Social distancing guidelines and government regulations combined with low travel demand have led to hotels with few team members on property at one time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many food and beverage outlets have remained open for takeout, most restaurant employees have had their hours cut or have been laid off or furloughed, as have staff across hotel departments. However, some properties have found ways to keep their employees on the payroll, using this time of low occupancy as an opportunity to implement training programs and bring back a more knowledgeable team when the business can operate in full swing again.
The Hamilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., has remained open throughout the pandemic, and most of its employees’ schedules are split between working at the property and working from home through a program called Hamilton University. Mark Driscoll, managing director for the Hamilton Hotel, says that prior to COVID-19, the hotel’s occupancy was so high that dedicating the time to further develop employees was difficult. He adds, “We saw this as an opportunity to do so, and we’re thrilled with the progress. It shows our staff how much we really do care about them.”
Allowing employees to learn another language while not on property shows employees that a hotel is dedicated to furthering their development both in and out of the hotel. Through Rosetta Stone, Hamilton Hotel employees are learning Spanish, French, Italian, and English as a second language. Wait staff at Via Sofia, the hotel’s restaurant, are learning Italian to “support the authenticity of the restaurant,” Driscoll says. Learning new languages helps employees interact and communicate better with both hotel guests and one another.
Having a smaller staff on property gives hotels the opportunity to retrain restaurant employees off property, enhancing their knowledge about food items, wine and beer lists, and cocktails. To teach wait staff about menu items, Via Sofia’s GM is publishing YouTube videos including coursework about the wine list, food items, and more. The videos are followed up with a Survey Monkey “test” to confirm and document that a team member has mastered the training, Driscoll says.
Restaurant staff are also refreshing their guest-interfacing skills remotely. In addition to the YouTube classes, Hamilton Hotel is offering ServSafe training to its restaurant employees through one of its food and beverage directors, who is becoming a master TIPS trainer. Driscoll says this training is “imperative in noticing things like an item has sat out for too long or a guest is intoxicated.”
Driscoll says that training all employees at the property is important. In addition to the restaurant staff, housekeepers and concierges are learning languages to better communicate with guests. Housekeepers have also been trained on how to clean guestrooms in the time of coronavirus through a partnership with Ecolab.
Hotels may be closed or operating with a smaller team, but providing educational programs grows employees’ investment in the property. Training team members across all departments shows them that the property cares about their development, and they will be more likely to feel inclined to continue working at the hotel when all team members are welcomed back to the property.
“The commitment to continuing education is important,” Driscoll adds. “I’m actually very proud of it. I’m proud that we fought through it and I think it’ll pay dividends.”