How to Be the Perfect Hotel Guest


April 24, 2013 | BY Soo Jin Kim

Two top hoteliers tell us their tales about toiletries, tipping, and mini bar etiquette 

Illustration by Bernard Chau

Checking in? Don’t make a fool of yourself in front of hundreds of other hotel guests by following a few simple rules. We grilled two top general managers from the best luxury hotels in Hong Kong – so much was revealed that we’ve agreed to give full anonymity for one of the sources to protect his/her identity. After all, discretion is key in this business!

About William Mackay, GM of the Four Seasons
William Mackay has been in the hotel and service industry for 40 years ever since he first walked into the back door of the Connaught Hotel in London for a management training programme. He started off as a lowly kitchen boy, peeling vegetables for a month before moving on to making sandwiches. Since joining the Four Seasons in 1982, he has worked his way up to become the regional vice-president and the general manager of Four Seasons Hong Kong.

If being in the industry for almost half a century seems like a long time, it should be. Mackay can remember the days when guests were expected to make their reservations by letters!

The Other Hotelier
This general manager has travelled the world both as a hotelier and as a guest. Before becoming a general manger, he/she has worked all over the hotel and accumulated juicy information while working from bottom all the way to the top.

With decades of experience, this source had lots of tatler_stories to share, so much so that we have had to ensure anonymity to protect him/her. Don’t ask us who he/she is – we never kiss and tell. But believe us – everything here is all true.


Take the hotel amenities, such as the shampoo and the slippers. They’re actually part of the room cost and whatever you leave gets thrown away as they can’t be reused again. You can order more (what says good quality more than a guest preferring hotel slippers to his own personal ones?), but be reasonable. If you start ordering ten or more shampoo sets, it’s going to raise some eyebrows. Especially if you’re a balding gentleman.

Show your appreciation to the staff. This doesn’t mean you have to always be tipping everyone around you. Although tipping is appreciated and it is a way for you to show your appreciation, there are other ways – remembering your P’s and Q’s and even sending a simple “thank you” note goes a long way. Mr. Mackay notes that at the Four Seasons, they are very proud of their appreciation board where they pin up thank you notes and letters. Making the staff know their services are appreciated makes them feel better about themselves, which in turn will lead to even better service. It’s all about paying it forward.

Tip staff you want to tip. This isn’t the United States where tipping is part of the culture. Tipping is a way to show your appreciation, so tip the staff who you feel has helped you. But be sure to tip them then and there – with a staff size of hundreds of people, it might be difficult to find the same person again. Also, your housekeeper may change on different days, so if you leave a large tip at the end of your week-long stay, the whole amount may go to the person who just showed up that day instead of the person who cleaned your room the other days.

Be clear in your expectations. To avoid disappointment or anger at miscommunications between you and the staff, be clear in your requests. When you’re asking the concierge to book a table for you at a popular restaurant, say the specific time instead of vaguely mentioning “in the afternoon,” the exact number of people instead of a “few” people, and what cuisine you want instead of “something delicious.” Ask (correctly) and you shall receive!

And here’s a tip: ask them to repeat your request. If they forget a specific part of the request, you can correct them then and there, to avoid dealing with it later.

Be conscious of your noise level. You can be as loud as you want in your own sound-proofed rooms, but remember to be respectful of other guests when in public areas like the swimming pool or the lobby. Hotels are not what Mr. Mackay calls “a Trappist monastery,” but nobody will thank you for shouting across the hall – in fact, other guests may complain about your noise and if they do, the staff will have to ask you to lower your voices. How embarrassing!

There is no such thing as being “fashionably late”. When you make spa or restaurant reservations, ask for a time you’re sure you can make. There’s no point asking for a 6pm table if you can’t make it until 6:30pm. If the restaurant has a long line of other patrons on the waitlist and you don’t call ahead to ask them to hold the table for you, they may give it to another party. Always let staff know if you cannot honour reservations and need to cancel.


Take the gowns, towels, or the stationery box without expecting to flash the plastic afterwards. These actually are quite expensive with thread counts in the thousands. If you take them, you will be charged the same amount as a new one from the hotel boutique. To avoid confusion or embarrassment, ask the hotel staff first before taking action. Kleptomania is so unbecoming. 

Refill the minibar with sub-par items. If you drink a bottle of whiskey, don’t refill it with tea. The same goes for refilling vodka with water – according to our source, this unscrupulous behaviour actually happens. You’re not only being cheap, but you’re also being dishonest and hotel staff will frown on such behaviour.

Abuse the staff – they’re people too and, as our mothers would say, everyone deserves respect. As a guest, you don’t need to bend over backwards trying to please them (after all, they’re the staff and you’re the guest!) but don’t be mean and call them names or punch them. Stay calm and if you need to complain, ask for the manager to help.

Neglect your children. Hotel staff are fond of children and may even prepare a special treat for them, like an ice cream. However, even their smiles can turn into frowns if your children act like little monsters. As a parent, you are responsible for your children, so make sure they don’t disturb other guests by being rude, loud, or difficult, especially in public areas. Remember, they’re a smaller reflection of yourselves – a “mini-me.”

Lie about the number of people staying in your room. Hotels actually have to comply with safety codes set by the Hong Kong government, which also dictates the maximum number of people who can stay in a room. So when hotels say the maximum number of people who can stay in a room is four people, don’t try to fit eight people in. You’ll only be putting yourself and other guests in danger should a fire or other emergency break out. Also, it makes you look cheap.