Three bottles of water? That'll be $135 thanks
When Edward Heaton sat down on the terrace of the sumptuous Crystal Bar of the Wellesley Hotel in central London and ordered three small bottles of sparkling water for himself and a client, he understandably expected them to cost a little more than the $1 each he would pay in his local supermarket.
But the 44-year-old property adviser has promised he will "never set foot" in the boutique Knightsbridge hotel again after the bill for his modest order of three 500ml bottles of San Pellegrino came to $135.50 (£75).
The businessmen did not realise that the five-star Wellesley, which charges upwards of $540 (£300) a night for its most modest room, operates a minimum charge of $45 per person for customers using its bar after 4pm. The water came to $30, and a service charge of $15 was also levied on top of the $90 minimum spend.
"For £75, we probably could have had a nice glass of wine each or maybe even a bottle of champagne," Mr Heaton said. "But three bottles of water? I wasn't angry. I was just totally bemused.
"I spend a lot of time in central London and I have a lot of meetings in the top hotels. I am pretty well versed in how these places work but I have never had this before. I will never set foot in that hotel again."
Although he paid the bill because he "didn't want to make a scene" in front of his client, Mr Heaton later emailed the hotel to complain about the "extraordinary" bill, claiming that nobody had explained the minimum charge to him and that there were no menus on the tables. He also vented his frustration on Twitter, telling other users to "avoid" the hotel and posting a photograph of his receipt.
Responding to his complaint on the social network, the hotel wrote: "Thanks for letting us know. We will make sure our policy at the Crystal Bar is dazzlingly clear to all in future. All the best."
@EdwardHeaton Thanks for letting us know.We will make sure our policy at the Crystal Bar is dazzlingly clear to all in future. All the best.— The Wellesley (@wellesleylondon) July 23, 2014
But the tone of the reply did not go down with other users, with one describing it as a "pathetic response" and another calling the hotel "a disgrace".
Mr Heaton added: "I have no issue if they have a minimum charge, but they need to make it clear. It is the lack of transparency that I have a problem with."
In a statement issued later, the hotel said: "The Wellesley applies a minimum spend of £25 ($45) per person as standard after 4pm for guests occupying the hotel's cigar terraces where Mr Edward Heaton held his business meeting on 17 July 2014. Guests are made aware of this policy on arrival and the rates are printed on the menus distributed on the terraces.
"The minimum spend of £25 ($45) per person is comparable to similar venues across London. Mr Heaton did not raise concern at the time of his visit but did send an e-mail of complaint the following week.
"In response, The Wellesley's management team replied on the same day to offer its sincere apologies to Mr Heaton for an experience he deemed less than satisfactory and we would like to take this opportunity to apologise again."