The Future Only Goes One Way

A new year.  Bright and shiny before us, holding hope and promise of taking the next step — pushing the envelope further, harder, and faster — a brand new start.  A new beginning.

That’s what New Year’s means to me.  Looking forward.  Time to write a new chapter. The future only goes one way.

“You are never satisfied!” He Who Shall Not Be Named would scream in my face, “NEVER!  Why can’t you just appreciate what you have?  Why isn’t it never GOOD ENOUGH?  WHY?”

I admit I may not be the easiest person to live with.  I can’t help it.  One minute, something is great, fits me like spandex; the next I’ve cast it aside and am thinking about a replacement.

Part of that goes to brand loyalty.  I’m fiercely loyal until I’m not.  I’ll stay in a chain of hotels over and over again until I reach the top of their food chain.  And then I start wondering:  are they appreciating the dedication I’ve shown them?  Do they notice?  Care?  Or would another business appreciate me more and upgrade my total experience?

That’s where big companies fall flat, and little, mom and pop shops can compete.  For example, does Outback Steak House really pay any attention to how many times I eat in their restaurants?  And, do they give a crap?  It seems every time I’m there, the restaurant is busy.  Americans just can’t get enough fake Australian.

Yesterday, Mathew made a rubber pot roast.  I swear he does this on purpose.  He looks at the roast.  He circles it.  Gives it a prod, then a poke.  The next words are: “Mike, I need to take you out to dinner.”  The roast is then unceremoniously deposited in the trash.

It was 5 pm on the dot.  We decided to go to the local Outback for a steak.  Now, this was based on two facts:  1)  I like their filet and it’s cheap.  2) We have a friend who is a server at the restaurant, and he treats us like two kings. (Shush!  I got the royal gender right.)

At 5:10 we reached the restaurant.  It was totally packed, probably about 30 people waiting for a table.  We turned around, and marched out the door.  There is no way in hell I am standing in line for Outback.

We went to my favorite local sushi restaurant, Saketumi.

Anyone who follows me on Foursquare (Christ there really is an ap for anything!) knows I eat at Saketumi more than 5 times a week when I am home.  I’m mayor!  I beat out my friend Kim, who worked there.  Why? Because I’m there more than Kim.

Anyway, we reached the restaurant at 5:30.  The owner had our table reserved — I’d mentioned at lunch we might show up, she reserved it because “might” in Mike speak means “will”.  The server chatted us up, brought our drinks — we had a great meal.

Now, this is a long, round-about way of asking: does Outback give a rat’s ass that we stomped out?  This I know:  Saketumi was happy we were there.  That connection and appreciation translated into a feeling in my brain of, “why, exactly, didn’t I just come here to begin with?”

Since 2007, I have stayed 386 nights in a Starwood Hotel.  Do they care?   Sure, I’m given “Lifetime Gold” status (soon to be Lifetime Platinum), I’m supposed to be upgraded to the best available room at check in, I have a bank of “suite night” awards to utilize when I want to upgrade (though there is no guarantee of upgrade), I have points to use for free rooms that I’ve banked from my Starwood Amex card and my stays.

But here’s my experience:  the hotels are all franchisees.  That means the owner of a local hotel may not care if Mr. Platinum is checking in.  In fact, he might see it as a huge inconvenience since that means his premium suite SHOULD go to Mr. Platinum, if it’s vacant.

Well, that takes a bit of extra effort, doesn’t it?  I mean, extra towels. Extra maid time.  Extra everything.  You can’t turn a two room suite over as efficiently as a standard king.

Which usually translates to this Hotel Owner Thought Process: Mr. Platinum, we’ll give you a free bottle of water.  The rest is just nice words on our web site and on the back of your platinum identification card.  It really doesn’t MEAN anything.  And, no, you aren’t getting the suite.  Be happy with your bottle of water.  Suck it up, buttercup.

THAT attitude leaves a door open for the competition.  Even with someone as fiercely brand loyal as I am, when your $40,000 (386 nights x an average of $100 per night) translates to a complimentary bottle of water, you — as a savvy traveler — you start wondering….


What Would Hilton Do?  Would Hilton upgrade you with only a free bottle of water?  Is that their big loyalty perk?  What about (spit on the floor) Marriott?  Marriott, though, is permanently scratched off the list after the World’s Suckiest 5 Star Hotel experience.  Holiday Inn (Intercontinental Hotel Group)?  Ummm, that was He Who Shall Not Be Named brand of choice, so I avoid it. Choice Hotels?  I’d rather sleep in the gutter.  Did I miss anyone?  Best Western?  Really?  Do you need to wonder?  Ramada?  No.  That leaves Hilton.

Still — the chain (or the mom and pop store) that can figure out how to make their best customers feel consistently special is the business that will win.  If you, as a business owner, can treat your best customers like they are royalty — every job, every event, ever day, whether you feel great or like you’ve crawled from the sewer, you will be successful.

Hilton would give a free, warm cookie.

Wait.  Everyone gets that.  Can I have a free bottle of water for 50, Alex?