How to Keep Hospitality Entertaining

By Mark Ricketts President & Chief Operating Officer, McNeill Hotels | December 30, 2018

The passionate airline pilot loves soaring above the clouds, savoring the feeling of power and freedom from our home planet's strong pull. However, when "on the job," she or he must attend to a long, prescribed protocol of pre-flight, takeoff, in-flight and landing procedures and responsibilities. It takes knowledge, experience and attention to detail, as well as being able to react at a moment's notice to a "change in flight plans," to safely and productively navigate to one's destination.

Similarly, in operating a hotel, our staff must attend to what is a complex list of mandated policies and procedures, not to mention record keeping and having to manage a tremendous flow of information. The tasks can come fast and furious at times. No matter the job description or level of our organization.

Moreover, caring for our guests takes a subtle blend of these technical skills, along with a keen understanding of human nature and a genuine interest in making someone's stay as accurate, comfortable and rewarding as possible. When done well, our capabilities and motivation are proudly on display.

However, as we are often reminded in life, all work and no play can dull the edges of that pride and motivation. There are many ways to break up the routine of hospitality, while at the same time reinforcing a sense of teamwork, involvement with community and, in a gentle way, instilling a healthy sense of competition. This article will explore ways to keep hospitality entertaining without going overboard, especially for those good people who serve our guests-reinforcing the clear vision that "it's fun to be in this career field."

Our Many Audiences

Whether we are interacting with guests, brand partners, vendors and suppliers, local business people or the community as a whole, working in hospitality is interwoven with the experience we create for these constituencies or audiences. In particular, this is a principle that we hear discussed more and more these days with respect to a wide range of guests. This means everyone from young adult business or leisure guests wanting their company's or their own travel dollars to yield more than a room, with or without a view, to seniors who don't mind some coddling and a watchful eye on our part making sure that everything is OK.

As such, many guests welcome being invited to participate in staff activities. For example, encourage the customer, when appropriate, to take part in the morning "huddle," when we discuss what's on the agenda for the day ahead; or, maybe, join an impromptu hula hoop contest or mini-scavenger hunt at the end of the day's shift. In this way, longer-term guests at an extended stay property or repeat visitors at any class of property can become part of the hotel's family.

It's also "entertaining" to surprise guests with extra treats in simple, yet memorable ways. This can be unexpected delights at breakfast time, say a complimentary serving of a special coffee cake that a staff member baked from scratch from a family recipe. Other examples include individual guest surprises like an Anniversary gift basket placed in the room of a couple celebrating that special time in their lives together or a Get Well card and some treats for the family that is visiting a relative in a nearby hospital or medical center.

Serving well those who serve others. There are also many ways to keep our staff entertained. Often, this effort can begin through the human resources manager having team members fill out "More About Me" forms when joining our organization. Knowing one's favorite food, favorite sports team, favorite color or hobbies can help in picking out a gift or throwing a surprise event.

The range of ways to entertain staff is only limited by our imagination. Consider a Mardi Gras party, complete with Cajun style pastas and Bourbon Street Jazz for entertainment. Whatever your hotel's location, pay homage to regional history, food, dress, sports teams, colleges and universities, or music. Anyone ready for Breakfast on the Brazos, complete with river cruise, or a Texas Two-Step!

A bonus that comes with events like these is that they allow staff members to reveal their personalities and talents in different ways. Who knew that a front desk person who seemed so shy and reserved would become an enthusiastic performer and great singer on karaoke night? Or, that our maintenance specialist is a great athlete when it comes to a pick-up basketball tourney.

Entertainment can play an important role in informal and formal staff recognition efforts and programs, including those in support of our brand partners. Examples include having a "field day" as a property's key managers wash their team members' cars or try their hand at prepping guest rooms - and we'll have the housekeeping staff fill out the score cards.

Special events also fit in great with national hospitality observances, such as International Housekeepers Week or Employee Appreciation Week for a national brand. Who doesn't like a catered lunch, silly awards and door prizes? Keep a close eye on the calendars of the major national brands. Each holds many meaningful contests and award programs during the year that we can compete for in inventive and fun ways.

The serious side of fun is demonstrated further when we combine entertaining activities with contributions to our host communities. Maybe, we can see who does the best job in filling up backpacks with school supplies for local school children of need; or who can design the neatest poster for a community fund drive.

How about a prize for the team that paints the most walls when we volunteer to freshen up the local YMCA - but don't miss too many spots! We can stage our own version of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show when we invite staff and the local community to parade their pooches, demonstrating that our properties are family and dog friendly.

Formal programs of hospitality organizations that support the volunteer efforts of their people can bring together a good time, doing well for others and personal development. We are only limited by our spirit of caring

Let's Get Even More Creative

Of course, special times of the year like Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving or Halloween are naturals for events that are fun and bring our staff together. The more imaginative we are, the more memorable the celebration becomes. For next Halloween, who would like to volunteer to be our "honored guest" for the Mummy Wrapping Contest? Even astronomical milestones can make for a great event. How many of us held Solar Eclipse Viewing Parties for our staff in 2017 when our property was in the near path of the eclipse?

Friendly competitions are another great way to keep hospitality entertaining. Consider contests among staff, per property or organization-wide, centered on goals like total revenues for a given period of time, the most sell-out nights, percentage staff participation or total volunteer hours for charitable causes, most days without injury, best service stories or guest satisfaction scores.

Then, add a theme for the celebration of those contests. Everyone can dress up in football uniforms for a Football Challenge, i.e. who crosses the goal line the most times by selling-out a given night of the week, with high-fives all around as the awards are given out. Another possibility is to emulate Academy Awards night or some other awards event, to include rolling out a Red Carpet for guests of honor and having the master of ceremonies don a tux or the mistress of ceremonies a tasteful evening dress.

Whatever the chosen theme or format, keep it entertaining and make sure it remains a friendly competition.

Keeping It Real

Hopefully, this article will encourage all hospitality organizations to find creative ways to keep the work experience fresh and inviting. This doesn't mean that we should go overboard or somehow get the idea that we must constantly act out at our jobs. Everything should be in moderation.

Instead, the real purpose here is to acknowledge for your team members that their efforts are appreciated and that it's fun to work as a team toward common, important goals. These efforts need not be elaborate or involve great investments of time, money or staff resources; often, simple ideas or spontaneous forms of appreciation work best.

We must remember that not every property is a luxury boutique or full-service hotel where there may be more institutional forms of "esprit de corps" already in place or there is a requirement to maintain a certain level of decorum or elegance. However, for the great majority of properties under management, programs such as the ones outlined here are another way to give one's hotel a distinct personality or character. This management philosophy fits right in with current industry wisdom that we should do as much as possible, while working within and to brand mandates, to individualize a property and the guest experience.

All the world's a stage, and so is any hotel property. From our vantage point, our hospitality organizations can strike a great balance between performing to a high standard and having fun doing so.

Mr. Ricketts Mark Ricketts serves as President and COO of McNeill Hotels. Prior to joining McNeill Hotel Company, Mr. Ricketts spent the previous seven years serving as Vice President of Hotel Asset Management in the Realty Management Division for Goldman Sachs in Irving, TX. In his capacity, Mr. Ricketts provided hotel asset management oversight for a portfolio of over 300 properties, spanning 10 brands and 27 flags while working with nearly twenty (20) management companies. Mr. Ricketts has nearly 35 years of experience in the hotel industry, starting as a Hotel General Manager at the age of 23 years old. Mr. Ricketts previously worked as Vice President of Asset Management for Equity Inns, Inc., a publicly traded Hotel REIT based in Germantown, TN. At the time of its sale to Goldman Sachs, Equity Inns was the 3rd largest Hotel REIT in terms of number of hotels owned. Mark Ricketts can be contacted at 901-322-4806 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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