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The Art of Complaining (What Would You Have Done?)

Our Labour long weekend getaway was a last-minute decision. As we usually do in this case, we searched for a good deal on Expedia and booked a chain hotel by the airport—we have a car so we don’t mind being outside the downtown core.

Best Western, Radisson, Quality Inn… these brands are all the same to me. They provide a clean room—if bland–room with all the basic amenities.

Except when something goes wrong.

On our second day, when we came back to the hotel at night, a printed sheet of paper was taped to the elevator doors, warning guests that the City of Toronto was expecting a water outage due to repairs between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

I checked the time on my iPod—10 p.m. Well, that would be inconvenient—we were coming back from a full day of touring Toronto Island and the city and we all needed a shower.

Once in a room, I turned the tap on. Water flowed and I figured the problem had been fixed.

The next morning, when we got up, no such luck—we had no water.

I bumped into the housekeeper in the hallway. “I know, I know,” she said apologetically. “Water outage. And it’s not just the hotel, it’s the entire block! Look, the Tim Hortons is closed as well!”

“When will the water be turned back on?”

She made a face. “During the day? Tonight? I really don’t know!”

I double-checked with the guys at the front desk and they didn’t know either, but they gave us a few bottles of water we used to brush our teeth and wash our face.

We spent the day in Niagara Falls and came back late at night. As I walked into the lobby, Mark in my arms, my first question was “Is the water back on?”

The guy at the front desk nodded enthusiastically. “It is! Sorry about that!”

I shrugged. “It wasn’t your fault. Plus you probably had a hell of a day hearing complaints about it!”

I worked in customer service, including in a call centre. I check out Not Always Right and I have just read Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality (by Jacob Tomsky). So I didn’t want to be that bitchy customer, venting my frustration on a poor guy just doing his job.

We took showers, brushed teeth and all was forgotten about the incident until later in the night, when I realized out Wi-Fi password was no longer valid. “I’ll ask the front desk for a new one,” I told Feng.

I went downstairs. The front desk was pretty busy and there were five people in front of me. The first couple sounded angry—I pricked up my ears. “This was simply unacceptable,” the woman ranted. “A hotel without water! I won’t leave until I get compensated fairly. Get me the manager.”

Meanwhile, the manager was busy with another angry guest. “One free night? I don’t think so. There was no water the entire morning! This is not a way to treat guests.”

This is when I realized all the hotel guests were now coming to the front desk to get something out of the water outage. And boy, some were vindictive! I couldn’t hear what the final settlement was but the manager seemed to be on the verge of crying.

I felt like an idiot waiting in line for a totally unrelated issue, the old Wi-Fi password in my hand.

What should I do? Ask for compensation as well? See, my French genes had programmed me how to protest against policies, against the government or against life in general. But I am not skilled at getting a free meal for poor service or whatever compensation and/or freebie people feel they are entitled to when a business treat them badly.

Hell, I can’t even get an airline to give us a hotel room when we were stuck at the airport because of flight delays. The only time I successfully negotiated another room was when our hotel in Paris was infested with bugs.

But on the other side, if the hotel was compensating some guests, I’d feel like an idiot not asking for it.

Then came my turn.

“I… ahem, I need a new Wi-Fi password. And by the way, are you going to compensate people for the water issue today?”

The front desk manager looked at me. We both sighed. It had been a long day.

“Free parking for the three days of your stay?”

“Sure.”

“There you go. Have a great evening!”

“You too!”

In the elevator, I smiled at my reflection in the mirror. Well, I had gotten something out of the morning inconvenience, and I didn’t have the threaten, argue or beg for it. Yay!

When we left the following day, people were still complaining at the front desk. I couldn’t help thinking some were milking it. I mean, okay, not having water for a few hours had been inconvenient but the issue had been fixed, and it wasn’t the hotel’s fault in the first place. I don’t think it entitled them to a free stay or a massive refund.

What do you think? Are you good at getting appropriate compensation when things go wrong? What would you have done in my shoes?

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