Whine Wednesdays: Overcrowded Hotel Executive Lounges

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Readers are in for a special treat this week, as I rarely have a whine in my travels but my recent experiences at the Hilton Tokyo were notable in that regard.

The Hilton Tokyo recently completed a lengthy lounge refurbishment and expansion, as the previous iteration often became overcrowded especially around public holidays.  Did the new lounge fix this… apparently not.

You can access the Hilton Tokyo website here.

Lounge Refurbishment

First, I do have to comment on the lounge refurbishment which is well done, completed on time (as one can expect in Japan) and generally gives the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Tokyo more pizzazz than it’s predecessor.  A secondary smaller lounge with a seating capacity of approximately 50 was added just down the hall to serve as additional space and/or for overflow.

Hilton Tokyo Secondary Lounge
Secondary Lounge Food Area

The Popularity “Problem” With The Hilton Tokyo

I emphasize the word “problem” in jest as it’s the success of the hotel that really leads to the lounge crowding issue that you will further read about.  The Hilton Tokyo is ideally and centrally located in the Shinjuku area, a short walk or shuttle bus ride from the station if arriving by the Narita Express, making it a popular destination for leisure and business travellers to the city.

As a regular guest here and Diamond member, the hotel has always treated me very well when it comes to room upgrades and doing their best in Hilton language to “Make It Right”.  I surmise other regular guests or Diamond members receive similar treatment at this property, as it frequently sells out even on regular weekends.

Evening Service At The Lounge

In their old lounge, the Hilton Tokyo often experienced overcrowding during peak holiday seasons such as sakura season and other national holidays.  The old lounge itself was not small, but during peak times it appears the hotel’s rooms division seems to push standard rooms as “executive rooms” by simply bundling them with lounge access and further increasing the crowd.  This may make the GM and Revenue Manager happy, but hotel guests… not so much.

As I was in Tokyo just previous to and during the “Golden Week” holidays, I figured the refurbishment and added secondary space would have been enough to handle the large crowds.  But as the first photo of this article attests, this is not the case.

Evening Service Signage

Once I made it to the front of the lounge queue, I was informed the lounges (primary and secondary) were “full”… which for the most they were.  I was given the option of getting on the waiting list and going back to my room to wait for a phone call and/or taking some food from the lounge back to my room.  Both were ridiculous options in my opinion, considering steps they could take to alleviate these situations.

No Sharing Tables

There definitely was “space available” at many semi-occupied tables as the above photo illustrates, that being a solo gentleman sitting at a table for four with three empty seats.  When I inquired to the staff if I could sit at that table, the staff informed me that they do not make it a policy to share tables and that above gentleman insisted on having the table entirely to himself.  Had I not been tired after a long day, I assure you I would have sat at that table whether the gent liked it or not.

Having experienced similar crowding situations at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur, their policy is to enforce the sharing of tables within reason, if space is at a premium.  This is a quick and easy way the Hilton Tokyo could get more guests in during busy and peak times without sending them back to their room with or without food.

No Reservations

When checking back in to the Hilton Tokyo at the lounge a few days later, I inquired if I could make a reservation for the cocktail hour later that evening.  I was told that this was not policy and it was strictly “first-come, first-served”.

While I confess I have never worked in the food service or hospitality industry, given the hotel’s knowledge of the lounge capacity and number of guests with lounge access, I speculate taking reservations would be an orderly way to manage lounge overcrowding and/or long queues.  But again, I am no expert here.

I ended up heading to the lounge at 7PM, queued and invoked the “call me in my room” option.  With the evening service ending at 8PM and no phone call, I headed up to the lounge at 7:45PM to again find a queue.  There was another manager present, who appeared to be the F&B Director, trying to help the lounge staff deal with the crowds.  Eventually he found me a two-person table (which I would have gladly shared) and was told they had extended the food and beverages until 8:30.

Food Disappears Quickly… But Is Replenished

As a side note, this lounge closes completely at 9PM, busy or not… which I find rather annoying, as it is nice to have the option to grab a cup of coffee or tea later in the evening, especially when dealing with jetlag.  For those guests who were seated around 8:20PM, it certainly did not give them much time to partake in the offerings, let alone sit down and simply relax.

Conclusion

While I am not trying to single out the Hilton Tokyo which is overall an excellent property, it serves as a case in point for many hotels across the different chains on overcrowding of lounges.  Even the Hilton’s main restaurant had a long queue for lunch.  With so many great restaurant options in the area, I am not sure a hotel restaurant would be my first pick for afternoon dining.

As the lounge at the Hilton Tokyo is newly re-opened and expanded I hope that the F&B Director and hotel management took that experience as a learning exercise.  I can not say it dampened my stay, but lounge overcrowding in general can usually be handled by implementing more effective policies and making guests feel they are being accommodated rather than being sent away.

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