I've been to the Hermitage four times, and amazingly, have very different stories to tell from each visit. This has to do mainly with the range in the quality of the staff.
When I first stayed at the Hermitage with my wife, we agreed that it certainly earned its 5 star rating because of the hotel's elegance and outstanding service. Unfortunately, visit #4 registered as an incredible disappointment, and nothing more than a 2 star experience...and because this is the most recent visit and reflects my opinion of the current staff, I've gone with the 2 star ranking above. (Although I rated certain individual criteria at 4 stars, I consider "service", "value", and "sleep quality" the most important criteria which further explains the overall ranking.) Such a bold statement of incompetency for a local landmark deserves explanation - which follows below.
I've recently embarked on a long road trip determined to see the best in a variety of cities across 14 states, including Nashville, Boulder, Fort Worth, etc., a journey to be highlighted in a blog with 1,000+ friends and acquaintances. I arrived at the Hermitage after a 500+ mile drive, excited to return to the hotel, hungry for a bite to eat. When I stopped at the Oak Room Bar, I was told that I could only order from the (very) limited bar menu. When I asked if exceptions could be made, the bartender refused to even check with the kitchen and I was told that I had to wait another hour, even though there were fewer than 10 people there. Because the main restaurant wasn't open either, that meant it was bar food or nothing.
Fast forward a few hours, and after enjoying some local music, I decided to come back to the Hermitage to give the Oak Room Bar another chance, hopeful that I would get more cheerful staff, willing to provide 5 star service, which (in my book) means occasionally going above and beyond. When I went back downstairs, I noticed that the Oak Room Bar was still mostly empty, with only 8 people at the bar and no one at the tables. When a server finally approached me, I emphatically greeted her (because I really wanted the Hermitage to "wow" me and wanted to get off to a good start) to which she responded coldly, "Can I help you?"
After getting seated and waiting 5 minutes or so, she finally came by and asked for my order. I didn't want one of the sides and simply asked if I could substitute one side for another. She proceeded to take the menu from my hand and stare at the options for what seemed like a minute. After a few seconds, I would've simply accepted a "yes" or "no" because this became incredibly awkward. Finally, she responded that she "thought" it could be done, as if some huge favor was just done. But now with people looking back from the bar, I was ready to head out. You would think some flexibility would be available at a bar where it cost $40 for an entree!
(To put 5 star service in perspective and to frame my expectations of "greatness", shortly after arriving in Fort Worth, Texas, (later in my trip), I hit Lonesome Dove. This would be the restaurant run by Tim Love, winner of the Iron Chef. When I walked in and greeted the staff similarly to the Oak Room Bar staff, speaking of my long journey, they offered me samples of their incredible cucumber soup, the Elk sausage sliders (even more incredible!), and a whiskey/ginger beer libation. In Boulder at Bitter Bar (adjacent to St Julien's Hotel & Spa), I met the bar manager who promptly introduced me to the staff and offered me a sample of their best concoctions. At St. Julien's, they expanded the happy hour menu to include IPA drinks as a favor to their guests. There were no hard and fast pretentious rules, even with these institutions that are best in class.)
Back to this story...
Starving, I headed to the front desk, where they promptly asked how I was enjoying my visit. I wasn't quite sure how to say it but just started venting my frustrations. I explained about both attempts to get served and how they were unrewarding. Then, came a shockingly unprofessional response.
Without witnessing what transpired, the girl at the front desk felt compelled to defend the workers in the Oak Room Bar. When I asked where I should eat, she continued by saying "SOMEONE DRESSED LIKE YOURSELF..." before making her recommendation.
That's right, "SOMEONE DRESSED LIKE YOURSELF".
1) I can't imagine saying something so unprofessional. It's not for anyone to judge attire, especially not someone in the service industry. She could have simply suggested restaurants and noted whether they were casual, business casual, or professional. However, after deciding that she needed to pick sides, she felt compelled to take her shots. If you don't truly care about the experiences of your guests, please don't ask.
2) The funny part is that I was wearing a collared green shirt, khakis and dark shoes. I don't feel the need to defend my attire or appearance, but for anyone reading this, I felt the need to paint an accurate mental picture. It's not as if I was wandering around the hotel covered in a towel with dirty toes poking out from flip-flops!
Needless to say, I didn't eat one meal in the Hermitage, instead dining at Puckett's which turned out to be a very pleasant surprise with solid food and a courteous staff.
The next day was somewhat better thanks to the one diamond in the rough - the concierge - who helped to book a massage at the Spa even when I was originally told there wasn't availability. Unfortunately, it was difficult to sleep either night because of the noise made by the air conditioning unit. This wasn't an issue during any of my earlier visits, but was a factor during visit #4.
The most disappointing part of all of this is that I'm currently planning the annual business trip for my staff and business clients and I had my eye on the Hermitage and Nashville. In fact, I was so set on hitting the Hermitage that I made it sound like heading to Nashville later this year was a done deal. Now, people are curious why there's been such an abrupt change in plans, but I don't have the heart to share all the details with them, because it's just that embarrassing.
The bottom line is that I could never risk a colleague getting turned away from a meal of their choice in a luxury hotel or being spoken the phrase "SOMEONE DRESSED LIKE YOURSELF".
(On a side note, I've protected the names of the staff that I found to provide subpar service because I don't see the value of slamming people on-line. However, if the Hermitage sees it fit to actually follow-up on this message, I'm more than happy to provide specific names and examples of good & bad service in a one-on-one discussion. Hopefully, other hotel visitors enjoy better experiences going-forward.)
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Opened in 1910, The Hermitage Hotel is Tennessee's only Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond Hotel. At Nashville's oldest and original hotel, come experience true southern hospitality and charm. ... more less
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