H10 London – Mutterings about 4-5 Star Hotels

When is a 4 star hotel just not 4 stars?

What makes a hotel 4 stars anyway? I think that’s an interesting question. It’s easy to define 5 stars – over the top everything. But 4 stars – clearly you are almost there – just not quite. And from that perspective – maybe the H10 is a 4 star hotel.

But even if I start from the perspective that the H10 London close by Waterloo station deserves it’s 4 star rating – the next question to ask is – Why was I so disappointed in my recent 6 night stay?

And I was very disapointed. You don’t start a stay in a hotel disapointed – you start with high hopes and high expectations. And I admit to have had high hopes. We’d found this treasure on HotWire – and perhaps too good to be true sums up what went so very wrong. But I digress from my story – let’s start with checking in.

Our trip by Uber from London City Airport was long, but uneventful. The driver avoided all the congested areas of London – and for London, we made good time. We opted for the cab because we had so much luggage – in hindsight – using the wonderful London Public Transit system wouldn’t have been that hard – but that’s water under London Bridge.

Our arrival was painless, but there was a short line-up at the check-in counter, so we quietly waited our turn. A giant bowl with ice and drink pitchers caught our eye – wonderful – orange juice, cranberry juice, and champagne – just the trick after a long cab ride. And clearly what you’d expect from 4-5 star hotel. Perfect.

Disappointingly for 4 stars – no one at the front desk acknowledged our arrival – no quick glance to say hi – be with you in an instant – and no mention – help yourself to a drink. But they were clearly busy. So we helped ourselves and waited.

And waited.

Eventually – it was our turn – and only then did the front desk folks appear to notice us. Well – I guess it’s British decorum – although most of the staff was clearly not originally british. I’m guessing Spanish – based partly on the information about the hotel chain that was on display and partly on the accents and deamenor.

We’re given room 314. Were we demoted because we were ‘Hotwire’ guests – and thus were getting a deal? Maybe. But having what turned out to be the worst room in the hotel wasn’t completely unexpected – just disappointing. I admit that our nightly rate wasn’t insane by London Standards, but it would have rated a 5 star in Montreal or Chicago. And it was much higher than what we paid to stay in the 5 Star Trump Towers several weeks earlier. Plus – we were there for 6 nights – that’s a nice stay for any hotel! And I know the hotel offers tour bus deals because we saw several arrive and depart during our stay. So maybe it was just our travel stained look.

Back to check-in. Little in the way of information was given by the check-in crew. They were busy, working as fast as they could – so taking time to say hi, did you have a nice trip, I’m so glad you choose to stay here – just wasn’t happening. But they did impart the critical things – breakfast (not included in your room rate) is from 8-10 on the 2nd floor, and the WIFI password is written on your room key folder.

We go to the 3rd floor – to a room that is a sauna. Someone has turned the heat up to the max, and it’s hard to breathe. And rather alarmingly for a 4 star hotel, there’s a small but very obvious hole in the flooring right as you enter. Clearly what looks like tile that looks like wood is only thin laminte. But the immediate issue is the heat.

How do you turn down the heat? There’s a control on the wall – but we can’t figure out how to make it adjust downward. So we solve the problem by just opening the ‘window’. It’s actually a door sized opening, but blocked so it only opens about 2″ wide – too small a space for someone to get in. Whew – we’re just barely above ground level – so I’m happy to see that.

We also try calling the front desk – but no one answers the phone. Oh well – we know the front desk is busy – and leaving the window open for a while will do the trick. We did ask when next we walked past the front desk – only to be informed that all the thermostats were permanently set at 18 degrees – and the staff couldn’t change them. Hmm – really – 4-5 stars? That’s odd.

But back to the hotel and room 314. This is a very modern looking hotel – grey and white and black – and the room is exactly that. There is some interesting art, and the sliding glass door to the tiny bathroom is attractive. There’s no chest of drawers – we’ve learned the hard way that often hotels in Europe don’t provide these – instead there is a 2 sided closet. Hanging space with those horrid guest unfriendly hangers you can’t steal on one side, and widely spaced shelves on the other. The one shelf at eye level is completely taken up by a hotel safe, but we unpack successfuly. My husband’s clothes are living at knee level – but at least he has a shelf. The closet also offers up an umbrella (20 GBP if you take it), an iron, and a blow dryer. No cozy bathrobes, no slippers – none of the expected 4-5 star amenities – but at least we have the basics.

The bathroom has the smallest sink I’ve ever seen in a hotel room, but a lovely shower. Surprisingly – there are very few towels. 1 large bath towel, 1 hand towel, 1 face cloth. I’m guessing that this tiny room is generally offered as a single. But there are nice amenities in the bathroom – even a tooth brush and a shaver. No conditioner though – and I do like having conditioner. (When I compained on line about the lack of towels, the management response was predictable – I just had to ask. Which misses the point. I’m the guest – why should I have to ask for sufficient towels. This room is a double – shouldn’t the default be double towels?)

A desk squeezed in along a wall with a Fancy coffee machine, some ginger cookies, and a fair sized fridge with purchasable goodies rounds out the options in our room.

And there is a door to the adjoining room. This will prove the source of many problems later.

It’s not the nicest hotel room I’ve been in – but I know it’s London – and things here tend to be smaller and more expensive. I’m fine. The bed looks great – and we are not planning on spending hours in the room in any case.

I would have liked a hotel with some amenities – a pool, a hot tub, things like that – but in London – not really options. There is something below ground – I never ventured there to check it out – and later in our stay we found the 8th floor Sky Terrace – an outdoor space with an amazing view of the London Sky Line, and a handy bar. I think the below ground options might have been an exercise room and a Spa, but there was no mention of that during check-in – and if there was a guide to the hotel in my room – I never found it.

We opt to do the normal – arrive late and exhausted – things you do in a new city – we go by tube to visit my daughter and her new baby! Seriously – that’s why we’d come to London – and it was great. Our location is very nice – there’s a bus stop right out the door – and the major Waterloo station about a 10 minute walk away. Plus there are a variety of shops on the streets nearby. Lots of options and lots to explore in the morning. Location is perfect. So despite my minor issues with the room – I’m again having high hopes.

The next day we awake to the smell of bacon cooking. We’re right above the hotel kitchen, and with the window still open, it’s clearly time for breakfast. So we opt to check it out. There’s a buffet going on – plus an a la carte menu. Nowhere on the menu is the price for the buffet listed, and when I ask the gentleman who seated us – I get no response. He’s only interested in our room number. (ok – not 4 star here) I check out the prices on the a la carte menu – high for breakfast, but not insane – and ask again about the price of the buffet. Our waiter doesn’t know – so I ask again at the front desk. It’s 20 GBP. That’s about $30 US. Per Person. Nope – not doing that. So I eat a la carte while my huband has only coffee. They try to charge us for the buffet, we insist we didn’t have it – they correct the bill.

That’s enough for the hotel restaurant – I’ll eat elsewhere tomorrow.

As we leave – our hopes go back up! They have put out a tray of tiny dry pasteries and pitchers of OJ and Cranberry juice for folks to enjoy. That’s nice. And on the way out – the big bowl with iced juices is sitting out – so my husband gets a glass of 1/2 OJ, 1/2 Cranberry juice and annouces – delicous. That’s 4-5 stars. No free coffee – but I’m quite happy with the lovely touch of free juice!

We spend the day sightseeing – and come back to change for dinner. The maid has made our bed – but forgotten a pillow under the sheets. The bed looks hugely lumpy. How odd. And there are still very limited towels, so I guess news hasn’t gotten to housekeeping that there are 2 guests in this room. But the temperature is fine (the window is still open), and all is good.

No issues on night 2/day 3 – it’s night 3 when our problems really start.

When we return to the room on night 3 – we hear the guests in the next room checking out the adjoining door. They have opened it on their side, and can’t seem to figure out where it goes. There is loud discussion as to it’s purpose – but eventually they settle down and go to bed. We can’t tell from our side, but I suspect that they left the adjoining door ajar on their side – because the next morning at 5:40 AM we are rudely awakened by the sounds of someone on their side of the wall getting seriously ill. This goes on for almost an hour – eventually stopping at 6:35 by the clock on our bedside table. We go back to sleep finally – planning to let the hotel know at a more normal time.

When I go downstairs to report on the issue – the young man at the front desk responses with a very disbelieving ‘I’m sorry’ – and says – ‘We’ll check it out’. What – I’m telling you that we spent an hour listening to another guest vomit and you can only say I’m sorry. Is this my fault? Are you a 1 star hotel that caters to folks that get drunk and vomit normally? I’m not pleased. My husband helps himself to a glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – but I’m too upset. We walk out – and I turn around and walk back in to ask to speak to the manager. Another young man appears – listens to the story – and says – I’ll check it out. What exactly are you going to check out? Are you going to see if there are signs of vomit on the floor? Do you think I made up the story? What kind of construction allows for walls that thin?

I’m clearly upset – but we have plans for the day – and my husband steers me away from the ‘manager’ and out the front door. It is what it is.

Our plans for the day include some sight-seeing, and I’m going to be helping my daughter. We decide to meet at the theatre later that night – and when I arrive at the theatre (read my West End Blog), my husband explains that the manager had left a very nice note – appologizing for the problem, and offering us either a free breakfast or a room change. We clearly want a room change – I’m tired of smelling breakfast, and I don’t want to risk another paper wall experience. So as soon as we get back to the hotel after the theatre – we ask to change rooms.

The manager’s note has give me hope that this is a 4-5 star hotel – but our next experience at the front desk dashes it yet again. We hand the note to the unsmiling, very ‘unbusy’ clerk, who has clearly been warned to expect us. They are moving us to the 8th floor – an ‘upgrade’. She suggests that we go upstairs, pack our bags, take our bags to the 8th floor, then leave one of us on the 8th floor with the luggage and send the other one back to the front desk to hand over the old keys and get the new ones.

I’m stunned – again. Really. This is how guests are moved between rooms. Is she so busy she can’t bring the key to us? Why doesn’t she give us the new key and we’ll bring back the old ones when we finish the move? Oh no – they can’t do that is the response.

At this point the security guard (he’s not a doorman for sure – he’s sitting at the conceirge desk, but it’s way too late for him to be the conceirge) interruts to suggest that he will bring us the new key and help us move the bags. Just call down when you are packed.

That’s much better – but why didn’t the official front desk clerk think of this. What kind of training does this hotel give their staff about customer service that she thinks her suggestion makes sense? It’s a mystery. My husband drowns his sorrows with another glass of OJ and Cranberry juice – such a nice touch – and we head up stairs.

We make the move with no issues – and the new room is a definite improvement. It’s at a decent temperature from the start, there’s no adjoining door, and it’s a bit larger. Now we can slide past each other between the end of the bed and the desk, and the bathroom has a tub with a shower.

We settle in – and I’m feeling better about the hotel again.

Day 4 passes without an issue – and we even have a pleasant night. Whew – I’m back to feeling better about our selection.

Day 5 dawns like most days in London – a bit overcast and grey. I stop in on the 2nd floor to get a bit of OJ – but my husband prefers the iced OJ that is kept by the front desk. He goes to help himself – which he’s been doing regularly since we checked in – to be told – I’m sorry sir – that’s only for guests checking in.

Nice 4-5 star touch. We keep iced OJ, Cranberry juice and in the evenings a bottle of Sparkling wine visible to all guests – but we only allow checking-in guests to have some. If that’s the rule – I’m guessing a strange cost cutting measure since they provide exactly the same stuff on the first floor from 8-10 AM – then don’t make it visible to all guests. Put the bowl on the far side of reception – keep it in the closed off ‘office’ space, hide it under the counter. But if you’ve opted to make it highly visible – if a guest takes some – for goodness sake – don’t tell them to stop. That’s just plain mean.

I’ve stayed in many 4-5 star hotels that handed out free bottles of water to guests every time they passed the reception desk, I’ve had hotels at this level keep fresh fruit bowls available to all guests, I’ve stayed in hotels that provided afternoon fresh cookies to all guests, I’ve even stayed in hotels that gave guests (all guests) a ‘travel’ bag of goodies for the day – but I’ve never – until now – had a hotel rated 4-5 stars and costing at that level – tell me that something – anything – was for checking in guests only.

So – is the H10 London at Waterloo a 4 star hotel? Does Customer Service make or break a rating? Who is responsible for Customer Service Attitude. Should folks at reception make it their job to recognize guests staying more than one night and smile at them? Which guest contributes more to the bottom line – a one night stand, or someone who stays a week? Should front desk clerks discriminate between guests by price paid – folks who book thru the hotel website getting ‘better’ treatment then those using 3rd party booking engines like Expedia, Air BnB, or HotWire? What services can guests expect from 4-5 star hotels – should they be held to a higher standard than a 2-3 star hotel? Is great/bad Customer Service the fault/goal/responsibility of upper management?

And where does construction figure into the equation. If you look 4-5 star on the surface, but have construction issues like paper thin walls and tiny tiny rooms – can guests complain?

I’d argue that I’m not that fussy. I’ll forgive most lapses if I get a smile and a greeting. Recognize me as an individual, know that I’m a person too, live up to my expectations of basic friendly service – and I’m fine. I won’t hold construction issues against you. Don’t act like I’m in your way, that I made your day tough, that I’m making up problems, that I’m abusing the system by having a bit of OJ. I expect to be treated as a guest in your home. In today’s world of social media – you can expect me to publically call you out on your mistakes – so don’t make them! Everyone has bad days – but if you are on the front line in a Customer Service position – tough it out. Don’t ruin someone else’s day because yours is a bit rocky.

I won’t be going back to an H10 Hotel again for a while. And I’m not signing up for their club card either. And my ‘note’ to the manager has been ignored. Too bad – it had such great potential.

Signing off to find another hotel – The Soup Lady.

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