From home-baked cookies to snake-shaped hot water bottles, Guy Woodward assesses an essential feature of the hotel stay – the turndown

A seasoned travel editor of my acquaintance, not unfamiliar with finding free fizz and flowers popping up in her hotel room, told me recently of her excitement at the turndown service delivered by the Marriott Park Lane. Standard issue, a complimentary gift was delivered nightly to all guests. What could it be, I wondered, to animate her so. A free back-rub? Tickets to a West End show?

‘A three-pack of Ferrero Rocher,’ she said, visibly flushed at the memory. ‘Three. Each!’ I’d thought that the days of hotels leaving chocolates on pillows were over, but it’s good to know that, at the otherwise rather funky (and, for a chain, characterful) Marriott, some traditions live on. I don’t know how much a job lot of Ferrero Rocher costs, but the gesture seems to be worth it, with guests, including this most hardened of hacks, suitably spoiled. What the hotel gifts to visiting ambassadors, I can only imagine…

Northcote exterior at night
Northcote exterior at night

A free shot at buttering up guests

When it comes to customer service, it’s the small things that count. And turndown is a free shot at buttering up guests, wrapping them in a fuzzy glow. There is, after all, something cockle-warming about returning to your room to find the bed rolled back, the curtains drawn, the lighting dimmed (so long, that is, as the lighting configuration doesn’t then necessitate a degree in electrical engineering to decipher). Plus, of course, if you’ve disturbed the bed linen during the day (I’m talking afternoon naps – what were you thinking?) or adopted a fitful approach to tidiness, it’s rather nice to return from dinner to a pristine environment.

And yes, a modest token is welcome. It is preferable, though, if this is in some way attuned to the surroundings. At Northcote, in the wilds of rural Lancashire, guests are issued with walking tips when they check in, and then lip balm and foot lotion at night. A nice touch – particularly as the presence of the Michelin-starred restaurant means that staff can coincide the service with the room’s dinner booking. At the garden suites of California’s Carneros Resort & Spa, where guests are more likely to be staying put to wallow around on the room’s outdoor terrace, staff prepare dinner for you – well, sort of. They come and light the outdoor fire pit and leave everything you need to enjoy the US delicacy of S’mores – a sandwich of graham crackers filled with fire-singed marshmallow and melted chocolate.
Meanwhile at Longitude 131, overlooking the epochal Australian site of Uluru, the tented pavillions’ outdoor balcony is tended for guests to sleep under the stars.

S'mores at Carneros Resort
S’mores at Carneros Resort

Perennially-too-small slippers and nonsensical linen mats

Not all hotels, of course, have one of the world’s most striking panoramas at their disposal. More imagination is required at urban properties. The Charlotte Street Hotel, where the rooms are more compact than you might think from the expansive façade, lends a certain sensual luxury to surroundings by the simple addition of a fragrant room spray on the bedside. So taken was she by it, my wife still has it (I like to think this is purely as a keepsake, rather than to combat any bedroom odour issues). Indeed she has been searching fruitlessly for the brand – RikRak – ever since, which led her to suggest the hotel, or indeed the brand, is missing a tricky by not marketing the product. Personally I’m happy not to see, for now at least, a price list next to the pillow…

Tokens don’t have to be substantial. A bottle of water by the bed is a start – though only a start, it should be said. Better, though, than the unimaginative positioning of those perennially-too-small slippers and, even more nonsensically, linen mat next to the bed. Does anyone, on waking in the middle of the night, really stop to cram their feet into the top end of a pair of slippers before stumbling to the bathroom? And what does it say for the state of the carpet if a hotel feels the need to protect your feet from it until said slippers are donned? Better, instead, to deliver a simple weather forecast, thereby engendering a sense of anticipation (unless it’s going to chuck it down all day, of course) together, perhaps, with a rundown of the next day’s events (particularly relevant at large resorts – less so if all a property has to offer is a manager’s meet-and-greet in the lobby).

Charlotte Street 2 bed suite
Charlotte Street 2 bed suite

A memento of a momentous stay

A step up from such service comes with the likes of the home-baked cookies presented at the dreamy Meadowood in Napa Valley. And yes, I know I name-check this hotel in almost every column, but there’s a simple reason for this – it’s bloody amazing. Much like Rosewood Mayakoba, which changes your pillowcases at night for a version embroidered with guests’ initials and a cheery ‘Buenas Noches’. The Mexican resort also leaves a small trinket in the form of a wooden carving of an indigenous animal crafted by a local craftsman (apparently). We still have them on our bookshelf, a memento of a momentous stay.

One final word: a hot water bottle is a welcome treat. But hotels are advised to notify guests of its presence. At the otherwise attentive Idle Rocks, in Cornwall, it gave my wife quite a shock – not least because it was shaped as a snake. I still wonder what the neighbouring room thought was going on…

View from the harbour with boats in foreground, IdleRocks
View from the harbour with boats in foreground, IdleRocks

Top five turndowns

Charlotte Street Hotel, London
Simple but effective – a homely but heavenly room spray.

Northcote, Lancashire
Been taking in the local air of the Ribble Valley? Soothe yourself with lip balm and foot lotion.

Idle Rocks, Cornwall
Tips for local activities come hand-written by individual staff, while the hot water bottle is a pleasant (if momentarily unnerving) surprise.

Carneros Resort & Spa, California
Industrial chic garden terraces are set up for evening s’mores over the open fireplace.

Rosewood Mayakoba, Mexico
Monogrammed bed linen and cute local animal carvings lend a personal touch.

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