César Ritz coined the expression "the customer is always right" more than a century ago. But are we? If TripAdvisor is anything to go by, we all seem to think so. I wince when I read people venting on the review site or passive-aggressively tweeting their gripes. But I fear it's often worse than just a moan about a disappointing experience – it's in danger of developing into a culture of arm-folding and foot-stomping to get what we want, rather than employing a little good old-fashioned courtesy.
We've watched the consumer-advice shows; we've read the articles promising insider secrets to getting an upgrade or bagging luxury for less. I say press "pause" on that sense of entitlement, put down your deal-of-the-day voucher and remember your manners. You see that grande-dame hotel over there, with its squadron of gilt-liveried doormen waiting to open the door for you? And that bellboy eager to escort you elegantly to the check-in desk? Perhaps that reception clerk studied four years at hospitality college before handing you the room key.
Polished service, as well as facilities and furnishings, cost hotels big bucks – so it's basic economics to understand that we shouldn't get it all for a steal. It's interesting to hear from general managers that the people who snap up last-minute cut-rate deals tend to be the most vocal when it comes to complaining. Don't get me wrong – as someone who spent their formative years stateside, it would baffle me when my English grandparents were served food as appetising as fresh roadkill, then when asked if all was OK, would reply: "Oh yes, it's lovely, thank you" (discreetly spitting the inedible items into their napkin). I'm not saying they should have slammed down their cutlery or bellowed to see the manager, but I do think there's a gracious happy medium that customers can employ.
Ondine Cohane is a travel writer and one half of the couple behind La Bandita, a stylish retreat in Tuscany. "Looking for a deal and wanting things for less is all well and good, but I operate from a perspective of paying for what I get," says the American, who thinks being patient and remembering your "pleases" and "thank yous" gets you remembered, in a good way. "I think about what is involved in costs. I'd prefer that a hotel's staff is being paid well rather than getting a bargain-basement room rate."
Travel is a social contract as much as an economic one: we pay fair for a nice room, kind staff and good amenities, and the property and the people who work for it should be treated well too. As Julian Payne, the manager of Blakes in Kensington, central London, puts it, hotels are a "people" business: "By being personal and hands-on, one can connect better with the guests and understand what their expectations are. Everyone wants to be loved and recognised, and by achieving this, most guests will be happy and return."
So next time you feel as though a hotel might have let you down, have a word in someone's ear; with an added smile and some good cheer, you might find it works out better for everyone.
Juliet Kinsman is the editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith hotel guides (mrandmrssmith.com)