profound truth so simply, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. While I cannot do much about airline delays, I get worked up big-time when the hotel goofs up. Like last week.

I had asked for an airport pick-up at the Delhi International airport. I normally take a cab, but landing late into the night after an over five-hour flight I did not want to be standing in a queue for a cab. But the hotel had goofed-up big time. No car at the airport.

I call the hotel and I am told the driver is somewhere around and that they will get back to me. Ten minutes of waiting and no response.

I call again.

“Sir, the driver is certainly there, but his mobile is switched off. We will call you back in two minutes, Sir!”

I get a call ten minutes later.

“Sir, I have located the driver. He is right there!”

WTF, I wonder, if he is right there, how come he is not holding the placard with my name? And I say so on the phone.

“No, no, sir, do not worry, I will send him right-away to meet up with you. Here is his name, and here is his number”

I dutifully scribble it on the back of the stub of my boarding pass. “I am at the exit gate number five right next to the CISF jawaan”

“Right away, Sir”

The driver shows up presently and he is indeed carrying a placard. But the catch is that it bears an altogether different name, that of some foreigner. And the driver proceeds to enlighten me that he has indeed been rostered to pick up the firang and he is confused as to why he has been asked to meet me and that I should proceed to the pre-paid cab counter and buy myself a cab trip to the hotel.

I am fuming now. I call the hotel again and give the guy at the other end a piece of my mind. Several pieces of my frazzled mind actually.

“What are you saying sir! How can this be? Can you give the phone to the driver, let me speak with him”

I disconnect the mobile with an angry twitch of my thumb. Get lost, I say aloud in my mind to the hotel guy.

And this treatment coming for my favourite hotel chain, I am determined to teach them a lesson!


I reach the hotel and announce myself to the lady at the reception.

“Ojha, Santosh Ojha. (just like “My name is Bond. James Bond.) I have a confirmed reservation here.” I am determined to stay calm initially so that the impact of my outburst would resonate even better after I let go!

What I did not quite notice while I was savoring the thought of the outburst as I was introducing myself was the lady’s reaction as soon as I uttered my first word “Ojha”. She looked to her extreme left diagonally across the reception desk gesticulating wildly to someone who had his back towards us. She even banged on her desk and hissed, “Sir, Mr Ojha. Mr OJHA!”

The gentleman swivelled around instantly. A young, earnest looking and burly gentleman wearing a linen suit.

“Sir, sir, come with me sir!” He nearly grabbed me by my hand.

“”Hey, come where? I am checking in now”

“No, no, sir! You come with me to your room, we will complete the check-in formalities there only.”

He leads me to the lift mumbling as we walk along. The bellhop in tow with the luggage.

“Sir, myself so-and-so, sir. Sir, I am the duty manager here. Sir, I was the one who called you, I am sorry for the mix-up. That driver had no business to say what he did. And sir, I have ensured that I have given you the best room possible. And yes, of course sir, you can smoke there.” He went on and on….

Now this guy looked like an avatar of Obelix, though a little smaller in size. How can one get angry on Asterix even if he is a tad tinier and all-so-apologetic? I can’t!


“Here Sir, is your room!” He opens the door with a flourish and marches into the room. The bell-hop and I stumble-in in his wake.

“Sir, sorry, sir”, he starts again.

“No, no, it is OK! These things happen. Anyway your hotels are like second home to me, so relax!” I reassure him.

“Sir, I am sorry”

“Relax buddy!”

“Sorry, sir!”

“Buddy, relax”

I was feeling sorry for this guy, he did indeed look to be genuinely repentant.

But more importantly, I wanted him and the bellboy outside my room. I was dying to have a peaceful smoke after several hours.

“Bye, sir, here is my card. Do let me know if need anything. Anything!”

I nearly told him that if he indeed wanted to serve me with “anything”, then perhaps he should send up a nubile woman to warm my bed for the night. Or for good measure, two!

I was getting really angry at his over-stay!

He did leave finally, smiling toothily and bowing to me as he left. While the bell-boy was bowing to the Duty Manager saheb!


I hear a knock on my door twenty minutes later.

“Ah, the mandatory fruit basket”, I think to myself. Or maybe Obelix had indeed read my mind and sent across two nubile women. Ok, even one was fine! I slip on my T-shirt and open the door. And who do I see? The Duty Manager again! No women in tow alas! Just a room service guy holding aloft a tray with two wine glasses and a bottle of wine.

“Sir, here is something for you.”

I can indeed see the something, that wine bottle. Satori merlot. “No, please, I am fine. Not to worry.”, I reassure him.

“Sir, just something from our side, just for you to remember the evening.”

I thought his phraseology was rather inappropriate. I do not want to remember this evening which was getting into midnight now, really.

“Hey, theek hai yaar! Koi baat nahin

Nahin sir, kuchh to…?” His voice trails off.

All this is happening at the door. Obelix and his flunkey in the corridor, Myself at the door making sure that these two guys do not enter the room.

“Sir, don’t you like a drink?”

“Sure I do, but I have my own whiskey. Maybe you could join me for a glass or two.”

“How can I, Sir, I am on duty. I am the Duty Manager here tonight.”

“Ok, Ok, sure.”

This was getting into a circle, and I decided to take charge.

“Ok, I shall carry the wine bottle back with me to Bangalore to “remember” this evening. And thank you for your gesture.”

“Thank you sir, thank you.”

“Thank you”, I say.

“Sir, see you tomorrow at the coffee-shop at breakfast.”

“Sure, sure. Good night!”

“And sir, ask me for anything you may need tonight.”

I bang the door shut. I have had enough of these entreaties.


Given his eagerness to make me happy, maybe I should have indeed asked him again to arrange those two nubile women. Ok. Just one. Maybe someone who could make a hot cup of tea for me. Or even help me unpack by luggage. Or just someone who could sing a lullaby…..


On 5 Star Hotel Service Levels: Part 4

September 20, 2008

Part 4: In Which We Have Strong Doses Of Customer Service And Are Happy When It Is All Over


I was dreading going to the coffee shop for breakfast the next morning. The F&B department and more specifically the coffee shop was the target of my complaints. With all the activities of the past evening, I was sure that I would be singled out for some hyper-attentive service. The coffee-shop staff on duty would be waiting to pounce on me to show-off their (newly acquired) super-service skills. I was sure that my name and room number would be prominently marked in the register kept at the entrance and the moment I announced my room number, I would be a marked man!

This was day 3 of our meeting and I was not required till late morning. So I decided to take it easy and went for late for breakfast. With a deft movement I managed to sneak into the coffee-shop without informing the person my room number. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now I can have my breakfast in peace!

But the joy was not very long-lived. Half way into the breakfast, someone realized that I had walked in without informing my room number. A Black Jacket, who was probably the coffee shop manager, approached my table and asked me, “So, sir, what did you say your room number was?” I nearly choked on the spoon of cornflakes I was having. For a moment I even considered giving a false room number. But the consequences of doing that would have been embarrassing if I was to get caught. And I softly gave my room number. Nothing happened for a few minutes. So I was unnecessarily worried, after all. Relief!!

But this happiness proved to be very short-lived. As I was sipping my tea towards the end of the breakfast, through the corner of my eyes I could see Black Jacket in conversation with another Black Jacket. And within a few minutes they bounded to my table, together.

“Mr Ojha?’ Black Jacket 2 enquired.


“Good morning, Mr Ojha” Black Jacket 1 said cheerily.

 “Good morning” I replied.

And then started a long-winded one from both Black Jacket 1 and Black Jacket 2 on how apologetic they were regarding their staff’s service-quality levels the last few days and how they will make sure I am never inconvenienced in future. And so on and so forth. Each fished out his card and urged me to call them directly the next time I was staying at the hotel.

I did not notice the cloud of white-jacketed junior staff forming around my table as the Black Jackets were at it. No sooner my tea gets over, WJ 1 quickly refreshes the cup. The moment I light up my cigarette, WJ 2 hastens to light it. One tip of the ash into the ashtray, WJ 3 rapidly clears the “dirty” ashtray away replacing it with a fresh one. And so on and so forth it proceeded till I decide that 3 cups of tea and half and hour of listening to Black Jackets was enough and I have to move on with the day’s work.

“Good morning, Mr Ojha. How are you today?” I had not noticed Mr GM who suddenly materialized seemingly from nowhere.

“Good morning, Mr GM.” (I wanted to tell him, over-pampered, over-stuffed, over-indulged. But I refrained).

“I was walking past and I saw you,” he said in a casual manner.

I was sure Mr GM must have instructed his staff to inform him when I reached the coffee-shop.

An “All well?” and  a “bye” and Mr GM was off.

Back  now to the Black Jackets.

“Thank you, sirs”, I say to the Black Jackets.

“Thank you, sir. And as we told you, we are really very sorry….”

I am already running towards the exit. This had been the most embarrassing 30 minutes ever in any coffee-shop!

Through the meeting I noticed that the tea table had a lot more to offer than the mandatory cookies. Sandwiches, pastries, samosas,; the works. And more than the usual compliment of staff waiting on us.

Our meeting had “broken-out” in three groups working in three different conference rooms. As I moved from one room to the other across the floor, I could sense I was a marked man among the staff on duty. Let me tell you it is not a comfortable feeling walking around with the knowledge that there are a dozen pairs of eyes watching your every move and eager to serve you. You suddenly feel so vulnerable. Vulnerable to attacks of customer service!

The lunch we had later in the day also deserves some telling.

If you are familiar with five star buffet lunches served during meetings/ conferences, you would know these are very different compared with the fare you get in the regular restaurants. The spread is a stripped-down version of the restaurant buffets. Sometimes you even suspect the dishes are left-overs from some other spread.

But for this lunch the hotel had pulled out all the stops! For one, instead of the normal two non-veg dish fare, we were served fish and chicken and mutton. And all three were prepared in the local style. That was yummy. And then instead of the perfunctory roti/naan we had kulchha and paratha and hot pooris in addition! And, wonders of wonders, instead of cold and indifferent stuff, we were served hot kulchhas and pooris by waiters circulating around the room.

And of course, I remained the marked man! When I was trying to help myself to some more of the delicious fish curry, I had a waiter thrust a bowl on my plate to take the curried fish. Hot pooris kept raining on my plate (I love pooris) so much so that I realized that I was over-stuffed and kept my plate away. Prompt appeared a finger-bowl! A finger bowl in a buffet lunch!

All this time a black jacket was keeping a keen eye on me and orchestrating the moves of his staff. The moment he saw me washing my fingers, he crept up to me. “Dessert, Mr Ojha?”

“No, no, I am off sugar stuff. Doctor’s orders, you see.”

“I understand. But we do have this sugar-free dessert. Why don’t you try it out? Here.” As he served me a few pieces of the sugar-free barfi.

And so on it went.

I had to check out later that afternoon. I was keen to make a quick unobtrusive getaway but I was not quite sure how I could manage that.

There were butterflies in my stomach as I was waiting for the accounts clerk to swipe my card as I was checking out. What surprises were awaiting me on my departure from the hotel?

Mercifully, none. Maybe this aspect of customer service I liked the best! Leave your guest alone!!



On 5 Star Hotel Service Levels: Part 3

September 17, 2008

Part Three: In Which We Play a Generous Host


Then I had a brilliant idea! There were several other colleagues of ours staying in the same hotel. I knew one of them would be interested in the snacks and I phoned him.


“We have some stuff for you to carry from our room. Why don’t you come in carrying an opaque bag.”




“Yes, opaque.”


“Should I carry the laundry bag?”


“No. NO! Something more decent please.”


A few minutes later in walked this colleague with the stylish paper bag which most 5 star hotels provide in the room. In the meanwhile we had packed the snack in a polythene bag.


He was taken aback. “Where did you get this?” He was referring to the snacks and not the polythene bag.


“Never mind. Now take it and run along, we have some work to finish. And by the way, would you like some soft drink to go with your snack?” I casually pointed to the pile of cans on the trolley.


The guy was a junior, so he did not ask too many questions. Or maybe he was smart enough not to look a gift horse in the mouth. He picked up a few cans of coke, dropped them in the hotel carry bag and walked away happily whistling to himself.


Minutes after he left, it was Chirpy’s man again, this time carrying a large tray with a chicken snack and some veg. pakodas. While the food looked delicious, there was far too much chicken for a casual non-veg guy like me. There was no way I could eat all of it. So, a call to another colleague, a certified non-veg loving chap.


“We have some stuff for you to carry from our room. Why don’t you come in carrying an opaque bag.”




“Yes, opaque.”


“Should I carry the laundry bag?”


“No. NO! Something more decent please.”


This guy too walked in with that paper carry bag. And walked out swinging the bag with the major portion of the chicken snack which we had hastily wrapped in the aluminum foil used to cover the tray. And some cans of Sprite too.


Suddenly, as he was leaving, my heart skipped a beat.


With all the attention and pampering being showered on me over the last few hours I was sure that Mr GM would have placed his men around my room awaiting the slightest signal from me and ready to offer help. And these men would have noticed a familiar pattern of human movements near my room. Entry of a hotel staff with eatables, exit of hotel staff, entry of a stranger with an empty hotel bag, exit of stranger carrying the same hotel bag, but now bulging with stuff.


Boy, Mr GM would get the report pretty soon that a major section of the hotel guests were enjoying the goodies!


I resolved not to call anyone in case some more food stuff appeared. Mercifully, we were left alone after this.

I did not realize that after the work was done around midnight, my two colleagues left my room fully satiated and carrying away the half-finished Old Monk bottle. Yes, in the now all-too-familiar opaque hotel bag!


I shut the door firmly and sprawled on the bed, fearing a call from Mr GM. I kept dreaming of Mr GM admonishing me, “Hey, you cheapo! The stuff I sent you was meant for your consumption alone, and not for you to treat the entire hotel!”


I was tense about the next day, the last day of my stay in the hotel.


 (To be concluded)

On 5 Star Hotel Service Levels: Part 2

September 16, 2008

Part Two: In Which We Get premonitions of Customer Service:


It did strike me a bit odd that of the 3 of us who went to the gym, only I was asked by the trainer whether I wanted to do any “stretching” exercises. I am a total novice to exercising and I suspected the chap would string me to one of those vile-looking machines and stretch me and my pot-belly into shape. I politely but firmly declined the offer. He would have none of it, and commandeered me on the fresh large towel he spread on the gym floor.


As my other two colleagues watched, he proceeded to give me 20 minutes of the most rigorous and relaxing massage. “So that is what they call a ‘stretching’ exercise”, I thought to myself, “This I would welcome morning and evening!” I wondered for a moment why I was the one singled out for the special exercise but did not think much about it as we walked back to our respective rooms.


I reach the room and I realize there was something unusual since I had left it about an hour or so ago when I went to the gym. There was this large basket of flowers (in addition to the flowers already in the room- a routine feature of five star hotels). On closer examination I found a card stuck amidst the flowers. “With complements from ‘Executive Housekeeper’ ”. Just as I was registering this development, my eyes chanced upon the most gorgeous cheese platter I had ever seen. Cheeses in 4 varieties. I do not know much about cheese except that two species of this exotica are found in the ‘fridge at home: the aluminum foil wrapped cheese cubes (mostly Amul) and plastic-film wrapped thin cheese singles (mostly Britannia). Here I was, faced with elegantly cut cheeses, orange cheese sticks, pink cheese cuts, grey cheese cubes and yellow cheese wedges. Arranged elegantly around this palette of cheeses were the juiciest and the fattest grapes I had ever tasted and some dry fruits.


And then the penny dropped. These were some kind of an apology gesture from the hotel! And the gym’s stretching-exercise thing was not luck but perhaps the trainer had been alerted prior to my arrival. He would have recognized me when I signed into the gym with my room number.


I felt happy (??) that the hotel guys appeared to have taken my complaint seriously and I hoped that the service the following day would be good. Happily I picked up one of those exotic colored cheese sticks and I had just begun munching on it when the phone rang.


“Good evening, Mr Ojha. This is Chirpy speaking from room service, how are you today?” Mr Chirpy-Voice, well, chirped.


“But I have not ordered anything from the room service, maybe you have got the wrong number.”


“Actually, Mr Ojha, Mr GM has informed me that there is going to be an important meeting in your room and that I should provide refreshments.”


“Thanks a lot, but I really do not need anything. Thank you very much.”


“Please, Mr Ojha,” the words “please” and “ojha” if they would have been typed on the computer as Mr Chirpy-Voice spoke would have showed up in font size 72, bold, underlined and in italic.


Alarmed, I blurted out, “8.45 pm”


“And how many people would there be, sir?”




“Thank you, Mr Ojha.”


And Chirpy was bang on schedule. Sharp at 8.40 pm, just a few minutes after my two colleagues landed, the door bell rang. In came Chirpy’s man wheeling a large, large trolley draped with crisp linen and laden with tons of water bottles, soft drink cans, tonic water bottles, sets of glasses in different shapes and sizes, ice buckets and two large bowls of snack. The provisions on display would have hosted a large office party and here we were, only three of us. My colleagues’ jaws dropped and one of them hid with a magazine the bottle of Old Monk waiting to be devoured, scared that the guy will take away all the goodies if he realized that we were the sasta Old Monk types and not into Single Malts!


“Enjoy the evening, Mr Ojha. And I will be back after half an hour”.


“That’s OK, we will leave the trolley outside when we are done.”


“No, no, sir, it is not about clearing the room. I will come back with Chicken Takatak, and Mutton Khatakhat”. (ok, these names are made up. Maybe he said Chicken contrition and Mutton penitence. I was a little too dazed to follow what he said)


“Please sir! Please do not deny us the pleasure of serving you.” Chirpy had trained his team members as well in the art of bold, italics and underline.


“OK, then get us one chicken dish and one vegetarian dish please”. I felt a bit sheepish. But I thought the change to be practical as the two colleagues of mine are vegetarians.


“Perfectly fine sir”. Said Chirpy’s man as he closed the door behind him.


The three of us contemplated the spread before us and wondered how to best do justice to it.



Dead Silence prevailed in the room.


On 5 Star Hotel Service Levels: Part 1

September 16, 2008

Part One: In Which We Complain to the Hotel Authorities:


This is a story about customer service. The protagonists in this story are i) A five-star hotel in one of the metros and ii) Yours truly.


(I shall keep the hotel name confidential as I (and my team) need to stay there going forward and we do not wish to antagonize the hotel management.)


This hotel, which we shall call X, has been one of my favorite hotels in India. I love the hotel, the service, the food. Everything! I just love checking into the hotel as much as anyone would like checking into a hotel on business travel, away from family.


This time round, I sensed something amiss in the service levels of the hotel. I was there for a three-day company meeting. I sensed that something was wrong when I reached the coffee shop for breakfast the morning after I checked in. Typically, the steward at the entrance asks you for your room number, checks whether you want a smoking or a non-smoking area, escorts you to a table, gets you your desired beverage- coffee or tea- and then leaves you to enjoy the breakfast. None of this happened that morning.


Room number checked, I was given a perfunctory wave of hand indicating I should find an empty table for myself.


Errors of omission and commission continued through the day as the meeting progressed. The guys serving tea at the meeting breaks were as casual. And ditto for the lunch-service chaps.


A few of my colleagues staying in this hotel too mentioned their discomfiture with service levels.


What had this hotel, my favorite hotel, come to?


Ditto on day two as well.


Enough was enough!


I then decided to do something about it and sought an appointment with the hotel boss, the General Manager of X. GM X, who was expecting some kind of a courtesy call was taken aback when I began voicing my team’s litany of woes.


“Mr GM, sir, I have been staying at your group’s hotels across the country and this particular hotel is one of my favorites.” I started.


“Thank you, thank you, Mr Ojha. We really appreciate your patronage!” chirped Mr GM.


“I am sorry, but I am a little disappointed with the service levels during my current stay.”


“I am sorry to hear that. Please do tell me more”, there was a discernible lowering of cheerfulness in Mr GMs voice.


“As a matter of fact, sir, I was wondering whether your staff has suddenly become unionized. Or maybe you lost a whole bunch of people in the recent weeks and you had to recruit people in a hurry and place them on the job without any training.” I continued.


“No, no! That is not the case!” Mr GM’s jaws were drooping quite distinctly.

“Immediately prior to checking into this hotel, I stayed at the group’s properties in two other metros, and I must say I was really impressed by the service levels there. But here…..” my voice trailed off. I was turning the screw pretty hard.


“Wait a minute, please, let me call the F&B manager.” Mr GM looked positively rattled by now.


After the F&B manager joined us, I described in detail our complaints. All hovered around poor service levels in matters pertaining to the F&B department. I gave specific examples, dramatized the bad-service episodes, and reminded them that I have been a regular guest at this property. I used all devices to drive my points home.


I can tell you by the body language of the F&B manager that he was dreading the dressing-down his boss (Mr GM) would give him when our meeting was over. And Mr GM was looking suitably shame-faced too.


“I am really sorry for all this and you will see that we will pull our socks up right away,” Mr GM’s concluding remark. “And Mr Ojha, what are you doing for dinner tonight?”


“Well, I will now head to the gym and then we have a meeting with my colleagues in one of our rooms work on a presentation which I have to make the next week. So I will order our dinner from room service.”


“Why should you work in your room? Why??” Mr GM exclaimed. He then turned to the F&B Manager, “Get a suite opened for these gentlemen. They can work there in peace”


I was finding this uncomfortable now. “Thank you Mr GM, but no, please! We are perfectly comfortable in our room.”


“Which room will that be? Your meeting?” the F&B guy queried.


“Don’t know yet. Anyway please do not bother, we will make ourselves comfortable. Bye”.


I was positively uncomfortable by now and wished to end this chat immediately. I wanted to get on with my life.



To be continued