A Canadian stranded in rough America

I felt so good at Podcamp Boston 3 last weekend, that I was beginning to wonder: is Murphy asleep?

He wasn’t. Our Toronto flight was cancelled Sunday night, just as it was revving engines ready to take flight.

Back into the airport, American Airlines re-booked us and then gave us taxi vouchers, a night’s stay at the Sheraton in Wakefield (a 30 minute ride away) and also threw in a breakfast voucher. Nice.

A week before I spent a great weekend at the Sheraton in Niagara Falls, so it was appreciated.

It wasn’t to be that much appreciated this time.

While the check in&out, the wake up call and the room at Sheraton Wakefield were all fine, there was an incident at breakfast.

There’s nothing more rejuvenating then a good breakfast following a stressful night. So I made sure I wake up on time to have my fill next morning.

The receptionist directed me downstairs for the breakfast. It turns out that she wasn’t aware that room was reserved for a youth conference. Minor miscommunication, you would say.

Two minutes later I was happily chewing on my bacon. So happy that I’d wiggle a tail if I had one.

In between bites #3 and #4 I was approached at the table by a young man identifiable by a tag that said “XYZ conference – staff”:

– Hi, there is a youth conference reserving this room for breakfast, could you please have breakfast somewhere else?

“Polite, but no manner” I though with my Canadian brain. “First you apologize for interrupting someone’s meal.”

– I will finish breakfast in 2 minutes, if you don’t mind. I am a guest of the hotel.

– But sir, you can’t be around these kids, it’s a liability.

Here I go: the father of a 2-year old being stigmatized with the “liability” lingo around American teenagers. Damn, my 5 foot 5 frame must’ve scared the hell out of the unprotected kids: HERE COMES THE CANADIAN RAPIST!!

The kids actually ignored me and went ahead having a good time at breakfast.

** **

I was at bite #5 (good bacon, by the way, compliments to the chef at Sheraton at Wakefield) when the second round of negotiations took place.

It conjured a few horrified 22-23 year old girls from the staff, and a rough, athlete-like, 40-ish black guy that appeared to be the muscle provider in the organizing team.

No touch was involved, even though chewing bacon within the radius of a left hook from a retired Cassius Clay was an act of bold courage in itself.

– Listen, I told them. One, I was directed here by the girl at reception. Two, there is no RESERVED sign. Three, none of you prevented anyone without a conference tag to enter this room. Give me a minute to finish my breakfast and I’m out.

My immigrant English would’ve worked better in rural Transylvania.

I asked them to call the reception manager.

*** ***

By the time the reception manager spit his words into my omelette, I knew the only reason I’m still there is for writing this blog. Everything else is a lost battle: a good breakfast, a shiny start of the day.

– Sir, you can’t eat here, you have to leave – the 6 foot manager delivered with a sub-human growl.

– But… (repeating points 1, 2, 3 above)

– Sir, leave now.

As any overqualified Canadian immigrant (I have an MBA in Mechanical Engineering), I did my share of security jobs in Toronto. I know where the words end and action follows.

– Sure, I’m leaving, I said while trying to hold the orange juice reflux in my upper throat.

As I left the room I heard the conference staff having a loud laugh on my public humiliation.

** **
While leaving the “hospitable” Sheraton in Wakefield, Massachusetts, two thoughts were in my mind:

1. The reception manager has no business working in the hospitality industry. He’d be better fighting grizzlies in the Rockies.

2. Those people (conference staff) who laughed behind my back are supposed to be role-models for those teenagers. I wouldn’t trust my son’s education to someone loudly enjoying a person being kicked off and publicly humiliated.

** **

As for the moral of the story…well, everybody knows Canadians and Americans are different.

But the true one is that even a brand like Sheraton is not foolproof.

Let me end by waving a warm hello to all my American buddies.

****************************************************************************************************************

UPDATE – a few weeks later

I escalated this incident via the online Customer Service channel available on Sheratons’s website.

I received an email from the General Manager of the Sheraton in Wakefield. He starts by saying thank you for taking time to comment, apologizes for the incident, informs that he reviewed it with his staff, and offers to personally arrange my accommodation next time at Sheraton Colonial.

I am happy with his answer and will be happy to shake his hand next time in Boston / Wakefield.

10 Comments

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  1. pfff, nu e intotdeauna omul potrivit la locul potrivit…exceptii, peste tot. cele din invatamînt ma intriga cel mai tare.

    murphy nu stiu cum ar fi zis, dar eu zic ca doua sheratonuri la interval asa de scurt de timp te-ar fi putut învata cu narav, e aceea…
    notiunide ospitalitate n-o fi avut ala de la receptie, da’ economic stie sa gindeasca: grupul ala o sa mai vina acolo,mai ales aca au vazut cît favor li se face, pe cind tu, cu voucherul tau…;)

    ce inseamna liability? e singurul cuviînt pe care nu l-am ghicit;;)

  2. Eu fiind liability, in contextu asta, ar fi un soi de amenintare directa, si pedepsibila legal.
    Bush a facut din americani un popor de paranoici, permanent in garda, carora legile bunului simt nu se mai aplica (“uite, sint si eu oaspete al hotelului, n-am sfecla de terorist, lasa-ma sa rumeg un minut si plec”).
    In plus, o tara mai veche a lor, un defect pentru care-i stie toata lumea: nu te lasa in pace pina nu faci cum vor ei.

    Dincolo de umorul ridicol al situatiei, sint convins ca m-ar fi luat pe sus daca mai intirziam o secunda.

    Murphy ar fi zis “nici o fapta buna nu ramine nepedepsita”, pentru ca recent le-am luat partea americanilor intr-o conversatie destul de aprinsa.

    ****
    Da’ tu stii bine engleza, mai piperchocolate mai -))

  3. “Hi, there is a youth conference reserving this room for breakfast, could you please have breakfast somewhere else?”

    Where else could you have had breakfast? Are there that many dining rooms in the Sheraton Wakefield?

    What a pain.

    Luckily for you, the Sheraton Wakefield WANTS to hear your comments. At least, according to the website it does:

    Have a great dining experience? Share your story.
    http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/dining/index.html?propertyID=232&localeoverwrite=

    For that matter, so do the following websites:

    Tripadvisor:
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g41877-d219438-Reviews-Sheraton_Colonial_Wakefield_Hotel-Wakefield_Massachusetts.html

    Travelpost:
    http://www.travelpost.com/hotels/Sheraton_Colonial_Hotel_Golf_Club/h33637

    Better Bidding:
    http://www.betterbidding.com/index.php?showtopic=52308&

    Boston.com:
    http://calendar.boston.com/wakefield-ma/venues/show/873699-sheraton-colonial-hotel-and-golf-club-boston

    … and that’s just Page 1 of Google

    Joseph Jaffe recently podcasted about a travel disappointment with Delta Airlines. It’s worth checking out – the power is shifting and online communications are helping it happen

    http://www.jaffejuice.com/2008/06/delta-skelter.html

    Enjoy!

    Michelle-who-won’t-be-staying-at-the-Sheraton-Wakefield-anytime-soon

  4. I was going to say you were lucky to have the airline look after you after your flight was cancelled, but sounds like a mixed blessing!

    Don’t we often hear about how superior U.S. hospitality customer service is? Your experience did not bear that out.

    I’m glad to hear Podcamp Boston was good, though!

    Cheers,
    Connie

  5. Thank you all for your kind comments. Let me assure everybody that I wasn’t overly anxious, I just wanted a good breakfast -)

    Connie, the interview you gave to John for his podcast was fascinating! Many valuable ideas were floated around, and the pace&length of the interview were pitch perfect.

  6. Dear George,

    I’m sorry to hear you had an unpleasant experience at Sheraton. I know you were very happy to go to Boston. I am completely agree with you, their behavior is inexcusable. On the other hand, I slightly disagree with your moral. “As for the moral of the story…well, everybody knows Canadians and Americans are different.” However, my advice would be try not to generalize an isolate, personal experience to a nation. I am absolutely sure that there are idiots and unpolished people as well as smart and courteous individuals in both countries.

    Delia

  7. @Delia
    Thanks for your comments!

    When I said “everybody knows Americans and Canadians are different”, it was with a touch of irony. Meaning that my rant is not on the theme of Americans vs. Canadians, which is a worn cliché, subject to silly generalizations, as you aptly pointed out.

    My main point was “a prime brand like Sheraton is not fool-proof”. My secondary thought was “if you didn’t travel for 5-6 years to the US – my case – you will find that the common folk South of the border is a little tight on security, seeing danger where us Canadians don’t. ”
    This must be the legacy of their governance under the Bush guy that puts my first name to a shame -)

    And a third thought, actually stated by one frequent-flier that got stranded with me: the Boston area people are a little rough around the edges, compared – for example – with Californians.

  8. re: Update

    Glad you’re happy with the resolution – sounds like they’re paying attention to their customer feedback forms. Now someone should go tell them that they need to do a better job of monitoring the online buzz about their brand.

    If they did, they might consider reacting to Tweets like:

    JessicaGottlieb: Read and tell a friend. No one at the Sheraton will give me my car keys back http://tinyurl.com/5ld3sw (expand)
    1 day ago · Reply · View Tweet

    JessicaGottlieb: NEVER go to the Sheraton LAX. Parked the car there they lost the keys, lots of drug use and prostitution in the lobby. NO TO SHERATON.
    2 days ago · Reply · View Tweet

    veazey: First, no free in-room Internet, then they lock me out for trying to update my podcasts? Up yours, Sheraton.
    4 days ago · Reply · View Tweet

    kenji4861: downstairs eating breakfast buffet at Sheraton. Service isn’t so friendly and very dim here.
    6 days ago · Reply · View Tweet

    or, on a happier note:

    apabate: We arrived in Philadelphia – love the Sheraton Suites Philadelphia Airport
    4 days ago · Reply · View Tweet

    kmerritt: Up early in Boston. Getting ready for a day full of product demos. Should be fun. Kudos to Sheraton for clever 1-cup coffee maker in room.
    about 17 hours ago · Reply · View Tweet

    The tools that are out there to help us monitor our reputation are pretty powerful and, often, free. It’s just a matter of doing it.

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