SPOTLIGHT ON Robert Cima, Regional Vice President and General Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, California

Luxury hotels are expanding their Wellness Services in response to an ever-increasing demand from guests to continue their healthy lifestyle while travelling. You have taken this a step further by partnering with the California Health & Longevity Institute. Can you tell us about the medical program and how it can help guests attain personal goals?

We have 104 Four Seasons today and thirty-five in the pipeline and this is the only one that has a full-blown wellness facility, the genius of our partner, Mr. Murdoch, who envisioned the concept ten years ago when he was building the hotel. Wellness is a big trend at the moment, but we own wellness, our MRI’s are the best in the world, we do a lot of research for global partners like Google and such that they can’t do on their own campus. We have test studies taking place on their behalf with our doctors. It’s all focused on wellness, it’s not “we’re going to change your body through surgery,” it’s about “are you nutritionally taking care of yourself, are you predisposed to certain types of things, how do we uncover them for you,” all inside a hotel setting. So, you have all these different elements, evidence-based medicine, board-certified doctors, fitness with highly accredited trainers who do VO2 and BodPods, you get a chance to spend time with our Director of Nutrition, Paulette Lambert, who is highly acclaimed on Good Morning America, and our Life Coach, Lisa Hayden and then also therapeutic spa. It all works towards bringing our guest’s lives into balance.

Who is interested in your medical facility?

We have Fortune 100 companies that bring leadership groups four or fives times a year, they go through the Wellness Kitchen with Paulette Lambert, they speak to Lisa Hayden, and work through some of their own concerns. They may be great consultants, but they are struggling in their lives, they may have teenage kids, or struggling with wellness, and we will put a program together for them. We also have international families go through our program, and people who will stay with us for a month, really focused on weight loss. We can inspire them to exercise and can moderate their foods, having it all pre-packaged and prepared for them here, and the beautiful thing is that it is all under the guise of medicine.

We have the busiest spa in country and can do over 100 treatments a day. It was voted top Spa in America by Conde Naste Traveler and offers a wholistic approach to wellness by offering highly personalized products and services.

So, we look at how you can get your community to adopt you, how do you become the mousetrap that everyone is attracted to. You need to have great therapists, we don’t hire anyone unless they have 2,000 hours on the table.

How has this influenced your culinary offerings?

We try to take our wellness influence into our restaurant menus, Paulette goes through the menus, we have a chef Jose Fernandes from Barcelona, so our food already has a strong Mediterranean influence. What is the idea of the balanced plate? The vegetables should be twice the size of the protein, which is a misnomer in America, where people are asking for a 12-ounce steak. The world is at this interesting moment, we had a wonderful first lady in the white house, Michelle Obama, who was very focused on what kids are having for food, and we have a lot of great leaders sharing the message. We believe that we have a responsibility here.

Personalized guest service is an art. Can you tell us about other ways you are creating truly memorable experiences for your guests?

I think that catering to the guests and figuring out what the guests want to do and having the facilities to offer that to them is the first part of the puzzle. Our beds, for example, have three different styles of firmness, which we can change for our clients, our meeting facilities don’t feel commercialized and we have some interesting venues, for example, The Tasting Room, where guests can sample local Malibu wines and our TV Studio, which is perfect for a product launch, or an event. The hotel has these interesting elements to it and is alive with innovation.

Our guest rooms are quite large and spacious, though marble and mahogany are quite easy, I think it comes down to the staff. How do you have staff that really cares about the guest, who understand what service is and that we’re here for them. A sense of pride and happiness in the staff is vital. I’m fortunate to have a staff that is tenured, so they really get to know our guests, they know your name, there’s the familiarity and warmth. It’s also about accuracy, being efficient, being on time, those elements, of – if you have a business deal and you need rooms in 20 minutes, we are able to deliver in 20 minutes. We also have things we are continually trying to innovate. From a technology point of view, we just started this idea of chat, doing same time messaging, or going over Facebook, which we find, remarkably, isn’t something for the 20 somethings, it’s 50, 60, 70’s and they’re used to chatting, so what we’re learning is how fast can we respond to those requests? We’ve got ourselves within a minute, minute and a half, you can say to us that you would like a spa treatment, or dinner at 9 o’clock, or a lift to the airport, and we can set that up for you.

If someone is chatting with us we continue to engage in chatting with them, rather than telling them to pick up the phone because that is not the choice that they wanted, which circles back to what we were talking about service earlier.

The hotel will go through a 30-million-dollar reinvestment, the lobby lounge will become a spectacular brasserie restaurant, with indoor and outdoor space. We’ll have a patisserie and fromagerie, the idea is to try and go back and play on the gills of what was happening in Europe where you had a fishmonger and cheesemonger, people who are specialized in breads and pull those elements into the restaurants. The hotel rooms will become a coastal California, and probably the most exciting, we will have a free-form pool for families with cabanas and a restaurant called Off the Grid so that you can really connect with your families while you are here. We will also have a wave rider where adults and kids can surf. The renovation starts end October and expect to finish by July 2018.

What is your leadership style? How do you inspire your team?

I love getting to know my staff and encouraging them to be the Michael Jordans in the hotel, being extraordinary and realizing that they can influence a guest’s visit and be a part of it. I love being a cheerleader behind the scenes, continually working on the aspect of service and striving to do things in a more intelligent, articulate way that doesn’t mean we are going to be fussy or contrived. Having fun and letting your personality show.

We integrated the wellness aspect into the staff canteen, which really impressed the staff and made them feel valued. The Wellness Café was put in place about a year ago, and I wanted to continue to integrate the California Health and Longevity Institute into the hotel. When you look at the statistics in diabetes, it is frightening, and I believed we needed to change stylistically the food concept. Having experts inside the house made my job so much easier. It’s a lovely setting that is without noise and interruptions of other business activities in that space with fun music so that you’re with your colleagues having a great lunch but also have a sense that everything is nutritionally balanced.

Do you think that feeling valued is why you stay with a brand? You have been with the Four Seasons for over 30 years.

For sure, they are really doing meaningful work. We are very persnickety about who gets hired at our Four Seasons and every Four Seasons. They are hand-picked, one out of every twelve people interviewed get hired and our turnover statistics are industry low. Industry statistics are around 50%, ours is about 22%. How we bring people onboard also makes a difference, and how we treat them. Our golden rule is “Treat other people as you would like to be treated and never ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.” I’m happy to carry luggage or park cars. It’s all about how we build a partnership and give them the tools so that they can be really successful.

To me, luxury is about choices. It’s not telling your guest what they can do, but giving them options and educating your staff to be able to respond to that. Our staff go through extensive in-room classroom activities and then also a lot of role-playing. Right now, we have a program called Food & Bevalution and it is an eight-day program that all the leadership in F&B go though. How do we work with our staff, our customers, upselling, merchandizing in a tasteful way, create a better experience for the guest, rather than I’m trying to get into your wallet and take your money? We see the benefits of our training in our online scores and reviews.

Eating Clean

The Wellness Kitchen experience was the highlight of our trip to the Four Seasons Westlake Village. Paulette Lambert, the Director of Nutrition, California Health & Longevity Institute was a delight, and very knowledgeable, demonstrating how to cook a wide range of healthy meals, desserts and snacks with relative ease.

We were excited to help prepare the food, and started with a Charred Tomato Soup with Parmesan Crisp followed by a Butter leaf and Radish Salad with Caper dressing. Our entrée was Cedar Grilled Salmon with Herbs, Carrot Mash, Tabbouleh Salad with Grilled Vegetables and dessert, a Peach Blueberry Crisp.

It was interesting how flavorful each dish was, with low-sodium, low-fat ingredients and locally grown seasonal produce. Grilling the vegetables on an outdoor grill gave them another dimension and the carrot mash was quite delicious.

The surprise was the Buddha Bowl with brown rice, tofu and vegetables, tossed with a light peanut sauce. There are endless variations that you can work on when you get home, and Pauline really does prepare you for taking the knowledge you have learned away with you.

A favorite snack is the Raw Energy Bars that have prompted guests to call Paulette from the airport for the recipe. Ours did not last very long.

It is a fun experience for friends, families and co-workers, to learn how to easily prepare healthier meals and can be tailored to more festive occasions, interactive with a glass of wine, or a more educational demonstration. There is communal dining in the Feel Good room at the end of the class where you can enjoy your creations and celebrate the new you!

“The impact of wellness education and the team building experience on the organization is that it reinforces improved collaboration, networking, and problem solving, as team building events are supposed to do, along with valuable other benefits.  When wellness education is part of that team building experience, it conveys that the organization really care about their employees, it appeals to the sense that wellness is a shared responsibility.  Wellness education can increase productivity and energy of employees, improve employee engagement and can result in health care savings.  When an employee has a great wellness experience and takes action that often is translated to their families as well. So often we hear back from participants that the Wellness Kitchen food experience really impacted their whole family, everyone is eating healthier!  It’s a win-win for organizations and their employees.”