Your Hotel Concierge Is Probably A Texting Robot
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Your Hotel Concierge Is Probably A Texting Robot

The hospitality industry is shifting automated text responses to communicate with guests.

By ALINA DIZIK
Mon, Jan 24, 2022 10:38amGrey Clock 4 min

Your next hotel’s concierge might not be in the same time zone as your room. Or sentient.

Larger chains and smaller inns are moving past the custom of having guests press “0” on a landline phone to ask for that extra towel. Instead, properties have turned to text messages. That means requests could get answered by someone in another state, a bot or a digital spider monkey.

Photographer Andrew Gallery requested a bottle opener and extra glasses at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California via the hotel’s Chat Your Service app during a recent stay. “I just feel like it’s some happy person who is down to help,” says Mr. Gallery, who lives in Los Angeles, of the help he received. “But I’m not 100% sure if it’s people on the other end.”

The Loews uses off-site employees 2,000 miles away to answer texts or phone calls, says manager Lara Loewl, who oversees a staff of 14 agents at the company’s engagement center in Franklin, Tenn. Most guests never think to ask who is answering them, she says.

These staffers field common requests, including housekeeping or restaurant reservations, within minutes, without involving the hotel’s concierge team. The team isn’t quick to share their actual location. “We always say we’re an extension of the front desk,” she says.

This shift to texting and automated responses has happened as a way to cope with staffing shortages, hotel executives say. Some services are offered via artificial intelligence.

“It’s easier to get their needs met and it’s less intrusive,” says Tina Edmundson, global brand and marketing officer at Marriott International Inc., based in Bethesda, Md.

The volume of texts sent via Marriott’s app tripled in 2021 from the year prior, with some hotels needing to reshuffle staff duties to meet the needs of guests, Ms. Edmundson says. For the past six years, Marriott brands, including Moxy Hotels and Westin, have offered guests the option to use the Marriott Bonvoy app to communicate directly with hotel staff. Text replies come from a mix of hotel staffers and automated responses, based on the request.

On a weekend trip to Mexico, Tracy Shaw was ready for “a break from everything”—even talking to the hotel staff. The Encantada hotel in Tulum let her text them instead.

Throughout the long weekend, Ms. Shaw, a 45-year-old marketing manager from Tampa, Fla., used WhatsApp to request morning coffee on her terrace, strawberry margaritas at the beach and predinner tequila shots in her room. Dashing off texts was less awkward than calling the front desk, she says. “This is not something I’d pick up the phone for,” says Ms. Shaw, who stayed at the hotel with her husband in December. “We were totally spoiled.”

Cassie Down, a publicist who checked into the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, was relieved to find “Rose,” which the hotel describes as the “resident mischief-maker and digital concierge” answering her requests. Ms. Down, who tested positive for Covid-19 shortly after checking in for her family vacation and “couldn’t roll over to pick up the phone,” was less self-conscious about making requests by text.

Ms. Down says “Rose” texted her that “when I’m in a good mood, I tend to be generous with friends.” The bot helped arrange delivery of two nights of pizza dinners and a tube of toothpaste from the sundries shop downstairs, and relayed Ms. Down’s request for the extra towels and tissues to be left at the door. “Honestly, she was so chic and witty,” says Ms. Down, 30, who lives in San Diego.

Real-estate broker Susan Harrison spent the weekend of New Year’s exchanging texts with “Johnnie Brown,” a computerized spider monkey at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. Ms. Harrison, who lives in New York, enjoyed that all the messages she received were signed with a monkey emoji in a cheery tone. Her requests about Advil, exercises classes and dinner reservations were addressed in minutes. After booking a table for 8 people, she was assured that she would be “seated at the winning table.”

The hotel, which has had the monkey as its mascot since 2016, says guests like the efficiency of texting, an option it started offering in 2020.

Hyatt Hotels is deploying Medallia Zingle, text-messaging software, across more than 1,000 hotels in 68 countries. Employees are encouraged to show personality, including using emojis or lighthearted language whenever possible, says Julia Vander Ploeg, Hyatt’s global head of digital and technology. The top request is for bottled water.

Concierges at the Pendry Chicago refer to guests by their last name and a title via text, use signoffs that include “at your service” and are careful to scan for typos. Emojis and informal greetings are effectively banned, concierge Alex Yu says.

Some guests admit they miss the small talk. After using text to arrange rides within the Resort at Paws Up, a 37,000-acre luxury ranch in Greenough, Mont. Rich Burt, a retired audio engineer from Orlando, Fla., realized he needed more than just efficiency. The three-word texts he exchanged with his driver were convenient, but he prefers picking up the phone and talking about his day. “I’m more old-fashioned,” he says.

Raj Singh created an AI-powered concierge named Ivy that is used in 3,000 hotels. He estimates that roughly half of hotels offer messaging services. Mr. Singh, now chief strategy officer at Revinate, a hotel software provider based in San Francisco, says texting with Ivy is meant to feel like texting with a fun, in-the-know friend.

But even the best chatbots stumble at some queries. A recent one: “Actually, this might be a weird question…are the bathroom windows see-through from outside?” Ivy referred that query to a human.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: Jan 23, 2022.



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Playful 1950s style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances

By TRACY KALER
Mon, Apr 22, 2024 6 min

The 1950s spawned society’s view of kitchens as the heart of the home, a hub for gathering, cooking, eating and socializing. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the same decade could inspire today’s luxury kitchens.

“The deliberate playfulness and genius of the era’s designers have enabled the mid-century style to remain a classic design and one that still sparks joy,” said James Yarosh, an interior designer and gallerist in New Jersey.

That playful style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances—all of which are a conspicuous rejection of the sterile, monochrome kitchens that have defined luxury home design for years. One of the hottest brands to incorporate into retro-style kitchens, SMEG is turning up more these days. But the question is: How do you infuse a colourful refrigerator and other elements from this nostalgic era without creating a kitschy room?

“The key to a modern, fresh look in your kitchen is to reference, not imitate, signature looks of the 1950s,” said New York-based designer Andrew Suvalsky, who often laces retro style throughout the rooms he designs. He said using the period as inspiration will steer you away from imagining a garish space.

“When it comes to incorporating that retro-esque look, it’s a fine dance between looking beautiful and looking kitschy,” added Lisa Gilmore, a designer in Tampa, Florida. Gilmore suggested balancing contemporary pieces with vintage touches. That balance forges a functional yet attractive design that’s easy to live with while evoking a homey atmosphere––and ultimately, a room everyone wants to be in.

Colour Reigns Supreme

Suvalsky said one way to avoid a kitschy appearance is to mingle woods and colours, such as lacquered base cabinets and walnut wall cabinets, as he did in his Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen.

“Mixing colours into your kitchen is most effective when it’s done by colour-blocking––using a single colour across large areas of a space––in this case, zones of cabinetry,” he explained. He tends to lean toward “Easter egg colours,” such as baby chick yellow and pale tangerine. These soft pastels can suggest a starting point for the design while lending that retro vibe. But other hues can spark a vintage feel as well.

A mid-century-inspired kitchen by Blythe Interiors.
Natalia Robert

“Shades of green and blue are a timeless base foundation that work for a 1950s vintage look,” said designer Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego. But wood isn’t off the table for her, either. “To embrace the character of a mid-century home, we like a Kodiak stain to enhance the gorgeous walnut grain,” she said. “This mid-tone wood is perfect for contrasting other lighter finishes in the kitchen for a Mid-Century Modern feel.”

Since colour is subjective, a kitchen lined with white cabinetry can assume a retro aesthetic through accoutrements and other materials, emanating that ’50s vibe.

“The fun of retro designs is that you can embrace colour and create something that feels individual to the house and its homeowner, reflecting their tastes and personality,” Yaosh said. He recommended wallpaper as an option to transform a kitchen but suggested marrying the pattern with the bones of the house. “Wallpaper can create a mid-century or retro look with colours and hand-blocked craftsmanship,” he said. “Mauny wallpapers at Zuber are a particular favourite of mine.”

Suvalsky suggested Scalamandre wallpapers, for their 1950s patterns, and grass cloth, a textile that was often used during that decade. He also likes House of Hackney, a brand that “does a great job reinventing vintage prints in luscious colours,” he noted. “Many of their colourways invert the typical relationship between light and dark, with botanical prints in dark jewel tones set over light, more playful colours.”

Materials Matter

Beyond wall covering, flooring, countertops and backsplashes can all contribute to the 1950s theme. Manufactured laminate countertops, specifically Formica, were all the rage during the decade. But today’s high-end kitchens call for more luxurious materials and finishes.

“That’s a situation where going the quartz route is appropriate,” Gilmore said. “There are quartzes that are a through-body colour and simple if someone is doing colorued cabinetry. A simplified white without veining will go a long way.” She also recommended Pompei quartz Sunny Pearl, which has a speckled appearance.

A kitchen designed by James Yarosh that incorporates pops of yellow.
Patricia Burke

But for those who welcome vibrant colour schemes, countertops can make a bold statement in a vintage kitchen. Gilmore said solid surface materials from the era were often a colour, and quartz can replicate the look.

“Some brands have coloured quartz, like red,” she said. But keeping countertops neutral allows you to get creative with the backsplash. “I‘d pull in a terrazzo backsplash or a bold colour like a subway tile in a beautiful shade of green or blush,” Gilmore said. “Make the backsplash a piece of art.”

Suvalsky also leans toward bright and daring––such as checkerboards––for the backsplash. But depending on the kitchen’s design, he’ll go quieter with a double white herringbone [tile] pattern. “Either version works, but it must complement other choices, bold or simple, in the design,” he explained.

Neutral countertops with a bold backsplash, designed by Lisa Gilmore.
Native House Photography

Likewise, his flooring choice almost always draws attention. “My tendency is more toward very bold, such as a heavily veined marble or a pattern with highly contrasting tones,” he noted. Yarosh suggested slate and terrazzo as flooring, as these materials can make an excellent backdrop for layering.

Forge a Statement With Vintage Appliances 

As consequential as a kitchen’s foundation is, so are the appliances and accoutrements. While stainless steel complements contemporary kitchens, homeowners can push the design envelope with companies like SMEG when making appliance selections for a retro-style kitchen. Although Suvalsky has yet to specify a SMEG fridge, he is looking forward to the project when he can.

“I think they work best when the selected colour is referenced in other parts of the kitchen, which helps to integrate these otherwise ‘look at me’ pieces into the broader design,” he noted. “They are like sculptures unto themselves.”

“For our mid-century-inspired projects, we’ve opted for Big Chill and the GE Cafe Series to bring a vintage look,” Verruto added. Similar to SMEG, Big Chill and GE offer a vintage vibe in a wide selection of colours and finishes, alongside 21st-century performance.

Can’t commit to a full-size appliance? Sometimes, a splash is enough. Gilmore tends to dust her retro kitchens with a coloured kettle or toaster since her clients are likelier to add a tinge with a countertop appliance or two. “Mint green accessories make it pop, and if in five years they are over it, it’s not a commitment,” she said. “It’s a great way to infuse fun and colour without taking a major risk.”

Deck out the Breakfast Nook

Kitchen dining areas present the opportunity to introduce retro lighting, furniture, and accessories to complete the look. Flea markets and antique markets are excellent places to hunt for accompaniments.

“Dome pendants and Sputnik chandeliers are iconic styles that will infuse vintage charm into your kitchen while also easily complementing a variety of other styles,” Verruto said.

A retro breakfast nook desinged by Andrew Suvalsky.
DLux Editions

Suspend a vintage light fixture over the classic Saarinen table, and you can’t go wrong.

“Saarinen Tulip Tables are almost always guaranteed to deliver a home run in nearly any interior, especially a 1950s-themed kitchen,” Suvalsky said. “The simplicity of its form, especially in white, makes it nearly impossible to clash with.”

To really channel the vibe of this era, Verruto suggested local vintage stores and brands such as Drexel Heritage and Lexington. Dressing the windows counts, too. “Cafe curtains in a chintz pattern will make for a fabulous finishing touch,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yarosh delights in selecting tabletop items, including novelty stemware and other trappings ubiquitous in the 1950s. “Mid-century kitchens also need to have pedestal cake plates and maybe a cloche to keep a cake,” he mused. “I love the opportunity to curate these details down to the correct fork and serving pieces.”

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