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THE WORLD'S MOST DISAPPOINTING HOTEL
By Michael Matthews
December 8, 2011 -- My Darling Wife is a brilliant navigator. She is not, however, a great judge of hotels.
Given a choice of booking us into any property in all of London as a reward for faultlessly navigating our way around Britain, she somehow chose the most disappointing hotel in the world.
Allow me to explain. We recently returned to that blessed plot to belatedly clear up some family matters. Our journey took us first to London and the Langham Hotel (simply superb), then to the wonderful City of Bath and the Royal Crescent Hotel (not what it used to be, but still a great experience). We then went to the Cotswolds and a 13th-century country house called Buckland Manor. It was a five-star stay and featured a house Labrador puppy named Oscar. Besides, a three-mile walk on the Cotswold Trail, deep sofas, roaring fires, a pot of tea and a drizzle outside is my idea of heaven.
It was then back to London. Since Darling Wife had navigated the trip without us once getting lost, I thought she deserved a reward. If there was one hotel in London that she wanted to visit, what would it be, I asked. The Connaught, the Dorchester, the Savoy, the Lanesborough, the Ritz, take your pick, I told her. Her wish would be my command and we'd check in for our last two evenings in England.
Darling Wife suggested The Goring, a highly praised, multi-award-winning property that, due to certain matrimonial events earlier this year, is now a very famous hotel.
The Goring is where Kate Middleton and her family spent the night before her marriage to Prince William, the future King of England. (Admittedly, he may be waiting a few years). If you watched the wedding, The Goring is where you got the first view of sister Philippa's now-famed bottom.
Being quintessentially British was the Goring's pre-wedding claim to fame and the hotel bills itself as being in the same family for four generations. You can't miss the fact that the hotel has been in the same family for the aforementioned generations. At every turn, there's a statue, portrait, cartoon or drawing of some family member or other.
But it's not the mausoleum-like atmosphere that makes The Goring the most disappointing hotel in the world. It's, well, everything else about the place.
Upon check-in by a clerk with zero personality and aged perhaps as old as the hotel (101 years), we were shown to our 475-pound-a-night accommodation and found a tiny room done in the style of a cheap boarding house. Dull colours. Bedside tables that needed revarnishing. A 14-inch television set from perhaps 10 years ago. A desk, a miniature armoire, a couple of chairs and a queen-sized bed crammed into space the size of my bathroom at home.
The disappointment showed in my wife's face. "Darling, we just got screwed," I said.
To recover from the shock, we went down to the lounge for a glass of wine and a sandwich. Next thing we knew we were being asked to move while the engineering department, with a large ladder and a team of three, replaced a couple of lightbulbs in the chandeliers. During lunch hour? Really?
Still, I try to find the best in everything, so now, at least, I can say I know how many Brits it takes to screw in a lightbulb.
The Olympics are in London next year, so maybe the management of The Goring has the entire wait staff in training. How else to explain why the waiters always seemed to be running? There appeared to be some sort competition in the bar and lounge area to pick up and deliver orders on the run. At one point, I actually called out to two of the wait staff and urged them to slow down. They didn't listen.
The Goring's guest directory seems to list everyone who works in the hotel. There's a chief executive officer, a managing director and a general manager heading 11 other managers atop a staff of 150. I think a part of the hotel's problem is the "too many cooks" syndrome.
One of the apparatchiks listed was a guest relations manager who, on day two of our stay, sent a lovely card of greeting. Which would have been swell, but my name was spelled wrong. Let alone there was no mention of Darling Wife, but that's no surprise when you consider they managed to mangle a simple and quintessentially British name like Michael Matthews.
Breakfast (30 pounds a person) was served in a lovely, high-ceilinged dining room. But we couldn't work out the thinking behind the chandeliers. They looked like props from the HGTV show Donna Decorates Dallas. Simply horrible. Spoiled the whole room.
The breakfast itself was almost perfect: fresh orange juice, good coffee, lovely scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes, flat mushrooms, crispy back bacon and my favorite, lamb kidneys. But the kidneys were not properly cleaned and were therefore inedible. Spoiled the whole thing.
By now you're thinking that there must have been something we liked about The Goring. There was. The location was superb. Directly behind Buckingham Palace, it was an easy stroll to Parliament and Westminster Abbey, St. James' Green and Hyde Park.
The doormen on each shift were terrific. (If you must have a traffic cone outside the front door, at least have it clean and shiny.) The concierge was extremely helpful and even sent a bellman to the National Gallery to get tickets to the Leonardo Exhibition. (They didn't get the tickets, you understand, but it wasn't from lack of trying.) Unfortunately, housekeeping only gets a passing grade. More regular visits to the public washrooms are in order and most of the hotel's baseboards need dusting.
Check out at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of our departure was a disaster. A cursory look at my bill, presented by a surly member of the night staff, showed an erroneous charge of 450 pounds from the lounge. It was removed quickly, but we left with the feeling that the clerk was convinced we were pulling a fast one on the hotel.
We didn't get a "Thank you" or "Hope your stay exceeded your expectations." They wouldn't have dared--or cared. That's the way it goes at the most disappointing hotel in the world.
My next column will discuss a London hotel at the other end of the spectrum. It's one of the best I've ever visited. I invite the managers at The Goring to read along with you. Then they should check in and see how a good London hotel is run at half the price, with half the management and a sense of genuine hospitality. They'll also notice that there's not a running waiter in the whole place.
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.