Think about the last uplifting film you saw. There was probably a moment where the characters find themselves somewhere inspiring to pause and reflect; to really enjoy the beauty of a place. I love any hotel that designs its property with these moments in mind. Take for example a staircase that connects a row of rooms to the main lodge at Qualia Resort. The architect could have just built a set of stairs, but instead made the planks meander thoughtfully through trees, past the restaurant’s garden and lead to this: a simple bench with a peephole view of the sea.
Retail has long been taking cues from the hospitality world when it comes to creating a great customer experience. Take Apple stores for example, making sure that there is a group of people to greet you at the door with a warm welcome and offer to assist. It’s just as important for small shops to have this attention to service. I wandered into Double Monk; a shoe store in Melbourne that gets it. At the back of the store was a shoe polish bar, adorned with a pretty impressive selection of whiskey and bourbon. It’s not about getting potential customers tipsy enough to overspend, but inviting them in (as you would to your home) and letting them take their time and enjoy and experience that really represents the brand.
I met a friend at The Nomad Bar in NYC to take him out for burgers and manhattans on his birthday. While I’m not one to drop special occasion hints, I thought it might give me some leverage to sit at a table sooner at this walk-in only spot. So I told the hostess we were celebrating while I waited for my guest to arrive. We had cocktails at the bar and the table was ready in moments. When ordering, I made a joke about having bourbon and red meat all night (we ordered burgers and tartare). Between courses, she brought us two beef hot dogs - “These are my favorite and I wanted to complete your ‘man-meal’. Happy Birthday.” SO much better than the generic dessert. Simple, thoughtful, personal - it was the perfect addition to the meal.
I’m a firm believer that service comes in two forms: (1) People interacting with guests. (2) Tangible service touches that create a better guest experience.
I see hotel desks all the time that are so rarely used because it’s not a pleasant place to sit and get some work done - think too-small slab of wood facing a blank wall with a terrible lamp. While it’s great to draw guests to lobby and lounge spaces to create vibe/community (and extra revenue), I love any hotel that designs a room space to be truly used. The Line Hotel in LA has every desk face the window, rather than the traditional wall view. I’d work here for hours…
Almost every time I walk into a hotel or restaurant I find a few opportunities for improvement just stand out. Every now again, though, it’s less about what they’re doing wrong and more an idea to make them great. Take Santina, an exciting new spot in NYC’s Meatpacking district: See that crowd of people inside? They are all waiting 20 minutes to get one of their talked-about cocktails (for a NY price too), while these tables outside sit empty. My idea? Throw a one-man lemonade-style stand outside, that sells one signature drink. Charge the regular cocktail price, maximize volume/revenue, and get people to use these tables that don’t have full service normally. Personally I’d rather grab a quick and easy drink outside, then fight my way through the bar patrons on the inside…even at the sacrifice of variety.
Many hotel brands talk about how they are invested in the community their properties reside in. Much of the time though, this manifests itself in the expected ways such as a partnership with a local chef, encouraging the use of city bike share, etc. While these are all great efforts, a hotel shows its true colors in times of crisis and need. When the Standard Hotel in the East Village (NYC) posted the below after a neighborhood disaster, I was so proud of them. This wasn’t a brand affiliation cooked up in a corporate office, but a showing of true compassion by the local team, mere hours after the event occurred. No red tape, no approvals needed - just a glimpse into this hotel’s culture and commitment to its local community.
One chilly night, when coming out of the pool at Solage Calistoga, I was greeted with a freshly-warmed towel from the spa attendant on duty. It was a simple gesture that had the biggest impact on my experience there: one employee recognizing what would delight me at that very moment.
I use this moment as an example in much of my work. Companies want to know how to get this to happen all the time. They write it into extensive manuals on service standards. They conduct training workshops to show people how it’s done. They measure its consistency with things like “secret shop” reports. At the end of the day, this girl gave me that towel, not because it’s written in their standards book, but because she wanted to. Hiring for culture and a true (read: genuine) spirit of hospitality is infinitely more important than hiring based on experience alone. Hire seven other guys and girls like the one with the towel (then encourage them to think for themselves), and you’ll be delivering spot-on service with ease.