“When making experiences, attention to detail matters.”

— Richard Branson, founder of Virgin

For over a decade I’ve been repeating the same guilty pleasure upon checking into a hotel. No, it’s not the spa, or the free cocktail, or the chocolate fondant next to the welcome fruit. I like those things too, but my guilty pleasure allows a stealth peek into how the hotel thinks, and by extension how it projects its brand. I order a Club Sandwich.

This might seem silly – after all, these multi-million dollar operations put a lot of time and effort into impressing their guests. Imported toiletries from New Zealand, linens with apparently infinite thread counts, book-sized pillow menus, and a chandelier designed by Philippe Starck are certainly nice perks, but all of these things share a common element that dilutes their uniqueness: anyone can buy them and say “See? Luxury!”

But a Club Sandwich is different. It must be created from scratch. It must be presented to a stranger. And while it might be easy to slap one together, check it off the list, and move on to the next order, I’ve noticed that smart hotels don’t do that. Indeed, in my experience, there is almost always a correlation between a great Club Sandwich and a hotel’s attention to fine touch details.

So what are my criteria?

Firstly, I always order the Club Sandwich via room service (my version of a blind sample) to judge the presentation. Plate or cutting board? Is it still warm? Are the fries dumped in a pile or artfully arranged? Are the condiments off-the-shelf or gourmet? Some hotels – Sofitel and Park Hyatt, for instance – err on the side of stainless steel trays and cutlery, while brands like Six Senses go for more earthy wood or bamboo. Do these choices mesh with the hotel’s brand or mission statement? How much thought went into this experience?

Bread. Is it white or multigrain? Held together by robust, colorful spikes or easy-to-miss toothpicks? It can be too thick, too thin, too soggy, or too much. I was recently unable to finish a dry, lifeless Club Sandwich at a luxury hotel due to redundant layers of desiccated bread. Tiring, unenjoyable – and a damn shame.

And cheese…don’t even get me started on the cheese. If it looks processed, I’m checking out.

In the very best Club Sandwiches, everything is cut to fit. It’s the difference between a designer suit and an off the shelf bargain. If it’s a total mess, it simply wasn’t thought through carefully enough.

I could go on, but the point of all this is that these are easy wins. The cost differences are marginal, but the ROI on impressions are huge. A good Club Sandwich is all about envisioning how it will be eaten, process & execution, and pride in your work.

The funny thing is that since I began tracking these things, I’ve started to notice a further correlation: hotels with a stellar Club Sandwich are more likely to pay attention to the small-but-important details that make the experience special. Proper towels and clean equipment in the fitness room, sensibly placed hooks in the shower, and uncomplicated light switches. The staff anticipate your questions and have answers and maps ready to go, as if someone took their training and execution seriously. You feel it when you’re at a great hotel, and these are the places with the best Club Sandwiches. 

I’ve been fortunate to stay at a variety of hotels around the world, including some of the best luxury names on the map. Surprisingly there’s been some expensive properties with very disappointing Club Sandwiches. Served without passion as if it fills a space on the menu. A couple disappointments that stand out also had agonizing check-out procedures, and a promise to follow up on a slow internet connection which never happened, among other things. I don’t remember any names of staff, either.

Some random Club Sandwich musings:

  • Rosewood Luang Prabang offers a “Lao Club Sandwich.” Full marks for creativity and flair; they mind the details and make it a fun thing to eat. Note that they also have a solid classical version of the sandwich for those less adventurous. 
  • The Club Sandwich at Excelsior Yangon is superb. Lightly fried thin bread on the outside and filled with delicately sliced pickles, olives, bacon, and chicken. It was made with love and the fries are incredible. This is one of the few places I’ve been where I ordered it twice on successive days. Unsurprisingly, many other fine details in the hotel work brilliantly too. Sensibly placed hooks? Check. Conveniently located electric sockets? Check. Staff who understand their mission is to delight you? Check. There’s a pattern here. 

Incidentally, I extended my stay at Excelsior Yangon, and then moved several upcoming clients there from hotels. Coincidence? Maybe. But the Club Sandwich set the gold standard.

With so many front and back of house challenges that hotels face on a daily basis, the margin between average and great is narrow. After a decade of dedicated consumption, I’ve come to believe that the best Club Sandwiches are at hotels that envision excellence in all they do, regardless of price.