“Iconic” is a word thrown around so much it can become meaningless, but it fits the legendary
seaside resort, Hotel del Coronado, which is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, like a glove. Set near San Diego on one of America’s most picturesque beaches, the Del has made and been the site of its fair share of history, with a guestbook second to none that dates back to 1888.
A few snapshots: L. Frank Baum writing three of his Oz novels when in residence here at the beginning of the 20th century. Charlie Chaplin playing polo in the 20s. Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon romping throughout the property in the Hollywood classic “Some Like it Hot” in 1959. Royalty (both actual, like King Edward, and de facto such as Walt Disney and Katherine Hepburn), who visited and were treated as such, as well as many American presidents.
Beyond its famous guestbook, The Del is a living legend, a backdrop for creating a grand American beach vacation for the families and travelers from all around the world who flock to California specifically to visit this jaw-dropping property.
As the property rings in its 130th birthday in 2018, the celebrations are gearing up, with the hotel putting on a year of events, some that highlight the culinary side of this hospitality landmark, some that revel in the sheer beachiness of the location, and some that shine a spotlight on both. (In this hybrid category, the summer season will shine with a beachside Summer Clambake Series, with renowned guest chefs from California and Baja who will join Executive Chef Stefan Peroutka for their take on the California Clambake.)
Add to that Father’s Day concerts, San Diego Pride, Beach Polo, a Chef Throwdown, and a “Hallo-Wine + Spirits” party (among other events), 2018 is a particularly sunny opportunity to visit America’s beloved hotel-and, while you’re there, to wish it a happy 130th.
Everyone has their own way of unwinding from stress. For me, it’s tinkering away at a jigsaw puzzle. I love the challenge of interlocking pieces together to form a complete picture. After I’ve found a home for the last piece of a puzzle, I feel refreshed and invigorated. The process of creating order out of initial chaos calms my mind.
And I’m not alone. Bill and Melinda Gates are raving fans of jigsaw puzzles. When speaking as a guest lecturer at one of my classes at Stanford University a few years ago, Melinda reflected on many evenings spent with Bill tinkering away at puzzles. As part of a testimonial for the company, Stave Puzzles, Bill wrote, “We usually have one or two Stave puzzles along on vacations and during the holidays. We often have a Stave puzzle out on a table at the house. They’re entertaining and stimulating.”
The research also supports the positive benefits of jigsaw puzzles. A 2014 study found that exposure to games such as puzzles results in enhanced spatial skills. Another study spearheaded by Yale University found that joint engagement in solving puzzles results in improved collaboration and cooperation. Other studies have shown that involvement in puzzles can promote memory retention and reduce the likelihood of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. All evidence points to the fact that puzzles give the brain a full-body workout.
My latest successful puzzle attempt was a 1,000 piece whopper titled “I had one of those.” It depicted 50 or so different novelties from my parents’ generation–Barbies, Hot Wheels, Chatty Cathy Dolls, Mr. Potato Head, all the classics. As I configured the pieces, I was reminded of the many valuable lessons that I’ve learned from puzzles over the years, lessons that are valuable to all walks of life.
Turn over all the pieces first.
When I first tear open a puzzle, I instinctively flip over all the pieces so that they are image-facing up. As with any problem, it’s important to get an overview of the components entailed in solving the problem. Whether it’s different team member personalities, conflicting organizational objectives, or different systems that need to be integrated, it’s important to assess the lay of the land before attempting to hone in on a solution.
Construct the frame before the interior.
The first puzzle pieces I assemble are those with straight edges. Constructing the framework necessary to solve a problem allows you to define the scope of the project and limit ambiguity.
Ensure the image on the box cover is always visible.
Whenever I’m completing a puzzle, I have the box cover depicting the image clearly visible. Having a clear goal and objective in mind ensures that my actions are aligned with the desired output and I don’t waste time barking up the wrong tree. Studies have shown that when we write down our goals and keep them highly visible, we’re more likely to achieve them.
Develop a strategy.
I try to break puzzles up into manageable pieces. I develop a strategy at the onset and tackle one section at a time. I decided, for example, I was going to complete the Lite-Brite section of the puzzle before moving on to the Monopoly section. Developing a strategy and breaking a challenge into bite-sized pieces helps you avoid getting overwhelmed. Strategic thinking is a critical leadership skill.
You can’t force pieces together.
Puzzles teach us that it’s counterproductive to force things to fit where they don’t belong. If a piece doesn’t fit, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and adopt a different strategy. As Einstein once remarked, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. It’s important to realize when things aren’t working and move on.
Take time to appreciate the details.
I need good lighting when I’m building a puzzle. Good lighting ensures I’m able to pick out the different color and detail nuances of the pieces. As with any problem, puzzle-doers are rewarded when they are observant and take time to appreciate the details. When I took time to observe that the color of red on the Silly Putty part of the puzzle was of a slightly different hue than that of the View Finder part, it was much easier to segregate the pieces and fit them together.
Recognize when it’s time to take a break.
Struggling to complete the Mr. Potato Head section of the puzzle, I realized it was time to take a break. When I returned back to the puzzle with a fresh set of eyes, the puzzle pieces seemed to magically fit together. When you’re struggling to solve a problem without making much progress, it’s time to take a break.
Celebrate the small wins.
When puzzles are broken down into digestible pieces, it’s easy to celebrate small wins. As with any problem, celebrating small wins ignites productivity and helps keep our engagement levels high. It’s important to savor small victories. As I completed the Easy-Bake Oven section of the puzzle, I treated myself to a homemade brownie before moving on to the Creepy Crawlers section.
So often the challenges we face in life resemble fragmented jigsaw puzzles. Like a puzzle, the enormity of confronting life’s challenges seems overwhelming at the onset. After you’ve completed a puzzle, you’ll be better equipped to tackle life’s challenges. The process of physically piecing together a jigsaw puzzle can be invigorating. Embrace the experience. I can assure you, it’s well worth the time investment.
Alternative forms of workouts have become very popular in the past couple of years, whether it be spin classes, CrossFit or Spartan training. The latter has become so popularized that the routines focused on testing peoples’ limits on strength and endurance have begun to become a feature within highly desired hotels.
The first hotel to incorporate a Spartan Gym was the 1 Hotel & Homes South Beach. It built a 14,000 square foot indoor space that blends the famous Spartan Race, a leader in the sport of obstacle racing, with the wellness-focused luxury hotel brand. Certified Spartan trainers lead the workouts that are performed in close proximity to a Spartan yoga deck, private beach and many of the hotel’s expansive pool decks.
I recently spoke with Christianne Phillips, Director of Mind & Movement at 1 Hotel South Beach to get a better idea of why the prominent hotel brand chose to focus on building a unique one-of-a-kind gym on its property and what the deal terms entail.
Why was it important to be the first Spartan Gym?
Phillips: It was important and revolutionary really, to be able to open a unique ground-breaking facility that is not available anywhere else in the world. Similarly, like the 1 Hotel Brand that forged a new kind of luxurious eco-conscious hospitality, Spartan Gym offers a unique approach to travel fitness that is only available at 1 Hotel South Beach.
How did the deal between 1 Hotel and Spartan Races come together?
Phillips: The Sternlicht family found a passion in participating at Spartan Races and approached CEO and co-founder Joe DeSena about the idea of introducing the first Spartan Gym, the rest is history.
What tangible results has 1 Hotel seen thus far based on the relationship?
Phillips: We consistently see guests return to 1 Hotel South Beach because of the gym and having the ability to properly train for a future Spartan Races with trained professionals.
Is there any exclusivity for 1 Hotel?
Phillips: Being that 1 Hotel South Beach is the only property to date that has a Spartan Gym, South Florida guests have the luxury to utilize a facility that cannot be found anywhere else.
Are there plans to introduce the concept to more of the hotels?
Phillips: As of today, there are no plans set to introduce Spartan Gym to additional properties, but we are not counting out the possibility of it happening in the future.
Is there a way to connect an increase in revenues to the addition of the gym?
Phillips: We have many guests who are not only Spartan Race fans but find the gym an experience on its own, and they end up re-booking. The popularity of our gym has rapidly increased since we opened last year and because of the consistent flow of foot traffic throughout, we will soon be launching a unique wellness package that incorporates Spartan Gym.
Checking email on the subway, answering phone calls in the evening, staying up until ghastly hours swimming through seas of paperwork.
If you can relate to any of the above, then you’re probably trapped on the hamster wheel of productivity. Being productive is fine, but when you can’t get off, that’s where the problems ensue.
Smartphones have effectively killed off boredom, ushering in a new era of ubiquitous opportunities for self-distraction.
If you’re always either working or being fed a relentless stream of entertainment, how is it possible to get in touch with your own inner thoughts and feelings? The cyber age has turned us into input-output machines, and experts mince no words when it comes to the deleterious effects of technology.
To top it all off, a recent Glassdoor survey bears the grim tale that 54 percent of Americans let their vacation days go by unused.
But why are we so busy all the time? Why do we leave no room for respite? Why would over half of American employees squander perfectly good vacation days?
What Terrifies Us.
Fear is a very powerful and dominant force in our lives. People will do anything to avoid the potential disastrous catastrophes that a fear dictates. So when it comes to the career force, which can be intensely competitive nowadays, it’s only natural that fear should enter the picture.
But what is the main reason for these unused vacation days? According to Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst at Glassdoor, it’s simple:
People fear getting behind on their work (34%), believe no one else at their company can do the work while they’re out (30%), they are completely dedicated to their company (22%), and they feel they can never be disconnected (21%).
The Remedy to Fear.
Fear generally capitalizes on doubt. What if you don’t make the next deadline? What if people call you unreliable? What if an emergency happens while you’re offline and unreachable?
All the aforementioned worries are merely assumptions, but if you’d like to kick that fear in the butt then you’ve got to take away the grounds for the doubts. So here’s a tip: plan ahead.
Are you going on a vacation next week? Make it your duty to plan for and preempt any possible situation that might need your attention. Let all your colleagues know your schedule. Set aside a specific time of day that you will be available to answer phone calls. Set up your email auto-responder. Write up a list of instructions you can leave by the secretary so that if anything unexpected comes up, there is no confusion.
Now, Time to Relax.
Mindfulness expert Dana Zelicha and CEO of Organizational Well Being Agency recommends to take a moment to reflect on how you woke up this morning. Were you excited to start your day, or did you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even physically ill by the amount of tasks that awaited you?
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. What you are experiencing is stress, and this rote routine has become a common side-effect for many employees as the result of the US’s growing workplace stress epidemic.
Zelicha says that the good news is that meditation can be effective in just a few short minutes when you find a spare moment or in between tasks. Think about all the times you idly scroll through your Facebook newsfeed or browse the internet for the same (if not more) amount of time. Using those pockets of downtime for meditation could be just what the doctor ordered to get you refocused and back on track.
Here are some ideas for you to incorporate instant mindfulness into your life. Create an island in time by setting an alarm for as little as one minute, and doing one of the following:
Focus on your breathing. Inhale, exhale. Go slow. Close your eyes.
Spend a few minutes listening to music to lower your heart rate.
Sketch on a napkin. Draw whatever’s on your mind.
Keep a gratitude journal — every day, write down three things you are grateful for.
Pay attention to the sounds around you.
Allow yourself to just be. Do nothing. Give yourself a mental reset time to empty your brain of all thoughts and worries.
Drop the excuses; step away from the computer and recharge your life. You’ve only got a limited amount of time on this planet. Make it count.
Most of the time, Daniel Hostettler manages to look and sound the part of a cultured, Swiss-educated hospitality professional. (Picture John Le Carré’s elegant and impeccable Night Manager without, to my knowledge, the international arms intrigue.) But he transforms into something alarmingly like a macho armed forces recruiter, reverse psychology and all, when he speaks to applicants who are considering a position at Ocean House, the triple-Five Star resort he helms, a yellow-clad Victorian wooden pleasure structure that rises high above a pristine strip of southern Rhode Island seashore. (A quick primer on those stars: that’s 15 stars, awarded by Forbes: five for food, five for lodging, and five for the spa. There are only eleven properties in the world with 15 stars, and fewer than half that number are, like Ocean House, independently owned and operated.)
Daniel Hostettler, Ocean House CEO.
CREDIT: Courtesy Ocean House
Overhearing Hostettler giving the talk to someone who wants to work here, you’ll hear him deliver a hefty dose of discouragement. To hear him tell it, working here is the toughest job in the industry. “If you just want to work pretty hard and do a pretty good job, you’re clearly qualified and there are literally a million other positions in the hospitality industry that would work out for you.” But that’s not the way things are done, he continues, here at Ocean House, or at its sister property, the outdoorsy Weekapaug Inn down the road, or at The Blantyre, a smaller Five Star property in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts that Hostettler and his OHM Management team assume management of this winter. Working here requires an employee to never have an off day, at least not in a way that is discernible to guests; you have to bring your A-game every single day, Hostettler says, because the guests here are sophisticated, well-traveled, and expecting perfection. And because maintaining a five-star rating requires a score in the 90s on a Forbes inspection that can come at absolutely any time. (All three OHM Collection properties are also subject to stringent inspections as member properties of Relais & Chateaux, the iconic association of independent luxury inns and restaurants. Hostettler will be assuming the North American presidency of the Relais & Chateaux organization in 2018,taking the reins from storied restaurateur and innkeeper Patrick O’Connell of The Inn at Little Washington, who has headed the organization in North America for the last dozen years.)
Of course, if prospective employees fail to be deterred by Hostettler’s warning and do end up working here, they can pretty much write their own employment ticket afterward, once they have Ocean House or one of its sibling properties on their résumé.
But by that point, they’ll likely be ruined for employment at lesser properties.
Consider, for example, one telling detail of the Ocean House approach. Most luxury guests, here and elsewhere, are familiar with the single-serving Heinz condiment bottles of mayo, Dijon, and ketchup that have somehow become de rigueur in high end room service presentations. The difference here is that, under Hostettler’s tutelage, the cellophane wrap on each individual bottle (which is nearly impossible for a guest to see, let alone unwrap with their bare hands) is preemptively removed by hotel staff to avoid frustrating a guest later on who is trying to enjoy their room service meal.
Hostettler teases me for noticing this detail, “You’re one of the .00005 percent of guests who consciously notice this, Micah, but that’s what I expect from you, considering your occupation [I’m a customer service consultant, trainer, and high-level mystery shopper]. The problem is that guests unconsciously are frustrated by this detail, and it detracts from their experience even if they don’t specifically register it as a problem.”
Another Ocean House exclusive likely to ruin your enjoyment of other hotels, as an employee or a guest? At Ocean House, you’ll never stumble over a room service cart in the hallway, covered with sad reminders of someone’s (perhaps your) late night food choices that don’t look as good in the harsh light of morning. This is a pet peeve of Hostettler, and he’s devised his own technological solution to keep the corridors free of last night’s room service detritus. “I embedded microchips in the room service carts, and a chip reader in the door frames, so that when a guest pushes the cart into the hallway, it sends an alarm to the panels for the floor valets,”-not just a one-off alarm, by the way, but one that keeps ringing and blinking until the valet acknowledges the alarm and collects the cart. Hostettler says this is an example of one of his particular passions, “using technology behind the scenes that the guest never sees, to deliver a five-star customer experience.”
What exactly is a five-star customer experience? We should consider the defining standards of the people who determine its existence or its absence: Forbes, whose predecessor, the Mobil Travel Guide, invented the Five Star rating system in 1958 and who continue to enforce it via a very-tough 900-point inspection system. All of which is mysterious and proprietary, so I will, with circumspection, stick to parts of the Forbes criteria that have been publicly revealed and acknowledged.
Don’t say “no” to a guest without offering a couple of reasonable alternatives.
This is in essence a version of the well-known customer service maxim, “The answer is yes–now what is the question?” but applied to real-life service situations where sometimes you can‘t deliver the “yes” that a guest was hoping for, such as, “Yes, we’re open for breakfast,” even when it’s well past noon. According to this Forbes standard, saying “no” to seating guests for breakfast is acceptable only if you offer a couple of reasonable alternatives. In the case of Ocean House, I expect that the alternatives include, “We have 24-hour room service; I can take your order from you right here, if you like, and serve you either in your room or in our lovely seaside verandah area.”
I ask Hostettler for a second alternative that Ocean House might propose in this scenario. “First off, we wouldn’t tell them the dining area is closed unless absolutely necessary. And if that is necessary, we would offer to serve them by the fireplace in the living room area that’s just beyond the restaurant, or, as you suggest, on the outdoor verandah, if the weather is suitable.”
Or, he says, if the guests would consider a bit more of an outing, they can take one of the Mercedes sedans (Ocean House offers its guests free access to a stunning fleet of new Mercedes cars–including S-Classes, cabriolets, and, for that matter, one or two S-Class cabriolets–to tootle around the Atlantic coast) to one of the local farm to table restaurants for a different, authentic, Rhode Island experience.
(Although the Forbes Five Star ratings system gives more weight to service than setting-70/30, in fact, in favor of service vs. facility-allow me to set the scene at this point. Ocean House towers spectacularly over what truly must be the most perfect Atlantic seaside location in America, high above a beach that was named by the New York Times as one of the ten best swimming spots in the world. It’s one of only a handful of oceanfront hotels still operating in and continuing to define the landscape of coastal New England. Even though its location and landmark appearance date back 150 years (to just after the Civil War), the structure was re-created, beam by beam, stone by stone, by a dedicated property owner, Charles Royce, in collaboration with the local historical authorities, an approach that improved its flood-worthiness and allowed technological, soundproofing, and systems improvements and innovations rarely found in other historic properties.)
How does Hostettler himself define five-star customer service? “Central to my definition is ‘a different experience for every guest.'” Not long ago, an incoming couple, who had intended to honeymoon in the Caribbean, learned that their intended hotel there had been destroyed in recent hurricanes, so they headed to Rhode Island for a non-tropical, but just as beachy, consolation trip. In anticipation of their arrival, the Ocean House staff gathered sand and seashells from their own (chilly) beach, dug two margaritas into the sand, and placed the resulting plated tableau on the nightstand with a note that read, “We’re bringing the Caribbean to you,” further setting the scene with calypso music on the guestroom sound system.
How does such a creative, personalized experience get developed and delivered? Hostettler credits it back to the kind of people he has working here, and the ethos they share as a team. “This is the kind of effort that the people we have working here take pride in, starting with the reservationist who took it on herself to note the detail [of the cancelled Caribbean trip] and bring it to the team’s attention so we could act on it. There’s no way to make someone take that extra effort. This goes back to good hiring, and the environment, or culture, that develops when you have so many committed people working together and feeding off each other’s energy.”
A big part of what keeps such efforts flowing is the fact that Hostettler works, elbow to elbow, along with his team. Although quick to praise his mentors, such as Ali Kasikci at The Peninsula (“one of the best detail people in the business,” Kasikci taught Hostettler much of his methodology, including how to productively deal with cellophane wrappers), Hostettler has also had would-be mentors he rebelled against, one in particular who told him that the way to deliver five-star service was to avoid being hands-on as a manager.
This fellow, who was ex-Four Seasons, got all up in Hostettler’s face when he saw him pouring coffee for a guest when Hostettler was just starting out as a manager. His dubious theory ? A manager should never be seen pouring coffee at the table, because later, if a guest has a problem and demands to see a manager, they won’t respect him as much.
And I thought to myself, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” If I’m pouring coffee, first of all, the waiters will know that they’d better step up their game because their manager is running around pouring coffee in their sections, which means they’re probably falling behind. And second of all, to me [as a guest], there’s nothing less comfortable than sitting at the table with your wife, having a conversation, when someone you’ve never seen before walks up out of the blue and says, “Are you enjoying your meal?” It’s a total disconnect. But if I’m going through my dining room and pick up the bottle of wine on their table, or the coffee pot, and refresh their drinks, I can organically ask, “Are you enjoying everything?” and instantly read the table. If they say, “Yes, thank you,” I know that don’t want to have a conversation. If they start chatting with me, then I know that they’re in the mood for interaction, so that’s my opening foray into touching the table.
For Hostettler, this hands-on style of management is essential, and not just in the dining room. “There’s no way you’re going to achieve five star service sitting back in your office,” Hostettler says. “In fact, if I were going to define leadership in one sentence, it’s this: ‘Leadership is managing from the front rather than the back.'” On the floor is where you see everything, about guests, about employees. Just as important, “I would never ask anyone to do anything that I wasn’t willing to roll up my sleeves and do right along with them. I believe one of the reasons our turnover is low and our staff works so hard is that they absolutely know that if they get slammed with a big group arrival, Alice [Brennan, VP of HR], Antonia [Korosec, General Manager], and I will be on the driveway parking cars with them side by side. You’ll even find me some Saturday nights, in the kitchen, in banqueting, when we have a wedding for 200 people, plating up the food with the kitchen staff. Because I enjoy it, and because sometimes I overhear the newest employees saying, as I’m leaving, “I cannot believe that the president of the company just plated up dinner with us.”
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, trainer, and bestselling author. Click for two free chapters from Micah’s latest book, The Heart of Hospitality, or click here to email him directly, for an immediate response.
Since I’m a bit of an amateur historian, I’m well aware that Christmas was originally a secular holiday that almost all churches tried to suppress. While it was ostensibly to celebrate the birth of Jesus, for centuries Christmas was an excuse for celebration and drunken mayhem rather than creches and solemn hymns.
As such, the so-called “War on Christmas” is patently absurd, all the more so when it’s claimed that saying “Happy Holidays” is somehow a liberal affectation. Quite the contrary; retail stores invented the phrase in an obvious attempt to include non-Christians in the holiday gift-buying spirit.
Probably the dopiest part of the campaign against the “War on Christmas” is the ignorant assertion that the Obama never said “Merry Christmas.” To prove that wrong, Slate magazine brilliantly compiled this video of Barack Obama saying it seventeen times, along with a bonus “Merry Christmas” from Michelle:
You know, as I think about it, this whole “War on Christmas” nonsense is probably the least Christmas-y sentiment that it’s possible to have. It takes a certain kind of evil genius to take the happiest time of the year and turn it into an excuse to hate other people. Especially since consumption during the holiday season is major driver of the U.S. economy.
Careful listeners will notice that two of Obama’s “Merry Christmas”s are in Hawaiian. So just to round things out, here are 141 ways to say “Merry Christmas,” excerpted from WhyChristmas.com. BTW, four of the languages are imaginary; ten points to anybody who spots and identifies all four.