Did you ever want to ask a hotel General Manager the best way to get a good rate? How to get an upgrade? Do you wonder if they clean the throw pillows? How much to tip the housekeeper? The oddest thing a hotel guest left behind?
In this episode (with lots of laughs as well as loads of info) we talk with four hotel GMs from top hotels around the U.S. They cover questions and offer memories about their hotels: from ghosts, to celebs, to favorite personal memories.
Peter Yeung is Managing Director of Walker boutique hotels in New York City; Anton Moore is General Manager of Gansevoort Meatpacking Hotel in New York City; Sergio Maclean works at Mac & Lo Hospitality, operators of Shinola hotel in Detroit; Brian Englehard is General Manager of Maison de la Luz in New Orleans.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember, (a star rating from Kirkus Reviews), and has contributed to many guidebooks.
Contact Lea! @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com.
New episodes drop every other week, on Tuesdays. Please tell travel-lovers about us, and follow, rate and review this award-winning travel podcast!
*transcript is edited for clarity
Lea Lane 0:06
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world.
Did you ever want to find out inside info about hotels, things you don't get to ask? Well in this episode, I'll be asking the questions you want to know. Our guests are general managers and executives of four lodgings around the country. Peter Young, Managing Director of Walker hotels in New York City; Anton Moore, general manager of Gansevoort Meatpacking Hotel in New York City; Sergio McClain of Mack and Low hospitality, operators of Shinola hotel in Detroit. And Brian Engelhardt, General Manager of Maison de la Luce in New Orleans. Welcome, guys to Places I Remember.
Brian Engelhardt 1:05
Thank you. Thanks for having me. Hey, good morning.
Lea Lane 1:07
Yeah, this is like having a boy band. This is fun. But I'm gonna throw some questions at you -- a whole variety of them about hotels, and you can answer any ones you want. Let's start with a basic question. What are the things that a guest should expect in any hotel, be it budget or luxury?
Anton Moore 1:25
I think that stating the obvious is obviously cleanliness. I think any great hotel, whether it be a two star lodge on the side of a highway, or a five star hotel in New York City, cleanliness is number one.
Lea Lane 1:39
Absolutely. When I go into a hotel, and I've been in 1000s, because I used to review them for guidebooks. I did the smell test, I can smell it, when it's not clean. I mean, you can cover it up with all kinds of perfumes and so forth. But cleanliness is number one, I agree.
Anton Moore 1:55
I have taped to the housekeeping team, the tongue on the carpet test. It's a good way, because then you can see if somebody's really cleaning: would you put your tongue on that? That was pre COVID. So I'm not encouraging anybody to put their tongue anywhere now, but pre COVID. That was always something I used to giggle to myself. The tongue test?
Lea Lane 2:16
Well, it used to be the white glove test, Does a supervisor come in and check it? How does it usually work?
Sergio Maclean 2:23
I would say that white glove is more popular than the tongue test. But I do not want to question other operators.
Lea Lane 2:35
Does someone come in? I mean, I'm always curious myself, when a cleaner comes in, and a housekeeper comes in what happens to someone check usually afterwards as
Sergio Maclean 2:45
In every hotel around the world, the housekeeping team does their job and then the supervisor comes in, checks the room and they're the ones that release the room to the front desk, who will then open it for self.
Anton Moore 3:00
What we do then on top of it is that's the final day the supervisor does the check. And then we do a final disinfectant, which is a lot of the CDC products that were added, you know, after the pandemic,
Lea Lane 3:13
Is that even in a budget hotel would a chain also have those standards?
Anton Moore 3:19
I would imagine so. I can't speak for them. But I know in 2020 when everything was getting ready to open back up that fall. Marriott did a really great video, so I would imagine through all of their brands. And of course Marriott owns most of the hotels these days so I would imagine even in the budget hotels that they're doing a disinfectant, but I can't obviously speak for them.
Lea Lane 3:42
That's good to know. I know in some hotels, there's an option whether you want housekeeping every day is that so in some of yours?
Anton Moore 3:48
Not in the luxury market. They certainly can require if they ask, but we clean every day.
Sergio Maclean 3:55
I would agree in the luxury market it would be the opposite--a customer can request not to have service. They're not comfortable with service but we strive to service every room every day, sometimes twice a day if you have turned down.
Lea Lane 4:08
Very good. Let me ask you about duvets verses bedspreads Duvets are the popular thing now? Is that part of the cleanliness?
Peter Yeung 4:15
Yeah, I think so. A lot of times truthfully, the secret is duvets don't need to be changed every stayover date. Because there is a secondary sheet that separates the body with the duvet. But definitely on checkouts. We call them checkouts. Duvets always get changed and yet laundered properly and then replaced.
Lea Lane 4:37
Good to know I always wondered that. What about the throw pillows? I don't like throw pillows because I wonder how often they're cleaned. How often are they clean?
Sergio Maclean 4:45
They're cleaned at every stay -- not deep cleaned, not laundered at every stay, but they are cleaned every time a housekeeper goes there. There's the vacuuming, there's the cleaning. In our case we do use the peroxide solution that was me mentioned before, after CDC is a spray doesn't affect the fabric. And then you vacuum after and it does disinfect completely the throw pillow. On rotation, you take it to the laundromat and you clean everything.
Lea Lane 5:14
Let me just ask you another question. What's an appropriate tip for the staff? What percentage of guests tip the maid as well? Do you know?
Anton Moore 5:22
I would love to think that everybody tips the housekeeper. I don't think people do. I personally, depending on what caliber of hotel I'm staying in and on what type of accommodation obviously, if it's a guest room versus this suite, I think between five and $10 a day now this is of course, New York City. You know, I can't speak for other areas of the country. But I can't stress how hard those housekeepers work, and obviously, they're compensated on their paychecks. But it's a lovely thing for guests to leave some money for the housekeeper.
Brian Englehard 5:54
I can't speak for other areas of the country. And I will say that most of the housekeepers here get gratuity, I think it's our housekeeping teams really folded into our arrival process. So they get to meet almost every guest that arrives in the building. So it helps immensely. And therefore, I think probably 90% of our guests probably tip out the housekeeping team.
Lea Lane 6:15
That's wonderful to hear. I know because you don't meet the housekeeper very often. It's an easy thing to forget. When you meet them. It's a very hard thing to forget. So I would put in a plug, please remember that housekeepers? Yes. Okay, here's another one. What odd things have been left behind by guests in your hotel? Oh, gee.
Peter Yeung 6:37
I figured Yeah. For me, the number one is adult toys, like vibrators and dildos and stuff like that.
Lea Lane 6:44
Peter Yeung 6:47
Sure. On my phone that I had to take bright purple. And I thought it was incredible.
Anton Moore 6:53
And here, I thought this podcast Is this being recorded in the evening as people I wrote on my piece of paper, and I'm into adult intimate items.
Lea Lane 7:04
Obviously, this is.
Peter Yeung 7:07
Those things are expensive. Like I wouldn't leave that behind. You know, that's so personal. But I've found a few of those left behind. I guess it was a good night.
Lea Lane 7:14
Well, that's what happens to them when they're left behind.
Peter Yeung 7:17
No, you know, we do keep them because we keep all lost and found items, each hotel has a different holding pattern. We keep ours for 60 days, if you call we do return it to you. After 60 days, we just donate; we would not donate that to charity, that item will be discarded. Okay. Good.
Lea Lane 7:38
Any others? Or should I?
Brian Englehard 7:40
Well, the oddest thing in my career has been we had a fake leg left behind and, and everybody kind of was scratching their heads. And we actually got a call about it. But it was a medical company that was there on a meeting but it had us all a little bit concern for a couple of days. Yeah,
Lea Lane 7:57
I would think it'd be hard to forget it. Well, yes.
Peter Yeung 8:03
We had a celebrity, and I won't share his name on this podcast.
Lea Lane 8:08
Not the initials?
Peter Yeung 8:10
BQ. Anyway, security called and said, You're not gonna believe this. But there's literally like $6,400 in cash in the safe. So we were lucky to able to contact this person. And it was funny, because he did not even realize he left that money in the safe. He was like confused. And then he realized, oh, yeah, maybe I did. And then he sent this handler or his support person to come. And I said I don't feel comfortable handing $6,400 This is a random person. And he said to me, don't worry about it. Code word: rabbit.
Lea Lane 8:50
All I can ask is, do you open the safe after every guest leaves?
Peter Yeung 8:54
We do. We double check, because it was locked. And if you leave, we do go in there after you check out to make sure you didn't leave anything; that is a protocol. If it's a stay over, obviously, we don't go into it. But security went into it as a protocol. And we were able to return the money back to the celebrity.
Sergio MacClean 9:12
It's also a safety need. You have to check the safe; there might be medication there and another guest might not interact well with medications; sometimes there are weapons. I think on my end, the only thing that I haven't seen left behind is babies and dogs. Otherwise, I've seen pretty much everything. I'm still waiting one day to go into a room and find a baby.
Lea Lane 9:36
Let me ask you about pets. Do you have any interesting stories about pets in your hotels? Are they allowed in your hotel?
Sergio MacClean 9:42
They are absolutely allowed on every hotel we've managed, running Shinola hotel, we're pet friendly. We do not charge a pet fee. We do have a waiver if there is damage, we may charge after that. But otherwise we consider them part of the family, and we welcome them
Lea Lane 10:03
Do you keep special rooms for people with pets? Or can they go in any room?
Sergio Maclean 10:07
The opposite: we keep we keep two floors clear for people with no pets. So there's there's two floors where we don't accept pets. If anybody has allergies, that's where they will go. Otherwise, the rest of the hotel floors are typically open. And in our case, we have one floor. That is the Preferred Guest floor for pets because we have a dog walk, a terrace with a dog walk at the hotel, so they don't even have to leave the property.
Lea Lane 10:32
Do people bring cats? I always wondered. I have a cat and I never hear about that. I know they don't like to travel.
Sergio Maclean 10:38
They do they do. But they're not as popular. And in our case, we did draw a line on the weight of the pet, whether it's a dog or a cat; and you know no exotic pets like big parrots or snakes, things like that. We don't accept the rest.
Lea Lane 10:54
You as well?
Anton Moore 10:55
The best are celebrity pets. (Oh, please tell us; celebrity pets are my favorite.) We had a guest and dog's name was Audrey. And when the handler would call down room service, they would act as if the dog was the actual guest or our child. So Audrey will be dining at three o'clock this afternoon. She would like organic boiled chicken cubes. And she got it. And she got it served on a room service tray. And that's how she dined each day.
Lea Lane 11:27
Oh, my goodness. What about other strange demands from guests? Anybody?
Sergio Maclean 11:32
So used to demands, I don't think anything is strange anymore. That's I think why we're all thinking what is his strange demand? I would say anything that you can demand is like, what can you leave behind? It will be left behind. If there's anything you can think of somebody has asked for somewhere, some time you always try to do. We think we see nobody that affects another guests -- not when it compromises safety or property, not when somebody wants a helicopter at the rooftop, we're not going to do it. To the extent that we can offer an alternative, we will.
Peter Yeung 12:07
One that we deal with here -- not often, but it's a very uncomfortable demand -- is the requests for drugs or prostitution or services or companionship. You'll have some guests that slip some words in there suggesting that they need those services. And obviously, we can't accommodate on those services. And there's an appropriate way of telling the guests: We'll will help you but we can't help you with that one.
Lea Lane 12:30
Interesting guests. What's the best way to get a good rate? There's a lot of questions about that, whether you should book through the hotel directly? Or what do you suggest?
Sergio Maclean 12:39
Always hotel direct on the luxury segmentation? You know, there are other hotels where packages and discounts and they don't have great integrity. And they always compete on rate rather than services. I think everybody here competes on services, and it's fairly priced against the offering. So if you're loyal, if you contact us at the hotel, and you communicate in a good manner, there's a good chance that you'll get the best deal possible for that day.
Brian Englehard 13:08
Guests, if they booked directly with us, are generally going to get the same rates that are available out there. We don't play the discount game a lot. And generally, our guests aren't looking for a deal. But the best way to get upgrades and everything once you arrived is to be kind. Just be nice. I think we have a mantra here about leading with kindness whenever we deal with our guests. But it goes both ways: guests that are really, really nice to us also tend to get better perks always first; they just ask nicely, you know,
Lea Lane 13:39
The front desk has the discretion. If you say this is my anniversary, do you have an upgraded room, they would have the discretion or they have to go to the manager, how would that work,
They would have the discretion, especially in the luxury market, you have to empower the team, you know. I always say I'm not going to be upset or cross if you've done something to go above and beyond within reason. I used to work for a brand and we had a statement that each team member could do up to $2,000. I actually think it's an old Ritz Carlton thing. But so the team should always feel empowered to go that extra mile within reason. I couldn't agree with Brian more: kindness, being polite and treating one another with respect across the board in the service industry, whether you're in a hotel or restaurant, or on an airplane; if you treat the team with kindness, they they're going to appreciate that it goes goes a long way for sure.
Sergio Maclean 14:35
Becoming more and more trained when you see meetings with the team members, at least on our end. For what I'm hearing. I'm sure it's commonplace for everybody here. You know, there is that thing of like the squeaky wheel gets the attention. It's not so in hotels, you will get the attention if you're the squeaky wheel but more often than not, we'll get a good email we'll get a good response. We'll get a kindness and that's what we say, please note on their on their profile next time they say, get them an upgrade, give them a bottle of champagne, right? Because we treat people that treat us well, well, and then people that are always complaining or whatnot, you want the complaint, you have to fix the issue and recover any failing on our part, but you're not necessarily going to reward a negative communication.
Lea Lane 15:26
Yeah, I've stood in line behind people who were arguing and yelling, and I don't think they get very far. And I think being kind on both sides, as you say, is important. And it's very good to hear this because I think some people are a little shy about asking for an upgraded room or a room with a view. And if there's a special occasion.
Sergio Maclean 15:42
Yeah, in service, like we don't have really programs of entitlement. Anniversaries get amenities automatically, or birthdays and whatnot, we do have them. But what I mean by entitlement is we do not tell the guests that we have them; it's the team member that rewards them. So when we know that it's your birthday, you'd be surprised. And that's the idea -- to surprise you.
Brian Englehard 16:08
And I think I think it's to empower people properly. I always talk about having a psychologically safe environment for my my team members so that they're not afraid that they're gonna get in trouble if they do something to surprise and delight a guest. It's all about giving guests that experience of true delight.
Lea Lane 16:26
It makes it a trip more fun when you get these surprises. It's very pleasurable.
Sergio Macleanl 16:30
We had a team member, a fairly new team member at the front desk, here in Detroit. And he just learned just by seeing the guests arrive. A guest was coming to a funeral, a funeral of her mom's and obviously the guests, the team member didn't say anything. He just went right away, got flowers got, you know, a number of things that placed them in the room. He was quiet. Nothing was said, nothing was boasted about. But that guest --it was meaningful in all the right way. So it's not just celebrating; it's just caring for the human interaction with a guest and listening, talking.
Lea Lane 16:30
I know as a traveler. To me, the most important thing is service. And the feeling you're telling me is excellent. Yeah. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So let's go one by one. Tell us about your experience in the hotel business. Peter, would you start?
Peter Yeung 17:33
I was a hotel manager of a hotel in Vermont called the Equinox and the hotel is 250 years old. And rumor has it that some rooms are haunted. And I won't tell you what room numbers.
Lea Lane 17:44
Really, I stayed there, by the way. So I hope I wasn't in the room.
Peter Yeung 17:48
But I was reluctant to believe that it was but one time I guess came up to me and said, Hey, by the way, I want to complain. There's a young girl in the room. So we checked the reservation system, no one was checked into that room. And the guests you know, you may want to be able to find their parents. Well, nonetheless, there were no guests checked in the room. We went in the room, and there was no little girl in the room. So that sent chills up my spine. Oftentimes in that particular room, people would leave room service food orders, they come back after a long day and all the dishes would be flipped upside down. And then there would also be lights turn off and on by themselves. So you believe what you want to believe -- how the lights automatically turned on where that little girl went?
Lea Lane 18:30
Thank you, Peter. Okay, Anton. How about you?
Anton Moore 18:32
I think for me, I mean, I had the great honor of working at the Waldorf Astoria for 10 years in New York. This was before the Waldorf Astoria was Waldorf Astorias all over the world. This was the one and only the original, and six of the 10 I handled the entertainment market. I have stories the length of my arm with the interaction of a celebrity, but what am I my most favorite times of year, we used to host the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Being an Irishman. I was very excited the year U2 was inducted and I had the great pleasure of picking up the boys. They were staying on two different floors. And I picked up Larry and The Edge first and then I went upstairs to pick up Bono. And we were all of us in the elevator. Bono knew that I was Irish. And so we were coming down the elevator, we were supposed to go into the back of the ballroom and we instead went to the bar at the time was called Bull and Bear. We had a pint of Guinness together. And I think that's probably the most memorable of my 21 years in New York City. So that was a pretty unique experience. And I think the time working at the Waldorf was just an incredible moment in my career that I that I cherish.
Lea Lane 19:53
Thank you. Brian, how about you?
Brian Englehard 19:55
Oh geez. I am going to talk about Maison de la Luz for a minute. I will say that this hotel, Oh, when I originally got the call, they were interested in me coming over. As GM, I heard the name -- they said, you know, this hotel Maison de la Luz. And being a New Orleans native, I thought, Well, that's really, really clever because it's it's both French and Spanish, which is the history of our city has been French and Spanish. And so, you know, it means the house of the light. After spending several months during preopening, one of my fondest memories is the day before we opened to the public, helping scrub the stairwell in the front of the building, and just the immense amount of pride in with my staff. And the fact that we've been very successful. And the fact probably about 90% of my staff from from 2019 is still here. And so it is an extremely great memory and one that I will always cherish. And it's a lovely hotel, and I hope you get a chance to come visit us.
Lea Lane 20:53
Thank you, that is lovely. Sergio...
Sergio Maclean 20:57
I think I also am an old cat. So I have a lot of a lot of memories. But I think my favorite is about the early 2000s. I was a food and beverage operator then and I wanted to get into the hotel industry. So I requested to be transferred to this high end hotel on the food and beverage side. And I always remember the front desk and the lobby because to me to this date, on that specific year period, it was the best operation I've ever seen. Everybody was having fun, the culture was perfect interaction with a customer. The service standards. The manager to me was the real center of that hotel and everything, all the culture and the service. And I was immediately drawn. And fortunately, this manager didn't share those feelings about me. So she kept trying to push me away from the front desk and send me back to the restaurant. The reason this is a good memory is because 18 years down the line, I'm still married to her, and a partner in the company. I won't say she still pushes me away quite a bit. It's by far that moment in my life is what made me commit to the hotel industry. And specifically, she's my partner in business too. And specifically, her acumen and her standards are what make us relatively successful in this industry. So it will forever be my memory.
Lea Lane 22:25
I don't blame you on that one. That's wonderful.
Brian Englelhard 22:28
You can say that you're married to the business?
Sergio Maclean 22:30
I can literally see that. Yes. Okay.
Lea Lane 22:34
Guys, this has been fun. And we've learned a lot. And much of this information will help as we travel, and when we stay in hotels around the world. So thank you so much, Peter, Anton, Brian and Sergio. You can look at the links in the show notes for more information about each of their hotels and lodgings. Thanks a lot.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Brian Englelhard 22:56
Thank you. Thank you ....
Lea Lane 23:01
My book, Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 countries is available in print, Kindle, and I read the audio version. You can follow me on forbes.com where I write five travel posts a month. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. And I'd love to hear from you on any of my links in the episodes show notes or on my website, placesIrememberLeaLane.com Until next time, make some travel memories.