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Service Station: Components of Successful Hospitality and Building Credibility

Eric Weiss - August 1st, 2014

Service consultant Eric Weiss (founder/president of Service Arts Inc.) takes on four very different hospitality challenges.

They couldn’t have been more different. Four assignments, four locations, four unique challenges—a Philadelphia hotel restaurant about to open, a 4,000 acre resort in the hinterlands of New Jersey, an iconic California spa/resort, and an established dude ranch high in the mountains of Big Sky, Montana. Each property has its own service opportunities where I was brought in to help.

THE POWER OF COLLABORATION: BANK & BOURBON RESTAURANT/LOEWS HOTEL, PHILADELPHIA

Anyone who’s been through a restaurant or hotel opening knows that it’s fraught with tension. It’s a given. Designs change, opening dates fluctuate, even concepts can modulate at the drop of a hat.

How one copes with all of those uncertainties proves one’s mettle. Having a supportive partnership between front and back is mandatory in a business as capricious as ours.

Many restaurants I’ve worked with over the years are missing that dynamic synergy between front- and back-of-the-house management. At Bank & Bourbon restaurant in Philadelphia’s Loews Hotel, it’s a dynamic duo running the show. Thomas Harkins, former executive sous chef of The Rittenhouse Hotel and Alex Amato, a French Laundry alum, were under the microscope in anticipation of the restaurant’s opening. During the four days that I worked with them, I witnessed a powerful partnership. There was ongoing communication and support from each side. Each one had a true passion for the other's domain and was willing to share frustrations, concerns, and encouragements. When the three of us went out to dinner at a competitive restaurant in the city, both were quick to objectively and empathetically assess its strengths and weaknesses.

The forecast is positive. A strong bond between front and back is definitely a component for success.

INTUITIVE HIRING AND UNCOMPROMISING STANDARDS: CRYSTAL SPRINGS RESORT, HAMBURG, NEW JERSEY

The lack of qualified hospitality professionals is a common lament I’ve heard many times from upper management no true service institutions, people just doing it as in interim job, no pride in work.

With a resort comprised of three hotels, seven golf courses, a ski resort, two day spas, and eight restaurant operations (one with a 135,000-bottle wine cellar to maintain), Robby Younes has his hands full. Raised in Lebanon with a high-ranking military father, he was exposed to organizational skills and refined taste from an early age. Bringing those skills to resort life has increased the visibility of Crystal Springs multifold.

As vice president of hospitality and lodging for three years, he has presided over what has become a hospitality contender in the metropolitan New York area. With so many balls in the air, it’s impressive to see how he has helped turn a property in the middle of nowhere into a booming enterprise, even with the death a few years ago of its founder, Eugene Mulvihill. How does he do it? Hiring with a strong sense of intuition has been one of his strong points. Whether it’s a seasoned executive chef, Jean Paul Lourdes for Restaurant Latour, rooms division manager Vinny Sammartine, or food and beverage director Steve diGioia, Younes lets his developed instincts call the shots. His demand for excellence is obvious to everyone working at the resort, and, as with the best of leaders, he is firm but fair. It’s an important quality for uncompromised standards.

THINKING OUT OF THE BOX: The GOLDEN DOOR SPA AND RESORT, ESCONDIDO, CALIFORNIA

In many ways The Golden Door set the standard for wellness throughout the United States when it was opened in 1958 by Deborah Szekely. She had the vision to combine a careful diet with physical exercise and spiritual exploration. Now, with so many spa/resorts all over the world, competition is as fierce as “Project Runway.”

New ownership made a bold move last year when it hired Kathy Van Ness as the gm/COO Never having worked in the hospitality industry, Van Ness came from the world of fashion as former president of Diane Von Furstenberg enterprises. Laser-focused on branding, she understands what goes into making a successful brand.

She hired Rob Sapp, a Four Seasons alum, as managing director, then Greg Frey Jr., a local independent restaurant chef well-versed in “farm-to-table cuisine,” and began renovation plans for the magnificent 600 acre property. The results thus far have been noteworthy. In order to excel with one’s brand, thinking out of the box is definitely a prerequisite.

REINVIGORATING A HISTORIC MONTANA RANCH WITHOUT LOSING ITS SOUL: LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH, BIG SKY, MONTANA

The challenges at Lone Mountain Ranch are many. Over the last years, it has found itself blending into the upscale resort scene of Big Sky. New owners recently purchased the property and are now managing it as well. Upgrades are in the wind. How to transition a historic property to contemporary comfort is not always easy. Reinhard Neubert is leading the charge, and, with a management background of Four Seasons and the Ritz Paris, the future looks bright.

From December to March, the property targets cross-country and downhill skiing. Their 85 kilometers (53 miles) of cross-country trails are renowned throughout the Western states. Downhill skiing at Big Sky resort and Moonlight Basin combine to form the largest skiable area in the United States. Perhaps one of the ranch’s highlights is the nighttime horse-drawn sleigh ride to the top of the mountain. A delicious three course dinner is served in a candlelit cabin from a huge, wood-fired 1880 stove.

The resort is closed for two months for spring cleaning, and after the snow melt, it opens once again, this time offering fly fishing, horseback riding, and hiking—all with experienced guides. Nature tours by coach or by horseback to neighboring Yellowstone National Park are available to ranch guests as well.

Renovating the log cabins and lodges, first built in 1915, is in the planning stage and will begin shortly. There were originally three cabins; now there are 30. They will be updated to be more comfortable, with refreshed bathrooms, as well as being more relevant to today’s traveler, while keeping the historic authenticity and essence of the property.

Whether it’s bringing out the best of each season, bringing out the best of each team member, or bringing out the best of each guest, true hospitality is somewhat of a basic concept. We humans tend to complicate it.