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Holiday Scheduling for Happiness and Success

Your staff wants off on the holidays too. Here are some ideas to keep your business flowing smoothly and your employees happy.

Friday, December 20, 2013
Steve Pike
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In a Facebook message shortly before this past Thanksgiving, an employee at a high-end resort admonished those who called for boycotts of retail stores that planned to open early on the holiday. The do-gooders claimed to be acting in the best interests of those stores’ employees who would be away from their families. The resort employee’s message basically was “chill out.” Working holidays has been part of the hospitality industry since before Joseph and Mary found no rooms at the Bethlehem Inn.

The season to be jolly, understand, isn’t always so merry for hotel and resort employees. At many properties – large and small – the holidays are the busiest time of year, meaning working through Christmas, Hanukah (we know it’s over, but still) and New Year’s for managers, as well as the rank and file. It’s not easy to be sure, but hotels and resorts are removing some of that stress with solid holiday scheduling and other employee-friendly initiatives.

“We have a pretty good mix of tenured managers and experienced employees who have figured out their routines,” said Matt Hagerman, general manager of the Willows Lodge in Woodinville, Wash., a member of Preferred Hotel Group. “What’s important to one person might not be important to someone else. For example, some people might want off New Year’s Eve, but some others don’t care about it.”

The key to good employee scheduling for the holidays, Hagerman said, is starting with a property’s business needs over the holiday season.

“We focus on business needs first and without attaching faces or names, figure out what the Lodge needs,” Hagerman said. “What nights have the highest occupancy, when is the restaurant going to be most busy and when do we have the banquet events? Then we start filling in slots just like we would for any activity.

“When we have overlapping requests for time off, we ask (employees) to prioritize. What are No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3? We know everybody isn’t going to get everything they want, but we can give them what’s most important.”

At the Fairmont Sonoma (Calif.) Mission Inn & Spa, Director of Operations, Amy Kantorczyk said holiday scheduling for employees begins in the summer.

“The operations team (front desk, housekeeping, bell / valet, food and beverage) are aware from their hire date that most likely, they will work on the holiday,” Kantorczyk said. “We try to ensure everyone expects to work, and then we decrease the staff based on the business level based on length of service within the individual department.”

At its most basic, good employee planning for the holidays is the same thing as creating a good guest experience. That is, planning expectations.

At The Townsend Hotel, in Birmingham, MI, a member of Preferred Hotel Group, the 205 employees gear up for the holiday season knowing they’ll have time off in the first three months of each new year.

“There’s only one major conference (the first three months of the year) in March and that’s the auto show,” said hotel managing director Steven Kalczynski. “Other than that, people tend to avoid Detroit because of the cold and the snow, so it’s kind of feast and famine. Everybody knows that in November and December they have to be on board and working. We always hold our holiday party the second week in January.”

Antlers at Vail (Colo.) resort General Manager Rob LeVine said, “We recognize that our people spend more time working (over the holidays) than other people, so we try to try to make it up to them in other ways, such as a little bit more time off later. People say ‘I don’t mind working one day at Christmas to have two days off some other time.”

The Breakers Palm Beach has taken the scheduling initiative to the next level with its year-round mandatory five-day work week.

“We don’t require our (2,000) employees to work more than five days unless they want to do so,” said Nick Velardo, director of food and beverage for the historic beachfront resort. “If you work a sixth day, you take three days off the next week.”

Unlike many properties, Velardo said The Breakers allows its employees to take vacations in the middle of holidays and high season.

“It’s all about creating a supportive environment,” Velardo said. “A lot of employers will give an employee time off during a busy season, but make (the employee) feel guilty about it. We’re committed to not doing that.”

One of the more unique holiday scheduling initiatives belongs to Amway Hotel Corporation, which owns the JW Marriott and Amway Grand Plaza hotels in Grand Rapids, Mich. The company, which also manages the Courtyard by Marriott in Grand Rapids, the past few years has shut down the Amway Grand Plaza and Courtyard by Marriott on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“It just didn’t make much sense to keep them each open because of the low occupancies,” said George Aquino, general manager of the JW Marriott. “We think it’s a good way to do business and one that make sense. And it’s been well received by our employees.”

This year AHC will shut down the properties Dec. 23-25. The JW Marriott, meanwhile, will be fully operational, including its restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“We’re really the only hotel restaurant that’s open downtown so it’s great for our servers because they do so much better,” Aquino said.
Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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