By Marta Otrebska
I assume all of us have our own criteria for assessing the hotels we stay in. It can take the smallest thing to make us feel like turning around the moment we enter the lobby. Working in luxury hotels has taught me that guests usually do not get as upset about major issues as they do with what we – hoteliers – may consider meaningless, minor, trivial “thingies”. As well as an item/service it could also be a wrongly chosen phrase used by your colleague that will determine their whole stay. Never neglect any uncertainty, communication gap, lack of information and don’t count on somebody else. Observe the guest discreetly, and if needs be, share your remarks with team members. Even those less engaged in front of house operations may have a significant contribution.
Here are 5 points to consider:
1. Wrong greeting Addressing the guest in the wrong way ruins the whole first impression. Can you imagine using an improper title to e.g. a high court judge, professor, royalty? Wrong surname pronunciation? For luxury hotels it is unacceptable. It is also quite common for the colleagues to combine Ms. & Mr. with the first name which is not as well tolerated in some cultures. Is your staff doing this? Have you checked how they pronounce the family names of arriving guests? Additionally, you may not have taught your colleagues how to politely ask the guests for their names. “Could you please remind me of your last name?” would be a good choice to find out the forgotten name yet still give the recognition.
Solution: Go through all your arrivals during morning meeting and pick out the hard-to-pronounce names, simply practice them – it only takes a few minutes! Moreover, I always had an extra 10 minutes for my butlers and we together “googled” our guests to make sure the title, name and all necessary information is correct as far as it was possible. In this way we felt more confident providing excellent service.
2. “Oh sorry, we don`t have…” This phrase drives me totally crazy, a pure fire-starter. It just proves what kind of a leader you are. Let me tell you how it may irritate both the manager and the guest.
When I was a Club Lounge Manager I always taught my team that there is no phrase like “Oh sorry, we don`t have…” as we always DO “have,” and if not, we will arrange it in 10 minutes. I remember the situation when soon after the Hotel Opening, the Club became quite crowded. Teas and coffees were ordered one after another. Suddenly I noticed my colleagues serving the guests without tea or coffee spoons. The standards just vanished. So I stopped a random colleague and I asked where the teaspoon was! She replied “finished” as if nothing had happened (an example of typical “no have.”) I directed her promptly back to the pantry and I said that it takes seconds to clean a teaspoon and not to kill the standards. Then I asked her to clean ALL the teaspoons for the rest of her colleagues doing the service – support and attitude are the basics. Lack of training and the manager`s reaction means acceptance. Once you start lowering your standards, you will never get your team back on the “excellence upperhand”.
The second story happened just recently. I ordered a cappuccino with extra cinnamon. My cappuccino arrived but when I asked for my extra cinnamon I heard “oh, sorry, we don`t have, just the sticks”. Well, if I were the waiter, my common sense would tell me to get a rasper and simply rasp a little cinnamon for the coffee! Any hidden philosophy here? It’s not Hawking level science! As a guest I felt disappointed and a kind of nuisance
Solution: Pick a few items that you are most likely to run out of when busy and train your team how to handle it when it happens. Do a short role play to train colleagues in coming up with substitutes. For instance, you have run out of lemon – offer lime instead or be back with lemon in a few minutes, you have run out of sugar – offer honey/sugar syrup or run to the kitchen or wherever you need to go to get some sugar as fast as possible. My team and I built a list of “must have items” in the agent department, butler department and F&B – to each a person was assigned who checked the stock one a week. Simple.
3. “No problem” & “Let me check” – you know from your own experience that whenever you request something and you hear the phrase “no problem” there actually is one. The word “problem” has pejorative meaning and instantly gets your back up. Instead of “no problem” the answer should be “certainly.” Does it not sound more polite? If the guest is thanking you the answer “no problem” is too casual so you should definitely use “you are most welcome.”
When a guest asks the staff “Can I change my room..?” or “Can I have Filet Mignon without the mashed potatoes?” etc. – the typical answer is “let me check” and the staff disappears. It is a proper answer in a shop, office, or fast food bar where guest handling standards are not a must. Have you thought of using “allow me to verify” which sounds more professional and makes the guests think they are dealing with a qualified and concerned person.
Solution: Training and repetition.
4. Staff having an in depth conversation amongst themselves and me approaching the desk, or raising a hand to order is just a huge, rude interruption. Trust me, I know that a positive work environment is key, and stress is as mood killer, but when the team takes advantage of it – changes need to happen asap! This kind of situation is not even a wake-up call – it’s a habit you have to root out!
Solution: Get out of the back office! Stay with the team in order to support them and lead by example. Observe – React.
5. Chewing gum, missing bulbs and misspelling. For a perfectionist(if you are working in LUXURIOUS hotels)standards must be elevated up to infinity. There is no space for such annoying things like chewing gum, missing bulbs in chandeliers (or some burnt or flashing irregularly) and incorrect spelling/different fonts on menus, welcome cards etc. It is a NO GO.
Solution: Check, ask the team if anybody reported that (if not – why) and get it fixed immediately!
I guess you can add plenty more to that list – and there are no rights and no wrongs here. Once you realize your weak point – it is half of the success!
We tend to have an excuse for every situation. Unfortunately, it only spoils the team and lowers the standards. The way back to excellence is painful, unpleasant yet consumed with positive energy. Set your expectations high enough and simply motivate, lead and recognize the team in order to pamper and delight your guests.
About the author
Marta Otrebska is a freelance hotel writer based in Poland. She worked for 4 years in hospitality in China including opening & managing a successful Club Lounge department in the Mandarin Oriental Shanghai, a Forbes awarded hotel. She is currently working in a Key Support Role with Magnums Butlers International and as Yacht Stewardess. Check her posts at: www.linkedin.com/today/author/92661305-Marta-O. .