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Welcome To The Wellesley London, Where Three Bottles of Water Cost $127

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  Site Where: 11 Knightsbridge, London, United Kingdom, SW1X 7LY
July 29, 2014 at 8:30 AM | by | Comments (9)

UPDATE 11.15am: Response from hotel at the bottom of the post. Also, there were two clients with Mr Heaton, though the bill is as described, and the minimum spend refers only to the terrace of the Crystal Bar, not the bar itself. The hotel also says it has apologised to Mr Heaton (presumably not via Twitter).

How much would you pay for a small bottle of water at a five star hotel? $5? (That’d be our personal limit.) $10? (Maybe if we were really thirsty.) Nothing, because water should be from the tap and free? (You’re clearly American, welcome to Europe.)

How about $127? Yes, one hundred and twenty seven dollars. For three miserable bottles of sparkling water. Sadly, this is not a joke.

Ten days ago, at about 4pm, businessman Edward Heaton sat down at the outside terrace of the Crystal Bar at the Wellesley Hotel in London. He was meeting two clients, and it was the middle of the heatwave. Between the three of them, they ordered three small bottles of sparkling water. He says there was no menu, they just ordered direct from the server.

Meeting finished, they requested the bill. £75 ($127) for those three small bottles of water.

Was the water laced with crushed diamonds? No, it was San Pellegrino. Was it served in a golden goblet? Can't be sure, but presumably it was in a glass made of glass.

Here’s the breakdown. £16.50 ($28) for the water (already obscene). £8.33 ($14) for the service charge (let’s hope they threw in a lot of bar snacks). And £50.17 ($85) for “1x minimum spend”.

Minimum spend? Ah yes. According to the Wellesley, anyone who sits down at the terrace of the bar - though not the bar itself - after 4pm must meet a minimum spend of £25 per head. Have you ever heard of that? We haven’t, and we’re pretty partial to our £6 cups of London hotel tea. The only hotel bar in the world that we’ve ever encountered a minimum spend at is £10 at the Montage Beverly Hills ($50 minimum spend for world class cocktails). It simply does not happen in London.

Apparently the (outrageous) rule is printed on the menu (though there's no mention of it on the hotel's website). You would hope that such a bizarre rule (the bar is free to sit at, but the terraces of the bar command a minimum spend) would be flagged to every customer by hotel staff - especially if said customers are only ordering one drink of water each. However, Mr Heaton says he never saw a menu, and that nobody, as he ordered those three tiny bottles of water, mentioned the rule. We’ll side with Mr Heaton on this one, since he paid the bill after querying it (not wanting to make a scene in front of his client). If he’d been aware of the rule, presumably he would have a) laughed in the server’s face and gone elsewhere, or, b) ordered some food, or as he suggests, a glass or two of wine, to make that minimum spend (seeing as he is clearly as English as they come, he’d probably have been too embarrassed to leave and gone with this option).

Having queried it and subsequently paid (#verybritishproblems), he emailed a complaint. Also, he tweeted at the hotel:

The Wellesley apologized and promised to look into it, right? Right?

Wrong. They said:

That contemptuous response, ladies and gentlemen, is why Edward Heaton won’t be going back to the Wellesley any time soon. We’d advise you to do the same.

[Photo: @EdwardHeaton Twitter]

UPDATE: Statement from the Wellesley in full, below. We have asked whether the hotel has ascertained whether or not the menus with the rules were on display, whether Mr Heaton was warned of the minimum charge before being presented with the bill, and whether they have offered any kind of redress. Mr Heaton meanwhile has tweeted that the hotel has not apologised. We'll update again when we hear back.
The Wellesley applies a minimum spend of £25 per person as standard after 4 pm for guests occupying the hotel's cigar terraces where Mr Edward Heaton held his business meeting on 17 July 2014. Guests are made aware of this policy on arrival and the rates are printed on the menus distributed on the terraces. Mr Heaton did not raise concern at the time of his visit but did send an e-mail of complaint the following week. In response, The Wellesley's management team replied on the same day to offer its sincere apologies to Mr Heaton for an experience he deemed less than satisfactory.
With just 36 rooms and suites, The Wellesley's public areas, which include the Cigar Terraces, are much sought after. Housing the largest humidor in Europe and a world class selection of cigars sourced from leading dealers, alongside one of the UK's oldest and most prestigious collections of Cognac, The Wellesley has to place a premium on the space on its two dedicated terraces that are opened daily, to ensure that they can prioritise the space for their guests. In addition to product on offer, The Wellesley has a team of experts trained in the art of selection, cutting and lighting making our terraces one of London's few havens for cigar smokers.
Our guests are so highly valued and offering them exceptional service and an experience to exceed expectations is our number one priority. This is the reason why we have a minimum charge policy in place. There are other areas in The Wellesley where a minimum charge doesn't apply and our team is always pleased to advise of these. If Mr Heaton had chosen to conduct his meeting in any of these other spaces, he would not have encountered the £75 charge.

UPDATE 2:

We asked the hotel whether they had established whether Mr Heaton had seen a menu, and if he had been warned. We also asked whether the hotel had offered any kind of redress. Response:

Re: menus, the servers take out menus and give them to guests once they are seated on the terraces so they would not have been out. We understand that Mr Heaton said they wouldn't be required as they knew they just wanted waters.
It is policy for all guests at The Wellesley who sit on the terraces to be told about the minimum charge policy on arrival.
Finally, if Mr Heaton, or any other guest would have complained at the time and said they weren't made aware of the minimum charge, we could have dealt with it at the time. The Wellesley routinely offer guests, who sit on the terrace and don't make up the minimum charge through drinks, the chance to off set it against food for example, or if they are cigar smokers, they are welcome to take cigars from the humidor to make up the difference.

Comments (9)

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The Wellesley who?

Is that near The Berkeley or The Edition?

location

in between the berkeley and the lanesborough

He should have handled it right away

That minimum spend charge is bullshit. And the Wellesely's statement explaining was done in a completely stuck-up way. They are clearly trying way too hard to compete with other luxury properties in London.

THAT SAID... Heaton should have complained right away when he saw that bill. If he didn't want to make a commotion in front of his clients, he could have simply said, Excuse me and walked over to the server and handled it there.

If the server did not tell him of the minimum spend and there were no menus handed out alerting him about the minimum spend, I bet he could have gotten that charge taken off right away. If I were him, I would have not budged until they removed it. At worst, I would have tossed 30 pounds at the server and then left. But waiting a week to email, not even speak in person with the hotel, really loses the customer's advantage.

Also, it's funny that Heaton didn't want to make a scene in front of his client but surely now they've seen the Daily Mail coverage?


not necessarily

I can totally see being embarrassed in front of clients, querying it, and paying in shock so as not to make a scene in front of clients. Taking the server to one side would be equally embarrassing. I would have considered getting rid of the clients, running off to the bathroom then running back to complain - but then once you pay, you lose the advantage. so I would probs go home and make an official complaint.

And then you get too busy and you put it on your to do list and a week later you complain - I get that. Maybe it's an English thing?

Not sure who had the story first, but if he told the Evening Standard or something small, he wouldn't have anticipated the snowballing. He hasn't tweeted at all since this started, so he's prob regretting it now.

Personally I wish he had refused to pay but I'm completely on his side. Especially if the rule is as complex as it is - bar is free, bar terrace is min spend - they need to make that ABSOLUTELY CLEAR TO EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO WALKS IN. You order a round of cocktails? "Great, sir, there is a minimum spend for this area, but this will cover it." You order 3 waters? "Sir, in case you weren't aware, there's a minimum spend here. If you move just 6 feet indoors, you can drink your water and just pay for the water."

No excuses, especially as the hotel admits he didn't get to see a menu.


Re update 2

If you admit that the guy didn't get a menu because he said he just wanted water, you need to be more than 100% certain that your staff informed him of the £25 minimum.

I call bullshit on this one, but even if I believe he'd been warned, when you have a dodgy policy and you know he didn't see it in writing and you don't have it recorded that he was told of such policy - that's when you give the customer the benefit of the doubt.

Also, you apologise for your outrageous tweet, and DELETE IT.
</rant>


Not Just English

"Maybe it's an English thing?"

As a former hotel person, I can say it's not just English chaps and that it happens all the time. Most people are hard-wired to avoid conflict. Complaining after the fact via email or TripAdvisor is probably the most non-confrontational way to complain. It's also one of the worst, as minor issues can easily get magnified to the "I'll never stay at your hotel again" level.

I get not wanting to complain in front of clients. But, @Juliana is right in pointing out that Mr. Heaton did just that by publically airing his grievance before seeking a private resolution to his compliant. In the end, nobody looks good here.


@thackftl

Glad we're not the only awkward nation...
Weirdly, I actually summoned up all my courage to complain at check-out somewhere last year (not a terrible hotel, but pretty much every single thing they promised on the website was not delivered), so I mentioned it to the front desk... and they told me the best way to bring it to management's attention was to write a TripAdvisor review.

Not really what we're talking about I know, but that has always amused me after it took so much courage to voice my concerns in person.


Terrible

Seems that they have a really bad customer service. Good to know that this place should be avoided better.

PR spin

The £25 min spend isn't a tool to 'to ensure that they can prioritise the space for their guests', its a revenue management tool and a prity short sighted one at that. Isn't someone drinking overpriced water, a guest? 'Our guests are so highly valued' should have been replaced with 'Our guests that spend a high value are prioritised'

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