I have never built a dry wall in my life and have some difficulty telling a dandelion from a daisy. Nevertheless I do recognize that the “outdoors” of an hotel and/or restaurant is of vital importance to the success of the business. Most of the grandes maisons and palaces of Europe are renowned not only for their architecture but also for their setting and, in many cases, for their gardens. What these architects and landscapers realised was that the “arrival experience” is of the utmost importance. The impact of this experience was carefully calibrated. Grand avenues were created to frame magnificent palaces or teasing routes were designed to allow the end product, the building, to be unveiled layer by layer.With some notable exceptions in the resort business, it has been almost impossible for modern architects to re-create such grandeur, be it because of poor town planning or expense. Nevertheless, the importance of the arrival experience should not be forgotten. The architects of the past would never have allowed the staff quarters, or the manager’s house, or the delivery yard to be the first things that came into view. As far as they were concerned the front door was at the front, the back door was at the back, and the staff were, as we all know, “below stairs” until called for.
I used to suggest to my hotel managers that they “go outside and look in.” Naturally, I discouraged them from becoming office bound and expected them to regularly patrol the public areas and floors of their premises, meeting and greeting as many guests and staff as they could en route. But I also encouraged them to go outside of the building and look at it as an outsider would, with particular emphasis on the first impression it might project. It is, in fact, quite difficult to view a building for the “first time” when you get to see it every day (or night).Could that be your car that is parked so conveniently in the closest spot to the front door?, Could that be your office window with the half-drawn curtains and the delightful view of the back of your filing cabinet, together with the miscellaneous objects that have, over time, fallen behind it? Could it be right that the neon light from the luggage storage room glares into the eyes of all arrivals, day and night? Could it be your doorman pocketing cash for secreting away cars without a parking ticket? Could it be your front entry directional sign that is overgrown by a bush? You certainly won’t see any of these things from a comfortable seat in your office.
Going outside means more than just a quick walk around the garden picking up litter; it means broadening your managerial approach to everything beyond your own walls. How often do you phone your own hotel, and how many rings do you endure before someone answers? How do they answer and what action follows? How many times do you try out your own website by making a reservation or looking for directions? How many times do you do the same to your competitors? How often do you count the lit windows in your competitors’ hotels? Yes, there is plenty of information to be found “outdoors.”Sometimes the nuances of a welcome are very subtle; sometimes they are just plain stupid. Last week I stayed in a four star “chain” hotel in the suburbs of a small French town. As I drove in to the parking area I noticed that the gates were open and a piece of tape was stuck over the entry phone. The pathway in front of the entry doors was paved with decorative, but uneven, cobbles. The “welcome,” just inside the lobby, was a supermarket-type trolley inviting one to transfer one’s own luggage from car to reception. It seemed rather obvious to me that shopping trolleys are not designed for the easy stacking of luggage and that their wheels are not compatible with cobbles. It also told me many more things about the experience I was about to have. Surely an outside-looking-in manager would notice this? Remember, a hotel door is a reflection of who lives behind it.
Author Bio: Peter Venison is the author of ‘Managing Hotels’ and ‘100 Tips for Hoteliers.’ A 50-year veteran of the hospitality field, he continues to work as a consultant to the international hotel and casino industry.