A philosophy of stellar service

The Ritz-Carlton Denver became the first Denver property to win the AAA Five Diamond Award.
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Empowerment. It's a word the conversation kept coming back to as I interviewed luxury hoteliers about what makes them stand out from the crowd. I finally understood what they meant after spending three days at the Ritz-Carlton in Denver.

I am not the easiest person with whom to travel or dine. Having worked many years through high school and college in restaurants, I have little tolerance for bad service. My standards only got higher as I began writing about travel and staying at some of the world's finest hotels.

So I can only imagine how pleased my husband was after three days at the Ritz-Carlton Denver, when I had nothing but praise for our visit. We talked about it as we were driving home, trying to figure out just what it was that made that trip so special. Yes, the hotel is beautiful. The dining was fabulous. And not one little thing went wrong.

But it was far from the first time we'd had a pleasant luxury hotel experience.

Finally, we nailed it. It was the people. They were not just pleasant and always in place when we needed something; they were engaged, genuinely interested in who we were, where we were from and what we were doing.

And they were empowered, which in turn meant they were comfortable.

The Ritz-Carlton Denver's restaurant.
The Ritz-Carlton Denver's restaurant.

From the valet, who after spotting the Bikram Yoga Albuquerque water bottle in my car, invited me to try a class at a nearby studio where he taught, to the woman on the club level who encouraged us to go ahead and sneak a bottle of wine to our room when we asked how late they would be open.

When I asked then-General Manager Steve Janicek (now general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colo.) how his hotel became the first Denver property to win AAA's coveted five diamonds, and hold that ranking every year since it opened, he kept coming back to the people, their training and "empowerment."

"A lot of it has to do with the physical property," he said, noting the hotel had just completed a renovation. "But not near as much as the people. You have to find the right people and empower them to take care of the guests."

Empowerment can make the difference between good and excellent service.

It was a principle I was reminded of on a subsequent trip to the Palazzo in Las Vegas when, after checking in, I headed for the Prestige Lounge in search of a quick snack to hold me until dinner. I asked the woman at the desk if there was food inside, and she said they had just taken it away, but there would be more in 45 minutes.

A second employee saved the moment, walking up quickly and offering to go in the back and grab me a cup of nuts.

Clearly, the second woman felt empowered to find a way to circumvent a schedule in order to accommodate the needs of a guest, no matter how trivial those needs might seem.

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