'Ma'am, I'll be with you in just a moment." That was 10 minutes ago. I am drumming my fingers on a glass cabinet in Tiffany's (the silver department, of course) on Fifth Avenue, growing increasingly impatient. "Yes," says my New Yorker friend wearily. "You're wondering, what's happened to the super-efficient New York service? It happens at places like the dry cleaners, but it's a myth in the stores." The assistant studiously ignores us for a few more minutes then wanders off to chat with colleagues at another counter. It was probably the drumming fingers that did it.
Gluttons for punishment, thousands of us cross the Atlantic each year to enjoy New York's special brand of service with a scowl. It's a small price to pay when you consider the power of the pound - each gold coin currently buys you around $1.80. But we really go to Manhattan for the fun of it. We want a cute little bag containing something divine from Bergdorf Goodman, a big brown paper sack bulging with bargains from Bloomingdales. (Don't forget, you can only take £145 worth of goods through customs before paying duty.)
So where should you stay? Down in SoHo and Greenwich Village you can enjoy boutique shopping and a trendy vibe. But serious shoppers should stay up in Midtown for convenient access to the big stores on and around Fifth. That's why I'm checking in to Le Parker Meridien.
Inside, this skyscraping stopover is a curious place, designed as a bolthole rather than somewhere to enjoy hanging out. Its vast lobby appears to lead to a series of different buildings, and is used by pedestrians as a cut-through from 56th to 57th. Yet it's all hotel.
Two blocks back from the southern edge of Central Park, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues - you're shop-and-drop distance from all the top stores. Book a room above the 25th floor for great views.
The comfort factor
Style and function is the mantra at this 730-room hotel. And yet, style is lacking. Gloomy corridors lead to rooms that attempt minimalism but look spare, decorated in drab blue, brown and grey tones. But on function it delivers. The bed is big and cosy, the TV is a satisfying 32in with DVD /CD player andinternet and voicemail are offered.
Compact - to be kind. And mine could have done with a lick of paint and a new bath. Just a place to get clean - function wins again. Overall, this member of the mighty Starwood group, which bought the Le Meridien portfolio two years ago, is overdue a refurb.
The food and drink
Go all-American at Norma's, the in-house diner that prides itself on its "over the top" all-day breakfasts. Over the top it certainly is: expect bricks of cinnamon toast and eggs drowning in sauce. Your stomach will be groaning through till dinner, which can be ordered up at Seppi's French bistro. Dine on escargots and steak au poivre in this dimly-lit, traditional American bar. If your appetite is American-size, you could snack in between on a burger in the odd little take-out behind a curtain in the lobby.
Business and leisure - but you're unlikely to meet anyone, other than at the ice machine.
Some of the big sights and venues are on your doorstep. Carnegie Hall is on the corner and the Rockefeller Center and Central Park are close. For ideas contact NYC & Company (nycvisit.com). Guests get free access to Gravity, the hotel's fitness centre, which offers classes, a cardio theatre and a pool.
There's wheelchair access throughout the public areas and several rooms accommodate have been modified for guests with disabilities. Children welcome.
British Airways Holidays (0870-243 3406; ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow and three nights at Le Parker Meridien from £805 per person, based on two sharing, in November.
Le Parker Meridien New York, 118 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019-3318 (001 212 245 5000; parkermeridien.com).
LIKED THAT? TRY THESE
* The Jumeirah Essex House (001 212 247 0300; jumeirahessexhouse. com), a luxury hotel on Central Park South, is but a few steps from the new Apple Store - a techie heaven in a glass cube.
* Prefer a village vibe? Base yourself at 60 Thompson (001 212 431 0400; 60thompson.com), a "lifestyle" hotel in trendy SoHO, to enjoy stylish shopping in the neighbourhood's boutiques.
* The Westin New York (001 212 201 2700; westinny.com) at Times Square, in the heart of the city, puts you in easy reach of the shops, uptown and downtown.