Service Secrets of the Five Stars
By John Paul Boukis and Tad Wilkes
Dan Flick knows about F&B service standards. As GM at Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City, Utah, he was in charge when the Mobil Travel Guide raised the hotel’s rating. “It has been a goal, a concerted focus, for more than five years,” Flick previously told Hotel F&B. That focus paid off. Not only did Mobil elevate the hotel to five stars, but the restaurant earned its fourth star as well.
WHAT IS FIVE-STAR SERVICE?
The first challenge to obtaining that fifth star was defining five-star service. “Not knowing all the criteria from the beginning, we attacked it from the perspective of our own experiences.” says Flick, now COO at Stein Eriksen Lodge Management Corporation.
First, the hotel’s overall service goals were analyzed. The hotel calls these its Core Service Standards. Twenty core standards were defined, among them:
- The staff will acknowledge guests with eye contact and a smile at a distance of 10 feet; staff will verbally greet guests within five feet.
- When a guest encounters a non-English speaking employee, the employee will be able to explain in English that they do not speak English but would be happy to escort the guest to an English speaking person.
- No guest will have to repeat a request or instructions to more than one employee.
"Those were not huge adjustments," says Flick. "It was just creating an awareness that these were the standards. There are things you expect, and then there are embellishments to rise above and beyond expectations. That fifth star is really about going above and beyond."
EMBRACING NEW STANDARDS
To further define five-star service for F&B, all 65 hotel managers got together and brainstormed. “We took individual and collective experiences of what we thought a five-star hotel was,” says Flick. “Once that was cultivated, the executive committee made the decisions (with buy-in from the rest of the team) as to what the standards would be. We developed a core set of service standards, then really embraced those standards we had created ourselves.”
Ensuring compliance with the standards requires constant monitoring. The property uses a fleet of secret shoppers for regular visits. “We got people who had experience with high-end hotels to visit incognito. We gave them our list of standards and asked them to focus on just two or three aspects. Afterwards, they shared their feedback. Some findings were things we weren’t necessarily aware of as five-star criteria. One shopper pointed out that a razor or shaving cream delivered to the room could be delivered in a little logo bag. We took that advice and listened to suggestions as to how to raise the bar,” Flick says.
THE NEW STANDARDS
In total, the hotel identified more than 350 F&B standards. These expectations are broken down by service area and daypart. Some of the standards include:
- Staff does not engage in distracting personal chat or horseplay.
- No plastic wrappings remain on foods.
- Children are acknowledged and greeted individually.
- Guest is greeted within 30 seconds of arrival and seated within one minute.
- Room temperature is between 68 and 74 degrees.
- Management personnel is visible during meal, performing customer service.
- Guest is served a drink within 4 minutes of ordering.
- Guest's name is used during meal.
- Staff has full knowledge of all F&B events.
- Guest is asked if they would like their car called for.
Once obtaining the vaunted fifth star, a hotel cannot merely rest on its laurels and coast. While many constants continue in guest expectations, a changing world and marketplace does require diligent attention.
“The biggest challenge for us is, once you get to the top of the mountain, as we did in 2008, is to make sure complacency doesn’t creep in—making sure that our staff and operations consistently focus on standards but also challenge themselves,” Flick says.
“It certainly has become more challenging. Forbes had branched out into more of a global system. And as they continue to grow, along with that, the standards continue to elevate, because obviously it’s not their goal, as they continue to expand, to have 400 or 500 five-star hotels. That would dilute the rating, so it’s more challenging, because what was once a certain minimum continues to rise from year to year.”
Adjusting to the times requires tweaks along the way, and that can be a good thing.
“I think the room service standards and expectations, at least from Forbes’s perspective, have remained static over the years,” Flick says. “There are certain elements, such as using the guest’s name, smiling, engaging the guest. But the overall perception hasn’t changed. In the industry itself, in the luxury segment, the one thing that has changed is that technology has become a vital component. When iPads first came into the marketplace as they relate to room service, there were glitches, and some thought it took away personal engagement, but my experience is that over the last year or two, hotels have refined that. You don’t have have the personal engagement over the phone making an order, but the engagement happens when they deliver the food.”
Does a fifth star really change much? “Our guest mix hasn’t changed. What has changed is the level of expectation from guests. Those who’ve been coming here for years now expect something more. Once you climb to the top, it’s probably harder to stay there than it was to get there,” says Flick. “But it’s rewarding to be part of the group that made it happen.”
John Paul Boukis is a contributor to and Tad Wilkes is editor in chief at Hotel F&B. Related Links: Handling customer concerns through social media can be a key to guest satisfaction. The importance of revisiting foodservice fundamentals. F&B veteran Craig Reed shares some career wisdom from 40-plus years in the industry.