By Karen Tina Harrison
Luxury Travel Expert
Many of us luxury travelers believe that service makes the difference between a very nice hotel and a memorable hotel. But what constitutes truly great luxury hotel service?
To find out how a savvy hospitality consultant appraises hotel service, I spoke with one of the world's best: NYC-based expert Eric Weiss of Service Arts Inc.
Eric is a hotel-service guru who terms the hotel trade "the ultimate people business." He is called in to consult and train at some of the world's top hotel and resorts.
1. A hotel needs a top manager – a GM or resident manager – who is on premises and not sequestered in an office or focused on conference business. The boss must be present, available, and in evidence. He or she should be out on the floor greeting guests and putting a face on hotel operations. Connected, committed, on-on-one hotel service starts at the topand sets the tone for the entire hotel.
2. Personality: An Emotionally Intelligent and Spirited Staff
To be great, a hotel needs a team -- both management and front-line staffers – with emotional intelligence. This means intuitive people sense, empathy, and genuineness.
There's the phrase "hospitality personality," which goes further than cheerfulness. That's important, but so are natural kindness, graciousness, humor, and joie de vivre. A person who quietly makes guests feel comfortable and important.
A great, five-star hotel employee also thinks things through. He or she has a sense of priority, attention to detail, practicality, follow-through and efficiency."
You could boil all this down to the question: does the guest feel that a hotel staffer really cares about them? Sadly, I'd say that this happens 10% of the time.
3. Checkin, Checkout Focused, Friendly, Fast In and Out
Check-in should be personalized, quick, genuinely friendly, and thorough. I like the trend of roving staffers checking guests in swiftly via an iPad, as at Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace in Vegas.
A guest's first contact with the hotel is the valet, doorman, and bellman. These staffers must communicate welcome, in words, smiles, and body language. They should be happy to serve guests, and not angling for a tip…or, as in some boutique hotels, silently critiquing you, your clothes, your luggage, your car.
As far as bellboys, luggage should be delivered to your room within 10 minutes. Period.
A great reception desk and checkin team:
- Make a guest feel more important than the computer, with immediate and direct eye contact. The clerk's manner is personal, engaging, and efficient
- Offers not a vague "How are you?," but a hospitable greeting: "Welcome/Good evening/So nice to have you here/It's a pleasure"
- Is candid about room placement and noise issues (A converted smoking room? Fresh paint? A dog/kids/honeymooners next door?)
- Is discreet. The guest's name and (horrors!) room number should never be spoken
- If there is an issue, either during checkin or once the guest has seen the room, the front desk should be willing and eager to solve the problem, no questions asked
4. Discretion with Names: Good to Know, Bad to Broadcast
Knowing guests' names is a good thing, and makes the guest feel valued. But guests should be addressed by name appropriately and discreetly. Broadcasting names in a public space is an invasion of privacy. It can even be a security issue.
And when a front-desk clerk announces a guest's room number aloud, game over! That is a complete security breach and a cardinal sin of hospitality.
5. Observe, Don't Presume
There's a delicate balance between pro-active and presumptive service. The guest should feel in command and not dictated to.
Hotel staff should never presume they know they a guest's taste. They should ask questions, give options, and let the guest decide.
6. Aesthetic Details: Refined, Generous Touches for Refined Guests
Today, one way for a hotel to appear distinctive is in its choice of room amenities and in-room features. These accents should be useful, tasteful, distinctive, and local whenever possible. Nothing second-rate or corner-cutting.
The hotel must furnish all the luxury travel essentials. These include necessities like ample drawer and closet space; a safe with an interior laptop charger; puffy hangers; free bottled water; robes and slippers that go beyond basic white terry; an iPod dock.
I look for refined goods and services that show true taste and respect. Little touches that go beyond the usual, and that are local. For instance, many luxury hotels shine your shoes overnight. At Hotel Halekulani in Waikiki, Honolulu, your shined shoes are returned to you in a bamboo box.
Everyone gives chocolates. I like them to be local treats -- great truffles, chosen not merely because they represent the destination. Beautiful flowers not just in the room, but on your room-service tray. A fruit bowl with ripe, edible fruit. The weather report, brought with a handsomely printed poem or goodnight fable. Fresh, not mass-produced, pet treats when you've checking in with your pet.
These are non-negotiable services: an appealing, free, 24-hour gym with brand-name equipment; if space permits, a pool with lifeguard; complimentary wifi (this is not the place to profiteer). I also look for a variety of dining options; a business center with meeting rooms and gratis printouts; a with-it concierge who knows more than you do; and an honestly pet-friendly policy.
Bath amenities are a particular obsession of many luxury travelers. They don't need to be vast in variety, but carefully chosen, with daily essentials like Q-tips, toothpaste, and razor as well as the bath stuff.
The best toiletries would be a locally made product line; also good is a true luxury brand like Bulgari, Penhaligon, Acqua di Parma, or Hermes. And not one-use sizes but take-home bottles verging on the 3.4-oz. carryon limit.
Luxury travelers notice when hotels cut corners with these cheap hotel trends >>
7. Room Service: Where a Hotel Can Really Shine
There's so much variation here. Room service can be exquisite and personalized, or perfunctory and so-what. What makes the difference:
- A room-service menu that accurately describes every dish, no guesswork, no surprises
- Phone personnel trained to take your order accurately and answer any questions
- Timing: delivery when promised; and no more than 30 minutes tops for impulse order
- The server knocks and asks where to set up, and asks when to return to clear
- Lovely presentation makes the difference between 4-star and 5-star room service. I want fine tableware and china, and linens, and a hothouse flower in a silver vase
- When the service is cleared, the cart should be brought to a hidden service area, not left in the hall
Housekeeping staff, being minimally skilled and paid, are the hotel personnel most resistant to training. But they can excel, and the best hotel maids take fierce pride in their craft. This is very detail-oriented work, and the difference is in the details.
The best housekeeping personnel are extremely observant and not assumptive. They cast a wide net for cleaning -- including places like under the bed.
They can rearrange things slightly, but should never move your possessions. And they should not take away anything unless it's in the garbage or recycling bin. They should not remove newspapers, half-empty water bottles, or shopping bags. It's infuriating when the maid takes your razor, shower cap, or unfinished candy bar.
Housekeeping must be aware of the hotel's eco-conscious programs and guests "don't launder" wishes. Sadly, this is almost never observed. Nor should housekeepers in rain-starved places like Santa Fe waste precious water filling unused bathtubs in order to clean them.
Housekeeping should be silent. A hotel fails if housekeepers' chatter awakens a guest, or if maids can be heard socializing or playing a TV or radio in a room.
9. Knowing Their Terrain: Complete Mastery of the Hotel and Locale
A fine hotel's staffers do not wear blinkers. All personnel above the level of housekeeper should know what's what. They should be able to tell a guest where everything is situated in the hotel: services, dining, entertainment. They should know hours, charges, policies.
And staff should have a very good knowledge of the hotel's surroundings and how to get around. It's dispiriting for a guest to hear "I don't know" when asking a hotel employee about local transportation or attractions. The attitude of "it's not my job" has no place in a true luxury hotel.
10. Teamwork: Seamless service is like a symphony
At a great hotel, the staff is finely tuned, like an orchestra. They are conducted by a skilled, intuitive, and committed GM. Everyone knows their job, how to get it done, how to work with other staffers, and – most importantly – how to read each guest.
The bottom line: a hotel's goal is to create a memorable experience which guests will want to repeat – and tell their friends, colleagues, and online review outlets about.
You know great service when you find it; it feels brilliant and rare, but at the same time completely natural – the way things should be.
Find out more about Eric Weiss & what he does for hotels >>
And his rarely-met criteria for a true luxury hotel >>
And what Eric designates the worst hotel trends that we all notice & hate >>