Service in a class of its own

Image of Tyler Brûlé

Next Monday marks the start of enrolment week at the Fast Lane Hospitality School’s Summer Programme. In case you haven’t heard of it, this is an intensive eight-week programme designed specifically for hotel, airline, restaurant and resort staff to remind them what business they’re in and how they can become better hosts, managers, cabin service directors, concierges and cabana boys.

Looking at the early registrations, it’s shaping up to be our busiest summer yet, with big contingents coming from New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Brazil and Taiwan.

With so many governments still talking about being service economies and few delivering, we’re going to have a masterclass on what it means to be a service-minded society. Oddly, we’ve yet to see any registration forms from the Clegg-Camerons, the Jintaos or the Putins. Perhaps they’re all hoping for a deal if they sign up late?

Like any good centre for advanced learning, a big part of our draw is our faculty and this summer I’ve pulled in the best from some of my favourites. Signor Vito Cinque from the Hotel San Pietro is going to be running an “art of arrival” course alongside Malcolm Thompson from the Peninsula in Tokyo. The bartenders from the Fasano in São Paulo and Tan’s Bar at the Murata in Yufuin are offering a special degree programme called Cut the Bullshit and Pour the Man a Drink: the end of mixology nonsense.

Indeed, cutting out the nonsense is a key theme running through the programme. Classes will take the form of debates, simulations, “live” training, good old-fashioned lectures and a serious round of exams in August. Sorry, there’ll be no “webinars” (this is the last time that word will appear in this column) as this programme is all about eye contact and being around people. Moreover, all mobile communication devices will be banned from classrooms and notes must be taken down in a jotter with a fine pen.

While this might sound fussy, there’s nothing worse than receiving a handwritten note from a general manager (GM) that looks like it was scrawled with a chewed-up Bic pen clenched by a left foot.

It’s no surprise that one of the most popular courses deals with the global crisis in hotel GMs. You might have noticed this but increasingly hotel GMs either don’t exist or they’re too busy in crisis budget or social media meetings – more on the latter in a moment.

Present Sense: the importance of working the floor is a course that goes straight back to the basics and is aimed at people who are charged with running everything from large bistros to the upper decks of Boeings. It starts with greeting guests, recognising them (and remembering their names) and setting an example by constantly being in the lobby, around front desk, at doors one or two on a 777 and in the dining room.

The point is not about shaking hands and making banal chitter-chatter, it’s keeping an eye on everyone and everything. Does the guest at table 23 need a refill? Ditto the vase in the hallway on the 18th floor? Does housekeeping know that Mr Hariri likes his “dishdasha” lightly starched? Has maintenance in Singapore been advised that seat 1K’s upholstery is looking a bit frayed?

This is the course that not only focuses on getting the details right but also restores both customer and investor confidence by getting well-paid managers out of the back office or galley and in front of the paying guest and passenger.

While this course is already waitlisted, there are many other openings. If you know of any colleagues, friends or regular hosts who might benefit from a summer of service boot camp, please encourage them to enrol at the Fast Lane Hospitality School. The following are all available:

Relight My Fire: why flickering LED simulated candle lights are lazy and look terrible. This course is all about mood and understanding the importance of good lighting. You’ll learn why all lights should be on dimmers, why low-energy coil bulbs make the most expensive suites look like convenience stores and why nothing beats a proper fireplace and a candle-lit dinner.

Don’t Panic: why one (even 20) bad review on Tripadvisor is not a crisis. The essence of this course is about focusing on what you’re meant to deliver rather than fighting fires that may never have even existed in the first place. Good management isn’t only about being gracious, it’s also about telling some guests where they can get off.

Rearranging the deck furniture: not every chair needs to be woven. This is a design and social anthropology course that gives managers the confidence to go their own way rather than follow the pack. Part of the course examines why, over the past decade, every seat on every terrace at every hotel had to be replaced by a dark woven plastic chair.

The Weightless/Waitless Guest: how to please frequent travellers every time. Taught by the people from the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, who show others how it’s possible to make guests levitate as they go to their room – greet them at the door, whisk them to the lift, offer them a coffee, ask them for their laundry and then gently close the door. Easy.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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