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The Greenbrier fails to recapture 5th star

The GreenbrierNot even a $50 million renovation has been enough for The Greenbrier to re-gain its five star status which it lost back in 2000. The Mobil Travel Guide was released this week with The Greenbrier – which has in the past hosted both Presidents and Royalty –  still stuck on four stars.   Minor improvements are still continuing and the historic  resort’s main restaurant may yet see an overhaul… so maybe next year for The Greenbrier.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Approximately five years ago I was a guest at The Greenbrier. The company I worked for at the time was hosting a conference there and I was sent there to assist the conference coordinator with the event. I was about 45 years old at the time, white female, so I have experienced many things in my life – including being seated at the worst table in a restaurant when dining alone or with a friend who is also female. I was not prepared for the discrimination I experienced at The Greenbrier. I wish I had spoken up more than I did at the time, but I was representing my employer so I tempered my response. I did complain a little, however, and received a meager telephone and written apology from the manager and a basket of fruit and jams in my room that I tossed into the trash. Here is my story. I was in line for the breakfast buffet that opened at 7 AM. I had about 10-15 minutes to eat a quiet breakfast and read the paper before reporting to my work post. I was closer to the front of the line than the rear, and when I got to the host (”Alfred”) who had a sidekick who escorted guests to their table, when I requested a table for one I was asked to step aside. They had to make sure they had plenty of tables for their other guests first, he said. Shocked, but aware of the ID I had on, I stepped aside and watched couples, four-somes being seated. After a few minutes I raised my hand and said, hello, remember me and uttered a comment about not discrimating against single people. I was asked if I would join another group and I first said no, but finally said okay. I was paraded to the right side of the dining room to a round table with 7 people seated and the remaining chair piled with coats and purses. The host’s sidekick had not even asked if I could join them – which I never wanted to do in the first place. I blurted out that this was not going to work, that there was nowhere to set my newspaper down while I ate – serving myself from the buffet which would require all of 10 minutes to consume, as if I had to explain myself. We returned to the center of the restaurant, to Alfred, who once again had to decide what to do with me – a single female dining alone. I was paraded to the left side of the restaurant and finally I asked to sit at any of the vacant tables that we passed, and was seated at one pushed against a room partition. That’s where I finally was seated. I quickly made my way to the buffet to fix my plate – appetite gone, and when I was seated at the table I looked around and was amazed at what I saw — within my immediate range of sight were 6-8 tables, at least, each with one single man seated at them. I thought to myself that I doubted that they received the same treatment that I had. Plus, there were plenty of empty tables. I ate quickly, did not get to enjoy reading the paper as I had hoped, and reported for work – mentioned the escapade to my coworker who was the conference coordinator. She phoned the sales manager we had dealt with and I repeated my story to her, then I repeated it to the hotel manager who was a man who tried to blame it on somebody new. I said, no, it was your highly-seasoned host/maitre d (sp?) “Alfred.” He apologized by phone and sent the gift basket to my room with a note of apology, but never even bothered to meet with me in person. Oh, and the following morning I received the “red carpet treatment” when I returned for breakfast – which was NOT what I wanted. The restaurant staff knew exactly who I was, again, not what I wanted. I have never forgotten that. Considering the discrimination that people of color have experienced for generations, this incident suffered by me, a single white female, is petty. Except, it wasn’t the first time I have received second-class treatment at a restaurant, but it was the most blatant and severe act of discrimination. If I had it to do all over again I would have spoken louder and more publicly. I also recall my room, which was one of those that has a door that connects it to another if there is a need to join the rooms. The walls were so thin that I could hear everything that was said by the people in the next room – even the sound of them using the toilet. I know the hotel is old and historic, but the walls were surprising thin. I did otherwise enjoy the experience. I took the tour of the underground area, which was fascinating. West Virginia is a beautiful state. I have never been back to The Greenbrier and I don’t know if any of the people involved when I was there are still employed there or not, but if I was looking for another historic conference center in the mountains – I would choose The Roanoke Inn and Conference Center every time over The Greenbrier. It has wonderful facilities, the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in with pillows to die for. Plus, you’re close enough to downtown Roanoke to walk for evening dinner/entertainment.

  2. Hello Dianne

    I am sorry to hear of your experience, but thanks for sharing it with us all the same.

    Whilst ownership hasn’t changed – it’s still owned by the railroad giant CSX Corp. – it sounds like they are trying to improve things there. They have had their most major upgrade since the 1940s and have brought in a new chef de cuisine Michael Voltaggio for their Hemisphere restaurant. There’s new furniture, new bathrooms and more – things that were cited as required by Mobil when they first lost their five star status in 2000.

    However… and here perhaps lies The Greenbrier’s biggest problem. It doesn’t matter how good your amenities are if the service isn’t there to match. I think I read somewhere that Mobil claim that 75% of their rating assessments comes down to service and only 25% down to amenities. And rightly so, in my opinion. Who cares if there’s a trouser press or not? It’s the service that is really key.


  3. Paul,

    You are correct – service is key, and to treat every guest as if they were the only one. Mind you, I am not a demanding person either. I’ve been working since I was 15 years old – started out in a fast-food restaurant after school. I have tremendous respect for most people in any service business or business that has to deal with the public. I am a generous tipper when I dine in a traditional restaurant, particularly if my waiter is young and working her/his way through college. During the holidays, I typically surprise one or two of the bartenders or waiters at my favorite restaurants with an extra generous tip – not “Trump sized,” but an extra reward for making me feel like a valued customer throughout the year just past.

    Back to my bad experience at The Greenbrier, the only positive thing to come out of that experience was that I have a greater appreciation for what “minorities” experience when they are treated as second-class citizens; something I hope I am never guilty of.
    Perhaps everyone should be treated as shabbily as I was once in their lives so they know how it feels.


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