|By Christine Simmons, The Washington Times
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 20, 2006 - Employees of the Hotel Palomar near Dupont Circle expected another round of routine training yesterday morning. Instead, they learned how to gracefully plie, move their arms in a "port de bras" and perform other ballet moves when greeting guests.
The unconventional training for the eight workers was the beginning of a program to incorporate employees into the hotel's theme of art and motion before the September grand opening.
"The notion of doormen and bellmen disappearing in the background is not possible. They have too much presence. I would like to have them dance, soar and glide through their environment," said Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet. General Manager Brett Orlando invited Mr. Webre and a team of actors from the DC Improv to train the inexperienced employees, who included doormen, bellmen, front-desk clerks and telephone operators.
First, the staff worked with actors from the Improv, a comedy club on Connecticut Avenue. The actors imitated hotel guests by asking typical, but sometimes outrageous, questions while other actors imitated the hotel workers. The real doormen and bellmen were supposed to interject whenever the acting staff responded to guests incorrectly.
"You seem to be shouting at them," doorman Richard Grant said at one point to an Improv actress. "You don't seem natural, you seem scripted. That is a no-no."
Next, the hotel staff arranged themselves in formations in the lobby to learn ballet stretches, positions and steps.
"Feel your opposition line. Legs straight, and one and two and three and four," Mr. Webre told the staff while demonstrating ballet standing positions. The employees mimicked Mr. Webre by arranging their feet in outward positions and slowly swooping their arms through the air.
"Now we're going to add a plie," he said, referring to the ballet step in which dancers bend their knees outward while keeping their backs straight. After a quick rundown of the basics, employees learned how to incorporate the moves into opening doors and picking up luggage.
Mr. Orlando said he wanted to ensure the hotel's inexperienced employees can act comfortably around guests and maneuver gracefully through the lobby.
"We don't script people. Part of the training is helping them become more comfortable with people they've never met. And a big part of the staff are those who don't have much experience in hotels," Mr. Orlando said.
"And with the Washington Ballet, it's putting art into everything they do.
Nonverbal communication is remembered more than verbal communication," he said. "So we're bringing them in to enhance the guest experience."
Tom Kelley, a hotel industry consultant for Concept Group USA, said personalized service is a fresh trend in hotels.
"It's a distinct way to sort of jazz out normal hotel functions and add more personality. It's going to give them a competitive advantage. Your expectations are exceeded because they're trying to make the stay in a hotel a distinct experience," he said. "In the hotel industry, that's kind of new."
Still in construction, the hotel opened to guests last week with 150 rooms.
When it officially opens in September, the hotel will hold 335 guest rooms.
"It was different," Phillip Herbert, a front desk clerk, said of yesterday's training. Mr. Herbert said he did not know about the training until that morning. "But I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot about my body, what I can do, and how much is portrayed by body language. It will be a useful tool to help portray a full welcome to our guests."
Mr. Orlando said he will invite Mr. Webre and the Improv whenever the hotel has new employees. Neither is paid for the training. Instead, the Washington Ballet and the comedy club receive hotel discounts.
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