Gratuities Get Innovative

Texas property gives planners new flexibility

 Ed Netzhammer
Ed Netzhammer
When the 607-room Omni Fort Worth opens in Texas in January, the property will allow planners to tip food and beverage staff according to how well they perform.

A 15 percent service charge, about half of which goes to the banquet staff, will be applied to F&B bills; meeting planners then will have the opportunity either to leave the total as is if the service was adequate or push the percentage upward if their experience was exceptional. The gratuity system will be in place at the hotel, and, if details can be finalized, at the Fort Worth Convention Center, whose catering will be provided by the Omni Fort Worth beginning in January. That 15 percent base is 5 to 7 percent lower than what other Omni properties charge, and 6 percent lower than the convention center’s current fee.

“People expect if they get average service at a restaurant, they will pay 15 percent,” said Ed Netzhammer, general manager of the new hotel and regional manager of operations for Irving, Texas-based Omni Hotels. “They will pay 20 to 25 percent if they get better service.”

The program was born out of advisory board meetings held by Omni and by the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, where the subject of gratuities and rising banquet prices was a hot button. “Conceptually, our advisory board supported the idea unanimously,” said David DuBois, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“We had meeting planners saying this was a major issue facing the industry,” Netzhammer noted, “and we wanted to see what it was that we could do differently.”

Netzhammer expects the gratuity system will inspire his staff to provide exemplary experiences. “I believe that I will give the best banquet and catering service of any hotel out there, because my associates will be inspired by a gratuity,” he said.

“This sounds great, budgetwise,” said Debi Garrett, senior event planner for Poway, Calif.-based Mitchell 1, publishers of auto-repair software. (She now pays the high service charges and tips exemplary individuals above that.) “It could be a double-edged sword, though, because as a corporate planner, I might have to explain why I’m adding to the master bill.”

If the program is well received, it might expand to other properties in the Omni portfolio.