Shortly before Thanksgiving, Megan and I flew down to visit my family in San Francisco. We wouldn’t see them for the actual holiday (which we would spend in London), and I really wanted to visit the new Exploratorium after its move to the Embarcadero. It was also a perfect opportunity to stay at the famous Westin St. Francis hotel. I visited many times as a child for afternoon tea and views of Union Square but never stayed there, so I decided to use two Suite Night Awards in an attempt to upgrade our room.
We took UberX from the airport and were dropped off across the street from the historical Union Square entrance. Walking through, we found the main lobby in the new building that sits behind it. It had a coffee shop in the morning and cocktail bar at night but was generally crowded any time of day. We didn’t spend much time in the Tower Building, as it’s called.
Sadly my suite upgrade did not clear. I’m not sure why, since there were several suites available for purchase the day before, but the clerk shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah, those don’t work very well.” Even so, my Platinum status earned me a partial upgrade to a Grand Deluxe room in the Landmark Building with a view of Union Square.
It was a great room and overall a great stay. But that first interaction was a warning. None of the employees I interacted with seemed enthusiastic about their jobs. I’ll discuss more on that later.
Hallways in the Landmark Building were enormous. Off to one end were several meeting and dining rooms, but in the other direction we found our guest room. It was clearly a historic property, but I thought it was a decent remodel and surprisingly generous. The chairs and bed were comfortable. The desk was spacious and had a view of the square.
However, the bathroom was extremely small. It was competing with the Grand Hyatt New York for the “smallest hotel bathroom” award. (Then again, the latter was originally constructed in 1919 as The Commodore, so that’s no surprise.)
As much as we looked we couldn’t find any bottled water, which is a standard benefit for Gold and Platinum member at Starwood hotels. I called housekeeping to ask if they could deliver some before we headed off to dinner. I highly recommend Hops & Hominy on the other side of the square. They had great fried chicken and good drinks.
Unfortunately, there was still no water in our room when we returned.
The next morning we got up and headed to the Oak Room for breakfast. As a Platinum member I received a card promising a complimentary breakfast for me and one guest. We could get either a $15 credit per person at the Oak Room or three items from the coffee stand in the lobby. I’m more of a hot food person, and fortunately the Oak Room offered one of the most technically perfect eggs Benedict and hashbrowns I’ve ever had.
But the food isn’t cheap. I think the least expensive item on the menu was a bowl of cereal for about $12. The buffet was over $30.
We headed off to explore the city, and that evening we came back to the hotel to try the Clock Bar, named after the famous clock sitting in the historic lobby. Although there’s a Michael Mina restaurant off to the side, it’s generally a much more quiet and empty space. The Clock Bar, however, is walled in and a little more crowded.
As I said at the beginning, our stay was in most ways very good. I would like to stay here again and dine at the restaurants, though I might pass on the Clock Bar. There is simply so much competition in San Francisco that I wouldn’t have a hard time finding someplace with better, cheaper drinks. Hops & Hominy, for example.
The Great Breakfast Debacle
But my attitude was soured by the breakfast situation — and not really the facts of the matter but the way it was handled. Like I said, Platinum members receive a complimentary continental breakfast as one of their elite benefits. It was described very clearly on the card I received at check-in, though I admit I didn’t read it closely until our last day.
At a minimum, continental breakfast includes juice, coffee, pastries, cereal and yogurt for you and one other guest registered to your guest room.
The pre-printed at the bottom was contradicted by the written description at the top, which gave us a choice between $15 credit at the Oak Room (barely enough for a bowl of cereal; there is no “continental breakfast” on the menu) or three selections at Caruso’s coffee bar (it would be impossible to get all five promised items in the list).
Maybe I’m just bickering about the difference between “and” and “or” but the agent who helped me check out was dismissive and simply said, “It’s a menu. We can make up whatever breakfast offer we want.” If that’s true, then what is the point of describing a minimum offer? I pressed and the clerk shrugged again, saying maybe they should print new cards. But she still wouldn’t honor the minimum promise. I noticed the employees at this hotel like to shrug a lot.
So I asked Starwood’s corporate Twitter team if there was, in fact, any brand standard. They were circumspect, saying only that each hotel defines its breakfast differently. Reading the Starwood Preferred Guest fine print later that week, I couldn’t find any description of a minimum guarantee, which I’m guessing they did not want to admit.
I don’t actually mind if it’s a continental breakfast or a full breakfast or something else. I care more about loyalty programs that are clear in what they offer and fulfill those promises reliably. Individual properties are always free to exceed the minimum guarantee. To not have one at all… well, what’s to stop a hotel from offering only coffee and a bagel (if thats how the hotel defines it)? In this case it appears the Westin was generous by offering coffee, a bagel, and a banana.
I’m sure I’ll return to the St. Francis at some point. It has a great location and is in generally good condition considering its historic status. But even as a Platinum member I’ll probably go somewhere else for breakfast, which I expect to be cheaper with or with a $15 credit.