I recently had the pleasure of spending a couple of nights at the when I had family in town. (My son, Evan, was recently promoted to front office manager there.)
Although I live a mere 30 minutes from the resort, I felt like I was on vacation. That’s the point, I suppose.
While my column typically focuses on restaurants, it occurred to me that a hotel defines the “front of the house” experience.
The physical property is lovely, from the spa in the wine caves to the enticing pool area to the complimentary coffee bar each morning. But it was the overall congeniality that struck me.
With a huge expansion underway, including 165 additional rooms, an “ultra lounge” and a state-of-the-art bowling alley, General Manager Michael Palmer has his hands full. However, he took time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about how he makes it all work.
Julie: Do a lot of people mispronounce “Meritage”? Most people think it’s a French word and don’t know that it originated in this country and rhymes with heritage.
Michael: I began here four years ago with the French pronunciation and was immediately corrected by staff. Now I correct people daily.
Julie: Is the customer always right?
Michael: No, but you have to make them feel like they are.
Julie: I understand Joan Rivers was a recent guest. Do you have a story?
Michael: She was respectful and gracious. She said, “Do I have to pay for that wine in my room?” I explained to her that it was a gift from the resort.
Julie: A gift because she’s Joan Rivers?
Michael: Every guest receives a complimentary bottle of wine.
Julie: Good to know I wasn’t charged for that bottle in my room! By the way, I think room service is one of the great pleasures in life. Have you personally delivered room service?
Michael: Yes, on several occasions when we received more breakfast orders than we could handle.
Julie: What did you learn?
Michael: It takes time to do it right.
Julie: What’s the most important thing you can tell a room service employee?
Michael: Be yourself.
Julie: What’s the worst thing a room service employee can do?
Michael: Enter a room if someone is not dressed.
Julie: Your favorite story?
Michael: I sometimes have to stay overnight at the property. One morning I ordered room service. When the server came in, I noticed that he had a piece of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. I had to laugh. Now, every time I see him, I point to his shoe and say, “What’s that?”
Julie: I’m glad he’s still with you! What advice do you give bellmen?
Michael: Never ask someone if they need help, but instead say, “Let me do that for you”.
Julie: What’s your favorite thing about the hotel industry?
Michael: Every day has different challenges. It’s a people business and bringing the best out in people is rewarding.
Julie: You have quite an expansion underway. What kinds of adjustments will you make to accommodate the additional rooms and services?
Michael: Adding staff is priority number one.
Julie: What most excites you about the expansion?
Michael: The unknown. Logistics will be challenging and we’ve already begun to plan for staging areas and transportation from the kitchen to the new rooms.
Julie: If you weren’t in this business, what would you be doing?
Michael: Coach a team sport.
Julie: You essentially do coach a team. What is your message?
Michael: Work smarter, not harder. And do the right thing, even when no one is looking.