From The Buffalo Evening News, November 6, 1915, available online at fultonhistory.com.
Letter to Hotel Man
Dr. Frank Crane1
(Copyright, 1915, by Frank Crane.)
I heard you say the other day, as you were talking to some men, that the hotel business was on the bum. You gave a good many reasons for bad business, such as the war, the administration at Washington, the tariff, and other general and national things. The men with you also talked wisely of this and that.
Permit me to offer my suggestion here, as to what’s the matter with your hotel. I might have mentioned it to you personally if it had not been that the air you carry effectively prevents any confidential approaches.
What I went to your hostelry for, and what nine out of ten men go there for, is hospitality. And that’s one thing we don’t find.
People who lodge in hotels are away from home. They are lonesome.
Of course they need food and shelter, and you give them that; but most of all they want a cordial welcome, a kindly atmosphere and human warmth of feeling, and that you do not give them.
I found two things in your inn; obsequiousness and indifference.
The obsequiousness was displayed by that portion of the help that was looking for tips.
The indifference by those you couldn’t tip.
The porter was very anxious to carry my little valise that weighed about 10 pounds. The cloak room girl insisted on checking my hat and cane, that I could easily have taken care of myself. The waiters manifested a lively interest in my well-being only at the crucial moment when I was counting my change.
Venality and subservience stuck out all over these persons. Their acts and manners dumbly shrieked “how much is this fellow going to give us?”
The impression I got was not that I was there to be made comfortable, but that I was there to be fleeced. I was not a guest, I was prey.
Your desk clerk was out of place. He ought to be warden in a penitentiary or doorman at a charitable association. He seemed pained whenever I spoke to him and appeared to wish I would go away and let him alone. His business apparently was not to accommodate me, but to fiddle around among his books and to converse with some friends of his.
I got no information I did not wring out of him. He volunteered nothing. He knew nothing about the street car lines, nor the theaters, nor the way to 150 Main street.
He was about as cordial as the man at the bank window.
I would respectfully suggest that if you would get your employes together once a week and drill them in politeness, courtesy and geniality, your business might pick up.
I am nobody, and do not want servants to kow-tow to me. I am just one of the great public, one of the poor boobs that give up the money that supports you and all public or quasi-public institutions. But I am human, and a little humanity tastes good to me.
So, if you would make your caravansary less like a mausoleum a state’s prison, and more like a home, I and the rest of common herd might like your place better.
“There is nothing,” wrote Dr. Johnson, “which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Archbishop Leighton went so far as to declare that if he were to chose a place to die in, it should be an inn.
And doubtless you know the lines of William Shenstone — I remember seeing them in mosaic on the floor of the Ponce de Leon hotel in St. Augustine:
“Whoe’er has traveled life’s dull round,
Where’ver his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
The warmest welcome at an inn.”
If you would get a bit of this spirit, and less of the ways and means of a highway robber, taking toll of passers-by, it might help you more than if you change the national affairs.
“It is well known,” says a bulletin of the Efficiency Society, “that there are serious losses in business resulting from discourtesy to the public. The difficulty of teaching subordinates on railroads and in department stores and hotels to see the need of courtesy as the officers usually see it is a recognized problem of management.”
1 This article appeared in several newspapers, including The Buffalo Evening News, November 6, 1915, The Hotel Monthly, Vol. 23, 1915, pp. 34-35, and later in The Chicago Herald and Examiner, April 28, 1924. The latter appearance of it, was then quoted (without naming the author) in the Inns of the Middle Ages, Chapter 16, pp. 266-267, by an unrepentant plagiarizer. writing under the name of W. C. Firebaugh, a pseudonym apparently, but he at least quoted the source, if not the author is this case, for a change.