When I travel, I like to enjoy a nice view from my room. But over the years, I've learned that not all views are equal. Far too often, restaurants and hotels rely too much on their view and ignore what matters -- service.
Take Orange County, Calif., for example. I remember when the coolest hotel was the Holiday Inn along the 5 freeway. Today's "OC" offers several fine hotels with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
Three of the best views (ranked in order) of this Pacific Riviera are south of Laguna Beach at The Montage Resort and Spa, The Ritz Carlton in Ritz Cove, and The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort.
All three hotels offer similar services. The Montage and the Ritz Carlton hug coastal cliffs leading to the pristine surf and sand of California's gold coast. The St. Regis occupies an expansive piece of land across California's Pacific Coast Highway or PCH, as it's known to locals.
I recently ventured out into my backyard -- I live in Tustin Ranch -- and visited each of these hotels to rate them on various criteria, all of which came down to two main variables, their view and quality of service. Interestingly, my assessment of each hotel's service quality inversely ranks to their views.
Great views swayed many inexperienced travelers' decisions, but they would be wise to follow the advice of my good friend Michael MacGregor, the director of marketing for the Hotel Vina Del Mar, in Chile. While we were enjoying a spectacular sunset from the picturesque view of the hotel's bar, he told me "the view attracts guest to our property but the service keeps them coming back."
My hometown experiment confirmed this.
The newest entry to Orange County's southern coastline, The Montage, has arguably the best view. But if service is important to you, forget about this property.
My visit to the Montage was deplorable. Driving up to the valet section of the hotel's entry was chaotic and messy, cars strewn everywhere with clueless valets giving and taking the wrong keys from confused drivers.
Inside the hotel, the staff told me "no" 30 times in fewer than 20 minutes. A few examples of this include my request to order an appetizer on the hotel's outside veranda, the response was a flat-out "no!" Later, I tried to order something to eat in the hotel's lobby - again, "no!"
The server requested that I go to the hotel's restaurant for food. When I went to the restaurant and asked to have an appetizer instead of a full entrée, I has told "no" and directed to the noisy and crowded poolside bar with children running between the chairs.
When I asked why I couldn't have something to eat on the outside veranda or the main sitting area the staff stated the owner doesn't want people entering the hotel and seeing plates on the table. I suggested that maybe the owner should focused more on service then a fleeting view.
After my unacceptable experience at the Montage Hotel, I drove down the road to the next-best view, but mediocre service oriented Ritz Carlton at the Ritz Cove. After pulling up to the hotel, a valet greeted me quickly.
I should have left then, because that was the extent of its service.
After taking an ocean view seat in the main lounge, the server greeted me and quickly took my order; 23 minutes later, she finally returned. My experience with its casual restaurant was not any better. The host did not greet me, so I took an available table, still with the previous guest's lunch waiting for clearing. Finally, an impolite waiter came along saying he would be right back. After waiting another 13 minutes, I gave up.
On this occasion, I did not stay in a room, but during past visits, the rooms were dirty, and the service from check-in, to room service to dining in the restaurants was not satisfying. I also have had reports from many readers and friends whom checked into this hotel and consequently checked out with disappointment.
Heading across the coast highway to the St. Regis, I enjoyed an unblemished experience. The St. Regis lacks a white-water view of the Pacific Ocean, but it does have a private beach that they escort guests to in a stretched golf cart.
As I watched the sun settling into the Pacific Ocean, enjoying the hotel's beautiful and expansive view, a friendly server delivered my smoked salmon platter. Most telling of the St. Regis is that the management does not take its views for granted. Instead, they work on all cylinders assuring that guests enjoy a total experience from check-in to checkout.
My microexperiment with luxury hotels spans beyond Orange County. I have been to hotels and restaurants worldwide where the view is great but the food or service is horrible.
Whenever I return to Malibu, Calif., where I spent my college years, I drive past an old restaurant where I enjoyed many nights drinking beer and watching the wonderful view of waves breaking on the Malibu sand. The view remains the same, but the restaurant is consistently changing ownerships or boarded up. The only reason I can surmise for this is that each new owner does not realize the value of service once the view becomes familiar.
The real guidepost for deciding which luxury resort deserves your money should include the view; but give more weight to the quality of service offered by the hotel or restaurant.
As my smart friend from Chile advised, a view will get people in the door but the service keeps them there.