In our travels we have stayed at 100's of places around the globe . . . at each we learn something new. A few days ago we decided to take a night off so we stayed at a "beach resort" not far from the end of the new highway to the coast. They offered a good deal on a "villa" and we wanted to try out their "gourmet restaurant" to see if we could pick up some new ideas for the Pura Vida Hotel dinners.
In short, the beach resort was not on a beach but on a cliff (albeit a spectacular location). The gourmet restaurant was closed that and other nights - which we understand as we do not cook every night in our 6 room place though it was more surprising in a 100 room place. The management was nowhere to be seen though the staff got a 5 star rating from us. Reception/guards etc were 100%, maids/room service were 100% and waiters in the other restaurant were also 100%.
This WAS and IS a nice place but it was not a place we would be managing for some of the above reasons. On returning to the Pura Vida we got our "guest services" team of 4 together to chat about what we had seen and to figure out what they thought and what we could learn from the trip. We too won't be perfect but if we say we are a beach property, we should be on a beach. If we rent a "villa" it probably should be a free standing building. Smaller things were also a bit odd - for example there were nice flower petals spread on the bed but they had sadly wilted by the time we arrived in the room. Hibiscus is a beautiful flower but it wilts very fast out of water and even faster when disconnected from the stem. On the bed were swans which once were towels - we won't do that for 2 reasons - a towel that has been manipulated by human hands into a "statue" will never be used by a guest and even if it is I don't want to use it anymore.
Our serviettes at the Pura Vida, for that reason, will never be intricately "carved" into some kind of table design because people don't want to use serviettes that have been excessively "handled". Spot treat if necessary (usually not), wash, dry on the line, iron out the creases, fold once/twice/thrice, final iron, place on table. Simple and as clean as you can get. We wonder all the time about this small item but our staff understands why these details make sense.
In many restaurants you will see waiters polishing glasses before service. We wonder about this too. Someone already washed and dried these glasses. What ARE these people doing? Well they are cleaning off the water spots the original washer missed. W. Edward Deming (in my former life) was my guru on such things.
Our manager, has in fact studied some of Dr. Deming's thinking and I reprint here the 14 points from Wiki:
Deming offered fourteen key principles for management for transforming business effectiveness. The points were first presented in his book Out of the Crisis.
- Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and stay in business, and to provide jobs.
- Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
- Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Build quality into the product in the first place.
- End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
- Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
- Institute training on the job.
- Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
- Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
- Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
- Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
- a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
- a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship.
- Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
- Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job.
But back to the point about this blog entry - "how to make a place that we'd like to stay at?" How do you do that? How do you measure that? How do you know you did it? When is the job completed?
One measure is through experience, both good and bad.
How do you do that? We remember for example our stay some years ago at a tiny little hotel - Finca Los Caballos near Montezuma on the southern Nicoya peninsular. Our host Barbara, prepared us a lovely fixed price no-menu dinner that night which we enjoyed with a nice cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.
We said "this is just perfect!" and promptly adopted the idea for the Pura Vida Hotel. We have been perfecting it ever since. Last year we stopped by Wolfgang Puck's Chinoise restaurant in Santa Barbara, California and tasted a delicious 5 spice Pork chop concoction.
We said "this is just perfect!". When we got home to the Pura Vida, your chef (and my wife) went into her "lab" and came out a few weeks later with an even better version though we still call it Puck's Pork Chops in deference to one of her heroes of the cocina.
How do you measure that? This is not so difficult as in the case of our dinners . . . if Nhi (your chef) gets a standing ovation after dinner we know we may have a hit on our hands. In the case of the concrete walk ways of the early days of the Pura Vida Hotel (and similar walkways in the "5 star hotel that caused this blog entry") it was more difficult.
The rainy season (our first) had started. As days went by in the rainy month of May everything got a little tinge of green throughout the garden including the concrete walk ways. One day I took off down hill while walking the dogs - my speed increased exponentially and inappropriately as my sandals lost contact with reality. Down I went with a splat and a bang! Max, my German shepherd, stops, looks back at me with a sad look in his eyes that seemed to say "dumb gringo only has 2 legs!"
This happened to me a second time before I called the staff together to see what they thought (see Deming Point 8 and Point 9 above).
"Are there problems with the walkways in the rainy season?", I asked the team.
"No," everybody agreed.
"Who has fallen on the walkways?"
"Yes I have," some added.
"So, everybody has slipped or fallen on the concrete walkways in the rainy season?"
"And there is no problem with them?"
The short story is that we finally settled on covering all the walkways with a "laja" material (a bit like slate) that is pretty much slip proof however "green" it gets and looks pretty good too.
How do you know you did it? In this case we all just stopped slipping, in the case of a standing ovation it's pretty simple but for many other aspects of running a hotel it can be very subjective. Some people think towels in the shape of swans look great, others think they represent unnecessary human handling.
One way to double check to see if "you did it". Is to measure against your guest type. The Pura Vida Hotel is not inexpensive, does not attract backpackers or young children and is enjoyed by an unusually large number of people who are a little older, love to eat well and have .edu in their email addresses. If we were a "young family hotel" we'd have child seats as an example - we have none - we would not work for that demographic at all. Our .edu guests are however pretty tough on environmental issues so we need to measure everything we do against THAT backdrop or they won't send their friends next year. What does our kind of customer expect? And what can we do that will knock their socks off (as a large part of our business today comes from guest referrals)?
(entry in process)