PART I: Birth of the Ritz-Carlton Mystique
· The Matterhorn
· The Masters
· The Hope Diamond
· The Grand Canyon
· The Parthenon
An unlikely combination? Not at all, because they share a common factor. They garner unmatched respect, worldwide. Mention any of them, and words like these come to mind: “tops in their field,” “awe inspiring,” “prestigious,” “highest quality,” “the finest,” “in a class of their own,” and “breathtaking.”
Here’s a name we can add to the list, quite justifiably: The Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s magnificent customer service—combining resplendent facilities with the ultimate in personal attention—prompts every guest to exhaust his or her dictionary of superlatives. Guests remark that they are “pampered,” “respected,” “treated like royalty,” and “incurably spoiled.”
You have heard of the Malcolm Baldrige award, named after the U.S. Secretary of Commerce who served from 1981 until his death in 1987. Baldrige believed that high caliber management would guarantee America’s prosperity and solidify its position of world leadership. He became a highly vocal advocate of exemplary service.
Congress established the Malcolm Baldrige Award in 1987, with these predominant criteria: An organization must deliver ever-improving value to customers and improve the organization’s overall performance.
The selection committee, comprised of 300 experts in quality and business, named the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company as a recipient twice—in 1992 and 1999. No other entrant in the service division has been successful more than once.
More recently, J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing information services firm-- basing its awards upon survey responses from millions of customers internationally--named the Ritz-Carlton Hotel “Highest in Guest Satisfaction Among Luxury Hotel Chains” for 2003. The Ritz-Carlton led “in each measure of guest satisfaction.” For the two preceding years, the Ritz-Carlton had ranked second, competing for the top spot with Four Seasons, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, and Inter-Continental Hotels.
The hotel’s press release stated: Out of 1,000 possible points, Ritz-Carlton scored 880, 41 points ahead of its nearest competitor, for what President and Chief Operating Officer Simon F. Cooper called a “validation of The Ritz-Carlton vision to grow and extend its brand, without sacrificing our long-standing commitment to providing the finest service and surroundings to our guests.”
Additionally, the Ritz-Carlton merits fourth place ranking among the “strongest brands in the world,” according to Gerard van Grinsven, Vice President/Area General Manager, Ritz-Carlton of Dearborn, Michigan. He has contributed significantly to the strength of the brand, leading the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn to become the most improved hotel in the system for 2002, according to monthly customer satisfaction ratings conducted by Gallup. He had learned the Ritz-Carlton system at the Seoul, Korea, hotel, prior to becoming food and beverage vice president for Ritz-Carlton worldwide, a post he held for six years before his move to Dearborn.
There’s an old song, “How long has this been going on?” That’s worth exploring. How, when, where, and by whom did the Ritz-Carlton “Mystique” originate?
CESAR RITZ, THE PIONEER
No novelist could come up with a more intriguing story. Flash back to the hotelier Cesar Ritz, known as “the king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings.” His name became associated with the most renowned hotels of his day, including the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo, the Savoy in London, and then as manager of The Ritz in Paris, starting in 1898, and The Carlton in London, opened in 1906. Obviously, the Paris and London hotel names combined ultimately for the Ritz-Carlton combination we know.
Cesar Ritz established the benchmark for luxury hotels in Europe. He formed the framework for the Ritz-Carlton service philosophy, with comments like this: “Never say no when a client asks for something, even if it is for the moon. You can always try.”
The Ritz-Carlton’s dining legacy began when Cesar Ritz teamed up with culinary genius Auguste Escoffier. Learning the hotel trade together at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo, they later assumed leadership roles at the Savoy in London, with Cesar Ritz serving as General Manager and Escoffier as Head of Restaurant Services. Ambitious though they were, they could not have envisioned their impact on luxury hotels around the world, long beyond their lifetimes.
Insisting on the highest standard of hygiene, Cesar Ritz preferred white walls in guest rooms, so that even a cursory inspection would detect unwanted marks. Not surprisingly, his reputation for excellence and elegance coined new sayings: “ritzy” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
COMING TO AMERICA
As for the instantly recognizable logo, Cesar Ritz selected the crown, symbolic of the British royal seal, and the lion, signifying a financial backer.
Upon his death in 1918, his wife Marie continued the expansion of his hotels. America came into the picture with the Ritz-Carlton in Boston in 1927. Soon other Ritz-Carltons followed in major cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. However, only the Boston hotel survived the Great Depression.
The Ritz-Carlton Boston exemplified the vision of Cesar Ritz. To reflect the royal atmosphere and treatment, room rates soared to the then sizable sum of $15 per night.
A humorous historical note: Edward Wyner, the Boston hotel’s founder, knew the Ritz-Carlton must maintain an aura of success, despite the gloom of the Great Depression. His answer was elementary. He kept the lights on in vacant rooms, to suggest one hundred percent occupancy.
ESTABLISHING THE STANDARDS
The Boston Ritz-Carlton introduced room and service standards unprecedented in America, now considered de rigueur for luxury hotels. Among them:
· Private bath in guest room
· Elevated dress codes: white tie and apron uniforms for waiters and waitresses, black tie for the Maitre d’ and morning suits for all other staff. (Note that this was adopted decades before the term “dress for success” permeated the business arena.)
· Intimate, smaller lobbies, contrasting with the customary expansive lobbies that afforded little quiet or privacy for conversations
FORMING THE COMPANY
Another corporate milestone occurred in 1983, with the sale of the Boston Ritz-Carlton, and the establishment of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
Over the next ten years, the company expanded rapidly, adding thirty hotels. Today fifty-six hotels, scattered from San Francisco to Seoul, Korea, from Boston to Bali, display the Ritz-Carlton logo.
As every guest knows, you move from one Ritz-Carlton hotel to another without noticing a transition. The décor and service match what you have seen in every other Ritz-Carlton. You encounter no surprises, and certainly no disappointments. The hotel replicates its perfection, regardless of locale, climate, or language.
Although the Marriott Corporation purchased the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in 1998, the Ritz-Carlton name remains prominent. Cesar Ritz would be pleased that the “customer is king” concept he initiated lives in his namesake hotels.
CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SHARING THE FORMULA
In our next article, we will explore the highly acclaimed Ritz-Carlton customer service, with assistance from the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn’s Vice President/Area General Manager, Gerard van Grinsven, and Laura Gutierrez, his Director of Human Resources.
Our third article will explain and describe the Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to sharing its formula for business success with leaders from other industries, through a new yet highly successful Legendary Service Symposium, held at the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn annually.
Keep reading, to learn more about the Ritz-Carlton, where “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” © Copyright 2003 EXPERT Magazine
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