Ditch the anti-theft coat hangers and no passwords for the Wi-Fi: Travel writers from the Mail reveal their do’s and don’ts for hotels… and which ones get it right

  • The Mail regularly scrutinises hotels. But just what is it about a hotel that impresses – and disappoints? 
  • One writer reveals that for her, breakfast is ‘the ultimate test’ for a hotel – absolutely crucial to get right 
  • Another writer reveals how he once witnessed a chef loudly berating waiting staff – at a five-star hotel 

The Mail regularly scrutinises hotels and takes readers through their keyholes.

But just what is it about a hotel that impresses – and disappoints? Here members of the travel-writing teams across the Mail reveal their do’s and don’ts for hoteliers. And name some of the hotels they think get it right – every time.

Scroll down for verdicts on anti-theft coathangers, close-up publicity pictures of door handles and dimmer switches from the Daily Mail’s hotel Inspector; The Mail on Sunday’s Travel Editor, Sarah Hartley; MailOnline’s Travel Editor, Ted Thornhill – and Ailbhe MacMahon and Samantha Lewis from his online team.

WEBSITE/PHOTOGRAPHY

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, A Belmond Hotel is renowned for its food and luxury rooms – it has a very good website, too, says Ted Thornhill, MailOnline Travel Editor

Sarah Hartley, Mail on Sunday Travel Editor

‘Do pay the website a great deal of attention,’ says Ted. ‘And images. They’re a hugely powerful sales tool. That photography budget you had? Quadruple it.

‘Make sure there’s a nice range of perspectives – including drone shots if possible – and not just endless arty close-ups of doorknobs, lamps and vases. Guests need to see the whole room. And don’t put models in them, it just looks cheesy (plus, we’re unlikely to use them online). Fish-eye lens photos are no-no, too. And I’m flabbergasted at the number of exterior hotel pictures taken on a gloomy day. Don’t go there. Unless being haunted is your USP.

‘Once you’ve got a solid selection of images you’re all set not only to entice through the website but, crucially, to MailOnline! The quality of the images can be the difference between a property being at the top or bottom of the homepage – or between a Mail writer reviewing it, or not reviewing it.’

Make sure the site works, too.

‘A guest isn’t going to put much faith in a hotel with a website that has a glitchy booking system,’ says Ted.

And don’t employ an estate agent to write the descriptions as guests will feel cheated.

‘Don’t say, for example, that a room terrace is “private” when in reality there’s merely an open patio space in front of the room that “feels” private when the hotel is empty,’ says Ted. ‘And is there really a view of the river? Or only if you have a pair of binoculars?’

Lots of hotels use models in publicity shots, but Ted says they’re ‘cheesy’ and are unlikely to be used online

Hoteliers should avoid too many up-close photographs of their property – guests want to see the whole room, says Ted

Ailbhe adds: ‘A hard-to-navigate hotel website is frustrating. It’s ideal if all the information is laid out clearly in different sections so you don’t have to hunt around for it. 

‘One big gallery of pictures on the hotel website is preferable – it gives a good overall view of what it’s like to stay there.’

Who gets it right? There are hundreds of good examples, but the site for Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, A Belmond Hotel site is a good all-rounder.

DECOR

Ted loves the ‘antique-y luxe’ of some of the properties operated by the Airelles group in France. Above is a room in hotel Airelles Gordes – La Bastide, in Provence

MailOnline Travel Editor Ted Thornhill

‘Some brands make their money from offering a one-size-fits-all look that’ll offend no one,’ says Ted.

‘But if you want top marks from us – and the guests – go for an aesthetic that catches the eye.’

Ailbhe agrees, saying: ‘It’s disheartening to see cookie-cutter hotel rooms that look like they were picked from a catalogue – or just modelled on other hotels. It makes your stay far more memorable when the decor has some unique character to it even in a small way, giving you a sense of the personality behind the hotel as soon as you step into the room.’

And Sam is partial to a bold look too. ‘I love a hotel with a wow moment,’ she says.

So what to do?

‘Decide on a theme – and run with it,’ says Ted. ‘Don’t give up halfway otherwise you’ll end up with a wonky look and a wonky vibe. Apart from anything else, a décor theme gives us journalists something to hook into when we write about it.’

Need more details? Sarah believes it’s all about establishing how guests will use the room.

She says: ‘How do you want your guests to feel? Who are they? How much will they spend to stay in this room? Figure out the answers to these questions and then work out how your guests will use the room.

‘If I’m in New York, I want sleek city fittings. In Vegas I want kitsch maximalism. If I’m by the sea, I want light and bright with aqua blues, and if I’m in the country I want earthy-toned textures and fabrics that reflect the natural world.

The ‘serene’ decor of Aman properties is a winner for Ted. Pictured above is Aman New York

‘I love to see a freshly painted room – whatever colour, with quality fixtures and fittings that reflect the price I’m paying. I’d rather see a mirror than a bland print badly hung.

‘Make a room too glitzy or on-trend and it will date quickly. What works brilliantly is a mix of traditional with a modern twist.’

Who gets it right? Sarah says: ‘The late hotelier Peter de Savary uses American designer Kathleen Fraser in his hotels giving them a traditional feel with modern pops of colour – especially at The Eastbury in Dorset, The Cary Arms in Devon, and The Beachhuts at The Beachcroft in West Sussex.’ Ted says: ‘I love the antique-y luxe of some of the Airelles hotels in France, the serene opulence of Aman and Hoshinoya properties. And you can never go wrong with anything by The Peninsula or Mandarin Oriental.’

THE BEDROOM

Cheval Blanc Paris, above, is a hotel with bedrooms that approach perfection, says Ted

MailOnline senior travel writer Ailbhe MacMahon

‘It’s all about the bed, isn’t it?’ declares Sarah. ‘You can’t beat a superluxe mattress with super pillows – fresh-white cotton bedlinen and right now a supersized fabric headboard. Then the size of the room becomes less of a focus.’

Ted adds that it’s worth spending another chunk of cash on the shower and bath fixtures.

‘It’s harder to tell the difference between a pricey and cheap tub, for instance, than it is between good and bad quality taps and shower hoses.’

And don’t forget the shower hose.

Sam says: ‘Rain showers are so luxurious, but what happens if I don’t want to get my hair wet? Hoteliers, please provide a hand-held shower too.’

The more enlightened in the hospitality industry also pay attention to the lighting.

‘Make the lights simple to use – I don’t want a tutorial in how to use them,’ says Sarah.

Ted is in agreement, adding: ‘If the hotel insists on a complicated lighting system for the bedroom, it should at the very least install dimmers for a relaxing vibe – especially in the bathroom for non-dazzling night visits – and a master off-switch. I’ve been in rooms where it’s taken me 15 minutes to figure out how to turn off all the lights.’

Any other do’s? A few.

‘No charging points – including USB ports – on both sides of each bed?’ asks Ted. ‘Do call an electrician right now and get them put in. Everyone likes to lay in bed looking at their phone while it’s charging.

‘And do pre-fill the water in the coffee-maker. They can be a tad fiddly.’

Windows that open are a must, as well.

‘I always like to open the window, even if it’s just a little,’ says Sarah. ‘It’s awful when they are jammed shut. And if I do want to open the window – why is it so often likely to take my fingers off or have tricky fittings?

‘There should also be good soundproofing. And if creaky floors are part of the deal then at least make sure it’s only in the halls and not the floor above guests.’

Dreamy set-up: The bedrooms in One&Only Cape Town are impressive, says Ted


Anti-theft coat hangers (left) are ‘a nightmare for the user’, says Sarah. Pour money into luxurious ensuite fixtures, says Ted. Pictured right, a hotel that gets it right in this regard – The Mark in New York

And for Ailbhe, a full-length mirror somewhere is a nice touch. She says: ‘Without one, you never get a proper look at your outfit before you head out.’

Any other don’ts?

Anti-theft coat hangers (‘a nightmare for the user,’ says Sarah), ‘a TV that requires guests to be techies’, says the Inspector, and shampoo and conditioner combined in one bottle – ‘your hair never feels as silky as it would if you conditioned it separately,’ says Ailbhe.

Who gets it right? The Mark in New York has great shower fixtures, according to Ted, with the bedrooms in the following hotels he’s visited verging on perfection: The Peninsula Tokyo, Hoshinoya Kyoto, La Bastide de Gordes in Provence, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, Angsana Corfu, Cheval Blanc Paris, Aman New York and One&Only Cape Town.

SERVICE

Cameron House hotel, by Scotland’s Loch Lomond, is a hotel that gets service right, says Ted

MailOnline Travel’s Samantha Lewis

‘Yes, service can cost in terms of training, but in the moment there’s zero cost attached to being friendly and helpful,’ says Ted. ‘But it’s surprising how many hotels fail on this front. Even at the top level. Even in hotels lauded as award-winners.

‘Guests don’t expect to become best friends with staff, but it’s a grand total of £0/$0 for the hotel for a staff member to say, “How are you today?”‘

Sarah elaborates: ‘There is an art to service and it’s not for everyone – so hotels should not give a customer-facing job to any old candidate. You need to be able to look guests in the eye, listen (and hear what they are really saying) and respond.

‘I met a member of concierge at a Cotswolds hotel recently who told me that within a minute of meeting a guest for the first time he could tell whether they would want to chat or not, whether they would like the hotel and whether they would be demanding. Training plus intuitive service is a real bonus for guests.

‘A well-trained team works seamlessly together and appears organised and efficient to guests. It doesn’t mean squashing the personality out of individual members of staff, but it does give guests a sense of confidence that their stay is being hosted well. ‘

So, let’s have some more don’ts.

Ted says: ‘Chefs in open kitchens, we appreciate your endeavours, but try to resist loudly berating waiting staff while guests are dining. I have seen this happen in seriously upscale hotels – it’s not the ideal accompaniment to one’s sausage and eggs.

‘Staff in public areas – don’t have standing arguments with each other. Also not conducive to a five-star review. I’ve witnessed this occurrence in a five-star hotel – astonishing. Just send passive-aggressive messages to each other on your phones/email like the rest of us do.

‘French waiting staff – please don’t ask me to correctly pronounce a French beer before you’ll serve it (even if it’s banter.) I’m thirsty! Once a Briton sights a can or bottle of beer, we need it ASAP.

‘And don’t scoop up an unfinished glass of wine and make off with it without asking if the guest has finished drinking it.

‘Also, checking back once or twice during a meal is nice, but you don’t need to check if everything is “ok” literally every five minutes. Relax. You’re professionals, we’re enjoying the food, you’re doing great (probably).’

Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms in Nottingham has two Michelin stars – and the service is top, says Ted

And some more do’s.

The Inspector says: ‘Do offer a friendly, warm and sincere greeting on arrival. First impressions are essential. Do offer to help carry luggage.’

Ailbhe says: ‘I love it if staff are chatty and can offer specialised recommendations of things to do in the area – especially if it’s tips that you wouldn’t necessarily find in a guidebook.’

Ted says: ‘America and the Continent, be prepared for the fact that Britons like milk with their tea and coffee. I’m amazed there are still looks of confusion when we ask for it, as if we’ve started a conversation about particle physics.

‘And hoteliers, if possible, should deploy “floating” staff, particularly in restaurants. People who are looking out for customers waiving menus in frustration that they’re being ignored, for example.’

Who gets it right? For Sarah – La Mamounia Marrakech; The Hilton, Lake Como; and Almayer Art and Heritage Hotel in Zadar, Croatia. In the UK – The Goring Hotel and The Gainsborough in Bath. For Ted: Any hotel run by the Airelles group in France; The Peninsula Paris; Cheval Blanc Paris; Cameron House by Loch Lomond in Scotland; five-star hotels in Japan in general; Claridge’s in London; Aman Le Melezin in Courchevel 1850, France; Aman New York; Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek, South Africa; One&Only Cape Town; Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms in Nottingham; Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, A Belmond Hotel, Oxfordshire.

HYGIENE

The Goring in London, above, is at the top of its hygiene games, writes Sarah

Sarah says: ‘Standards are pretty high these days – especially post-Covid – and it’s unusual to find anywhere under par. Dazzling mirrors, squeaky-clean sinks, loo and taps, with furniture and floors dust free are essential.

‘But it’s the knocks and scrapes and scratches on the wall that bother me – I want to feel I’m the first person in the bedroom and don’t want to see where the last suitcase scraped the wall or the scuffed skirting board.’

Who gets it right? Sarah says: ‘The Goring and Page 8 in London always stand out for me – two very different hotels but both at the top of their hygiene game.’

A luxurious hotel breakfast buffet is a must, writes Ted. Above is one at Angsana Corfu 

FOOD

‘Who doesn’t love a Michelin-starred meal? But forget fancy culinary skills,’ says Sarah. ‘If a kitchen can get the basics right (and it’s not as common as you might think), then eating is a joy. It makes me so happy to eat a simple risotto, or pan-fried fish, prepared so beautifully that you know there’s talent in the kitchen.

‘Please don’t try to impress with swirls and twirls and shavings on a plate to distract from the main event. And those Marmite-looking zigzags of balsamic? Let go of this gimmick that makes a plate of food look tired and dated before you’ve tasted a mouthful.

‘Breakfast is the ultimate test for any hotel – scrimp on ingredients and there’s no hiding it from guests. The menu doesn’t need to be long. Get the best team on it to serve strong hot coffee, fresh juices, freshly made bread and pastries, good butter – not in a packet – and homemade, locally sourced ingredients.’

The Inspector, meanwhile, is keen on ‘generous breakfast cut-off times’, while Ted loves a gourmet buffet.

‘There’s nothing in my book like an indulgent, luxurious hotel breakfast buffet,’ he says. ‘But please don’t play loud music at breakfast. Remember, some of us are hungover. And please deploy massive pots of coffee to save on guests constantly asking for top-ups.’

Who gets it right? ‘I still talk about the breakfast at The Beverley Arms Hotel in Beverley, Yorkshire,’ says Sarah. ‘It was the full English, everything cooked perfectly – sausage, mushroom, fried egg, tomato, bacon. And all immaculately presented just so with a beautiful pot of strong Yorkshire tea served in bone china cup and saucer. The breakfast at The Fleece in Richmond, Yorkshire, was sensational too – avocado on toast with poached eggs and tomatoes. A proper chef was in the kitchen and it showed.’

Ted says: ‘I’ve had dreamy hotel breakfast buffets at Angsana Corfu, Hotel Lutetia in Paris and Hotel Barriere Les Neiges in Courchevel 1850. And for massive pots of coffee – Hotel Frederic Carrion in Burgundy. Cameron House was a great all-rounder for food. My French partner said the best croissant she ever ate was at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo.’

DRINKS

‘Pull up a stool at Le Bar Josephine [above] in Hotel Lutetia in Paris. You can’t go wrong,’ says Ted 

Beers aren’t too difficult to get right, but wines can be trickier. However, there’s no excuse for guests’ taste buds being assaulted.

‘There’s no need to stock drain-cleaner wines,’ says Ted. ‘There are plenty of fantastic good-value wines out there. Get in contact with a good wine merchant if you’re not getting positive feedback on the list.’

For Sarah, close attention should be paid to the teabag inventory.

She says: ‘Keep the selection simple and check if they’ve been used, so need to be replaced. I hate to discover that I’ve only got some random herbal tea to drink when I’m dying for an English breakfast. And please put a little pot to put used tea bags in – no-one likes slinging a bag into a wastepaper basket or leaving it in a clean cup!’

Who gets it right? ‘Pull up a stool at Le Bar Josephine in Hotel Lutetia in Paris. You can’t go wrong,’ says Ted.

WI-FI

The Inspector says: ‘Offer direct access to Wi-Fi without having to put in lots of details which are then used for marketing purposes.’

Ted adds: ‘My advice is to follow the example of upmarket Japanese hospitality and make Wi-Fi completely free – and scrap the password altogether.’

Who gets it right? The Japanese lead the way here.

EXTRAS

‘It’s subtle, but a nice fragrance throughout a hotel instantly elevates the experience of staying there,’ says Ailbhe.

Who gets it right? Baccarat Hotel New York.

Hotel owners: Vacuuming all done? The Mail travel team is standing by to inspect! 

FROM WI-FI PASSWORDS TO ANTI-THEFT COAT HANGERS – THE MAIL TRAVEL TEAM’S HOTEL DO’S AND DON’TS AT A GLANCE 

DO’S

WEBSITE/PHOTOGRAPHY

Splash out on photography

Make sure the website is glitch-free

Publish a photo gallery of the property 

DECOR

Theme the decor (and ‘bland’ doesn’t count)

Mix traditional looks with a modern twist

BEDROOMS

Spend big on beds

Funnel money into ensuite shower and bath fixtures

Make sure there’s a shower hose

Install dimmer switches

Install a master off switch for the lights

Put in bedside charging points

Pre-fill coffee-maker water containers

Install soundproofing

Full-length mirrors are nice

SERVICE

Choose customer-facing staff with care

HYGIENE

Eliminate knocks, scrapes and scratches

FOOD

Breakfast is the ultimate test – get the best team on it

Offer strong hot coffee, fresh juices, pastries, good butter

Make the breakfast cut-off time generous

DRINKS

Speak to a good wine merchant

Always provide proper English breakfast tea

WI-FI 

Make it fuss-free

EXTRAS

Scent the public spaces

DON’TS

PHOTOGRAPHY/WEBSITE

Don’t use models in photography

Don’t shoot exteriors in gloomy weather

Don’t use fish-eye lenses

Don’t use estate-agent style exaggerations in descriptions

DECOR

Don’t make rooms too glitzy – they’ll date

Don’t give up on a look halfway through

BEDROOMS

Say no to anti-theft coathangers

No complicated light systems

No complicated TVs

No creaky floors above bedrooms

No single bottles containing both shampoo and conditioner

SERVICE

Staff – don’t yell or argue in public

Don’t whisk away unfinished drinks

Don’t check back too often

FOOD

Don’t try to impress with swirls and twirls on the plate

Don’t play loud music at breakfast

Don’t stock drain-cleaner wine

WI-FI 

Don’t charge for Wi-Fi, use it for marketing, or require a password 

 

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