Service: Genuine vs. Groveling

September 3rd, 2009

Categories: Accommodation, Appreciation, Courtesy, Customer Service, Management, Recommendation, Responsiveness, Service, Service Personality

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

West Mountain Inn, Arlington, Vt., from the side

Two recent experiences help describe the intangible difference between genuine and groveling service. The authentic kind makes you feel welcome; the unctuous, uncomfortable.

We had dinner at an attractive restaurant in Dutchess County, New York last weekend. The food was tasty, the prices reasonable, the courses came quickly and were served efficiently, but the waitress turned us off. She acted as though she’d known our friends for years-which she hadn’t-and as though my husband and I were invisible. The next morning we chatted about the otherwise wonderful evening and agreed that while we liked the food and ambiance, the waitresses’ tooth-achingly saccharin chumminess was unattractive and made us squirm. We don’t plan to return in anticipation of either being ignored or fawned over.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

You know you’ve arrived in a special place when you drive by the planters filled with impatiens before climbing the hill to the inn.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

If your room doesn’t overlook the majestic mountain view, there’s a row of Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy it.

It was a different story entirely at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vt.  Amie Emmons made us feel welcome in a quiet, natural, understated way from the moment we arrived. Amie’s son, Owen, who is four years old, greeted us as well. He was charming, articulate, smart and endearing as he punctuated Amie’s welcome tour of the public rooms and bedroom suites (we could choose from) with appropriate comments, warnings and instructions.

It may be unfair to compare an innkeeper to a waitress, but Amie also served our dinner the first night. When she was away the second night, her staff echoed her composed, unhurried, gracious yet efficient and engaged approach. One of the dinner guests who said he knew Amie’s mother, Mary Ann Carlson–the previous innkeeper who shared the role with her husband, Wes–teased Amie incessantly. She remained unfazed and friendly, never familiar.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

Chiselville Covered Bridge, East Arlington, Vt, a short drive from the inn.

A word about the inn on the Battenkill River, which started out as a farmhouse some 160 years ago, became a gristmill and a lumber mill before, in the 1970s, Wes and Mary Ann Carlson transformed it into a  classic Vermont inn. Each room is lovingly decorated with country antiques; guests leave with a potted violet to remind them of their stay along with a remarkable sense of calm and peace. Guests prefer board games and chats with others over watching TV in the bar. For breakfast and dinner there’s hearty, plentiful, honest American fare. Always on hand is coffee, tea, homemade cookies and during our stay, muffins too.

We can’t wait to return to the West Mountain Inn. Can you tell us about a similar oasis–whether restaurant, inn, hotel or spa–where the art of service equals the surroundings?

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

This pocket garden is outside the dining room on the path to the inn's front door.

10 Responses to “Service: Genuine vs. Groveling”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    On a recent trip to California, Nancy and I splurged and stayed one night at the fabled Beverly Hills Hotel. We got a price break; we were dressed informally; we carried one bag each. But the staff was uniformly gracious; they made us feel truly welcome. I can’t remember visiting any hotel in recent years, including the Mansion on Turtle Creek (whose service was poor but nauseatingly officious) where the staff—from concierge to parking attendant—made me feel so special. It was an unexpected treat.

    Service of any kind is so rare today—in retail stores as well as hotels. People are rarely being trained to deal invitingly with customers. Graciousness is like a long, lost art.

    For me, the ninth floor Macy’s/Herald Square is like the ninth rim of consumer hell. That’s the furniture floor, and you could collapse and die before any so-designated “salesperson” would even notice. I remember seeing two women with shopping bags, after waiting interminably to be waited on, took seats in a dining room vignette. Only then did a salesperson approach them—not with a smile but a stern look and a sharp query: “Do you ladies need help or are you just resting?” I think if that had been me, I’d have ankled. But they stayed. Perhaps by they really were tired!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I am laughing at your description, Mervyn!!! You should have seen me trying to buy a wedding gift at Macy’s a few years ago because the bride maintained her gift registry there. I wanted to see what I was buying, rather than simply click on an item on-line. Big mistake and never again. I fear that the sales person I had moved to furniture from fine china.

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    If there is any profession or industry where SERVICE is the
    “keyword,” its restaurants!

    We recently were in the lower “Meatpacking/Upper Tribeca”
    part of the Village at Christopher Street where it crosses Greenwich
    Street, [in NYC] and tried a bistro that was surrounded by similar ones.

    Well, the place we first went to had NO PATRONS because it was early,
    about 6pm. In fact it was so early for this place that the chefs were
    at one of the tables… chatting.

    The Maitre’d told us we could sit at a TINY table for two, but NOT at
    a larger table.

    We didn’t like hearing that but sat down anyway. When the menu said
    “cash only,” my response was, “Let’s leave.”

    Joanie was SO happy I said that, partly because the man was borderline
    rude, and in light of the fact that the place almost next door was
    SO MUCH MORE accommodating…
    ”Oh you want a window seat, FINE. ”
    ”Oh, you want us to open the sliding doors cause it’s a beautiful
    day, FINE”, ”we are happy to make you happy”.

    And so it went the whole evening. The waiter was a young photographer
    and we talked about his upcoming career.

    If one is in a service business—- then for gosh sakes= SERVE!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    I’ve been to so many restaurants where the first words I hear are “Do you have a reservation?????” [what happened to “HELLO?”] when the place is totally empty. Quelle turnoff!!

  5. Carolyn Gatto Said:

    In three years of reviewing hotels and resorts that market themselves as family-friendly, we’ve found only six that were worthy of an A+ grade. Genuine, caring service is a big part of their appeal and success. Every staffperson at those places fully buys into the service concept, all day, every day. No excuses. Hello hoteliers, are you listening?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    That is SCARY, Carolyn!

    The West Mountain Inn is a perfect spot for a family with children and parents who want to change gears, withdraw from technology, and enjoy reading and playing with their children.

    As I wrote, there is a TV in one of the public rooms should withdrawal be too painful. Cell phones work as do computers, [which in a way is a shame].

    In winter, children would have a wonderful time in the snow–we read guest comments about fabulous snow-shoeing–and there are trails on the property and skiing nearby. And what a treat to be the center of attention on a hike with Mom and Dad in fall, followed by a cup of hot chocolate. The inn appears to be a spot where large family contingents happily gather annually.

  7. David Reich Said:

    I agree, Jeanne. Fawning turns me off. But there are some people — probably very insecure — who thrive on being fawned over.

    A perfect example of how service that’s not earnest can backfire.

  8. Deirdre Wyeth Said:

    I read your piece about the inn and VT and wanted to immediately rent a car. I’ve put the name on a list of places I intend to visit.

  9. Henry O'brien Said:

    Curious! I ran across your blog by accident, and the first thing I see is West Mountain Inn. Just want to confirm that every thing you wrote about the place is true and add that one of the things that I like best of all about the place — that you didn’t write — is that there are no telephones and television sets in the rooms, just great views!

    Henry

  10. katharine Said:

    Loved your article!!!! West Mountain Inn is my favorite place in the world having had the opportunity to visit every year with my extended family for the past 21 years and counting……..

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