The simplest ideas, those that are easy to understand and not artificially ornate, can be transformative. Nowhere have I found this to be truer than in hospitality, where the simplest gesture can mean the difference between a happy, returning guest and a vacant hotel room.
I wanted to share a few of these simple stories – ones I’ve shared with clients over the years – as their lessons are applicable outside of hospitality.
It’s all in the pen
The Park Hyatt Chicago is a storybook place, a flagship property and the epitome of luxury. Like any hotel though, the check-in process involved showing ID, handing over a credit card, and perfunctorily signing the registration. A procedure more reminiscent of a loan closing than arrival at such an elite place.
The Park Hyatt Chicago took this procedural necessity and made it a special but momentous event. How? It only took a few pens.
Each guest was presented with a small felt-lined tray during check-in, inside of which rested 4-5 of the most beautiful and luxurious pens: a classic black Mont Blanc, a beautifully etched silver one, a pen made of tortoiseshell and for the modernist, a long and slim Lamy.
At this moment, you were instantly surprised as the elevated ritual rose from mundane to eventful. A pause typically occurred while, with delight, each guest pondered which pen was right, which pen reflected their personality, and which pen they were curious to pick up and hold. This became tactile and emotional. On an occasion when I was privileged to stay there, a colleague and I bantered about which pen was perfect for our ‘personal brands.’
In that moment, you felt more like you were signing the Magna Carta than a contract to prevent damage to expensive carpets and towels. All because of a simple, everyday use object.
More to the request
I recently visited Washington’s Watergate Hotel whose name, by their own admission, “is synonymous with the country’s biggest political scandal.” The hotel re-opened its doors in 2016 for the District’s elite, complete with a see-and-be-seen bar equipped with all the requisite cues: verbose cocktail descriptions, “mixologists” instead of “bartenders,” and a collection of trendsetters of all persuasion.
Like many establishments, the need to run a tab is important to maintain clarity of operation and security. But this ritual of collecting the credit card can do much more for the guest experience.
Upon ordering drinks, I presented my card and my server expediently collected the data needed and returned it. Not particularly amazing, except when he politely returned the card with a “Thank you, Mr. Stone.” Throughout the evening, he continued to address me each time by name when inquiring about our next libation. My card served its transactional purpose, but also provided a way for the staff to personalize my experience reminiscent of the hotel’s elegant and timeless roots.
Music makes the difference
The Brazilian Resort of Kenoa on the coast near Barra de Sao Miguel was a recent vacation stop for me, a resort known for its beauty, remote location, and excellent service.
What made the experience so special started back in New York. Prior to departure, we received a confirmation email titled “where small details make the difference.” It was a request beyond passport number and arrival details; it asked questions about our favorite music genres, fruits and juices, drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and other questions about what we wanted our experience to be like.
Once at the resort, everything was beautiful and blissful. Our days were comprised of walks on the beach and lying by the pool under our private cabana. Amongst this serenity, I realized they had great taste in music. One song after another was to our liking: a little jazz, a little Bossa Nova, and the occasional pop. Wait, this was all the genres we had put on or list before departing! The resort was playing our customized playlist, delivered directly to us. Splendid and surprising, it was the small detail that truly did make a big difference.
Our trip came to an end and on departure day we sadly packed to leave paradise. Upon checking out, we received our bill along with a CD with our playlist.
While the vacation is long behind us, that playlist which we put into iTunes remains. In the summer, we sit by the pool and replay it, taking us right back to the beaches and cabanas of beautiful Brazil.
As thinkers, creators, stewards of experiences, we must find these little moments to amaze. They are simple to execute, often incidental in cost, and take a hassle (or at least a ‘nothing’ moment) and make it something.