What’s a smile worth? About $200 to the management of the Clarence Hotel had we kept our reservation for dinner at their restaurant, which we made at the same time we made our last minute hotel reservation and cancelled the first minute after our awful experience checking in with their sullen room clerk. Said clerk was on the phone when we came to the desk and for ten minutes afterwards during which time she acknowledged us not at all, not even making eye contact. When she did, we wished she hadn’t. Finding no reservation, she declined our offer of the print-out with our confirmation but instead searched their online resys then proceeded to ask for all the information we had already entered online in making it, name, address, phone, etc., etc. When I asked why she needed to ask all this again, she snapped “The person before me on the desk didn’t get them from online.” When I offered that it seemed strange that she needed to enter it all again, she mouthed a supercilious and cynical “Sorry for your inconvenience, sir,” which made me lose my cool enough to say, albeit quietly, “Of course you don’t mean that.” After she finished huffing, puffing and glaring at this simple observation, I got surly-sirred to death as she searched her system for the queen-sized bed we’d reserved. “There are no queen size beds, sir,” she muttered acidly, adding “So I’ll have to upgrade you to a king” in a tone that made this seem my fault. I simmered but behaved as we went to the elevator where we met another couple carrying a chair from the bar because, they said, there was only one in their room. So it was also in ours, which came furnished with a desk chair but featured a large blank space where a side chair or perhaps a coffin might have been. I got online immediately and looked for a restaurant (Suzanne’s in Lodi, we highly recommend even to happy customers of the Clarence’s so-called Divine Restaurant). Our dinner was so good that even Miss Congeniality’s howling across the lobby to a waiter “Whaja put on this sam-witch of mine!??” couldn’t spoil it. The next morning we were willing to let bygones be bygones, especially since the housekeeper and the people at the desk greeted us so cheerily, but after sitting for ten minutes at the restaurant table without a glass of water or a menu or for that matter a greeting, we watched as the single waitress (Miss Congeniality’s sister perhaps?) instead went to wait on a table of people who had just arrived. By then our bygones were back and we were long gone, having breakfast at half the price in a diner miles away where they knew good service. When we left the people at the desk were asking other guests to write a Tripadvisor review since this was their one year anniversary, which came as a shock to us since we assumed this was a boutique hotel on training wheels. A lot of money and care has gone into this hotel but not enough to make up for bad service, or for that matter bad design. Some instances of the latter include the two 100 watt spot lights in the ceiling above the headboard of the bed without dimmers and with no other bedside lighting (maybe lamps are in the same shipment with the side chairs?); drapes that won’t close despite the efforts of previous patrons who have partly torn them from their hooks in trying to shut off the light that pours in around the ill-fitting shades; a ceiling mounted air conditioner that blasts cold air directly on the bed; a cable box situated on a shelf below the level of the desk so you have to be a contortionist to change channels. If a smile is worth $200, unfortunately our room was not.
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