When is a birthday party not a party?

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I can answer this question: when a major NYC branded hotel holds a 50th birthday celebration and there is no food, no wine, no spirits and only a small birthday cake served with even smaller bottles o

I can answer this question: when a major NYC branded hotel holds a 50th birthday celebration and there is no food, no wine, no spirits and only a small birthday cake served with even smaller bottles of water.

First The Invite
The e-invitation came from the PR representative of a very large NYC hotel (1780 rooms). Celebrating the birthdays of others is one of my favorite things: Count me in!

Hotel Parties are Usually Over-the-Top
I love hotel parties. Chefs, motivated to pull out their best wines and spirits provide dazzling displays; creative culinary treats are stacked on large tables with stiff white cloths; staff members, on their best behavior, wear sparkling clean uniforms or party clothes. Between the balloons, and happy music, hotel parties are frequently the best!

Anticipating a fun-filled afternoon and evening, I turned down a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new building, a meeting with a colleague, and a dental appointment. I thought about wearing something sparkling with stilettos – but the event started at 2:00 pm, and I thought it was a bit early for sequins and feathers. Oh yes, another reason to censor an elaborate frock – I was taking the subway (north) from Tribeca.

I Weep from Disappointment
Let me make sure the facts are correct: the invitation was for a 50th birthday party; however, there was no wine/spirits… in fact, there was no beverage bar at all (not a Coke or Diet Pepsi in sight). There were no hors d’oeuvres (not even little frankfurters in pastry blankets). There were no cheese platters, not even cheez-wiz with saltines, not a slice of cold pizza or a stale cookie. There was no food! Has anyone been to a birthday party where there was no food and nothing to drink?

In the speech read by the General Manager of the hotel (the highlight of the program), I learned that the birthday date was actually the following week, but everyone would be busy hosting the Clintons and heads of state so this was really a pre-birthday program. It is true that this hotel regularly hosts movie stars and government bigwigs as well as the hoi polloi who come to New York for conventions and sales calls. The hotel claims high occupancy and advertises high room rates (standard rooms start at US$329 and club rooms begin at US$699 per night). Do not forget to add US$14.95 per day for a Wi-Fi fee. With these rates, high occupancy and Wi-Fi fees, I thought there would be enough money in the till to put on a good party; it appears that I was wrong.

If I had not been caught up with the fantasy of sipping a glass of chilled champagne while munching on a large succulent shrimp in mid-afternoon, I would have zoned in on the early warning signs of an approaching disaster. First of all, this is not a hotel noted for its restaurants, bars, coffee shops, or catered affairs. This is first and foremost a commercial property. It is definitely my fault that I did not fully register the pervasive smell of McDonald’s fries and Big Macs in the lobby that grabbed my nose as I entered the hotel lobby. Any hotel that does not flush food aromas out of the public space is not looking to establish its competitive advantage as a gourmet dining establishment.

Rushing through the lobby, I passed the check-in counter (looked more like an airport check-in than a hotel portal) and I kept walking until I finally spotted a small cluster of people lingering behind a small red-roped area. Was this birthday-party central I asked. “Yes.”

I did a quick scan of the small space at the tail-end of the hotel lobby and wondered where the party guests were located. Where were the decorations, the bar and the food? Maybe, I thought optimistically, the guests were being held in the lobby, because the party room set-up was not completed. Perhaps it was more efficient to gather everyone in the lobby.

Sadly, what I saw – was all there was – nothing but a large flat cake with Happy Birthday scripted in frosting.

Since I was really thirsty (and hungry from inhaling the Mickey D aroma) – I asked for a glass of wine or a Diet Coke, PLEASE! “No!” The only thing I could have was a seat! So I sat and waited for the program to begin.

Although I arrived on time, the program was to be delayed. Once again I gave the organization the benefit of the doubt! The goodies were going to be wheeled in, along with the party hats and favors and maybe a clown or two. Wrong again.

When a Birthday Bash includes a Speech
The “party” started with a speech read by the General Manager and was followed by the identification of three employees who had spent 50 years of their lives with the hotel. The next low-keyed OMG was the acknowledgement of a food and beverage staffer who had carved a replica of the hotel in wax. This big project was followed by a round of applause for the Chef and welcome remarks by a representative from the Office of the Mayor who read parts of the Proclamation from the City of New York. The event ended with a bit of cake and a small bottle of water for the media, NYC and Co representatives, and assorted hotel employees.

What Next?
For those of us with a need to find a story, the public relations staff offered a tour of the newly-renovated rooms. I was motivated to join the group when I spied one of the staffers with a frosty cup of iced Starbucks coffee. I thought that if I went for the tour my reward would be an iced beverage; once again I was disappointed. Even when we visited the Executive Lounge where beverages were available for the guests, there was nothing for me!

So, What is New?
There might be renovated bathrooms, but shower curtains and no-name amenities make the space less than wonderful. The new window treatments and wall-to-wall carpet provide an aroma that might be classified as toxic for people with allergies; however, I am not a scientist so this is purely conjecture. What I do know is that I got a headache as soon as I entered the rooms and took a deep breath. The Executive Lounge is quite comfortable, and we spotted one guest sprawled out on a couch watching television. Clearly the fellow was at ease – he was tall and the couch was long enough for him to stretch out, full-length.

We took a tour of the Health Club that is located on a level below-ground level. There may be a fee to use the machines; the costs are based on accommodations reserved. The space hosts a series rooms with a variety of machines plus an exercise room that could also be used as a closet if storage becomes a problem. An attractive display of guest towels was perhaps the highlight of this part of the tour.

This week the Clinton’s, the President of Egypt, and other senior-level executives and politicos will be staying at the hotel. I spotted lots of exposed wires (that looked like a safety hazard to me), but I was told that the electricians were setting up systems to cover the event.

This is also the “real” week for the hotel’s birthday. Perhaps the former President, his wife and others who are A-listed will be treated to a real birthday party. I hope they will have a glass of champagne for me.

About the author


Editor in chief for eTurboNew is Linda Hohnholz. She is based in the eTN HQ in Honolulu, Hawaii.