There I was in Chef School with this vision of buying a country inn. All students at the French Culinary Institute were required to meet with the career placement office even if you did not want or need a job.
Just back from a wonderful 3 day trip with my daughter Sara to New Orleans. While I have stayed with most of the major chains this was my first visit to a Ritz Carlton. A few years back I read the New Gold Standard, a book all about the Ritz Carlton’s business practices and hospitality concepts. I really wanted to know if the legend and mystique was real.
Whenever I travel now, in addition to having a good time, I pay attention, looking for good ideas and trends. Although it is sometimes like comparing apples and oranges (big-small, city-rural, chain-independent) it is important to know that the Sugar Hill Inn measure up with the best.
I am pleased to say that Sara and I loved the New Orleans Ritz Carlton Hotel. We were there during a period of bad weather and many attractions were closed so we spent more time at the hotel then otherwise. Everyone on the staff was so helpful and friendly we hated to leave.
However they were not perfect. In hospitality we are always looking for the opportunity to wow a guest. At the Ritz Carlton they have this great program where you can call the bellman before midnight and he will pick up your shoes and have them polished and returned to you by morning at no charge. I placed the call but the shoes were never picked up. That was an example of over promising and under delivering. There also was a problem with the internet for the first day and a half and the communications by the front desk were poorly handled.
So how does the Sugar Hill Inn stack up? I had a standard king room. The room was larger than many of our rooms but smaller than our whirlpool suites and Dream Cottage. All of the rooms at the Sugar Hill Inn are unique and individually named. For this comparison I have selected Bickford because it is close in size to the Ritz Carlton king room.
So let’s start in the bathroom. Bickford’s bathroom is larger. Bickford is tiled with ceramic tiles but the Ritz is all marble. Both rooms have a pedestal sink, hair dryer, premium amenities, robes and plush towels. The Ritz bathroom had an ordinary tub with shower above while the Bickford has an over-sized soaking tub for two with shower above. The Ritz bathroom had a separate water closet for the toilet unlike the Sugar Hill room. The Bickford bathroom has windows and exhaust fan while the Ritz bathroom had neither.
I was on the 11th floor and Sara was on the 6th. Besides from the view both rooms looked exactly the same. I think that it is safe to assume that all the rooms with the exception of the suites look alike. At the Sugar Hill Inn each room is individually decorated. Both the Sugar Hill and Ritz rooms are decorated with premium quality furnishing and bedding.
The Ritz room was exactly what you would expect from an upscale brand. There was no surprise or wow factor. A room at the Hilton or Marriott would look about the same. The Ritz uses a lot of gold in the color scheme to convey luxury. The designer played it safe taking no chances. The Ritz room was mostly designed for the business traveler with a desk, desk chair and one comfortable club chair for relaxing or reading. The end result is a somewhat boring space although very functional and comfortable.
The Sugar Hill Inn room designed for the leisure traveler and has a cozy love seat and gas fireplace. Each room at the Sugar Hill Inn makes a unique statement.
The Ritz room had attractive wall hangings but no original art or even numbered limited addition prints. The Bickford features an original painting by a local artist.
Score one for the Ritz, their room has three telephones compared to none at the Sugar Hill Inn. With everyone owning smart phone, I think that three wired phones is an out dated luxury concept.
Both the Ritz and Bickford rooms had the same size and brand of flat screen TVs and ihome radio alarm clocks. Although the Ritz has paid on demand programming such as movies, the Sugar Hill Inn guests are welcome to borrow from our DVD library selection. Some rooms at the Sugar Hill Inn purposely do not have TVs so be sure to check the web if this important to you. Also in some rooms we have replaced the ihomes with Bose. While both rooms had current reading materials it surprised me that there was no local sightseeing information in the room at the Ritz.
At the Sugar Hill Inn we take our coffee seriously. Every room has both a regular coffee maker and a Nespresso Espresso machine. Rooms are also stocked with a selection of teas. The Ritz has no in room coffee. Of course, you could order it from room service for $6.00 for a small pot plus a $4.95 delivery charge, 22% service and 9%sales tax.
A full size iron and ironing board can be found in the closet in both rooms. The Ritz also offers a laundry service. For $22 you can have your suit cleaned and pressed. This service is not available at the Sugar Hill Inn.
While service is the key to both properties there is certainly a difference in style. Because of their size they have more staff. There is always someone at the front desk, bar, restaurant, and front door waiting to assist. Every call to the front desk is answered on the first ring. Guests are always referred to as Mr. and Mrs.
At the Sugar Hill Inn our style is more personal and we are on a first name bases with most of our guests. My wife Karen and I are always available and personally involved in everything. Everyone at the inn multi-tasks. By multi-tasking we provide most of the services but not all that are found at much larger properties. The server you see for breakfast might also be your housekeeper. While I can’t be sure it would not surprise me that we have a higher staff to guest ratio than larger properties such as the Ritz Carlton.
The Ritz like many large hotels has a full complement of dining options including breakfast, lunch, dinner, tavern, and 24 hour room service.
The Sugar Hill Inn serves a full breakfast at no additional charge. Downstairs in the hotel restaurant it would be easy to spend over $50 on a breakfast for two. On my last day to save time I ordered a room service breakfast for one and after service and tax it came to $40. Their breakfast while excellent is neither better nor fancier then the complementary three course breakfast served at the Sugar Hill Inn. While the Sugar Hill Inn does not do room service we will pack a breakfast tray that can be taken back to the room.
For lunch at the Ritz Carlton I had a delicious Po Boy sandwich filled with fried shrimp and served with fries. Lunch is not available at the Sugar Hill Inn.
At 4:00 pm the Sugar Hill Inn offers complementary small bites. At the Ritz there is an in room mini bar with items for purchase, room service or a tavern menu for those needing a little snack. Both properties offer bedtime chocolates and bottled water.
On the 2nd night because of bad weather many local restaurants were closed so we decided to dine at the hotel. Both the service and food were very good but the total experience did not come near to matching the Sugar Hill Inn. The wine list at the Ritz Carlton was relatively small for a hotel of its level. The Sugar Hill Inn has earned the Wine Spectator Award.
While the Sugar Hill Inn has an excellent massage therapist our facility certainly cannot compare to their amazing full service spa. The Ritz has an indoor pool and the Sugar Hill Inn has an outdoor pool with a water fall in season.
In conclusion while we are comparing apples and oranges and many issues are subject to personal opinions and preferences the Sugar Hill Inn measures up well when compared to those that set the standard for the industry. Most of the differences seem to be related to size. A fourteen room inn can’t have 24 hour room service or a huge spa and a large hotel can’t have 300 or more uniquely designed rooms. Since we have no plans to expand the Sugar Hill Brand to New Orleans I highly recommend the New Orleans Ritz Carlton.