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?

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.



– 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.



“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.

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