Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Land of the free....service not included

Just back from an excellent trip to the US. I had a great day with a client's team at a rum bottling plant near Baltimore - never has a team been so 'up' from a SAP implementation in the history of the world; I then spent a priceless few hours in the archive of NASA researching a history piece - great to get my hands on source material that hadn't been touched or looked at for years; and finally I clocked up more than 20 miles of walking getting myself orientated with DC for a profile piece I'm writing on the city.

So, three jobs in three and a bit days - none warranted the airfare on their own, but taken together, it was money very well spent.

Now that can't be said for all my spending stateside. I found more and more that I've got a real problem with service charges - especially when they're just expected, not matter what level of service is offered.

Across my short stay, I was presented with a series of bills all including a service charge of 18-25 per cent - and then on occasion, the people presenting me with their estimation of how good they were lingered for a further hand out.

An example: I arrived in Washington about 7.30pm on Thursday after spending my day at the bottling plant 30 miles north. I know only one person in the city and had arranged to meet him for lunch the following day. So, after a walk down to the White House - so that I can say that I've been there - and a trawl through the shelves of the local Borders, I came back to my room and ordered a chicken sandwich. In addition to the price, the hotel added 25% mark up for tray delivery and a further 18% for service. The guy who delivered the goods then hung around expecting me to part with a few more $$. Err...... sorry mate. My room was one floor up from the kitchen, right beside the lift. Frankly, next time, I'll collect the sandwich myself.

The following day I was in a restaurant on my own for breakfast. First of all I was ignored. Then I was placed on a table that hadn't been properly cleared from the previous occupant. There was a buffet beside my table: I grabbed a yoghurt and a croissant....one croisant. But I felt like indulging myself and so when the waitress finally realised that I actually wanted to eat food and drink coffee - and not just be a charming if somewhat dissolute addition to their furniture - I ordered eggs benedict at $13 a pop, along with coffee and juice.

The coffee was disgusting and almost cold before anyone bothered to bring any milk. The eggs were good though the sauce wasn't home made. But the potatoes served with it tasted gritty and metallic. I was in a hurry so didn't really scritinise the bill 'til I got back to my hotel room at the end of the day. I'd been charged $32. - $13 for my eggs benedict coffee and juice; a further $13 for the 'buffet' (one yoghurt, one croissant) and $6 service on top. The service was shit and the food horribly overpriced.

If you want to be rewarded for good service, EARN it - don't just expect it. I really liked DC, but found too many people in the service industries too complacent about turning a buck without putting in the effort. Compulsary charging for service that doesn't meet expectations just leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth of the consumer.

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