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Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village Gears Up Opening;
400 Employees Going Under Weeks of Training

By Allison Bruce, Ventura County Star, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Nov. 26, 2006 - In some cases, training people to open a new hotel might simply involve handing out binders and uniforms.

Not in this case. Imagine bed-making races and singing contests.

In the weeks leading up to the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village on Wednesday, about 400 employees -- from marketing, housekeeping, dining service and the front desk -- underwent weeks of training.

It kicked off the week before Thanksgiving with two days of "mass training," where everyone was mixed up and divided into groups that rotated through a circuit of 13 stations.

"It doesn't matter what level or what position, they're all mixed up," said Chetna Patel, who oversees learning and development programs for the hotel.

The mass training was a way to give everyone, whether a Four Seasons veteran or someone new to the chain, exposure to what goes into operating a Four Seasons Hotel and how each department is important for keeping the hotel running smoothly.

It was the first mass training for Enrique Patino, a banquet captain. He previously worked 20 years at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach.

"It's very interesting," he said. "You learn a lot about different things, not just your department. When you encounter guests, you can tell them everything about the hotel."

The mass training is something new the hotel is trying. Key points learned during the mass training were repeated during the departmental training, said Thomas Gurtner, the hotel's general manager.

In a typical hotel, new employees get on-the-job training from existing employees. That's not possible with a new operation.

"You have to improvise," he said.

That involved bringing in "culture carriers" from other Four Seasons hotels, he said.

Learning was mixed with games to drive the points home. A discussion of housekeeping services commenced in a race to make beds to specifications. A group Lego-building project taught teamwork.

In different locations, the discussion of "SERVICE" arose, including:

Smiling, making Eye contact, guest Recognition, speaking with a clear Voice, being well-Informed, always appearing Clean and making sure Everyone shows they care for the guests. The capital letters stand for the acronym.

After getting the message, employees then went on to sing about it in "Core Standards Idol" in front of microphones and judges.

To the tune of Maroon 5's "This Love," one group sang "S-E-R-V-I-C-E, that's what service means to me ...," followed by what each letter stood for and a little dancing.

"The idea is to make it informative, but fun as well," Patel said.

Throughout the stations, the underlying point was to give guests the best experience possible.

"They focus a lot on customer service. I appreciate that," said Silvia Peña, a massage therapist new to Four Seasons. "I like to know I'm in an environment where we are trained, we are aware of customer service."

In one station, the employees talked about learning a person's name and then communicating it to others so that the guest could be addressed properly as often as possible. For example, a valet might call the front desk to say a Ms. Weise was on her way to check in. At the desk, she could be greeted with her name, pronounced properly.

At another station, employees talked about problem resolution and participated in role playing.

Front Office Manager Ron Nagy told the group about one of his own experiences while working at a Four Seasons in Hawaii.

He had noticed a woman who seemed distracted at the pool and then a short time later saw her crying. He asked if there was anything she needed.

It turns out that she had lost her wedding ring in the 13-foot-deep saltwater pool. Nagy and others tried swimming down for the ring, but couldn't find it. So, they got the group that teaches scuba diving to go down and recover it.

Acting immediately meant the customer didn't spend the day worrying about the ring and ruining her experience, he told the group.

"You have to take that first step when you notice something," he said.

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To see more of the Ventura County Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.venturacountystar.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, Ventura County Star, Calif.

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