Service Station: Stars of the Northern California Hospitality World
Eric Weiss - May 12th, 2014
Service consultant Eric Weiss (founder/president of Service Arts Inc.) acknowledges the stars of the Northern California hospitality world. "During one of my recent trips to Northern California, I encountered several of them. In many ways, each of them embodies a specific element of excellent service."
A Sense of Urgency
Timing is key whether in life or in hospitality. Understanding that promises need to be delivered and delivered in a timely manner is certainly one of the key components of excellent service.
I knew I was dealing with concierge royalty as I observed a stately, white haired gentleman coming out from behind his desk offering assistance to a group of Japanese visitors in the lobby. Introducing myself, I asked him if there was a Whole Foods store nearby where I could buy some tart cherry juice. Without a second’s hesitation, Tom Wolfe escorted me to the porte cochere, signaled for the hotel limousine and I was whisked off to my destination. There was no charge.
For the man credited as the first concierge in the U.S. by Les Cles d’Or USA, Wolfe embodies hospitality. In the 1970’s Wolfe trained as a concierge in Europe and then set up a concierge desk in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel. As most Americans were not familiar with the idea, he put a note in each guest room explaining the position and expanding on the ways in which he could help. ¬In 1989 Ivana Trump brought him to the Plaza hotel as Executive Chief Concierge and director of guest services. He returned to the Fairmont in 1995 and has been there ever since.
The two big buzz words in the hospitality world are “personalized service.”
One of my most customized service moments happened at The Mendocino Farmhouse run by proprietor, Margie Kamb. I had previously stayed at the charming 6 room B&B in Mendocino County several months back. Margie and I shared a love of animals, so several months later when my wife and I rescued a 3 month old Jack Russell mix, I emailed her a photo of the adorable pup. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled into my bedroom after an exhausting day of travel and found a framed photo of my canine wonder, “Julio” next to my bed. Who could ever forget that?
One thing is sure in the hospitality business: expect the unexpected. The party of four at dinner turns into a 12 top, the group reserving the private space shows up two hours early, your spa guest tells you at the last minute she is allergic to seaweed when the seaweed wrap has just been prepped. Flexibility is the name of the game.
At the end of an extended trip to wine country, I hurried off to Napa County with the hope of finding a suitable venue for the Service Excellence Countywide Workshop series. I spontaneously called Jim Treadway, General Manager of Hotel Bardessono, with the hope of seeing the meeting facilities. The 64 room property situated in downtown Yountville is known for its contemporary feel and proximity to the restaurant that everyone in the world has known about for the last 20 years.
Not only did Treadway quickly set up a viewing of the hotel, but he personally showed me the space and agreed to my spending the night in exchange for a few observations. The front desk agents, a charming gentleman from Milan, Antonello Nervo and his American counterpart Cali Roman took care of the check-in with seamless, welcoming, and authentic grace. To find one front desk person who does this is a find, but two simultaneously! Several room features that really impressed me were the outdoor shower and the blinds that opened and closed electronically.
Generosity of Spirit
Giving back to one’s community rates in my book as one of the most impactful aspects of a successful hospitaliarian. Not only is it a sure way to encourage connections, but ultimately, it breeds a sense of unparalleled sense of good will.
Healdsburg’s nine room Camellia Inn has been operated by Lucy Lewand’s family for the last 31 years. Ms. Lewand is probably one of the most beloved and civic-minded citizens of the community with a service philosophy second to none. I witnessed that when 200 locals showed up to cheer her on at Healsburg’s version of “Dancing with the Stars.” There were signs everywhere reading “I love Lucy.” No surprise—she won.
The Italianate Victorian inn, circa 1869, serves breakfast around an oval mahogany table seating 16. A cabinet in the living room provides a panoply of provisions guests may have forgotten, ranging from sunscreen to birthday candles, all gratis.
Named the number one chocolate venue in Northern California, every Wednesday is “Chocolate Day” with chocolate tastings, chocolate soaps in the rooms, and chocolate recipes. The Inn sells linens as well, with 10% of the sales go to the housekeeping staff.
To sum it up, it’s the individuals in our industry that make the difference between a memorable stay and a forgettable one, be it the owner, a concierge, a server, a room attendant, or a general manager.