Creamer Bias

When I was on the road recently, I got up very early, as usual, fixed myself a cup of coffee on the in-room coffee machine, and was immediately subjected to a little noticed form of discrimination:  creamer bias.

Creamer bias afflicts those of us who like cream in our coffee.  The hotel chains that have in-room coffee makers typically will provide little cellophane-wrapped packets of coffee-related items, with sugar, creamer, a coffee stir straw, and a tiny napkin.  And that’s where the bias comes in. 

The coffee service packets inevitably include plenty of sugar options.  There are always at least two sugar packets, plus multiple faux sugar “sweetener” alternatives.  The coffee packet at the New York City hotel I stayed at recently, pictured above, included no fewer than six sugar-related items:  two “sugar in the raw,” two standard sugar, and two sweetener packets.  That’s six packets to satisfy the coffee sweet tooth.  Six!  Really?  You could bake a cake with that much sugar! 

And yet, in studied contrast, the coffee packet included one measly pouch of artificial creamer.  You can’t even get halfway to pleasant cafe au lait territory with that meager offering.  That’s a 6-1 ratio in favor of the sugarholics over the creamer crowd.

And have you ever thought about what happens to all of the unused packets of coffee items when you tear open the cellophane and use whatever suits your taste?  Unless you are using it all, there are bound to be multiple packs left over.  What happens to them?  Are they recycled somehow, or does the cleaning service just sweep them into the trash?

Hotels are changing what they are doing to be more environmentally sensitive, which I applaud.  I think it is high time that the sensitivity process move beyond shampoo delivery systems to the in-room coffee service.  I say it’s time to ditch the cellophane wrappers, can the stirrers that people can do without, eliminate the skimpy napkin, and offer creamer and sugar in packets that are kept in a decorative container next to the coffee maker.  And while they’re at it, how about evening up the creamer and sugar offerings to finally address the rampant creamer bias — or at least dialing the bias back from a 6-1 to a 2-1 ratio?

Mobile Cacti

My Phoenix hotel has an interesting way of reminding guests that they are in the desert — as if the near-constant sunshine weren’t enough of a clue. No, the hotel keeps wheeled racks of little barrel cactus plants and other desert flora at hand, ready to wheel out to remind us that we’re in an arid zone.

I like desert plants, so I think it’s pretty cool. In fact, I wish I had one of these gadgets for my office.

Elevator Art

What do hotels consider when deciding whether to decorate their elevators — and, if so, what to use for elevator art?  You’re talking about a space that every single guest uses multiple times during their stay, when they may be in multiple mindsets:  when they first arrive after a day of travel, first thing in the morning when they’re heading down for breakfast, and when they’re heading back up to their room after a long day.  How much care and attention goes into the decision of how to decorate that very unique setting?

You could, of course, choose to leave your elevator unadorned, with just standard elevator walls, the basic mirror facing the door so that people entering can check their hair and their tie, and some information about the hotel restaurant and the daily weather forecast by the row of floor buttons.  Or, as has been the case with some hotels I’ve visited, you could turn the elevator into a kind of tropical rain forest, with photos of exotic birds and insects and foliage and an accompanying sound track with the gentle patter of raindrops and distant thunder to soothe the jangled nerves of your guests.  Or, you could feature compelling photos of noteworthy places to see in the city where the hotel is located, to entice the traveler to leave the hotel premises and explore the city they are visiting.

Or, if you’re the proprietors of the hotel in Phoenix where I’m staying for meetings, you could post this big photo of a reclining woman wearing ripped blue jeans kicking up her heels, with a cowboy hat on her airborne foot.

What message are you sending this this image in an otherwise generic hotel elevator?  The cowboy hat signals that we’re in the western United States, for sure, in case the guests had forgotten that fact.  But what else?  That the friendly folks in Phoenix often lie down and balance their hats on their feet, just for kicks?  That, in a world where ripped jeans seem to be everywhere, in Phoenix they are really destroyed?

I’m guessing that the choice of the kicky gal’s legs was the product of a careful process that included some other potential choices.  Wouldn’t you like to know what some of the other finalists were?

Faucet Shock

Back in the ’70s, futurist Alvin Toffler coined the phrase “Future Shock” to refer to the mindset of many people in modern societies.  According to Toffler, “Future Shock” occurred when constant technological advancements and other changes in the world produced a peculiar psychological state in which individuals were overwhelmed by experiencing too much change in too short a time.

Me, I’ve just encountered “faucet shock.” 

That’s the baffled condition you experience when you go into a bathroom in a hotel where you’re attending meetings and the sink complex looks like the controls of a motorcycle, or maybe a video game, with nary a lever or handle or anything labeled with a C or an H in sight.  So, what do you do here?  Which gleaming device supplies water?  Do you grasp the wings sticking out of the central column and twist or turn?  Or just wave your hands around underneath the whole complex, hoping that there are photoelectric cells somewhere that will activate the water flow?

If you’re confronted with this bathroom set up, here’s what I learned after some embarrassing “faucet shock” trial and error.  First, you stick your hands under the little unit to get a dollop of soap foam, then insert your hands under the central column to activate the water flow — with no option to change the lukewarm temperature of the water, incidentally.  Then, after your hands are soaked, you place them under the wing pieces to have a Dyson unit blow-dry your hands. 

Or, if you feel silly doing that, as I did, you just grab a few paper towels, briskly dry your hands the old-fashioned way, and back away from the whole enterprise.

Keeping Up With The Devices

In 1950s America, people spoke of “keeping up with the Joneses.”  The phrase captured the desire of suburbanites to match whatever they noticed their neighbors were doing in the area of home or family improvements.  If the Joneses bought a new car or one of those newfangled TV sets, the pressure was on for the Smiths to make the same upgrade.

In hotel management classes these days, you might talk instead about “keeping up with the devices.”  It refers to the efforts of hotels to equip guest rooms with all of the plug-ins that a traveler might need to hook up the array of electronic gear they might be lugging along. 

This effort by the New York City hotel I stayed in this week is a good example of what hotels have tried to do — and why it seems forever doomed to failure.  It offers one measly electrical outlet, but a smorgasbord of other options that seem awfully dated — and hence not usable (by me, at least).  It’s got a labeled plug-in for an iPod, for example, the three yellow, red, and white holes that I associate with TVs from the ’90s, an old-fashioned phone jack, and a weird, bulky white plug that looks like it might be needed to power a Russian listening device.  And that curious gadget just highlights the additional challenge facing hotels in cities where foreign travelers are commonplace — it’s bad enough to try to keep up with American technology, but it becomes overwhelming if you add in the different kinds of connectivity people from other countries might need for their gizmos.

Of course, most of these options were useless to me; I used only the electrical outlet for my laptop and then had to search for another outlet elsewhere to charge up my iPhone.  And that, I suppose, might be a good takeaway for hotels.  Give up the self-defeating quest to identify and anticipate what your guest might need so that you look like you’re on the cutting edge of personal technology, I say!  It’s never going to really work, and within a nanosecond you’ll just be dating yourself.  Since all of devices currently known to man need electricity, do yourself a favor:  supply plenty of outlets and leave the other hook-ups to the traveler.

Welcome To The Twilight Zone

Sometimes you really do have to wonder about hotel interior decorators.

The goal of hotel room design should be simple: to provide a setting that is warm, welcoming, and functional for the weary traveler. Weirdness should be avoided, not embraced. And designers should remember that no one goes to a hotel room hoping to enjoy its avant garde flourishes or revel in its cutting edge accent pieces.

So how do you explain a hotel room that prominently features a large vase in the form of a human head missing the top part of its skull that looks like it is rising from the countertop with eyes that follow you around the room? It’s the kind of piece that Dr. Hannibal Lecter might have kept in his kitchen as a cookie jar. It’s the kind of unsettling touch that encourages the guest to make triple sure that the door is double locked and there are no unpleasant surprises lurking in that darkened closet.

Apparently nothing says “welcome” like a dead-eyed representation of human head that is prepped for brain surgery!

Voices In The Room

Sometimes I don’t know what American hotel chains are thinking.  Consider this increasingly commonplace hotel scenario.  You check in, get your keycard, lug your bags into the elevator and up to the room, use the key card to access the room, open the door, and . . . .

There are strange voices coming from inside the room.  Murmuring, distinctly human voices, but at a volume where you can’t immediately make out what the heck they are saying.  Then you go into your room and discover that the TV is on, set to a channel where people are talking, and you have to walk over and turn it off.

Why is this the latest trend?  It’s inexplicable.  You used to go into your hotel room and, in many cases, find that the TV has been set to a music channel.  But now the music welcome has been junked, and it’s always a TV channel where people are talking.  Sometimes it’s the channel that carries those long vignette ads for the hotel chain itself, and sometimes its the local NPR station.  But it’s almost always human voices in the background these days.

Why is this so?  I suppose somebody thought that the sound of human voices in the room would make the weary lone traveler feel a little less isolated on his or her trip.  Or maybe they just figure they’ll hit you with a few seconds of free hotel advertising time during the time it takes for you to drop your bags, march over to the TV set, wrestle with the remote, and figure out how to turn the TV off.

This has become standard operating procedure in most hotels, so you’d think I’d be used to it — but I’m not.  Instead, I inevitably think as I open the door — “Hey, have I gone to the wrong room?”