Disappointment of the day

A few weeks ago, I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. It was typical business travel - a rather uneventful 3-hour drive, followed by a routine check-in at a generic hotel. As I handed the woman my credit card, I turned and noticed a big dry-erase board on the counter.

Handwritten in an array of bright colors, the board welcomed "Gary Galleher, our Guest of the Day!" Huh, I thought, that's kinda cool. Upon questioning, the front desk attendant told us that indeed, Gary had already checked in, and that yes, he had been excited. "They always get excited. They all get out their cellphones and take a picture." How sweet. But what does Gary get?

It turns out that Gary gets a pretty good deal. Besides seeing his name in marker, he gets an upgraded room, which I believe contains a jacuzzi tub, and a free movie rental. Oooh. The room, the tub AND the movie. I felt genuinely jealous of Gary. What a nice surprise, after a long day on the road. Not bad at all. Wish I was Guest of the Day. Oh well, his company probably paid for it or something. Maybe Gary is a CEO. Or maybe Gary stays at Holiday Inn Express every week. Maybe Gary owns Holiday Inn Express.

The incident faded as time passed. Then yesterday, I had another uneventful drive and routine check-in, this time at a Courtyard Marriott. Ho hum, another business trip. Here's my credit card and wait - what's that - is that MY name? - oh my god you guys, I'M THE GUEST OF THE DAY!!!

I literally jumped up and down. There it was, my full name on a framed piece of paper! What surprise, what delight. I felt like they knew me. I felt like a celebrity! I felt like Gary.

Of course, I immediately composed myself, in the manner of all contestants on Wheel of Fortune, preparing myself to be Shown What I've Won. I had a flash fantasy about a giant bubble bath with jets, about choosing my movie from a list of hot new releases. This trip was gonna be awesome.

So the woman smiles and hands me a bag. A small bag. A small bag with the Courtyard logo. Okay. I reach inside. A bottle of water. A bottle of shower gel. A bag of animal crackers, and a packet of Ritz crackers. That's it. "That's it?" "Oh, and this," she says, and hands me an envelope. Ooh, an envelope! Surely, this is the big finish. It's definitely gonna be a gift card to a local restaurant, a coupon for a free massage, half off my next room at the Courtyard. I open it with high hopes.

It is far and away the most generic letter I've ever read. Fully devoid of meaning. "Welcome to the Courtyard. We want to congratulate you on being our Guest of the Day." Okay, thanks, now really, what do I get? "Should you need anything during your stay, just please give us a call." Okay, but I would do that anyway! Anyone would! We can all call the front desk, at any time! How am I different? "Thank you for making Courtyard your home away from home." Where is my prize? Show me the benefit!

As it turns out, there is no benefit to being Guest of the Day at the Courtyard Marriott. The water was room temp, the shower gel was cheap, and the animal crackers were stale. (I will admit that I enjoyed the Ritz crackers, but that is my only concession here). The single joy I experienced was seeing my name on a printout.

So here's the thing. If I hadn't stayed in the Holiday Inn a few weeks back, hadn't seen Gary's name and heard about his perks, I would have been delighted and only delighted to receive the minorly special treatment that I did. Wow, a bottle of water? Hey, it's better than my coworkers got! Ha ha to them! I'm the Guest of the Day! But since I had come face-to-face with the dry erase board on that fateful night, my bar had been raised. Significantly and irreversibly. And when this experience fell drastically below that bar, I was left feeling regretful that I ever walked through the Courtyard doors.

It's unfair to pit the two hotels against each other, but hey. That's the consumer world we live in. Somebody creates a nice experience for their customers, and everyone else rushes to catch up. It's nice for the Courtyard to try, and they get a big E for effort. But man. Shower gel? Animal crackers? I have never gone so quickly from surprise and delight, to disbelief and embarassment. What a letdown. I would have preferred to get nothing over a goody bag of crap.

So a part of me wishes they would only show my name. Seeing one's name is surprisingly thrilling, and I experienced a rush of somewhat childlike joy. It's like hearing your name on the radio when you donate to NPR. It's like seeing your birthdate in print. It's something familiar and personal, celebrated in public. The fact that every Holiday Inn Guest of the Day gets out his cellphone and takes a picture? A huge indicator of the significance. It's also quite funny, and makes for a good conversation piece the next day.

In fact, I believe if more retailers incorporated this simple "hold up a mirror" strategy, shoppers would feel a tinge of interest when walking in the door. They would always think, maybe it's me!

So an open letter to the Courtyard: The little poster is plenty exciting. It's all you need to make us feel welcome. If you can't deliver a better experience than the comparable establishment down the street, don't get our hopes up. Go for something that you can execute well, now. And stop right there.


Steve Portigal said...

Excellent story. I've never seen that in a hotel, so cool that you saw it twice and it happened to you, even. And I can absolutely relate to the disappointment.

Reminds me a bit of Hertz Gold, where your name is in lights on a display, and above your car. I often take a picture of my rental car with PORTIGAL, S 156 above it. None of those pictures every look very good, though :)

Stacy said...

Great post, Sara! I laughed, I cried, I booked a night at the Holiday Inn. :-)

sara said...

Thanks Steve. I too found the series of events slightly unbelievable, though I can assure you it is all true.

I also took a picture, actually of my boyfriend's name, in lights above his Hertz car. You can see the picture here.

I think right now, a lot of people are still freaked out by the fact that companies know our names. But I'm interested to watch that balance tip as the Big Brother generation gets older. Glad to hear I'm not the only one excited by my own name.

Stacy, I sure hope they pick you for Guest of the Day! You had better report back if they do.

Steve Portigal said...

One of my Hertz pictures is here

This should be a flickr photo pool...

Stacy said...

Actually, speaking of companies knowing your names...

When I worked at the Cheesecake Factory they made a very big deal out of saying a person's name when you returned their credit card after they'd paid. "Here you go, Miss Cantor, thanks for coming in!" I was always really uncomfortable with this, as people often looked shocked or put off by it. I don't want them to think that I was snooping, eyeing their personal credit card! The company claimed that it was a way to ensure them that they were indeed receiving the correct card back, but it felt to me like an invasion of privacy, and it seemed as though a lot of customers agreed. I wonder why this is uncomfortable, yet in-print is exciting?

(Plus, the opportunity was there for all sorts of embarrassing blunders. How in God's name do I pronounce this last name? I can't remember who to pass it back to! Is this person a man or a woman?)

Glenn said...

Excellent post, Sarah. I linked to your post here:

Gary Galleher said...

My son and I were doing a Google on Robert Duval to see if he's related to Shelly Duval...
(he's not) then just for fun I asked him to Google me...
Guess Who??? It's me...
Guest of the Day!!!
Gary Galleher.
It was near Grand Rapids Mi.
( a fact not revealed in your blog...and just past a defunct Cracker Barrel...painted blue by the way...)
It was pretty cool getting to see my name in lights...um I mean in multi colored dry markers...
the jaccuzi was neat after a day on the road.
It was in a corner room down by the pool, a great big california king or something like it...cookies and a free bottle of water, maybe popcorn too...can't remember, I was giddy with wondering how the other half lived...or maybe it was just the hot water going to my head...
Been a "Road Warrior" for years...In any event I just freaked out when the Google turned up your blog...I got a bigger kick out of it than being Guest of the day. Thank you! In addition to Guest Of The Day,
I'm also an Irish Poet.
Here's one published in 160 countries around the world...Might still be on Poetry.com...
Makes a great little pen and ink greeeting card...I'll send y'all one if I get a mailing address...
Picture a stone well out in the meadow with the little shingle roof, bucket on the ground with the water running out....

The Well
My heart is a well,
deeper than thirst...
that waits to be emptied
by the bucket at your feet.

Even if in vain,
those rivers flow free.

"Double G"
Gary Galleher

sara said...


Great to meet you, Gary Galleher! Wow! I'm not sure if you are my hero or my nemesis!

But it sounds like your experience at the Grand Rapids HI Express was pretty nice. Well then. Thanks for stopping by to rub it in some more.

Just kidding. :) Good luck with the travel and the poetry! Nice to meet you!

George said...

If "GG's" comment/poetry wasn't written with such aplomb, I would have thought The Curious Shopper was faking that last comment.

An amazing double coincidence.