Good service at a hotel takes effort, teamwork, savvy -- and no small amount of intuition. Sometimes it's a matter of having so many things taken care of in advance, a guest hardly knows what he's missing. Sometimes, if all those things aren't quite in place, or there are hiccups, it can mean listening well, rolling with the punches and responding quickly to make amends, no matter what.
The managers at the Rittenhouse 1715 boutique hotel in Philadelphia could teach classes in those distinctions (and maybe they have, for all I know). Because this stately, comfortable hotel wasn't exactly perfect at the outset of my stay last month, but by the end I was smitten, thanks to the actions of the staff.
I was drawn to the place first by its location (right off Rittenhouse Square), then by its size and scale (23 rooms, more like a mansion than a hotel), then by its decor and reputation (elegant and award-winning, respectively). I had a busy weekend planned and wasn't sure how many of the promised luxuries I'd be able to exploit: the 24-hour concierge, evening wine service, "lavish continental breakfast." But I'd do my best to try.
The exterior reminded me of a New England carriage house, with that gorgeous arched window, and inside, things were just as refined: yellow and cream striped wallpaper and fauteuil chairs in the lobby, and a guest room upstairs that was positively library-like. On the shelves of the floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases, the upper ones reachable by step-stool, painted duck decoys shared space with global fiction by the likes of Shiva Naipaul. I didn't have time to read, because dinner reservations followed soon after my check-in, but I did manage to turn on the gas fireplace for a little extra coziness while I showered and dressed.
The next morning, breakfast got off to an awkward start. First, I read a chalkboard menu promising made-to-order egg dishes and other hot items, available for a charge, in addition to pastries, cereals and fruit. Alas, the chef had suffered a hand injury and wasn't going to make it in. Worse, the buffet of pastries and the like was plenty picked over. As I ate plain oatmeal and wished that I'd made it downstairs earlier, a fellow guest was more vocal, if polite. In hushed tones, I heard him utter such phrases to a manager as "shouldn't be out of things at 10 when you're open until 11" and "included in the room" and "disappointing." The manager quickly apologized. "If you give me a few minutes, I'll get you something," he said.
He was out the door, down the street and back in a flash, holding a basket of warm croissants in three varieties. All was well. I appreciated the chance to push aside the oatmeal and grab something decidedly less nutritious.
With all the eating I had planned, I knew that I needed to get some exercise in, so I asked the concierge whether the hotel works with any local gyms. "As a matter of fact, we do," she said, pulling out a guest pass for LA Fitness, mere blocks away. But the pass was just an excuse for the not-so-subtle folks from LA Fitness to try to get me to sign up for a membership. (In the middle of a long tour of the facility, I finally impressed on the saleswoman that I was just in town for the weekend and using the pass as a perk from the hotel, at which point things ground to a halt, and a stern manager came over to give me a "just this time" and "against our policy" talking-to. Let's say that I didn't respond well.)
When I reported my experience back at the hotel, the croissant-fetching manager didn't miss a beat. "I'm so sorry that happened to you," he said. "Obviously, we need to find a different gym to work with." But the best part was yet to come. The next day, not only was the chef back on the job -- where he made me a fine omelet -- but the concierge was ready with a suggestion. It wasn't as close as LA Fitness, but another locally owned gym took guests for $15 a day with no strings attached. Afterward, when I checked out, the clerk showed me that $15 had been taken off my bill -- and I hadn't even had to ask.
There's more. Later that day, when I returned to fetch my on-hold bags and sat for almost 90 minutes killing time until my train, another clerk couldn't let me sit there unattended. He fetched a tray of tea with all the accouterments -- including some cookies. I wasn't even a guest anymore, yet I couldn't have felt more pampered.
That's my kind of service. And if the Rittenhouse managers do teach a class on the topic, I hope that LA Fitness sends some students.travel