April 25, 2006
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Modern American Service

Tinderbox Day Chicago went very well -- lots of interesting talk, tons of energy. Gordon Meyer did a nice little talk on the many ways he's used Tinderbox over the years for technical documentation. I survived a new Introduction To Tinderbox segment designed to emphasize research. This was a special challenge: I try to avoid teaching the introduction because I'm so familiar with Tinderbox. But things seem to have gone well.

Lots of new additions to The Tinderbox Way. There will be even more additions for Tinderbox Weekend Boston, May 13-14.

As we were leaving the Drake with our carry-on bags, a couple of white-gloved bellmen were standing by the grand staircase. One offered to help us with our bags.

"We're fine!", I said cheerfully. It's a carry-on, after all; we're going to be carrying the thing to Boston, we can carry it to the door. I'm thinking, "I don't want to make extra work, I don't want to negotiate a tip, I'm not so old and feeble that I can't safely manage this little suitcase."

"I have to go down there anyway," he says, taking my bag and Linda's and leading the way.

This was nicely done. Don't Make Me Think is not, I think, a very good motto for design, but it's a very good motto for offering gratuitous service. And gratuitous service (which includes cheerfulness) is one of the ways a hotel can distinguish itself from all the other hotels in the neighborhood.

In general, people at really good hotels seem really happy, and people at really bad hotels seem miserable, sullen, harried, or terrified. You can understand the dynamics of the general rule: good hotels probably pay better, have more reasonable managers and better workloads. Some of the boutique hotels like Cathy's Paramount and the Rex in San Francisco, I think, get extra good cheer from esprit de corps and from attitude -- and maybe also from a sense that individual contributions matter.