Last week, I stayed at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina for the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education Conference. The recreational facilities in the property were nice, and the room I stayed in had a gorgeous marina view. However, this hotel still left me with a negative impression after I checked out: This was a "cheap" Sheraton.

When I say "cheap," I don't mean the hotel provided low-quality materials or operated in a poorly managed building. In fact, everything tangible looked good. It was cheap because the hotel's staff put too much emphasis on money. Here are two examples:

Example I: Checking the mini bar even when a guest refused the service

The hotel had a mini bar in every guestroom, which looked like a small refrigerator. There were two red notices: one was in the front of the mini bar and the other was placed inside the mini bar. The notice in the front read:

This unit is not to be used as a storage device.

Clearing items for personal storage is prohibited. In the event attendants find personal items stored in the bar, a $25 restocking fee will be assessed and the items will be discarded.

Our minibars detect usage based on sensors located under each item. If an item is removed, a sale will record and the product will be scheduled for replacement the following day.

I was well aware that some hotels installed sensors in the minibar for better control of inventory while others had already gotten rid of the minibar concept. So, I felt no surprise when I read the notice, but I was shocked when I heard a complaint about the minibar from another hospitality professor — people coming for the ICHRIE Conference would most certainly talk about hospitality service, right?

According to this professor, her family friends flew in from Korea and arrived at 5:30 a.m. They went to bed immediately after they checked in. They likely did not pay attention to the fine print in the minibar and removed some items from it.

At 9 a.m., the attendant knocked on the door, ignoring the "Do Not Disturb" sign that was hanging in the front. The guest refused any service and asked the attendant to come back later as everyone was still in bed. The attendant insisted that she must check the minibar right away and entered the room.

I assume the hotel successfully made the charge to the poor family, but at the same time, the complaint had been widely discussed among hundreds of hospitality professors who attended the ICHRIE Conference.

Example II: Charging $10 per hour for late checkout

On the day before I left the hotel, I stopped by the front desk and asked the staff: "Can you do me a favor?" (Two agents were standing next to each other, serving no other guests except for me.)

"Yes?" responded the staff.

I continued: "May I extend my check out time to 1:30 p.m. tomorrow?"

The staff answered: "Yes. There will be a $10 charge for every hour past noon." (The regular checkout time of this hotel was at noon.)

"Really? I've stayed in many hotels before, but no hotels ever charged me anything for a late checkout especially when it is only for an one hour or two," I said.

Then, I was told in a cold voice: "Well, our hotel always has a policy like that. Do you want to check out at 1:30 p.m. for $10?"

I said no and thanked the staff. They then looked at each other, laughing.

By then I thoroughly understood why this hotel only received a rating of 2.9 out of 5 on Google, but I was glad to see the corporate Sheraton Twitter account messaged me later, offering me assistance. In the end, I did not ask for anything from the corporate office as I felt I had enough with this hotel. I left the hotel at noon the next day.

What could have been done?

In the minibar example, the staff should not have knocked on the door at 9 a.m. when there was a "Do Not Disturb" sign hanging in the front. Even if she did that by mistake, after the guest refused the service, she could have asked the guests when would be a good time to come back later.

In the late checkout case, instead of re-emphasizing the $10 policy and laughing at the guest, the staff could have explained to the guests why late checkout would not be an option. Most guests would probably understand if the hotel had a high occupancy on that day. More importantly, the staff could have offered other alternatives to the guest, such as storing guest luggage after they checked out.

In the hospitality industry, it is the friendly staff who delivers impeccable service. There is no exception. Would you agree?