Meeting planners are accustomed to talking about “front of house” and “back of house” staff at the hotels and resorts they book for meetings and incentives. But how many refer to “the heart of the house” when talking about the front desk, housekeeping, laundry, bellmen, valets, phone operators, and other hotel employees that work day and night to keep their attendees happy?
One who does is Michael Burke, CMP, director, conference & travel services, The Hanover Insurance Group. Having started his career in the hotel biz (as rooms director), he knows what it takes to make a property run and motivate a staff—and how underappreciated that staff often is.
“We recently concluded our top agent incentive at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba. With my experience in the hotel business, I always try to recognize those employees who are ‘the heart of the house’ and don't always receive recognition,” he says. “This is particularly true when a program goes flawlessly, which was the case in Aruba. Housekeeping and the front office did an amazing job.
“Working with our arrivals manifest, they were able to prepare guestrooms so that none of our guests had to wait for a room, regardless of their arrival time. They also took great care of servicing guestrooms and public spaces throughout our stay. It’s not an easy job when housekeepers are generally cleaning 14 to 16 rooms per shift.”
In recognition, Burke and his team attended the resort’s “daily line-up”—the 15-minute, all-staff, standing check-in that happens at the start of each shift at all Ritz-Carlton properties—to personally thank the staff.
But words are one thing. Ice cream is another. The Hanover also sponsored an ice-cream sundae break for the staff while on site. “This was a very minimal cost, but extremely impactful,” Burke says. “One of the housekeepers said, ‘No one has ever thanked us like that before.’ I’m now on a mission to spread the word in hopes that more planners appreciate, and recognize, the unsung heroes in the heart of the house that work tirelessly to make us and our guests comfortable.”
Clodagh Larkin, director of meetings and special events at The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, who worked with Burke on his program, says the resort’s staff members “were completely shocked and surprised by such a nice gesture” and talked about it long after the group was gone. “When I worked with Michael for the first time at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, in Ireland, they arrange a pizza party for the staff,” Larkin adds. “Our ladies and gentlemen love what they do and spend a lot of their time surprising and delighting our guests. When the reverse happens and they are surprised and delighted, it is truly magical.”
Another longtime corporate meeting planner, Mary Keough-Anderson, CMP, CMM, made it a habit over the years to hold pep rallies at hotels before her incentive programs. “This is a great way to develop your relationship with the employees who play a large part in servicing your meeting,” says Keough-Anderson, an independent meeting management consultant who was formerly head of a Fortune 500 company’s meeting department. “Unfortunately, because of the nature of their jobs, they rarely have an opportunity to meet the meeting planner and the teams that work closely with the convention services manager on all of the logistics. The employees that work in the back of the house—whether it’s banquets, front desk, operations, housekeeping, accounting, etc., work long hours during your program and it’s important they feel part of your team and understand the objective of your meeting and who the participants are.”
Keough-Anderson’s pep rallies, which she would plan for immediately before or after her pre-con meeting, got those messages across. She would address the staff, thanking them and getting them invested in the success of the upcoming program by talking about its purpose and the profile of her group.
To make the rally more of an event, she would ask the hotel during negotiations if they would host dessert or a themed buffet lunch. (Alternatively, her company would host it.) She would arrange to have the event over a two-hour period so all the employees would have a chance to participate and meet the meeting planners, and she also included a raffle, with each employee receiving a raffle ticket during the event and about half a dozen small gifts awarded.
Keough-Anderson also stoked a little staff competition during her pep rallies with the Employee Recognition Plaque. Two plaques would be awarded to individual employees or departments that exceeded the company’s expectations during the meeting, one for the back of the house and one for the front of the house.
“The plaque would be awarded at the post-con meeting,” Keough-Anderson explains. “It was such an incredible surprise and recognition for the employee and/or department to be awarded the placque in front of the hotel’s general manager and department heads. I remember awarding the plaque to the entire housekeeping department and the excitement and element of surprise was priceless!”
Finally, she also got her incentive conference attendees involved by giving them “Monopoly money” in their registration packets, with a card explaining the hotel employee program. Each attendee would receive three certificates worth $5 each, which they could give to any employees who went above and beyond in customer service during their stay. The bills were tallied at the close of the program, with $3 going directly to the participant and $2 going to the entire back of the house.