by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | March 01, 2004

Ritz-Carlton, Central Park staff

Morning lineup: Karine Dolven,
assistant director of housekeeping at the five-star Ritz-Carlton, Central Park, in New York City, reviews quality control with the staff.

It’s 8 a.m. on a wintry February morning, and the entire housekeeping staff, 30 people in all, of New York’s Ritz-Carlton, Central Park, are gathered in the hotel’s employee cafeteria for their daily mandatory lineup. Over the course of the next quarter-hour they will be briefed by management on the hotel’s occupancy level, the number of repeat guests in house, individual guest preferences and the aliases being used by any arriving VIPs. The meeting ends, as it always does, with a reminder that the employees are “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
   “Housekeeping is without a doubt vital to the existence of a hotel,” says Karine Dolven, assistant director of housekeeping at the Ritz-Carlton. “Our staff is so proud every day of what they do and they do a phenomenal job.” The Mobil Travel Guide agrees. Last November, this influential arbiter of quality in the hospitality industry granted the property a coveted five-star rating to go with its AAA five-diamond ranking.
   Also last November, the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles threw a lavish bash in its magnificent ballroom, complete with a live orchestra, fine wines and champagne toasts. Entry was by invitation only in this case, for the hotel’s staff of 250. The cause for celebration? Mobil had restored the Bel-Air’s five-star rating, an honor the property had held for 15 years until 1999, when it was demoted to four stars.
   “When we lost that star, every employee in this hotel was so disappointed, you could feel it, see it,” says Carlos Lopes, general manager and managing director. “From that moment, we had a mission to reclaim it.”
   To achieve five stars was the mission from day one at the Peninsula Chicago, which opened in 2001. General manager Maria Zec created a Strive for Five campaign, giving employees sponge stars to squeeze in their pockets as a daily reminder of the common goal. She also personally inspected up to 15 randomly selected guest rooms each day for one year. Last October, when the hotel received the news it had achieved its goal, Zec popped the champagne. She did it again weeks later, when the hotel learned it had won a five-diamond rating from the American Automobile Association.
   “It takes passion and commitment, and it costs a lot more to run a five-star or a five-diamond property,” says Zec. “But is puts you in a different category.”