14 April, 2006

Hilton Replies

Fellow blogger Seawitch reports (in comments at Lex's) having received a reply from her email to the General Manager of the Capital Hilton (home of Fran O'Brien's). It reads, in part:

For strictly business reasons related solely to the inability to reach a new lease agreement, the Capital Hilton has elected to terminate the lease with the operator of Fran O’Brien’s restaurant at the hotel. This decision was not at all related to the Friday night dinners for disabled veterans but rather a result of lease negotiations that failed. The hotel has offered to host and sponsor the May 5, 2006 dinner and expressed interest in working closely with Walter Reed so that the Friday night tradition can continue. Furthermore, the hotel is in discussions with one of the sponsors of the Friday night dinners to continue their support of the dinners.

The Capital Hilton prides itself on its involvement and support of many community organizations and events and has provided complimentary or discounted rooms to families with veterans in the hospital, donated facilities to military organizations and most recently hosted a meeting for 300 people.
According to the owners (as reported by Mudville Gazette), Fran O'Brien's never received an offer when they asked to renew the lease. In fact, after repeated requests and status checks, they were completely shut out of contact with Hilton a couple of weeks ago. There were never any "lease negotiations that failed." The nicest way to characterize this would be that Hilton really screwed this up. Any more than that I'll not speculate, but it gets harder and harder to accept that Hilton has been ethical and upright in its dealings with Fran's.

Okay, I will speculate. Reportedly, the basement location that is Fran's does not have easy access for wheelchairs, etc. As the rest of the hotel can be accessed from the ground level, I would assume that portion is ADA-compliant and accessible to all. Now, the local Hilton says that it has no specific plans for the soon-to-be-vacant space (Update II), and it's obvious that this hotel has a history of supporting the miltary in various ways and claims a willingness to continue to do so--even to the point of having future dinners on their site, just not in the basement with Fran O'Brien's. So, what's the problem here? The only thing that makes sense is the liability issue.

And instead of being honest about it, or trying to fix the liability issue, Hilton has decided to toss Fran O'Briens. Apparently they are within their rights to do that. But the implementation has been abysmal. They should have been upfront about it. They should have admitted it was about liability; odds are their insurers have thrown a fit about having that many people with limited mobility in a site with access problems. The hotel simply could have acknowledged it with deep regret and offered their assistance in helping Fran's find a new place, or invested the money it would've taken to upgrade the restaurant access and then flogged the good PR resulting from their actions. Both of those could have been a boon to the company, but something's gone wrong here. Either the business case and associated PR was poorly thought through, or they're trying to disguise their motivations. Either way, it's ugly.

Unless something changes, I don't see myself setting foot in a Hilton or any of their subsidiaries. Ever.

John Donovan has a different opinion.

[Background on the Fran O'Brien's story here.]