08/23/2011 02:46 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2011

Hitting Hard Rock Bottom

I began a relationship with the Hard Rock Hotel ten years ago with a quick trip to Las Vegas. I was so impressed with their attention to detail, from the pre-arrival emails asking questions like, "What music would you like for your stay?" to the tiny guitar pick sticker on the toilet paper, that when customer service was also above par and I was treated, as they say, "Like a rock star," I was smitten. When they opened a hotel in downtown San Diego, I was amped.

Literally crawling distance from breathtaking Petco Park and across the street from the San Diego Convention Center, Hard Rock Hotel San Diego is located ideally in the heart of the Gaslamp District. However, as I experienced this past weekend, a few Hard Rock Hotel San Diego employees are lacking the fundamental interpersonal skills that made me first fall in love with the Vegas Hotel, and as any Rock Star will tell you, it only takes a couple bad notes to ruin the whole song. This weekend the music died.

The first blip happened when our non-smoking room reeked of cigarette smoke. The issue was quickly resolved, and we were given a new room next door. We happened to be down the hall from a bachelor party (read: guys high-fiving, wearing t-shirts that say "Free Craig," lingering pot smoke and plastic Dixie cups strewn about that hallway come morning), which was also fine because our television was loud enough to block out the shenanigans. We ordered a Chicago style pizza from Berkeley Pizza and spent the first night attempting to arrange the pillows in a way that was conducive to sleep. The club downstairs that kept soon-to-be or has-been frat boys milling about the street died down at a reasonable hour and we woke up early enough to get in a few suicide runs on the Convention Center stairs.

The next day we were told the Hard Rock pool is the spot to be. A space awkwardly designed around the bar instead of the pool, and perhaps a twentieth the size of the Vegas pool, it was not quite what I expected but I thought, This will be just fine. Working in the service industry myself, I understand how complicated checks can become so our party of five kept two separate checks to aid the server, one paid cash by my best friend and his wife (he just got back from Afghanistan, shrapnel to the chest, Purple Heart), and one credit for my boyfriend, sister and me. Halfway through the day, our server quit serving us entirely, and we were left to get drinks directly from the bar. When it came time to close the bill, I was surprised to see she had added auto gratuity, 20%, even though we'd been tipping the bartender the majority of the day. Too shocked to say anything and in a rush to watch the Padres slaughter the Marlins, 14-1, we decided to deal with the tip discrepancy after the game.

Upon returning to the hotel, we asked to speak with a manager. We were shuffled off to the VIP Manager and when we complained that we'd been inappropriately charged a gratuity, and that "it wasn't about the thirty dollar tip, it was about being forced to tip when service was not worth 20%," we were told that, "Every story has two sides and before (he) can do anything (he) needs to speak with his girls." When I informed him that we were a party under six, should not have been "gratted," and that I realize many people leave that pool drunk and not tipping but that was not our case, he began to reprimand my boyfriend and me, denying our complaints and comments, saying, "You better watch your tone and what you accuse my girls of doing." He then stormed back into the club from which he came, getting neither the check number to look into our complaint nor our names.

We asked to speak with another manager, and though he was much more respectful and receptive than Mr. VIP Angry Club Manager, the damage was done. No amount of champagne, which we were kindly offered, could wash away the bitter taste left by the VIP Manager. As a well seasoned hotel stayer, I have never been reprimanded by a hotel employee for making a small complaint. In the history of my restaurant career, never has gratuity been added onto a bill for a party of three. Did we not spend enough money to be treated respectfully? Was he tired of dealing with wasted college kids that don't tip well? Are the waitresses at the HRH S.D. pool so used to obliterated party patrons that they can provide poor service, add 20% gratuity and nobody notices? How many times has this gone unnoticed or worse yet, unmentioned?

When it comes to tipping, I'm fairly certain it starts at 15-17 percent and then works up or down according to the service provided. And aside from my love affair with the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego coming to a crashing halt, this weekend was a huge disappointment because there are plenty of people in need of a job who would gladly take a VIP Manager position and treat loyal guests with the respect they deserve, yet this debacle still occurred. We saved all summer to go on this vacation, and when people have to save in order to spend, shouldn't customer service be the top priority? Or should we expect good, honest customer service conditionally, only to resurface when the economy turns around?

After my years of sweet, borderline symphonic stays at the Hard Rock Hotel, it's a shame that these few bad notes made me want to pack up my gear and leave. And it's a shame for them that as the quality of their customer service declines, so will their sales. I may give Hard Rock Vegas another chance but San Diego? In the words of Fleetwood Mac, "I'm never going back again."

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