Thursday, August 22, 2013

Look! Clean sheets! And fresh toilet paper too!

     It must be really hard to run a hotel. There are so many things to get right—rooms to clean, carpets to vacuum, toilets to scrub. Reservations to keep straight. Phones to answer. Breakfast to dish out. The elevators have to work.
    And still people complain. All the time. Even when everything is perfect, as the Hampton Inn & Suites in Streetsboro, Ohio seemed to us, at first. We had a long drive, from New York City, over 400 miles, and had one more night before we gratefully reached home. We were tired.
     This Hampton Inn, a modern, smartly-decorated lobby, all muted orange and tomato red. Square water container with sliced oranges. A tray of cookies. Free newspapers. A pool off the lobby that looks inviting—most motel pools are gross. This one you wanted to sit beside, and I did. Outside, a basketball court. Next to each room was a different black and white art photo of some comforting, homey object: a compass, an Adirondack chair, a vintage pickup truck. A well-equipped fitness center. 
     Every little thing was considered. Our room happened to look out on, well, nothing—a tar paper roof filled the window. I never would have noticed, might not have pulled back the curtain—I didn't care about the view. But there was a small, plasticized coupon, apologizing for the view, offering us a free snack, soda and a sweet, from the gift shop, their way of saying, "sorry for the vista of shingles." Thoughtful. I let the boys use it to pick treats.
      But it wasn't quite perfect. In fact, there was something wrong, something bothersome. This one little thing, this fly in the ointment, and I'm reluctant to say it. Makes me sound nit-picky, which I certainly am. But the Hampton Inn was having a big advertising push, a media blitz, that included the above poster, affixed across the entire inside elevator door—a promotional technique I had never seen before—plus Post-It notes on each headboard, another first, ballyhooing this special feature that the hotel was extraordinarily proud of:
     Clean sheets. 
     The poster read: "daily special: clean bed," in lower case letters, perhaps to stress the e.e. cummings modernity of this benefit. The fine print drove home the wonder: "duvet covers & sheets are laundered fresh, every guest, every room, every day." A blissful blonde child and her teddy were shown sleeping serenely on their clean sheets.
    My first thought was: so much for the environmental kick. Because up to now, hotel communications on this topic were mostly trying to shame guests into not having their sheets changed every day and to urge them to hang up their wet towels instead of tossing the towels on the floor, in order to save the whales. That too was a bit annoying—it seemed a disingenuous gambit to cut down on the laundering bill disguised as environmentalism. Now this; now they were lunging the other way, making a grand show of washing your sheets as a quotidian gift, which is nice, but it's not as if you don't leave them on the bed for a week or three at home. The pendulum swings. 
     That they wash the duvet cover before you get there is unquestionably a benefit; most hotels don't—most hotels don't have a duvet, which is sort of a pillowcase the comforter goes in. Rather, they have a bedspread, and my wife immediately, ritualistically, cringingly strips it off the bed, expounding about God knows how many people have done God knows what upon it. She doesn't quite burn the bedspread in the sink, but the attitude is the same. She flings it in a corner as if it were crawling with smallpox and vermin and lice, crusted with secretions. Maybe it is.
     So clean duvet covers, hooray, and had it stopped there, it would have been welcome, although better had they just done it a little more quietly. This was a step away from "We Dig the Hair Out of the Drain." Well golly, thanks.  
    Then Hampton Inn took it a step too far, as sometimes happens in advertising. They included sheets, which to me should be a given. Plugging the cleanliness of the bedding struck me as, not an improvement, but a ratcheting down of standards. It implies that giving guests fresh sheets when they arrive is suddenly an option at Hampton Inn. This week they're doing it and proud —the "daily special" they called it—next week, who knows? No special sales event lasts forever. Maybe the clean sheets promotion won't either. "Oh the sheets are stained in your room? Yes, that is how we do it now. Clean sheets are only in August...."
    Up to now, I've never considered whether the hotel I was in wouldn't automatically—and modestly—give me clean sheets, and I've stayed in hotels in Haiti that cost $16 a night. Hampton Inn, however, thinks doing so is special -- they're proud of washing their sheets, lately. Gosh, I hope they did so before. I just assumed....  
    Enough. I should say, before I let this go, having gnawed the topic too long already: the place was great. Even with the strange blurt of pride over basic hygiene. I'd stay there again in a heartbeat. The Hampton Inn & Suites, just off I-80, in Streetsboro, Ohio. Redecorated just last year. Run by nice, proud people. Big, tasty breakfast. And I'm sure not one guest in 100 would be annoyed by the clean sheets promotion. I just happen to be that one guest.

And if you need something to read in your motel...

     The paperback edition of "You Were Never in Chicago" is officially published today:


  1. In the age of the bed bug, there's nothing wrong with reminding your customers that the basics are covered.

  2. "We Dig the Hair Out of the Drain." LOL!!!

  3. My pet peeve are the hotels who set their air conditioning units to never go below 70 degrees to show that they are doing their part for energy conservation. There is a Mariott in the Rosemont area that I swore off every visiting again thanks to that. I complained to Marriott and never heard anything back from them. If you travel to Disney World in Florida and stay at a number of their "value" resorts on site, you'll run into the same problem.

  4. @David P. Graf: Take a bunch of Ziploc bags & duct tape with you & fill them with hot water. Tape them over the thermostat.
    You'll make it colder in the room as the thermostat will be tricked into sensing a room that's too hot.
    Change the water as necessary.

  5. We do the same with hotel/motel bedspreads and call it "Savini-ing," after Dave Savini, whose NBC5 investigative report many years ago used black-light technology to reveal that hotel/motel bedspreads are basically a series of threads held together by dried, crusty spoooge. I like the idea of freshly laundered duvets for your arrival, but I also think it's fine that they don't wash sheets and towels during your stay (if it's only a couple of days). It may be cheapness, but it's also environmentally friendlyl

  6. I think the part about calling it a "special" is the core of the problem. Washing the duvet is certainly a bonus, but making it sound like washing the sheets is noteworthy just about ruins the pitch.

    I agree with Mr. Zorn that, while it certainly serves the purpose of making things cheaper for the motel, the environmental friendliness of not having your sheets washed in a multi-night stay is probably worthwhile.

    We've stayed in a couple of nicer hotels where they seemed to wrap the bedspread in 2 clean sheets. I liked this solution, rather than having to avoid the creepy spread as much as possible, though it's not a particularly attractive look.

    Oh, and I appreciated the captions on the photos the other day, Neil!

  7. $16 hotels in Haiti - sounds like a good story there.

  8. Hilarious, Neil. Recently I read the most filthy item in your hotel room is the remote control, because no one ever thinks to clean it. And I have to admit, I too fling the bedspread off the bed like it is diseased (having also seen the Dave Savini report), but I sit there with the stupid remote resting on my chin.

    1. I recently stayed at a Best Western and they featured the Clean Remote, a remote control that's hermetically sealed in some non-porous plastic that can be easily decontaminated and made the buttons really hard to push. Of course, you have to assume that the cleaning staff actually bothered to decontaminate it, right after they actually bothered to change the duvet cover. . . .

      If you really want to think about something horrible, think about those romantic lovers' hotels, where people are going there specifically to have as much sex as possible on every possible surface of the room.

  9. You have to imagine the carpet is just as bad - if not worse - than any bedspread. And the upholstered chair I always imagine a large naked man was sitting on before I arrived. And lets not forget toilet handles and door knobs. I like the fact that they wash the sheets and duvet every day! It feels like the safe haven of the room. Go Hamptonn Inn!

  10. First I have to ask Mr. Zorn, what does the Tribune's style book say about the use of the word "spooge?" Second, I agree with Mr. Graf about generally shitty hotels that won't let the AC go below a certain temp. Unfortunately you never know you are in one until it's too late. Spent the night before the biggest test of my life in a spectacularly crappy Microtel on the outskirts of Baltimore where I swear the lowest temperature the AC allowed was 78. I also want to thank Ms. Parker for her excellent suggestion.

  11. @Michael -- not to answer for Eric, but I would point out that here, we are well outside the authority of the Tribune. Its glozing corporate hand cannot neuter us here. So layer on the spooge, cackling obscenities as we do. Here we can swear, and spit, should the occasion demand, and point out what a mean, joyless right wing troglodyte John Kass has become, all observations you won't find in the Tribune. Here, Eric is welcome to arrive in a Hawaiian shirt and Ray Ban Wayfarers, with a cocktail in his hand, muttering blasphemy out of the corner of his mouth, and let free that side of his personality that would send the mandarins at the Tribune running for their rule books. What would be the point otherwise?

  12. I just stayed at the Hampton in Lincolnton, NC. Same for me... Clean, air temp was adjustable, did not have my bed changed for the night I was there. I love the posters! I feel the same about the bedspread; the duvat cover is nice. And the prices are not too high.

  13. Well I used to visit a lot and stay frequently in hotels more often in Canada, And I am satisfied with the hospitality service of each Hotel. The linens are clean and they change there bed sheets after each checkout.


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