Dishing It Out in Style
Four Seasons service is unstinting-and priced accordingly
He cites as an example the company's opening of its first hotel in Hawaii in 1990, the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea, where workers with relevant experience were hard to recruit. "We signed up a lot of laborers from the sugar-cane and pineapple fields, workers carefully screened for positive attitudes," he recently explained. "And within a year, they made Four Seasons Maui No. 1 on the island," according to a ranking in Condé Nast Traveler magazine.
Pursuit of happiness. To that end, all job applicants are first subjected to at least four rounds of interviews, the final one by the hotel's top managers. Rather than poring over résumés or drilling candidates on their skills, "the question we try to answer is, 'Are you an innately friendly, happy person?'" regional Vice President Thomas Gurtner says of his queries for the 4,000 people who applied to Four Seasons' Westlake Village hotel before it opened last November (only 10 percent of whom were hired). "I can teach you to be a doorman or a bellman or a bartender. But if your mama didn't teach you to be nice, then I can't either."
Of course, the company's ethic of reciprocity gives new hires every reason to keep on being nice. For starters, Four Seasons typically pays 10 percent or so above what other hotels do for similar jobs, and its benefits include not only health and dental insurance for all full-time workers but also free meals and even complimentary stays at Four Seasons properties around the world-up to 20 days a year for those with the most seniority.
Those with as little as a year of service are free to apply for transfer to other properties-in choice spots like Paris and San Francisco. Such freedom has given rise to a generation of what Gurtner calls "Four Seasons gypsies," many of whom are tapped to open new hotels and train new staff members.
"They got some crazy-ass places!" a new bellman at Westlake Village whispers excitedly as he walks past a long row of photographs of Four Seasons properties in exotic locales like Egypt, Bali, and Costa Rica. "I could definitely work there!"
Coup de grâce. But it's often the subtler niceties that affect new arrivals the most. Take the time Mercedes Simon applied for a job cleaning the public bathrooms in the Westlake Village hotel. "People were very polite, but I didn't really get it at first," she says of the four successive rounds of interviews she was asked to undergo.
But then, as she sat down for a break in the cafeteria on her first day,the hotel's manager walked up to her.
"May I bring you something, Mercedes?" he asked with a smile.
Stunned by his graciousness-let alone by the fact that he remembered her name, "I said, 'Oh, no, thanks,'" she recalls sheepishly. "But that's when I realized this place really is different. It made me want to work here."
Such positive attitudes make things easy on people like Chetna Patel, the hotel's training manager. Charged with bringing the latest group of recruits up to speed on the hotel's exacting service standards, she spends well over an hour on "recognition" strategies for sleuthing out guests' names, then addressing them accordingly.