Etiquette expert William Hanson on how to behave in 5-star hotels 

Don’t take selfies and never wheel your own luggage into the lobby on the way out: Etiquette expert William Hanson reveals how to behave in five-star hotels

  • 5-star hotels have rules of behavior that are mysterious even to the well-heeled
  • Here Mr Hanson provides a hand guide to avoiding social hiccups in posh hotels
  • He covers the crucial areas – tipping, photography, upgrades and celebrity spots 

Five-star hotels are a definite worthwhile treat.

But let’s be honest, they can be a bit bizarre, with conventions and expected rules of behaviour that are sometimes a mystery even to seasoned well-heeled travellers. Etiquette expert William Hanson, thankfully, is here to unravel these mysteries.

Here he provides a handy guide to avoiding social hiccups at posh properties, from being economical with the selfies to keeping your luggage out of the lobby.

Act as if you own the place

When you arrive, ‘do not allow your pupils to dilate and mouths to drop in five-star awe’, says Mr Hanson

Upon arrival, when you spot the chandeliers, marbled desks, floors and smartly dressed staff, do not allow your pupils to dilate and mouths to drop in five-star awe. This is a very basic and easy way for both the waiting staff and on-looking guests to immediately work out if you really belong there. 

You must take the attitude that your own chandelier at home is bigger and, frankly, the marble looks a little lacklustre. The hotel should feel like a reproduction of your house. No reception Increasingly, top hotels are moving away from even having the classic reception desk. 

Some have now moved the reception to discrete private rooms off the central entrance, others escort you immediately to your room or suite and conduct the check-in process behind closed doors, such as The Peninsula in Beijing and the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. 

Do not be surprised if you can’t see a reception desk.

The staff are not your friends

The key training motto the staff of any quality hotel will have been told is not to cross the line. The staff are friendly but they are not your friends.

Guests need to remember this and not become overly familiar or chummy with the staff.

It’s a different mentality to your relationship to the bronzed holiday rep on the Costa Plonka.

Leave the famous guests alone

Five-star hotels do always attract guests of note.

You never know who is going to be staying so if you do spot someone you recognise do not approach the reception desk and ask them to verify whether you were right.

Even if you do, a good hotel will always respect other guests’ right to privacy and won’t reply in the affirmative or negative.

Similarly, do not try and stage a rendezvous with the celebrity.

Leave them alone.

Room categories

‘Unless they are a suite, all bedrooms in a five-star hotel are good enough so don’t sweat the small stuff and worry about which one to book,’ says Mr Hanson

A source of continued amusement and bafflement for guests of luxury hotels is trying to work out the room categories upon booking.

In most cases, a ‘superior room’ is in fact, despite the billing, superior to nothing. It is the lowest category of room.

A ‘deluxe room’ is pretty much the same but with the addition of a sofa or arm-chair.

An ‘executive room’ is one with a desk.

Unless they are a suite, all bedrooms in a five-star hotel are good enough so don’t sweat the small stuff and worry about which one to book.

You will still get the umbrella in the wardrobe, evening turn-down service and glossy ad-riddled magazines that no one ever reads.


To tip or not to tip?

There is an argument that hotel staff in really top drawer places will be remunerated sufficiently and so tipping is not as essential as in a lower-budget hotel, but this school of thought usually comes from Brits, who are known the world-over to be bad tippers.

Even if you do not tip the doormen and waiting staff, leaving $2 per night stayed in an envelope in your room addressed ‘housekeeping’ is always a smart idea.

Don’t ask for an upgrade

Blagging is not a smart move.

Do not ask at reception if you can have a free upgrade. You may, of course, let them know it is your honeymoon or 50th wedding anniversary but don’t expect this to get you anything.

Aside from actually paying for it, the best way to get bumped up a room category is to hope that there has been some error in your booking and if there has, play it down.

For example, when I was last travelling alone in the Middle East I was asked if I would be happy with a standard twin room (which was not what I had booked). I said I’d ‘preferably’ just like the one bed as having an empty bed next to you is always a little disconcerting. After tapping on the reception computer, the staff member informed me I had been upgraded to the presidential suite.

(Which was the other end of the disconcerting scale as it was so large and, with just me in it, very empty: far from relaxing.)

Use the concierge

One of the always slightly forgotten aspects of quality hotels is the concierge.

For example, if there’s a restaurant in town that is notably difficult to get in, ask the concierge to try and get you a table. They will usually have good relationships with restaurants and the venue will want to have guests from hotels like yours dine there as they know you have a good budget.

The concierge is more than just a collection of suitcase shifters.


Some hotels, like The Savoy (not pictured), have a blanket ban on the very sight of a suitcase in the hallowed hall – however expensive the bag 

When checking out, do not wheel your luggage yourself down into the lobby.

Some hotels, like The Savoy, even have a blanket ban on the very sight of a suitcase in the hallowed hall – however expensive the bag.

Fifteen or so minutes before you need to leave the hotel telephone the porter and ask for someone to come and collect your things.

You may as well use the service – you’re paying for it.

Selfies and photos/Instagram

Finally, go easy with the photography, whether it’s selfies or staged photos of your pre-dinner cocktail.

Oversharing the luxury is a flashing neon tell-tale sign that the poster isn’t used to this sort of environment.

Your ever-ready flash and phosphorescent backlight will annoy other guests too, especially in more dimly lit areas of the hotel. 


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