Monday, December 29, 2008

Our Christmas

LETTER TO THE ROXBURGH HOTEL, EDINBURGH



Dear Sir/Madam,

I recently returned from a 3-night Christmas break at the Roxburghe hotel with my parents and husband. My experience was so incredibly disappointing and so far removed from the promises made in your marketing, that I felt I had to write you a letter requesting some kind of refund on behalf of my mother, Pauline Carter, who booked the stay.

First of all, let me say that my family and I are very well traveled and have stayed at literally hundreds of hotels across the world in the last 20 years. We have had the pleasure of enjoying small, boutique hotels and large, all-inclusive resorts, and have eaten at local family-run establishments as well as 5 star, gourmet restaurants.

So, when your website and marketing materials promised a (and I quote) “traditional Scottish Christmas” in one of your “sumptuous” properties, enjoying “the finest food and great entertainment”, our expectations were, understandably, set pretty high. Further, when the Roxburghe sent us our package of information containing beautiful, slick marketing materials and itinerary containing such words as “gourmet” and “luxury”, we were very excited.

Unfortunately, the reality was far from sumptuous or gourmet. Allow me to beak it down for you, day by excruciating day:

Christmas Eve

Our much anticipated Christmas Eve dinner in the George Suite began with a trip across the street in our finest party wear, freezing cold, as the fire alarm interrupted us placing our order. Apparently a hair dryer was the culprit.

Twenty minutes later, when we were allowed to return to our seats, we were disappointed to note the lack of decoration in the room. A single, slightly leaning 5ft Christmas tree with minimal decoration stood at the front. The only other sign that this was a festive occasion were table crackers at each place setting – crackers which contained such “luxury” delights as one inch square plastic tree decorations that could have been purchased from the local pound store. Otherwise, one could have mistaken this Christmas Eve dinner for one on any other night of the year.

Your Christmas Carolers failed to show up at 8:30pm and so we were left to dine in complete silence, with only the sound of a crying baby at the next table and the clink-clink of silverware on plates in the hushed room. Nobody came up to make an announcement that the carolers would not be arriving, or approached us to apologize, and no other background music was provided to accompany our meal.

At the end of our meal we ordered coffee and were astonished to be warned (in no uncertain terms) by our waitress that coffee would be extra. She repeated this to us twice to ensure that we would be willing to pay two pounds seventy five pence each for the pleasure. Why, for the sake of eleven pounds for four people, you couldn’t just have included this in the price of the break, I don’t know. Of course, we didn’t have any money on us because we had already pre-paid for dinner through our package with you. So, we asked if we could charge the coffee to our room. We were then asked for our cardboard “ticket” in order to do so. We had no idea what the waitress was talking about and she made a big deal out of the fact that we should have received this ticket upon check-in and should have been told to walk around with it when in the hotel. (No such conversation took place at check-in.) When we finally convinced her we couldn’t produce the ticket and were not going to get up before our meal was over and traipse upstairs to rifle through our room to find this mysterious “ticket”, she agreed to charge to our room with a signature, all the time mumbling about how she “wasn’t supposed to be doing this”. It seemed like such a huge hassle - and all for four cups of coffee and eleven pounds when we were paying hundreds of dollars for the whole trip!

Christmas Day

Despite the previous night’s problems, we were still in good spirits for our champagne breakfast and “gourmet” Christmas Lunch in your Melrose restaurant.

Breakfast:

Unfortunately, no champagne or “Bucks Fizz” was offered to us, the fruit juice was warm, and the scrambled eggs wet and cold.

Lunch @ 2pm:

Again, we were sad to see a complete lack of Christmas decoration throughout the restaurant. Aside from the Christmas Crackers again, there was little-to-no sign that today was Christmas Day. We again dined in relative silence with no background music or entertainment.

While we were certainly in no hurry, the pacing of our meal and the service provided was definitely not reflective of a “gourmet” or “luxury” experience. Our main course took a ridiculous 90 minutes to arrive - even with an appetizer and other small plates to try and fill the time, it was an excruciatingly long wait with hard-to-find, inattentive service – it was difficult to even get a drink of water. We received our starter after 30 minutes (in itself a long wait), it then took a further 40 minutes to deliver some horrible small-plate scallop concoction, and another 20 minutes for the main course. When the main course did arrive, it was ridiculously skimpy, stewed, and over-cooked. The turkey was dry, the gravy was thin and runny, and each plate seemed to be on a war rationing for potatoes and vegetables - only one small roast potato and one slice of each vegetable per plate. Everything was luke warm. Sorry but just piling everything ‘artfully’ on the plate and making the serving small does not a gourmet meal make.

With desert and coffee (included this time), we didn’t get out of the restaurant until gone 4pm. Unfortunately, if it was even screened, we missed the Queen’s Speech in your lounge that your brochure made so much of.

Christmas Eve buffet dinner was billed as being with “entertainment”. Of course, by this point we were not expecting much, and you didn’t disappoint. “Entertainment” in this case was a pensioner playing the keyboard… poorly. While this did finally classify as “background music”, entertainment it was not. Further, hot food on the buffet was almost cold and some plates in the buffet line were dirty.

Sipping hot chocolate at 11pm in the Melrose lounge, we were again treated to another fire alarm evacuation. This time we were told it was “dust” in the leisure suite (!?)

Boxing Day

No breakfast was available until the brunch buffet at 11am. Before 11am we either had to pay more for a warm breakfast, or had to sit in the freezing atrium to serve ourselves coffee and a dried-up pastry.

Brunch was the final straw.

We arrived for the 11am brunch at 11:15am. When we got to the buffet line the plates were dirty again. After sorting through 15-20 plates, all of which contained dried-up food from a previous service on top and bottom, we instilled the help of a server. He then went through the entire stack of 30+ plates to find two clean ones. At this point we finally approached the on-duty manager to complain. Although he said he would take care of it, he didn’t seem shocked or appalled and no apology was provided. While my husband and I moved on to get food, my parents and others behind them in line were left to wait while the manager came back with clean plates.

Getting into the buffet line with our two clean plates, only the breakfast half of the buffet line was ready. The other half of the line was empty. So, we took just the breakfast items and went back to our table. Unfortunately, the scrambled eggs, sausages, and bacon we picked up were already wet, cold and inedible. In the time it had taken us to find a clean plate and get our food, the toast had been delivered to our table by the server and was already cold. We considered going back into the long line for the now-arrived roast items but, upon seeing an extremely rare piece of thick-cut beef being pushed around on the plate at an unenthusiastic fellow diner’s table, we decided to just give up.

It was at this point that my mother was so upset that she decided to try and speak with your manager about our experiences thus far. Having paid hundreds of pounds to take us all away on a luxury break for the Christmas holiday (and foregoing presents in the process) she was almost in tears that everything had been so disappointing. I’ll address this exchange later in this letter – yes, even this warrants a complaint.

At 2pm we headed-out to our pre-booked pantomime. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that our seats were in the one-before-last row of the theatre – all the way at the top. The face value on our tickets was twelve pounds and we found out that better seats would only have been three pounds more each. Given that this was supposed to be a “luxury” break at a top-notch hotel (with a price to match), one could be forgiven for thinking that the hotel would take care of its guests and leverage its collective group buying power to at least get us decent seats. It was so hot up at the top of the theatre that I almost fainted. Honestly, we would much rather have booked the seats ourselves and paid a higher face value, rather than be short-changed by the hotel trying to up their profit margin on the cost of our Christmas package.

By this time we had pretty much given up on the Roxburghe and decided to skip your Boxing Day dinner to find an open local establishment that could perhaps deliver on better service and quality of food. Ironically, we ended up in a pub on Rose Street that provided us with the best meal of our entire stay. It wasn’t fancy and didn’t claim to be gourmet but it was served in a reasonable amount of time, the servers were friendly and attentive, the background music was Christmassy, and the food was warm, simple, and delicious.

Yes, your four star hotel was upstaged by a pub food. I hope you feel the same way about this as we do – disgusted, over-charged and horribly disappointed.

Final comment on Boxing Day: upon check-in we were asked if we would like to receive a newspaper on Boxing Day morning, and if so which one. We ordered a Daily Mail for both rooms. Only one newspaper was delivered and then only just before noon. When my mother went down to the front desk to ask for her copy, instead of receiving an apology and a newspaper immediately, your representative argued with her about ever having ordered one in the first place, and then made a big deal about going to the concierge to remedy the situation. My mother was so embarrassed, she told the girl to forget it and walked away.

Final morning… the 27th

My parents requested a wake-up call at 5am. 5am came and went. At 5:30am the phone rang for their wake-up call. My Dad looked at the clock and asked the gentleman what time he had ordered the call. He confirmed 5am but simply said, without apology, that he had “missed the slot” and was calling now – 30 minutes late. Further, when my parents came down to the front desk to settle their bill, they asked to confirm the taxi they had booked for 6:30am the night before. The concierge told them that, because the hotel had failed to wake them up at the right time, he had called the cab company and asked the taxi to come 15 minutes later! Unfortunately, they failed to call our airline to ask them to hold them plane also. Unbelievable!



In addition to the above day-by-day disappointments, we would also like to share with you some other feedback about the general quality of care and service we received during our stay:

Rooms

Despite the recent remodel, the rooms were dark and poorly lit with such small windows and inadequate lighting that it was all but impossible to read in your room.

The showers and sinks had a life of their own. It was impossible for any of us in either of our two rooms to have a shower with constant temperature. Despite my consistent efforts to carefully moderate it, the shower would fluctuate wildly from freezing cold to scalding hot, causing me to jump away from the water several times during a shower just to avoid first degree burns (this experience was shared by all four of us each time we showered.) On several occasions during our stay in both rooms, we turned on the cold tap in the sink only to be met with warm water. Despite letting the water run for several minutes, it never cooled down and we were forced to brush our teeth with warm water.

The satellite or cable service on the television also went in and out all the time, interrupting service for 2-3 seconds at a time, several times an hour. The bedside light on one side of our bed would turn off and on sporadically for no reason we could discern.

Service

Service in all your restaurants and lounges was slow and sub-par for a four star hotel. It often took 10-15 minutes to get a server to take your order in the Melrose lounge and a further 15-20 minutes just to get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate delivered – even though the area was all but deserted. Of course, you’ve already read about our specific experiences at different meal times.

All servers were sullen, unwelcoming and clearly poorly trained. They failed to smile and greet us upon first introduction, didn’t get simple drink orders right and were obviously nervous and uncertain of themselves, their hands shaking as they placed coffee cups, glasses, or plates on the table. Between courses they were all but invisible – they didn’t check on us to see if we needed anything, nor did they scan the room as they paced briskly around with their heads down, meaning it was hard to catch their eye when we did need something. They frequently leaned across each of us at the table to deliver food or drinks. Wine glasses were not removed from the table when it was established that wine was not needed, meaning that we counted 12 unused glasses on our table during meals (white wine, red wine, and water for each of the four of us). Servers had trouble finding places on the table for the drinks and food we did order.

Based upon a conversation we had with an Australian waitress working for room and board on our first evening, it appears that the explanation for this poor service may be that many of your regular staff were off for Christmas, replaced instead by inexperienced temporary workers. This in itself is troubling – why host (and charge for) a luxury Christmas break if you do not have the staff to cater to the guests you book at the standard your have claimed to provide?

On-Duty Manager

I mentioned earlier that my mother and father attempted to speak with your Manager about our experiences. Both the Hotel Manager and the Under Manager were both on holiday for Christmas (presumably like the rest of the regular staff) so they were directed to the “on duty” manager. Unfortunately, both of my parents came away from that conversation more angry and upset than when they began.

Not only did your on duty manager have the audacity to argue every single one of their points, he openly doubted their assertions about such things as the water in the shower and the dirty plates at brunch. He told them that nobody else had complained and generally attempted to play down their concerns. No apology was offered for their distress during the course of the conversation and, as of the date of this letter, their concerns were never followed-up on by the management team there.

General Ambience

No Christmas carols playing. Sullen, untrained and unhelpful staff. Low-key festive decorations throughout the hotel… generally the feeling of “Christmas” was absent. This in and of itself was so incredibly disappointing to us.



As you can tell from the litany of problems we experienced during our stay, we were more than disappointed with the Roxburghe hotel. Your hotel questionnaire asked if we had been made to feel “special” during our stay and nothing could be further from the truth. All of these issues put together would have been upsetting enough on any holiday experience but given that they happened at Christmas, the disappointment and sadness is only more so.

My family and I forewent our usual Christmas presents and festivities to pay for what was promised to be a “luxury”, “traditional” Christmas with the Roxburghe, and neither was delivered. We cannot re-create our Christmas but hopefully you and your management team can provide some kind of monetary compensation for all that was lacking.

I look forward to your favourable response.

4 comments:

CGBCYouth said...

Unbelievable...looks like it wasn't such a good Christmas after all...which is very sad. One could claim that the economy is the difference maker, but with this many indicents, it's just hard to blame it on anything other than themselves. Do yo know if any other guests (looks to me that there weren't many...) had the same problems?

e said...

How dreary. I am interested to see what happens. Sorry about your Xmas, darling. At least you were all together.

TravelVixen said...

Joy - there were plenty of people there but one thing you need to understand about the AVERAGE British person is that, while they will quite happily complain and whinge to one another, they hardly ever voice their dissatisfaction to anyone who matters. There's a certain cameraderie in sharing one's misery but, at the same time, fear of seeming impolite or a nuisance if one complains to anyone in a position to change anything. Further, when Brits DO complain, its often "solutionless whining" as we liked to say at Lyon. Meaning, they complain without having any goal or outcome in mind for what they want the person to do as a result. Again, its because I think they're afraid of seeming demanding by actually asking for something - they want it to be offered. Obviously, this is not an affliction we suffer with here in the U.S. Hence, its perfectly possible that nobody else actually complained to the manager - although we heard people whinging to one another!

Linh and Yogi said...

Way to go Michelle!! I would have done the same thing, jotted down names, took pictures with my camera phone etc, etc to prove the points you have detailed in the letter and addressed directly to upper management. You're right tho, nothing they can do can bring back Christmas 08. Sorry...

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