Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon,

I’m a restaurant manager, but I was just curious about something else in hospitality: the minibar. Why are minibar prices always so crazy? Are they even necessary anymore? I’ve seen a lot of hotels offer grab ‘n go items in the lobby instead of in the hotel room. Is that a better option for a hotel manager?

Best,

Minibar Bamboozled

Ciao Minibar,

Thanks for your question! Frankly I love the minibar, and I would hate to see it go. But you’re right. Many hotels – to rid the guest room of the pesky and costly minibar – are choosing to create a kind of “pantry” concept in the lobby to make more options available at all times of day that is easier to manage and more cost effective. Generally to offset costs of labor, product cost and waste (expired goods that were never consumed), hotels charge many times the actual cost of the product seeking to obtain a small profit as well. Hotel guests don’t often appreciate finding their favorite brand name snacks marked up 500% or paying $5 for 15¢ supermarket water.

I believe the minibar to be a corner opportunity for hospitality in a guest room. It’s a place where you can offer your guests a little something to eat or drink while they enjoy their time spent in the room. Too often the minibar becomes a place to capture marginal revenue. It’s true that the minibar represents a relatively significant costly corner in your guest room, when you consider the organization, time, labor, and inspection required to maintain it. But effective product, cost, and staff management means you can have your minibar and give it for free, too.

Build your Minibar

Showcase your personality The minibar can be a place to extend your brand. Are you a fun brand? Then offer “fun” snacks. Are you a beach brand? Provide snacks that are good for “on the go” or “beach ready”. Are you a high-end brand? Include house-made goodies, like special nut mixes, signature cookies, boxed truffles, or small batch, homemade bottled beverages. Give your minibar a personality to tell your story, too.

Keep it valuable by keeping it local Your minibar can be a place to showcase what your community offers, not what the international capitalist community is capable of selling us. Seek small brands over international ones so your guests can experience the local flavor. If there is something that may be misunderstood or might contain allergens, include a description and advisory.

Less is more I’ve seen some hotel minibars that take up half the desk and try to replace the nearby grocery store. It’s not necessary. The goal here is not to offer a completely packaged dinner in the guest room but provide something that hits the spot when your guest needs something to carry him/her over until mealtime. Somewhere we got lost while defining luxury that said we have to offer every variation of something for it to be luxury. This is usually just excessively wasteful rather than truly delivering a valuable experience.

Here’s the trick: Choose a handful of meaningful, high quality food and beverage products that make sense for your brand and your guest. Choose water, a fruit juice and or carbonated beverage, a salty option or two, and a sweet option or two. Done. No mini bottles of Jack Daniels or Grey Goose. No Pringles. And definitely no half bottles of Veuve. C’mon, who are we trying to fool here?

*A quick note on non-edible products in your minibar: things like chargers, batteries, adapters, hats, scarves, or even shoelaces (yep, I’ve seen ’em!) are probably not necessary to include. They should certainly be available to guests upon request (well, maybe not shoelaces, but hey! why not?) so they may be delivered to a room or handed over at reception – which means these items are stored at both reception and housekeeping. But the added effort to ensure these items are always available to each guest and then to charge them to the guest bill when they are used is just far too complicated. Keep it simple.

To charge or not to charge

That’s an important question. I’m a proponent for the complimentary minibar, to the delight of many a bottom-line-obsessed-hotel-GM. The reality is that if you can maintain the costs effectively for both the items themselves and the labor to keep them stocked (by limiting the number and choosing the products carefully), it’s more straightforward to build the cost into the room rate. It’s always a little awkward asking guests at checkout if they had anything from the minibar. We charge them based on their honesty and what the housekeeping attendants tell us. Only to find out in the P&L variances later that a lot of guests are walking away with free Pringles. So, don’t look at the minibar as a mini store, but an opportunity to offer a little more hospitality.

Best,
Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

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Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon,

I’m a manager at a large city hotel in the United States. At least once a day we receive a request from a social media influencer (usually via Instagram) to stay at our property in exchange for a free room. It’s nearly impossible to stay on top of all of the requests. We try to research if the exchange would be good for us but with so many requests we usually end up declining. Do you think it’s worth it for us to collaborate with these influencers? What should we look for in partnering with an influencer?

Best,

Influencers (not) Wanted

Ciao Influencers,

Thanks for writing in! Platforms like Instagram have made it so easy for anyone to declare to know the best of the best of anything, which makes it so hard to know who really has the clout to influence purchasing decisions. I believe there are some Influencers who truly do have the power to drive conversions but I think the majority of them only wish they did.

In your case, I suggest you take a more offensive approach. Put together a list of criteria for what you would want in a collaboration. Include things like:

  • location: a local influencer is great because (s)he knows your city well and can provide quality, authentic content
  • age: look for someone who can relate to your target market
  • the right kind of content: watch out for a profile full of selfies and look for a feed with high quality images and captions

Here are a few other tips I suggest for handling influencer requests:

Don’t let the numbers fool you

I don’t believe there’s any magic number of followers that defines an influencer, it’s really about engagement. I’d rather work with someone with 1,000 highly engaged, real fans than one with 100,000 ghost followers, wannabes and dreamers. Although, admittedly, it’s not always easy to tell the difference.

A very large following can be a good thing or it can be misleading. Be aware that it’s possible to grow a large number of followers by using a bot and/or paying for them. So if you are approached by someone with a relatively small number of followers but is highly engaged with them, that can actually be a stronger endorsement and a better source for quality content.

Influencers will have the most impact on your social media following

Don’t expect the reservations to be pouring in immediately after collaborating with an influencer. Influencers are great for new property or service launches because they raise awareness and create buzz. But chances are their endorsement won’t necessarily start filling your rooms or seats at some alarming rate.

You can improve the results of a collaboration with an influencer by providing them with a special rate or promotion. Also ensure your property profile(s) are optimized for conversions. Make sure your profile has a current phone number, email address, and link to your website for booking. Identify any personalized hashtags in your bio so users can share their experience with you. Use Linktree to direct traffic to multiple links or websites within the single link space of your Instagram business profile.

Work with likeminded fans

It’s simple enough to find out if there’s already chemistry between you and an influencer by scrolling through his/her feed. Does the influencer requesting a collaboration already follow your profiles? Does (s)he know who you are and what you do? A real fan is one of your best ambassadors, so that can be a great indication if that influencer is right for you. But it’s not required. Take a look at the content he or she posts. Is it in line with the content posted on your business’ profile? That’s a good test for compatibility.

Set expectations and deliverables

You can decide if a post on an influencer’s feed is sufficient for a complimentary stay. But you may also consider negotiating multiple posts, cross posting to different platforms, mentions in Instagram stories, and/or a feature on his/her blog.

You can also consider a media rate in lieu of a complimentary stay. If you are opening your doors for the first time, offering complimentary stays could be the way to go to build more buzz around the property and testimonials for your services. But if you’re a historic property with decades of satisfying loyal guests, a media rate is probably a better way to go.

Treat your influencers like journalists

Regardless how you feel about influencers, it’s important to treat them like the media they are the and brand ambassadors they’re going to become. So once you’ve confirmed the list of deliverables, invest in your influencers to show them a good time. Treat them to new cocktails at your bar to talk about on their social media. If possible, book them in rooms with the best views. Offer them room service for breakfast – those photos consistently get great engagement on social media. Give them the experience you’d want your potential guests to crave.

Best,
Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!

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Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon,

I work in the housekeeping department of a hotel, and I’m shocked by how much waste gets thrown out every day: mini bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, soap. Also a few years ago our hotel added recycle bins in the guest rooms, but they don’t separate their trash a lot of times. Do you know any ways we can be more conscientious with our waste in general?

Best,

Sad for the Planet

Ciao Sad,

Thanks for bringing up this issue as it’s one particularly close to my heart. Hotel waste is quite extraordinary since hygiene standards – or at least the perception of them – are so high and directly correlated to guest satisfaction and, ultimately, the bottom line. It’s heartbreaking to think of our landfills full of half-empty bottles of shampoo and barely used mini bars of soap, but that is the reality. Fortunately there are a few industry-tested solutions your hotel can adopt:

  • There are several different services available to hotels now for recycling guest amenities, like this example. These services will collect your used amenities, recycle them and distribute them to underprivileged parts of the world. Others focus on Zero Waste Management, which advocates for alternative ways to dispose of waste outside traditional landfills and incineration.
  • I truly believe that as our guests become increasingly aware of their environmental footprint, the trend for individual bath amenities and the taboo around dispensers will shift. I suspect luxury product dispensers like these will be more widely accepted and prevalent.

Second, executing a proper recycling program for your guests is easier said than done. To ensure maximum participation, it must be made as clear and simple as possible what kind of waste goes where. Multiple waste receptacles in a guest room where space is an economy is already a difficult feat, but can be done. Since waste separation is different for each city it’s impossible to offer any general solution, but consider that clear, conspicuous printed labels (Plastic, Metal, Glass, Paper, etc.) on your containers are the most effective. Have them printed or engraved to fit the style of your guest room so they don’t appear an after thought.

You could even stress the importance of recycling at check-in by either mentioning the presence of separated receptacles at reception or having the bellman point them out when (s)he accompanies the guests to their room.

The other crucial aspect for effectively implementing a successful recycling program in your hotel is training your housekeeping staff to discard of the waste properly and providing them with the appropriate equipment to do so easily. This means accommodating multiple garbage bags on their carts and keeping the garbage separated in all BOH areas as well.

Today guests care and appreciate even more about hotels’ efforts to operate in a more environmentally-attentive fashion. Small changes can have a huge impact overall for the greater good.

Best,
Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!

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Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon,

Can you give me some pointers on responding to negative guest reviews?

Best,

Feeling Feisty

Ciao Feisty,

Responding to negative guest reviews is a kind of ‘rite of passage’ for hotel and restaurant managers. Responding to negative reviews helps managers learn from service failures, show past and potential guests you care, and attempt to clear up misunderstandings. The worst kind of negative review – and unfortunately the most common – are those complaints that could have been avoided or remedied if the guest had communicated them during his or her stay. Unfortunately there is little you can do as a hotel or restaurant manager after the fact, but acknowledging a service failure and showing follow up is the next best thing.

In general, I recommend taking the following steps when responding to a negative guest review:

  • Apologize for the poor experience
  • Clarify what happened or explain the reasoning behind the way something is
  • Follow up with what was done to ensure the service failure wouldn’t happen again (e.g. extra training for staff, changed suppliers, etc.)
  • Invite the guest back and ensure (s)he won’t have the same poor experience the next time (s)he visits
  • Sign the reply

*It’s also very important to make note of the review in the guest’s profile (if it’s possible to identify the guest that left the review). This way, when (s)he returns, there is a record of the episode and staff can be extra attentive to avoid the same mistake.

Responding to negative reviews can be very frustrating for hotel and restaurant managers, especially when it was the guest’s fault for the poor experience. Indeed sometimes inviting the guest back isn’t necessary. Some guests just aren’t right for every property. Similarly sometimes it is appropriate for the manager to explain that the hotel or restaurant staff acted according to quality standards and the poor experience wasn’t the result of any flaws in service. There are eloquent ways to express this in a reply without being confrontational or aggressive, which is never appropriate from the business side.

Best,
Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!

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Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon,

I’m a Guest Relations Director for a luxury hotel in a large city. This means my job is to arrange welcome/apology amenities, purchase gifts, arrange for extensive celebrity rider requests…anything it takes to make our guests happy. However, my company is highly financially-minded and most frequently measures department and manager success by the bottom line. This may work for departments such as Sales and Food & Beverage, but not for my department: despite all the money we spend for our guests and on behalf of other departments to improve overall hotel revenue, we do not generate any revenues ourselves.

While upper management verbally appreciates our work, it is often difficult to justify any internal cost needs or gain additional support without having concrete results to show for it to prove our contribution to the organization. It also affects mine and my team’s performance reviews, as there is only primarily subjective data to present and evaluate on.

Because most of my guests are VIPs, they frequently do not take the time to fill out guest satisfaction surveys. Can you suggest any other methods my team and I can use to measure and demonstrate department and colleague success?

Best,
Unmeasurably Frustrated

Ciao Frustrated,

Job performance should be measured and recorded during periodic performance appraisals. The appraisals cross examine actual performance against an established rubric of qualitative and quantitative criteria (introduced and updated through staff training). These criteria are your service standards and what ground the qualitative nature of service and performance into measurable quantitative metrics. When service failures become repetitive, it’s time to evaluate training processes or the standards themselves to identify what’s causing them.

In cost centers (like your department), containing costs is imperative for profitability – and certainly not easy. Your executive team is naturally going to be rigid in ensuring you exceed guest expectations without spending too much. Since your department doesn’t generate sales, the key is to operate under an approved budget. Using historical data, you should maintain a budget and set quarterly and annual goals to control costs. While your gifts and service recovery amenities may be bespoke for each guest, the costs can’t be. You can set general guidelines for your staff to follow when delivering the more common amenities (birthdays and special events or smaller service recovery amenities). Some ways to keep costs down for bespoke amenities are:

  • establish negotiated rates for bespoke services from trusted suppliers (e.g. with transfer companies)
  • purchase season passes or event tickets to distribute in guest amenities, service recovery or staff incentives
  • for costly gifts or experiences offer marketing opportunities and exclusivity contracts (e.g. with your florist) in exchange for lower prices

In extraordinary circumstances, contingencies should be included in your budget and periodic review of your spending keeps your costs in check. Your staff should be empowered to spend within a confined amount but larger purchases require manager approval.

Performance appraisals with your executive team can analyze the budget with actual spending to either acknowledge and reward those who have stayed under budget or provide more training for those who did not. Guest reviews are valid indicators for exceptional service and service failures, but shouldn’t be viewed as comprehensive for evaluating staff performance.

Best,

Jonathon

– 13 September 2018 UPDATE –

After publication the reader who submitted this question suggested I misunderstood the intent of the submission. Instead of measuring the department performance for the purpose of evaluating staff success, the reader requested strategies related to measuring staff success vis-à-vis the impact the department has on guest satisfaction. In other words, how to prove that the money the department spends on gifts for guests is a worthy investment for the hotel by its impact on guest satisfaction and, in turn, the bottom line.

I’ve amended my response below.

Ciao Frustrated,

Guest Relations in luxury hotels spends thousands upon thousands each year keeping new and return guests happy without receiving credit for bringing in revenue. So your point is a valid one: how can you measure the success of your department without clear numerical metrics? Your greatest ally is the guest him- or herself, but as you mentioned (s)he is often less inclined to fill out comment cards. So your challenge becomes: how can you ascertain relevant guest satisfaction as a result of your department’s effort?

Most hotels and restaurants rely solely on satisfaction surveys, automatically sent via email a few days after checkout. Making these surveys short and digital means guests are more likely to fill them out. Add incentives like “win a complimentary night stay,” and you’ll earn yourself a few more completed surveys. But for your high-profile guests who couldn’t care less about free stays, digital strategies are likely not going to help.

I think you need to capitalize on every point of contact your guests have with your staff.

  • Empower your staff to be vigilant in speaking with your guests when they encounter them. Encourage them to learn what the guest appreciates more and appreciates less. (ex. Mr. Warner likes the apples from Upstate NY in his welcome basket and doesn’t care for the pears; Ms. Dexter likes a cheese plate left for her at turndown; Mr. Wilson will only dine at the restaurant if he gets a table by the window and appreciates a glass of champagne before he orders)
  • Establish a system for communicating this feedback; just like housekeeping attendants can communicate burnt out lightbulbs, a loose table leg, or a guest that has declined service, make the transfer of information simple, clear, and efficient.
  • Incentivize your staff to collect information from your guests. Perhaps create a property-wide point system whenever a staff member communicates a review, redeemable for priviledged parking spots, use of property amenities, or property merchandise.

There is no way to precisely measure, dollar-for-dollar, the impact a department has on the property’s revenue. But relevant feedback from guests who express their appreciation for the care and attention by the Guest Relations managers is enough to measure the success of the department and the worthiness of its investment.

Best,

Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!

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Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon,

I have a question about staff motivation. We run a small restaurant in the countryside using ingredients we cultivate on our farm. We’re only open during the summer, and we hire seasonal staff from nearby towns. We get good reviews for our menu, location, and commitment to the local communities but often receive lower marks for our service. Being in a rural setting and open for only part of the year, it’s hard to attract and hold onto experienced servers. Most of our staff are either very young (still in high school) or still living at home and unsure what to do with their future. Do you have any strategies for building staff morale and improving retention?

Best,
Stuck in a Small Town

Ciao Stuck,

Your staff doesn’t feel engaged because they don’t feel an integral part of the organization. If you are able to create an environment where your employees can express themselves and feel an essential part of the team, they’ll be more inclined to show more effort and take greater care of your guests.

Team building is important for all businesses everywhere. I suggest prioritizing team building activities each season that not only strengthen rapport between team members in different areas (BOH and FOH) but also support training and growth objectives that will help them be more successful in their roles. Some ideas could be:

  • Organize activities on your farm to educate them on how you cultivate your produce.
  • Set up wine tastings with producers or importers.
  • Let interested staff members gain exposure by shadowing different departments.
  • Empower senior staff members to arrange specific sessions to share the responsibility of supporting newer staff.
  • Show appreciation at the end of the season with a staff party. Create personalized awards to recognize each member for his/her specific contribution .

It’s also important to check-in throughout the season to accurately gauge how your staff feels about their individual performance. Set up one-on-one or small group sessions with your staff and give them the opportunity to offer suggestions. The more stake they feel they have in the organization, the more they will feel a part of the team. It also helps you to identify what works and what doesn’t.

You’ll see improvement in both staff retention as well as service quality if you invest time, energy, and support in your staff. And in turn you’re more likely to see greater appreciation for service by your guests, build loyalty, and increase covers.

Best,
Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!

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Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Ciao Jonathon!

There are millions of challenges when renting out self-catering holiday apartments, such as satisfying the guests’ expectations and hoping for a good review, even if things go wrong. Apart from the constant threats of bad reviews if their wishes are not fulfilled asap and to their fullest satisfaction, you also have to battle maintenance issues. Smaller ones can be fixed or at least hidden from new guests, but what happens when your a/c breaks down in the middle of august and there’s not a HVAC pro around? Let’s be honest, there’s no adequate way to compensate a broken a/c with fans and some ice in the freezer at 30-40° Celsius. So what’s the best way to handle such issues? Tell the guest in advance? Act surprised at their arrival? And how much money would be adequate as a compensation for the guest?
Thanks for your help!

Best,

Feeling Hot in High Water

Dear Hot in High Water,

A great, multi-faceted challenge.

First of all, be careful about putting so much emphasis on guest reviews. Yes, reviews are very important but there is no complicated science to earning positive reviews. If you do your job well, you genuinely care for your guests, and you set realistic expectations for what you offer, your guests will write positive reviews. Poor reviews are the result of unmet expectations. Look into the root cause of any sub-optimal reviews, respond to the guest, and make a real effort to avoid making the same mistake. This is not easier said than done.

Your questions are targeted at the maintenance of your holiday homes. I’ve seen many businesses suffer from the lack of properly managing their maintenance department. Maintenance and housekeeping are cost centers, e.g. non-revenue generating departments, that require careful cost management to improve profit. Poorly managed businesses – and those most at risk for poor guest reviews – choose not to manage their cost centers efficiently. An efficiently managed maintenance department keeps a realistic annual budget with emergency contingency, while each year capex investments are scheduled to update furnishings, HVAC and infrastructure. The department should also organize its staff to perform regular preventative maintenance throughout the year, and an in-house “on-call” staff member must be available for emergency interventions outside regular operating hours and holidays.

Service recovery for maintenance pitfalls can be tough. Responding to guest complaints requires a healthy mix of quick thinking and prepared solutions, and your air conditioning example is no exception. It’s never acceptable to hide a flaw or pretend to be unaware something is broken; neither is passing a fan or ice as a substitute for air conditioning. If you’re able to make the guest aware of the issue in advance, make sure you offer some kind of resolution (e.g. alternative accommodations) and you could avoid any inconvenience altogether.

As you’ve mentioned, I’ve seen many businesses handle service recovery with giving money back to the guest. If the air conditioning isn’t repairable in a reasonable amount of time, you should first discuss the situation with the guest, apologize for the inconvenience, and provide alternative solutions. Ensure the guest plays an active role in resolving his/her complaint. It’s possible that a hand-written note and complimentary transfer to the airport is enough to fix the issue. Offer to move the guests to a different accommodation that you manage, or a property of a partner agency (cover all moving expenses, of course). It is important that you make the effort to deliver on the expectations you set for the guest.

On the other hand, some guests will not be satisfied until they receive financial compensation for the inconvenience. But at what price? There is no formula that will calculate the appropriate discount for an inconvenience to every guest, so it depends on each situation. Consider that your negotiating power is far stronger after you’ve made the effort to resolve the matter without financial compensation first. If the guest chooses not to take an alternative accommodation or anything else you’ve offered, this should factor into the amount you give back.

Best,

Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!

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Ciao Jonathon!

I’m a front desk manager for a hotel in a major city in the US. When there are major sporting events at the nearby stadium, our hotel fills up months in advance. Our revenue management accounts for these weekends and imposes a 2 night minimum which is paid in advance and non-refundable. A lot of times guests will complain, even if they have agreed to the minimum-night stay, and ask if they can credit the night for a future stay. This is against our policy, so they’re not very satisfied. To make matters worse, sometimes if we know a guest has left a night early we’ll sell the room again. I don’t like this practice, but the order comes from my superior . What can I do?

Best,

Double Selling and Feeling Guilty

Dear Double Selling,

This is a common problem for properties in locations that experience latent demand. Your revenue manager is smart to impose a 2-night minimum to fill up the hotel for both nights. As for the complaints, unfortunately guests will be guests – even if they know they are required to pay for both nights, they’ll still complain that they only needed one. I don’t suggest you get into the “credit” game with them unless you’re looking to make enemies with your accounting department.

Double selling the room is more an ethics issue that needs to be addressed by your hotel. I know of a lot of hotels that engage in double selling to fluff their occupancy numbers (after all, double selling results in 100+% occupancy). But beware: many guests know hotels do this, too. All the guest needs to do to check if you’ve resold his room is ring the hotel and ask to be connected to his room. Doing this risks negative reviews for your hotel and questions the ethics of the operation. If you’re superior is asking you to sell the rooms, I’m not sure (s)he is all too concerned with the risk of negative reviews.

Instead of being concerned with guests leaving early, why not invest in ways to keep them there 2 days? Up-sell hotel services or local activities at the moment of the reservation or create a special package to keep the guests entertained for two nights. Throw in brunch vouchers or coupons for nearby shops. You’d be surprised how such a small gesture can go a long way.

Best,

Jonathon


“Ask Jonathon” is a Hospitality Advice Column by Jonathon Dominic Spada, founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in California and Rome, Italy.

Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!

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Let me tell you a story about the absolute worst (that turned out to be the best) day ever running the reception at a hotel.

It was a busy autumn afternoon. The hotel was at at 100% capacity, full of visiting professors, guests of the university, prospective students, and parents of current students. I was a fairly new manager – within the first 3 months of serving as Manager on Duty – but I had been a shift supervisor for over a year. I arrived at about 2:30pm for my evening shift,  looked over the arrivals for the day and met with the morning shift manager to get the scoop on how the morning went. I greeted the receptionists and valet staff who were clocking in and preparing for their shift. We had about 65 arrivals still due to arrive; so a busy afternoon but nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.

As I was speaking with one of the receptionists at the front desk, a lovely family approached to check-in. The typical tableau for a prospective student visiting the university with her family: two parents and two teenage girls. They had reserved two connecting rooms: one room with a king-sized bed and a connecting room with two double beds.

Do you have a fun guest service story or challenge that you’d like to share with me? Submit your story to the Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column!

We greeted them warmly and welcomed them to the university. We confirmed the reservation details with them, took ID and form of payment, and swiftly checked them into the rooms. As we took out a map to highlight our location and anything else that would be helpful, the father was quick to inform us that he knew the university very well since he’d earned his doctorate here. In fact this trip was 30 years in the making; not only to show his oldest daughter the school but also reconnect with one of his former professors who had meant a great deal to him. He then told us that his friend would be coming to visit them in the hotel, so when we arrived we had authorization to give him a key to their room. We made note of his friend’s name and prepared the key to be ready when he arrived. We signaled our bellman to assist the family to their room, wished them a pleasant stay, and I got back to briefing my receptionist.

About 2 hours later, I heard a disgruntled man arguing with one of our bellman over a set of car keys clutched firmly in the man’s hands.

It’s our policy to hold possession of all car keys for cars parked at the entrance of our hotel. Not only do these cars block circulation for other guests but also block the fire lane which must always be kept clear. Occasionally guests of the hotel (or more often than not, guests of guests of the hotel) don’t want anyone touching their car and cause an issue. This was one of those times.

I came outside to ask the gentleman how I could help, and he explained that his car (a pretty beat up Toyota or something) was touchy and didn’t want any of the ‘kids’ (many of the valet drivers are current students) to break anything. I said I understood, and just asked what brought him to the hotel. It turned out he was the long lost professor coming to visit the lovely family from before. I explained that we have a private lot for guests a few hundred feet up the road and he was more than welcome to park himself. I asked a bellman to assist the gentleman into the parking lot, and returned to the front desk until he came back.

A few minutes later he came in rolling a suitcase behind him. I smiled and simply showed him the room number as I gave him the key to his friend’s room. “This room is just for me, right?” he asked, in an angrily suspicious tone. I explained that I didn’t know the sleeping situation, but that there was a room with a king bed and a room with two doubles. He quickly became annoyed and demanded that we give him a separate room. I tried calling his friends but got no answer. I wasn’t told he was staying the night; he didn’t have a reservation and the family before didn’t tell me explicitly that he was staying in their room. Evidently, they hadn’t told him either. I explained that unfortunately this evening we are completely sold out, so I’m unable to offer him a separate room. The best I can do for him now is place him on a waitlist if a room becomes available. He found this absurd, and promptly left mumbling to himself under his breath. It was a strange altercation that left me perplexed.

About an hour later, I saw the family come through the lobby and I approached them to explain what happened.

“You let him go!? How could you be so STUPID!?”, he yelled at me. In the center of the lobby and in front of everyone.

I apologized for any miscommunication, and asked what I could do to remedy the situation. “Nothing! He has no cell phone and we have no contact information for him. All you had to do was give him the key!” I was confused and frustrated for being thrown under the bus. I knew that I hadn’t handled the situation incorrectly but felt the need to do more.

I went back to my office and began to come up with a plan. The hotel was fully booked, and none of the arrivals were no-shows from the day before (a common way to predict no-shows for today). I decided I first needed to find where this man ran off to. He was from out of town and was here to visit his friend, so I figured he must have gone to a different hotel. I began to call each hotel in the area to see if he had checked in or at least to be alerted if he showed up. My persistence paid off. After calls to nearly two dozen area hotels, I found him at the Motel 6 outside of town.

I apologized for any miscommunication and requested that he return to our hotel. I offered him a complimentary room for the night, which he accepted. I called the lovely-turned-viperous-family to let them know he was on his way back. They were relieved, but still far from gracious.

This only solved half the problem. Once I created the new reservation, the general hotel inventory was at -1. That meant I now had to either walk a guest to a nearby property or pray for a no-show. The problem is, a no-show can only be confirmed after midnight and walking a guest at that time of night is far riskier than the afternoon. Furthermore, walking guests was especially difficult because our guests –  typically wealthy New Yorkers coming straight from their Manhattan high rise apartments – chose our hotel specifically for its convenient location; it’s the only hotel located on the University campus.

I first checked the notes in our system if we had guests staying with us but visiting the other college in town. I figured I could walk them to a hotel with a more convenient location to the other school. No dice. Fortunately, however, we did have a family of a prospective student with a California address. Being from California myself, I always feel a connection to these guests. I was able to identify them as they drove up to the hotel and caught them before checking in. I offered them a complimentary night at the nearby hotel as well as parking on campus in our private lot. They were easy-going about the situation (halleluja!), and I freed up the extra room I needed. I single-handedly created and resolved the problem, and it was going to be ok. After a great big sigh of relief, I recorded the whole episode in our guest’s profile, and the rest of the night ran smoothly.

Needless to say it wasn’t my best night. Actually it was one of my worst. We ended up with a no-show, which brought my night’s score to 1 comp’d room, 1 walked guest on the hotel’s dime, and 1 room left to sell in the hotel: pretty much the absolute worst scenario for optimizing hotel revenue. But I learned a lot that night about handling stressful situations and about making split-second decisions. I could have done nothing. After all it wasn’t my fault that our guest’s disgruntled friend decided to leave when he discovered he didn’t have his own room. He could have stayed at his downtown motel, and I could have just put him in contact with our guests. But I didn’t feel that was the right thing to do.

I also didn’t want to participate in our guest’s disappointment for a ruined 30-year reunion with someone who was very special to him and his family.

A few days later as I was coming back in for my shift, I ran into the family in the lobby. This time all smiles. The father graciously thanked me for the extraordinary service in finding his friend and ensuring that their reunion was a memorable one. He apologized for his reaction and blamed it on all the excitement leading up to the reunion. I felt totally vindicated. In that moment, it made me realize that while I may have not made the decision that most benefited the bottom line of the hotel – it made all the difference in the world to these guests. And that’s what I’d come here to do.

I believe managing is trait that you either have or you don’t. Over years and through various experiences, you can hone your management skills but only if you have them to begin with. I first became a manager for a restaurant at the clubhouse on a golf course. I was just 16, but I was reliable and ambitious. In the beginning I wasn’t confident in myself as a manager – mostly because everyone I managed was older than me – but soon I grew into the role, was taken seriously and got the job done.

I’m proud of the success I’ve had as a manager and the achievements of the individuals in teams I’ve led. From managing a group of unmotivated Chinese teenagers to take out the trash 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for a 6,000-seat restaurant (where I discovered using smoking breaks as a bargaining currency worked wonders) to supervising a few rough-and-tumble maintenance guys around a 40-property portfolio of vacation rentals in Rome, and finally to the comfort of a 4-star, 153-room property in upstate New York. Management is in my blood, and I love all of it.

So I decided I’d like to share my seasoned perspective and management expertise with my readers, through a weekly advice column dedicated to the hospitality service industry. I’ll egotistically call it, Ask Jonathon, so you’ll never forget who’s writing it. I invite you, my readers, to send me your stories and challenges – from handling diva employees to difficult requests from your neediest guests – and I’ll respond with what I would do in your place. And just like everybody’s favorite “Dear Abby”, we’ll keep people and places anonymous so we can keep the advice real and raw.


Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!


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