Fawlty Towers, Indeed

by Lynn on January 11, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

A Remembrance of 2014….January continued.

Fawlty Towers, Indeed

Every January since 2000 Mirvish Productions in Toronto has offered its theatre subscribers the opportunity of a seven-night theatre trip in London organized by John Karastamatis, the Director of Communications and Marketing.  We see four plays, with a discussion of each play the morning after. I lead the discussion. It’s a great trip and people really love it, many of them coming back year after year.

We’ve always stayed at the Charing Cross hotel, mainly because it’s smack in the middle of the West End and close to theatres, museums, art galleries and shopping.

It’s a wonderful hotel with one glaring exception: the phones do not fully work, and haven’t for years. You can’t leave a message because the voicemail doesn’t capture the message. You go through the whole rigmarole of leaving a message after the prompt, but the message is never recorded and thus no red light comes on to tell you there is a message.

Many of us have complained for many years about this. The staff is always apologetic and mortified that such a terrible thing could happen in their hotel. But the next year we return and nothing has been done about it.

Personally, I have written to one of the manager who replies, all apologetic for the problem but nothing is done to fix the phones.

This year was the worst.

Friends left me phone messages two nights in a row to join them in their room so as to have a discussion about the play we had just seen. I never got the messages.

A couple in our group told John Karastamatis that they had left him two very important messages about changing arrangements about their flight back to Toronto. Not having heard from John, they tracked him down in person. Of course he had never received the voice messages. I was there when John was speaking with the front-desk staff about this problem. Again the staff looked at him with concern and with the furious fingering of keys on their computers. The staff found out that indeed there were no voice messages recorded on the hotel’s voice mail system for John’s room, but the messages were left. If these people had not taken the trouble to follow up in person, their flights home would never have been booked.

To test the theory of no messages, I approached one of the Concierges so that I could leave a message for one of the guests. He dialled the room. I then waited for the phone to be picked up or for me to leave a message. The answering machine came on. I left the message for the person and then hung up. I didn’t tell him I was calling myself. When I went to my room there was no message light on indicating a message. Unacceptable.

I then began to wonder if my phone was ringing at all. I was in my room right after the play on the two nights my friends called me and left the messages. No call.

I called the Operator and asked him to call my room. I waited one minute and then called the Operator again to ask if he called. He said he had called twice. I told him the phone didn’t ring.

I told John about this the next day. As an experiment he called my room from his (he was on my floor as well). My phone didn’t ring when he called. He then stood outside my room and called me from his cell phone, which meant he had to go through the hotel switchboard. Again, the phone didn’t ring.

Later that day I told a woman on Reception there was a problem with the phone not ringing or working. Again she gave me that look of concern (I think there must be a course at Hotel Management School on how to look empathetic). She said she would have maintenance look at it. I told her that I was expecting a call in a few days from Canada, a very important that I could NOT miss. It was a call that would connect me to a live radio interview. The woman was very concerned for me and she said she would make sure to have the maintenance people investigate.

When I came back later, she was rather vague about whether maintenance found anything wrong with the phone. I had the suspicion that no one had checked. But I gave her and the hotel the benefit of the doubt.

Later the same day I emailed a friend in London and instructed her to call me at my hotel.

When I hadn’t heard from her by Thursday, I emailed her back. In fact, she said by email, she had called my hotel and did leave a message with a live person who wrote all the stuff down and assured her the message would be given to me. It wasn’t. Frankly if I get a call from one of the greats of British Theatre Royalty, by the name of Dame Eileen Atkins, I would like to receive the message so I can speak to the woman!

So I used the hotel phone in my room to call Dame Eileen. Guess what? To call out the phone worked just fine!! So the hotel is delighted to charge its “guests” £1 per minute of phone time but is loath to supply them with a phone that actually accepts calls to their room for which they wouldn’t get any money. Hmmmm.

Friday came around, the day when I had arranged with the good folks at my radio show — CIUT FRIDAY MORNING — to call me at my hotel so they could do a live interview at 9:30 am their time (2:30 pm London time) about the shows I had seen in London that week. Phil, the host of the radio show, had the correct number for the hotel. I was in the room from 1:45 pm to 3:00 pm and the phone didn’t ring once. Nothing. Silence.

I e-mailed my guys in Toronto to ask if there was a problem. They e-mailed back that they had called the hotel and were connected to the operator who tried my room several times and there was no answer. My guys in Toronto had even assured the operator that I was in fact in the room, so they had begged her to keep trying. (They also said that the listeners were waiting breathlessly to hear my reviews, which I thought was rather sweet., but a lot of good that did because the call never got through to me.)

I WAS LIVID. I called Reception. I asked the woman who answered to call my room. I waited a minute. Nothing. I called her back. She tried to call and the phone didn’t ring. She said she would try another prefix code (!!!!) because some of the phones in the hotel don’t work on the usual prefix code of the number 2; some only worked on the prefix code of the number 4.

This time it rang. I demanded to know why there is one code for most of the phones and another for a few that nobody seemed to know about unless one complained? She couldn’t answer the question but assured me that if I was expecting another call I was to tell her and she would make sure I would get the call. Whereupon I slammed the phone down, because dealing with misinformation and half-truths is exhausting and frustrating.

Each room at the Charing Cross has a nice leather bound “book” of all the information a “guest” needs to know about the hotel. One item indicates how to call from room to room. You dial prefix 2 then the room number. Except in my case, and I think in John’s case. For us and perhaps a few more, there is another code – the number 4. Yet no one knows it about it. Until you complain. Not good enough.

John speculated that the hotel must know about the faulty phone system but perhaps management doesn’t do anything about  for two reasons: 1) it may be expensive to upgrade the phone system, and 2) because they assume everyone has a mobile, there really isn’t any need to have a functioning phone system. You know the “rule” about spelling ‘assume’ : “Never assume because it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”

Having now stayed at the Charing Cross over 13 times in as many years, I have observed that the front-desk staff changes every year, so there appears to be no stable presence who knows the hotel’s history. So when I complained to the manager the last time about the phones, there is no record of it, because the front-desk staff disappears.

True enough, all the reception staff is new this year. The only consistency seems to be the two concierges and some wait staff in the dining room, but these poor souls can’t bring about change because the hotel doesn’t appear to be interested. Not good enough.

However, this year we all noticed that there does seem to be a new “management style.” Every single person working at the Reception Desk (there are at least three on the desk at any one time), plus the two concierges and the few people in the lobby waiting to help arriving guests, every single one of them is primed to greet every single person who walks in that door. So we get a gaggle of “Good afternoon!” “Good afternoon.” “Good Afternoon.” “Good afternoon!!!” And to be polite we return the greeting — but what we want to say instead is: “There’s no point in being so courteous if you can’t get the simplest, most basic details about running a hotel right, like making sure you have an in-house phone system that works!”

When I checked out there was a bill of £16 for the call to Dame Eileen Atkins I had made from my hotel room. I told the poor women on Reception that I was refusing to pay it because of my aggravation with their lousy phone system. A look of terror appeared in that woman’s eyes. She had to check with the Reception Manager, Hayley. Hayley was appropriately aghast when I told her my saga—as I’ve already said, there must be hotel courses on how to look aghast. She rightly cancelled the bill. And she gave me her card. And said she would look into the complaint.

When I got home I had a field day on the radio show retelling the saga of the faulty phones. In fact, I called the Guoman Charing Cross Hotel the Fawlty Towers because it’s appropriate.

Hayley has been diligent in telling me that the phones are being fixed and re-organized because the hotel is being renovated. I will be interested in seeing if this works. I wrote to the manager recently. No reply. I guess he was re-assigned as per the schedule and the policy of no-continuity.

Of course the easiest thing would be just rip out all the phones from the hotel since they don’t work except to make outside calls. Then they can use them as planters and save on the landfill.

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