The Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown is a low-rise suburban hotel that will never be confused with one of the great hotels that made the Hilton reputation, but most things about it are fine. The lobby is pleasant and our room was comfortable. The hotel's only full-service restaurant is a sports bar, but this did not matter to us because we were not very hungry. Our plan was just to have drinks and appetizers in the executive lounge before retiring for the evening.
In general, the hotel staff also seemed nice. For instance, we encountered several housekeeping and maintenance employees in the halls and they always greeted us cheerfully. And the reception desk employee who checked us out in the morning also seemed quite friendly. Unfortunately, however, just after checking in we had a series of dealings with one reception desk employee who was so unpleasant and unprofessional that this is the main thing we will remember about our stay at this hotel:
-- The reception desk employee who checked us in was a bit stiff. She was not discourteous, but nothing in her tone or manner made us feel welcome. She did tell us, however, that our room was on the executive level and that we would have access to the lounge: "you can have appetizers there from 5:30 until 8 p.m. and a cash bar untill 10."
-- So we were surprised when we got to our floor a couple of minutes later to see a sign saying that the lounge would be closed that evening (and every evening from December 14 until January 2). My wife called the front desk to ask about this and was told that the lounge would indeed be open: "Give them a few minutes, it's not 5:30 yet."
-- But the lounge stayed locked and dark, so I went down to the lobby to make another inquiry. This time I spoke to a different employee, who told me the lounge was indeed closed for the evening. This employee had been sitting right next to her colleague who had checked us in a few minutes earlier, and she appeared to have been listening attentively during the detailed presentation about lounge access and hours. Anyway, now she said that because the lounge was closed, they were instead giving executive level guests coupons for use in the sports bar.
-- She then gave me a coupon, which I saw was for exactly one appetizer and one non-alcoholic drink. I asked if I could have another coupon for my wife, but the employee responded that the hotel's policy was one coupon per room. Although the idea that two people should share one appetizer and one Coke struck me as a bit goofy -- it would have been less embarrassing for all concerned if they had offered no compensation at all -- I was not inclined to pursue the matter any further. But when I got back to our room and showed the coupon to my wife she was sure there must have been a misunderstanding, so when we passed through the lobby on our way to the sports bar she raised the issue again with the front desk.
-- The employee who had given me the coupon clearly wasn't happy to see us again. She replied rather sternly that it's only one coupon per room, because "these appetizers are quite large." So my wife asked if we could at least have one non-alcoholic drink apiece, but the answer was still no. Then, in what turned out to be a disastrously unsuccessful effort to smooth things over, I said I was sorry we had raised the issue repeatedly, explaining that we had done so only because this policy made so little sense that we had just been trying to make sure it was really a hotel policy and not just a mistake.
-- The employee's voice then lost whatever thin veneer of civility it had previously had. "It really is our policy, but because you feel so PASSIONATELY about it, I'll give you another coupon. After all, you're a DIAMOND member, and we wouldn't want you to feel we weren't taking CARE of you." She practically spat the words at me, and she said "Diamond member" as though it was some particularly contemptible form of reptile. (I had not mentioned my Hilton Honors Diamond status at any stage of the conversation.)
This series of encounters left us feeling that the hotel employees we dealt with -- as well as whoever made the policies that were the subject of our discussion -- cared a lot more about their own convenience than about customer service. Why on earth should the hotel lounge be closed every evening (and many mornings) for a 20 day period? Most of us don't get 20-day Christmas/New Year vacations, and this seems particularly odd for an enterprise whose whole reason for being should be the comfort and convenience of its customers. And if they were going to close the lounge, they should have done whatever was necessary to make sure the reception employee who checked us in understood the situation and did not assure us -- repeatedly, emphatically, and with lots of specific details -- that the lounge would indeed be open. As for the coupon lady, she doesn't belong in a customer-contact position. (I concede that we were somewhat argumentative, but we were never loud, vulgar, or otherwise discourteous, and we didn't deserve her hostility and sarcasm. And even if we had deserved it, an important part of being a customer-service employee is remaining calm and courteous even when the customers are not.)
Our waiter in the sports bar was attentive and polite, as were all the other hotel employees we encountered during our brief stay. But we did have one other odd experience: the next morning, when the lounge finally did open, we went there for the self-service buffet breakfast. During the whole time we were there the hotel employee who was attending the lounge sat on a couch watching a series of television shows. The television was set at an uncomfortably high volume, but what was even more uncomfortable was the employee's ongoing commentary, which consisted mainly of guffawing at the top of her lungs every few seconds. In fairness to this employee, she did ask us shortly before we left whether we needed anything else, and she seemed quite friendly. But this is yet another way in which the hotel should train its employees in professionalism.)