It’s 2009: Meet the Entitled Frugals

Observing the retail scene during this repressed holiday, I have to give the service industry points for trying their darndest to make people happy. But the customers have morphed into a new breed I’m calling Entitled Frugals.

This past Christmas I headed to Florida with my family and spent two nights at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, thanks to a great recession-fighting discount. And I wasn’t alone. Despite the financial slowdown, the place was packed…and the guests, well, kind of intense. I was wondering if the full house resulted from a “sandwich” situation, with the upscale exotic resort crowd trading ‘down’ to Florida (I love Florida, don’t shoot me!) and the mass chain hotel loyalists trading up to the Ritz because of the deals. And both kinds of customers were feeling ‘owed’ for having either conceded or spent up. The way I see it, luxury spending isn’t dead, it’s just going on sale and a bargain-basement style fight for attention has begun.

Case in point: the pool chair combat zone. Rather than feeling grateful for the discounts (or even just jolly for the holidays), guests seemed stricken with a fever of entitlement. Pre-dawn, guest slinked through the darkness to imprison dozens premium poolside chairs with towels pilfered out of storage. This was way beyond what I’ve ever seen. While the pool guys tried to enforce chair check-in’s every 30 minutes (wonder what that did to restaurant tabs, spa expenditures, hotel margins?), violators sent grandma to sit guard smug as a bug, refusing to budge.

So, how’s a service provider supposed to deal with the irate Entitled Frugals? The Ritz dialed up their well-bred politeness and endured. But as a chair-less customer, I found the way to get what you want when the mob around you is screaming for blood. Go soft. I spoke with a fabulous Guest Relations coordinator named Beverly Spagnuolo and gently asked if there was a way to get a chair since the guests were so piggy. By not acting ‘entitled’, (even though honestly, I felt we were), I got the dream response: six lounge chairs out near the Gulf in our own private area with drinks and beach concierge at the ready.

Will 2009 see us resenting our cutbacks and taking it out at the counter? Is this the beginning of, “I’m not OK, so you’re not gonna be OK” at retail? Or could it be an opening for the kinder retailers and the more savvy customers to find peace in tough times? Here’s to a Kinder New Year.

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