Scott has mentioned I live just far enough from work that it’s too far to drive home, so I stay in hotels near San Francisco Airport and often the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront. I stayed there enough last year to achieve Platinum status, which provides lounge access.
The lounge at the SFO Waterfront was on the top (11th) floor. It looked like they took a couple of large rooms, knocked down what walls they could, and converted the space to a ‘lounge.’ The space was crowded (with furniture and walls more than people), drafty, and poorly lit, but Cheri and Mary did their best to make it a refuge in the evenings. The TVs were quiet, there were newspapers, some free food and beverages, and the honor bar was a little light on honor. I’d go there after work and it was like Mom asking how was my day, can I bring you a paper and a glass of wine, just sit and relax and forget about work, let me know if there’s anything else I can do.
They’ve been talking for months about the upgrade to the M Club, which I saw last week. This is Marriott’s new lounge concept and the SFO Waterfront is the very first. They are building one in New York now and plan more.
[Note from Scott: Someone didn't secure access to the online scheduling system for the Washington Marriott Marquis. A quick search shows they're planning some "M Club Lounge" training sessions in late April, so I'd expect one there soon. There's also some ad copy on the home page of the Detroit Marriott at Renaissance Center]
The M Club is on the ground floor at the end of the lobby. Geographically it shares a wall with the restaurant and a windowed wall with the lobby bar area. It is open 24 hours with room key access, but when it is staffed there is a concierge at the door monitoring access. He has a book, looks up your name, and records your entry so they have a customer count.
The space is large, bright, and modern. It immediately reminded me of an airline lounge. There’s a variety of comfortable seating: long tall tables with tall stools; regular tables with regular chairs; large low upholstered chairs in rows with electric outlets near your feet. The last are big enough so they’re private if you’re alone but connected enough that you can have a conversation if you’re not.
The vibe is very different. It is new and I hope they settle it down over time. Instead of Mary and Cheri running their little empire (with an occasional visit from someone bringing supplies) there was a constant parade of people. (A recent visit a week later was much quieter, on a slow Monday night.)
With the extra space they have added amenities. There’s a fancy coffee machine, beer taps, wine taps, a liquor bar, a filtered water machine, and two refrigerators with soft drinks. I counted at least five televisions. They still have a counter with the free cheeses, vegetables, and a hot snack (like a couple of slices of flank steak and potatoes) like they did upstairs.
Two new additions: A menu and a cash register! Because it is located on the main floor next to the kitchen, they offer the bar menu of food and mixed drinks. This adds variety and choice, but makes it feel like a restaurant. The wine choices are better, but instead of a bucket of ice with bottles, wine servings are metered by a machine next to the cash register. No more self serve limited only by the size of the glass and your conscience or poured and served by Mom. This may be a good thing because the new wine glasses are huge. The photo shows about five ounces in my glass! (I sipped first and photographed second.)
A neighbor ordered the lamb chops and a glass of Pinot Noir. When his chops were delivered he asked about the wine which came from a different direction: the chops came from the kitchen and the wine from the wine machine inside the lounge so the two halves of his order were disconnected. These are solvable problems as they figure out how things flow, but they now have more staff to coordinate in a larger space.
They kept the most important amenity: the cookies. About 7 PM they bring out desserts (little cakes or custards) and COOKIES. For newbies, here’s the code: the oatmeal raisin cookies are on a bed of oatmeal; the peanut butter cookies are on a bed of peanuts; the real cookies (chocolate chip) are on a bed of chocolate. You need to get there early for real cookies (but the Moms have been known to hide one for me upstairs).
I was reading a magazine and drinking water during my visit. Eventually Cheri had a minute and visited. She got me a glass of wine (6 ounces) and mentioned I usually read the paper. Upstairs they had a stack of The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, but sometimes they were out of WSJ when I got there. I didn’t see any papers in the new M Club. She showed me their iPads with a news app that has a larger variety of newspapers and newsmagazines. It took some fumbling (neither of us is an iPad aficionado) to turn it on, find the app, and find the paper, but they’ll never run out of newspapers!
To prepare a real review, I stopped in for the morning breakfast. Breakfast upstairs was always very crowded and the added space downstairs makes it much less hectic. The usual muffins and scrambled eggs looked better with more space, and the flatbreads are new. The little cones reportedly had tuna and cream cheese. (I was in a hurry and didn’t try one. My mistake.)
No review of Marriott is complete without mentioning the friendly staff. At every single Marriott I have visited, every staff member (including the scruffy maintenance guy who speaks very little English) always says ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ with a real smile. Marriott, more than any other chain, clearly trains every single employee to never be too busy to be friendly.
Is the M Club an upgrade? Definitely in many ways. Better quality and more choices, although it feels more like a revenue generator than a free perk. I do hope the increased staff is temporary while they’re learning how the new format works.