Jewish World Review July 21, 2006/ 25 Tamuz, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

‘Need Help with that Bag? No problem, man.’ | Just what the world needs today — a little less civility, elegance, and manners. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the Ritz-Carlton hotels will be "scaling back" their time honored customer service rules. Euphemisms like "scaling back" run rampant when corporate management looks to find justification for what will ultimately become a cut-back in the way their hotel guests will be treated in the future. "Relaxing the rules" is another common euphemistic term they use in attempting to make the change sound like it's for the better.

For more than 20 years the Ritz-Carlton employee motto has been "Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen." No more. But before you start getting too angry at the hotel, remember they're only reacting to the times in which we live. More and more the hotel guest of today doesn't really fit the traditional mold of "lady" or "gentleman." Beyond that, guests don't even want to be referred to as such. Like the modern parent who would rather be a "pal" as opposed to an authority figure to his or her child, today's luxury-hotel guest would sooner be treated as an equal to the service staff than as their superior.

So what used to be the Ritz's hard and fast 20 basic rules for its staff will now be reduced to 12 "service values" with emphasis on the employees thinking for themselves. The following are a sample of what the old rules were:

  • Never say "Hello" to a guest; choose more formal greetings such as "Good Morning."

  • Escort guests rather than pointing out directions to another area of the hotel.

  • Never, under any circumstances, allow a guest to carry his or her own luggage.

  • Do not use words such as "O.K.," "Sure," "Hi / Hello," "Folks," and "No problem."

  • Use words such as "Certainly," "I'll be happy to," and "My pleasure."

The new 12-point version will be comprised of personal self-help mottos such as:

  • "I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life."

  • "I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests."

  • "I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve the Ritz-Carlton experience."

  • "I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow."

Sort of sounds like "Zen and art of Hotel Maintenance," doesn't it?

The bottom line is that the Ritz-Carlton is going less formal, taking off the tux in favor of the casual Friday approach. Although it didn't say so in the article, I assume that the more laid back approach will include the dress code as well. Just as we have seen bank clerks go from white shirt and tie to polo shirts and chinos, I'm sure the staff at the Ritz will no longer have that elegant look-opting instead for "cool."

The time will come; I'm sure, when the staff will have the same look as the majority of its patrons; blue jeans, T-shirts, and athletic shoes. Been to an airport lately? That's the way most people travel now — except for when they're wearing shorts, flip-flops, and tank-tops. The vast majority of so-called business travelers no longer dress in a business fashion.

Saying "Hi, how ya doin'?" in place of "Good Morning" may seem to some a very small thing, to me it is indicative of a larger cultural change taking place in the world over the last 30 years or so. That a luxury hotel chain like the Ritz is being sucking into mediocrity is yet another sad comment on the decline of civility in our society. If you stop getting pampered service, if you no longer are made to feel like royalty, if only for a few days, then what's the point of staying at the Ritz? If I want to feel like "one of the gang" I can stay at the YMCA.

The Ritz-Carlton and possibly the Four Seasons are the last standard bearers of class in large hotel chains. The very name "Ritz" has literally come to mean "class." Think "Puttin' on the Ritz." The word "ritzy" meaning fashionable, posh, and opulent originates from the Ritz hotel. If the Ritz is no longer ritzy, then all is lost.

I'm not rich. I'm not privileged. I'm not famous. I'm not important to anybody expect my family (I hope). But sometimes it's fun to feel important, to be treated as a VIP, to be pampered for a few days at a luxury hotel. I enjoy looking the part. I like dressing for dinner and being served by waiters who are likewise dressed for dinner. I also appreciate seeing my fellow diners dressed the same way, but alas, they are fewer and fewer.

When I walk into an establishment like the Ritz-Carlton I expect to be treated with respect, dignity, and plenty of pomp and circumstance. I want the "Good Mornings" and the "Certainlys," and the "My pleasures" and the "Yes sirs." I'm paying for that privilege. I don't need to hear "No problem" — I can hear that everywhere else in the world. The Ritz should be a special place. In a way, the Ritz is like Disneyland. We all know that a place like this doesn't really exist in the real world of today, but isn't it great to escape to it every once in awhile?

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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