Sheraton Columbia (South Carolina) – The Worst Starwood Property?

Overview: An in-city property that is desperately in need to help
Strengths: None
Drawbacks: Rooms, Service, Food & Beverage

A recent business trip brought me to Columbia, South Carolina for a night.  Not a particularly strong destination for hotels, there were a number of mid-scale properties in town to choose from.  I went with the Sheraton because it had the most F&B venues which, at least from the website, appeared to be more targeted to locals than hotel guests.  My oh my, that turned out to be a flawed approach.

Without question, this was the worst Starwood property I’ve ever stayed at.  Usually there is at least some sort of positive attribute about every property.  This one, perhaps, has none.  I wasn’t originally planning on reviewing this hotel, so I don’t have too many photos, but the experience was so notable that the property warrants at least a short review.  Hopefully, if nothing else, this can get some attention within Starwood corporate.

I arrived at the property shortly before 11pm.  Check-in was relatively uneventful, and I was assisted by a trainee and a supervisor.  I was even thanked for my SPG Gold status and a 2pm late check-out time was confirmed.  Oddly, however, there were six or seven people standing behind the reception desk, but only two of them (those helping me) were in uniform.  The balance were in t-shirts and shorts and were talking amongst themselves.  Odd to have so many out-of-uniform people simply standing around behind the desk.  I asked about the crowd and was told it was a shift change.  Management should discourage staffers from loitering in public spaces, particularly when not in uniform.

My room was on the 15th floor and I was moved to a “Club” floor and given club access due to the Gold status.  I was told the club was open “24/7” during the check-in process.

This must be great!

Entering the room, the light switches next to the door didn’t control any lights.  I let the door close and then had to fumble around in the pitch black to find a table lamp to turn on.

When I went into the bathroom and turned on a light, I was greeted by a fairly large roach on the floor.

Welcome to the Sheraton!

I tweeted the photo to SPG and got a reply telling me “we’ll have the manager on duty reach out to you in the morning before you check out.”  Despite the assurances from SPG on Twitter, no manager ever contacted me during my stay though I did receive a call on my mobile at 7:30pm (after I checked out and was home) from someone from the hotel.  More on this below.

A smaller item – but the note pad left by the telephone was moderately crumpled.  Housekeeping should have replaced this.  The pen, on the other hand, wrote very smoothly and I took it as a momento of my stay.

Crumpled note pad – but great pen!

One of the F&B venues that seemed intriguing was the roof-top bar.  It was a balmy evening – and the roof was the last venue open at the hotel, closing at midnight.  I got up there around 11:15pm and was greeted by the bartender with, “It’s last call, if you want something, I’ll come back in a minute.”  No sort of “Hello” or anything like that.  Last call 45 minutes before closing time seems a bit early, too.  After five minutes of the bartender chatting with another couple at the bar, I finally asked him if I could order.  He said he “forgot about” me but yes, he could still get me something.  I ordered a beer, which he gave on the house at least.

Having an outdoor rooftop bar is great.  The crowd was small (maybe ten other people) and all were thoroughly drunk.  Not bad for a Monday night?  I quietly enjoyed my beer and went back downstairs.  I figured I’d poke my head into the club and see exactly what they had for 24/7 visitors.

Turns out they had a few sodas, some bags of chips and one apple left.  You can see the refrigerators are largely empty.  There were some personal items in the back of the one on the left, too.  I took a Coke Zero and left.

Club

When I got off the elevator at my floor, I was greeted by someone’s left over room service tray.  Rather than call for removal, someone thought it would be best just to put it on the side board in the elevator lobby.  Yuck.

Not the last time I’ll see this.

While walking back to my room, I noticed the carpeting in the hallway.  There were so many different discolorations, I couldn’t determine what the actual color of the perimeter carpeting was.  Was it orange but with lots of dark mold in it, or was it dark and then discolored on the light side by bleaches or cleansers?  If you look at the first photo below, I think it is originally orange, then got moldy, then someone accidentally splashed some bleach on it!  Any guesses from readers would be welcome!  In either case, just seeing this gave me a rather disgusted feel.  Guessing the carpet color shouldn’t really be the part of a hotel stay.

What color is this carpet really? You make the call!

As I settled down in my room for the evening, it became very clear that the walls and door didn’t keep out much sound.  There was a dog a few rooms down that barked on and off throughout the evening.  The conversations of anyone walking in the hallway could be heard in my room as if they were standing next to my bed.  I was tired so I slept heavily, but even a moderate sleeper would have been woken several times.

Hoping for the best, I went downstairs for breakfast.  On the way down, the same food tray was in the elevator lobby on my floor.  Yuck.

The restaurant where breakfast is served is on a balcony overlooking the main lobby.  I walked in around 9am and found one other couple seated (with no food), but no one working at the hostess stand and no waiter/waitresses.  After about five minutes, I walked over to the balcony’s edge and quietly called down to the front desk, asking if the restaurant was even open.  She responded that it was, but that the waitress covered both the restaurant and the club (located on the 16th floor)!  I was assured she would be back in a few minutes.

I’d don’t recall seeing such cost cutting at a purportedly full-service hotel before and this reflects very poorly on management’s approach to service.

A few minutes later, a waitress did appear and apologized for being away.  Mindful that I didn’t want to lose the opportunity, I ordered right away.  I asked if the juice was fresh, and was told it was.  My order was fairly simple – coffee, orange juice and eggs.  She brought out the orange juice reasonably quickly, but it was clearly a highly processed, institutional product.  When I asked, she said, “it isn’t old, it is fresh.”  After a bit of back and forth as we tried to align our definitions of “fresh juice,” she finally stated, “we don’t actually squeeze oranges here.”  I asked her to simply take the juice back, which she agreed.

The coffee came a few minutes later and was tepid at best.  Realizing I was becoming a problem guest to her, I very politely pointed out that the coffee was not hot and asked if she could make a fresh pot.  She took my cup back.  In the interim, someone from the kitchen staff brought out my food.  While the quality wasn’t high, it was reasonably tasty.  The waitress returned a few minutes later with coffee that was nearly boiling.  I suspect the cup was put in the microwave for an extended period of time.

I ate about half my breakfast and asked for the bill.  When it came, the orange juice was still on the bill.  I typically don’t quibble over small errors in restaurant bills (the amount of stuff you get that they forget to charge probably equals out the overcharges in the long run), but since I had sent the juice back, I asked her to remove it from the bill.  She said she was not allowed to remove charges from bills but if I wanted to, I could take the bill down to the front desk and “see what they could do.”  I brought the check down to the front desk and the clerk was able to handle the adjustment.

I returned to my room and took some calls.  Even just speaking at a conversational tone, neighbors on either side of my room probably heard everything.

I had a bit of unscheduled time and decided to walk over to the University of South Carolina campus.  On the way down, the waitress from the restaurant was in the elevator with a trolley holding the breakfast from the club.  I saw the tray of scrambled eggs – it looked like five hour old, untouched, eggs.  Yuck.

When I got over to the campus, it was beautiful and very well kept.  Some of the Confederate roots clearly grow deep and there were signs in various spots around the campus memorializing where United States soldiers “occupied” areas.  One sign provided a brief history of the campus.

University of South Carolina

I returned to my room to take a few more calls.  I had confirmed my 2pm checkout at arrival and had a do-not-disturb sign on the door.  At about 12:30pm, there was a loud knock on my door.  It was two people from housekeeping, one appeared to be a cleaner and the other some sort of supervisor.  Of all the things at a hotel, other than room service, you don’t knock on a door with a DND sign out.  That’s not the case here.

The supervisor told me that check out time was 12 noon.  I pointed out that I had a confirmed 2pm check out and I had a DND sign out!  The supervisor said “I do apologize,” at least.  Again, quite telling about management’s approach to service at this property.

When I left an hour later, despite two people from housekeeping being on the floor earlier, the dirty food tray was still in the elevator lobby.  The dirty tray was there for over 12 hours!

My bill at check-out was accurate and was emailed very quickly.  I was just happy to end my stay and didn’t ask to speak to the manager.

* * * * *

At about 7:30pm on the day I checked out, I received a call on my mobile phone from Columbia.  I answered and it was someone from the hotel.  She was not the general manager, but said the “GM asked me to call you.”  She was very nice but clearly didn’t have any idea why she was calling beyond that I was a guest.  I walked her through all of the foregoing points.  She was disappointed, but I didn’t get the sense I was surprising her.  She said they needed to work on staff training.  I agreed training would be helpful but also pointed out quite a few of the issues were driven by management decisions (staffing in restaurant, housekeeping supervisor, etc.).

I asked about her and she said she was a long-time Starwood employee but newly transferred to this property.  I jokingly suggested that to get such a transfer, she either “ticked someone off in management or was glutton for punishment.”  She laughed out loud at that.  She offered to make my next stay complimentary.  I said I didn’t plan to return, but she then offered to credit some extra points to my SPG account, which I accepted.

* * * * *

AAA gives this hotel a four-diamond rating.  If there was ever a question about the veracity of AAA’s ratings, this property answers it definitively.

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