Dublin Airport Hilton: A hospitality experience gone bad.
While I certainly didn’t set out to do a review of an airport hotel, I felt that the lessons learned here could help others in the hospitality industry. It is a fairly common problem in the hospitality industry to get service workers to learn how to recover the service. In this case study, there are many missed opportunities. My partner and I had booked the Dublin Airport Hilton on Booking.com prior to departing Glasgow.
It was his suggestion based on his experience with the brand. I have taught hospitality and tourism courses at university so I take note of these things oddly. Nonetheless we sought the complimentary shuttle from the airport to the hotel. Lugging luggage from terminal two we made our way to the coach park at terminal one. Along the way we spotted the Hilton mini van and asked about getting it – couldn’t understand the driver but apparently he couldn’t pick us up as he was on drop off duty – his instructions were evidently to go to where he picks up – which we finally figured out where that was but not without a bit of a struggle.
Once at the hotel we checked in – the clerk was pleasant enough but thought we had two reservations. Once corrected she was fine. We arrived to the room to find two twin beds. At a Hilton in Eire mind you. Not somewhere in Romania. Couldn’t log on to wireless for some reason either but we’d sort that later or so we thought. Hungry we immediately went down to the restaurant.
We were told it would just be two minutes so we nipped outside for a quick cigarette and then back and were greeted by another employee who asked if we had reservations. I explained that we were just told it would be two minutes and where we had been. He apologized and said it would be more like 15 minutes now. Nothing had changed in the dining room since the first visit though. No problem, says I, we’ll just go to the bar and have a drink. That took a little more time than anticipated to get the drink. And neither the bar nor the restaurant were what I would consider busy.
Again, we’re not complaining but so far not one employee has done anything noteworthy or made us feel terribly welcome. It is that feeling you get that something is going on that you can’t figure out – and it isn’t great attention to guests. But we’ve certainly experienced it before so not a big deal. At this point I started noting that employees were frequently huddled and there seemed to be some type of internal issue that we didn’t know about. I tuned in and realized there was a computer cut over that wasn’t going too well. Front desk staff were working in the bar and lounge in fact.
Someone from the restaurant came over to get us after we had drinks and were seated in the lounge. Our table was ready and we were given menus that had very different things than the bar menu and nothing of Irish note in it – since i had my eyes on the fish and chips or stew. We waited and no one came – so I went to the bar to get a second round of drinks – that seemed to take quite some time. The restaurant apparently was called Burnell is my best guess because that was on the bar menu though I may be wrong. It didn’t matter to me, for me it was the restaurant at the Dublin Airport Hilton.
An employee was hovering over a till trying to do all sorts of things while directly in front of him sat two empty glasses and a party of about five people. To my right was a gentleman holding a 50 Euro note and an empty glass. I was standing holding money as well. One other employee was at the other end of the bar working and getting drinks for people. Finally the people directly in front of the employee at the till told him we were waiting. I suggested he take the man’s money to my right and then I could get served and that also the people who kindly suggested he wait on me also need to be served. He apologized briefly and asked the man how many drinks he had. The response was five – and he took care of that and then waited on me.
No nuts or snacks were anywhere to be found. Just employees who couldn’t seem to cope with the technology designed, presumably, to make the hospitality experience better. Not so much as a comp drink was offered anyone that I could see. Meanwhile back at our table we waited, when the poor waitress (who was the only one waiting tables – and again it wasn’t very full – perhaps fifteen people total in the restaurant) returned we asked if we could order off the bar menu – yes we could was the response.
After all the mediocre experiences I was prepared to have to go to the bar to order but she returned and we placed our order. Two women at a table next to ours said they’d been waiting an hour and still haven’t had food. They were not happy at all. Not once did we want our waitress to feel pressure from us so we assured her we were happy and relaxed and were in no hurry – all true statements.
Dinner arrived and there was no malt vinegar for the fish and chips. She did bring white vinegar which wasn’t as awful as it sounds but quite honestly why would you have fish and chips on the menu and not have something as common as malt vinegar? Again, this is Ireland and not a former Soviet Republic where you might expect this.
My partner ordered wings and when they arrived he asked the waitress for some blue cheese. I told him he was going to get what he asked for most likely and sure enough four beautiful slices of blue cheese came to accompany his chicken wings.
The chips were really pretty awful – poorly cooked frozen American style french fries but the fish itself was really quite nice. Regardless, we finished up our meal and a male employee, presumably the restaurant manager, apologized for the terrible service and we told him we understood. He had earlier been to the table next to ours and comped the two women’s meals. They complained and had pretty awful service too.
He offered a complimentary dessert for us – which we really didn’t want and it was going to take additional time to get. We really just wanted to finish and pay. We told him no thank you and just the check – which arrived and we paid. I don’t recall how much it was but it wasn’t unreasonable.
Not one employee offered anything to guests during this evening. Not a complimentary anything that I could make out. And certainly except for the offer of a free dessert we got no apologies or excuses for the poor service – we overheard the computer cutover conversation.
We retired back to our room where we promptly went to sleep in the twin beds in a hot room that we couldn’t get cooler and to no internet. But we awoke to get our complimentary airport shuttle that we paid two euros each for and the driver was exceptionally friendly and professional.
I came away from this experience thinking that hospitality employees in this case must have been focused on the operational side or accounting side of the business so much that they forgot why they were there – to serve the guests. They seemed to be serving the accountants somewhere because they were all desperately fixated on the computers and not on the customers. And there really didn’t seem to be anyone who knew anything about the problem. I overheard one conversation that he could ring up a lunch special but not a dinner special – poor guest probably paid for that error with some time – and honestly why?
I suppose we may never know what happened there that night but what should have happened was a lot more guest interaction of a positive nature and a lot less time focused on the computers. Bring in the money and make the guests happy and let accounting figure out how to account for it on its time – not the guests. This would be how I walked away from the experience. I’ve stayed in a number of hotels in eastern Europe and the attention to accounting, policies and procedures there is far more evident than the focus on service and guests. This felt like it could have been a Hilton in Bucharest circa 1998.
I will leave you with a job posting I ran across while doing this blog entry. It reads as follows:
“One of the most recognized names in the industry, Hilton Hotels & Resorts offers travelers a world of authentic experiences. The brand continues to be the innovative, forward-thinking global leader of hospitality. With products and services that meet the needs of tomorrow’s savvy global travelers, we shape experiences in which every Guest feels cared for, valued, and respected. If you understand the importance of upholding a brand’s reputation and value the effort it takes to provide a globally recognized hospitality experience, you may be just the person we are looking for to work as a Team Member with Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Because it’s with Hilton Hotels & Resorts where we promise an exceptional Guest experience every time.”
I can assure you that very few guests at the Dublin Airport Hilton felt “cared for, valued, and respected” that night. Would we go back to a Hilton? Sure. Would we go back to the Dublin Airport Hilton? Probably not, there are other hotels to try.