The Ben Hotel’s General Manager, Bernardo Neto, believes in the power of building a brand that is unique to his business. This is why, amongst other programs, dining experiences, and guest services his hotel introduced “The Book Butler”.
So what is a Book Butler? Why is it a relevant experience for The Ben to offer? And what do guests think of it? Bernardo answered these questions in our 45-minute Hospitality Industry Webinar!
Micrometrics Marketing Lead, Dave Hale, sat down with Bernardo to discuss:
- What is the Book Butler and why is it a relevant experience for The Ben to offer?
- Where he pulls inspiration for creating new ideas at the hotel.
- How The Ben has shifted various policies to provide a better guest experience through the pandemic.
Bernardo is a self-motivated individual that enjoys tackling difficult projects and achieving record results. Always striving to learn and grow while keeping a humble but confident approach, Bernardo believes that with a positive approach the impossible can be achieved! Since March 2019, he has been the General Manager of The Ben Hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida.
What is the Book Butler and why is it a relevant experience for The Ben to offer?
The Ben is a very unique property that has its own history, personality, and flare. The property was inspired by one of West Palm Beach’s original homes, the Ben Trovato by Byrd Spilman Dewey. The Ben’s name comes from an Italian phrase “Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato” loosely translated to “even if it isn’t true, it’s still a good story.” The hotel is inspired by Dewey’s joie de vivre with her love for entertaining, her interests and passions, and her passion for writing great stories.
“So when we talk about the Book Butler,” Bernardo explains, it comes from the “need to have a signature service moment in the hotel that has to be unique to us. Unique to our story. It must be free to every guest, and it cannot be replicated by any other hotel. So we developed part of our story, Mrs Dewey was a writer, she wrote a best seller called Bruno, about her dog in the late 1800s. She was one of the first ladies to write to Vogue magazine with little recipes about her cooking. So, we said literature is a big part – we have a beautiful library room in our lobby. So we’re like okay maybe we do something around literature and then how do we make it free to everyone? So by really working around that we came up with the Book Butler program. On arrival, we give everybody a bookmark and on the back of the bookmark, it has the information that you would expect in a hotel like the QR codes for the menus, hours of operation and all of that. Then in the front, it explains why we have this signature program where the guest can call the front desk and ask for the Book Butler or to come and meet them in the guest room or any of our public spaces. The Book Butler has four books, they’re curated by local bookstores and they change every quarter.”
Bernardo continues, “we have fun with this, the Book Butler is something we trained most of our managers and so forth to know when the guests request that the staff goes up and they are asked to carry a vest. It’s a very visual thing happening at the hotel because somebody is walking around in a vest with white gloves and a silver tray with the four books. And when guests ask, ‘what is going on?’, ‘what is this?’, the person has to tell him about the service as we walk towards the destination where the person is. Then when we meet the guest they usually ask which book we would recommend. What do you like and everybody has to know a little bit about the literature and why they were selected so it’s a fun thing that makes a guest put down their smartphones and read a hard book again. This might be, for some guests, maybe the first time or, you know, the most recent time that they read a hard-cover book in a long time. They can associate that moment to their stay at The Ben and that is really our goal.”
Where Bernardo pulls inspiration for creating new ideas at the hotel.
When pulling inspiration for new ideas at the hotel Bernardo normally asks two questions when they are trying to invent something or create something new, “is it on brand, meaning, is it original to the story that we’ve been telling? Does he fit with the story? And then the second question is, are we going far enough? Are we doing something just because we’re checking the box or is this truly, as a consumer, something that is meaningful?”
How The Ben has shifted various policies to provide a better guest experience through the pandemic.
Outside of the Book Butler program, Bernardo and his team at The Ben shifted several policies for other experiences and services that they offered at the property during the pandemic. Dave asked how they were able to do so in a way that was still true to the brand, that elevated the guest experience and that helped them stay relevant during the pandemic in a way that was safe.
Bernardo responded, “absolutely, I mean one of the great things about hospitality to me is that you don’t have to guess what your clients want, they tell you all the time, they’re always telling you what they value and what they prefer. And you just have to kind of pay attention, follow the lead. So one of the things we did learn last year is the guests that chose to travel were really safe and were getting vaccinated. When they got here, obviously, they expected the highest level of sanitation and protocols of which we provide because we’re part of Marriott, but what they were really eager to have is that full experience. Once we tapped into that we extended our complimentary yoga classes on the pool deck at sunrise, we have a peloton bike in our gym, we have the ability for the guests to hire certified personal trainers to give them a personal lesson in the gym. We activated live music in both venues, both venues are outdoor too so we have DJs and live music. We allowed the guests to order room service from multiple restaurants, and the full menu too. So, we recognize that instead of what was initially thought we were going to have to do which was limited hours of operation, limited menus, more concise offerings, the client that is travelling really want the opposite. They want the most amount of options and say ‘hey, I love you man but I might want to have it in my room today versus going out. I want items that have to do with wellness from yoga to workout classes.’ So we try to do with the limitations of our building we’re always trying to push in that direction. And we know that if we do that, you know, we’re going to always find an audience for it. We partnered with local artists, for instance, in our studio room, which is this beautiful, gorgeous room that has these glass garage doors, facing outside, so we allow local artists to display some of their art throughout, and that way our guests can have a little art show that’s complementary to them. We do that with up and coming local artists who are also looking to get their work out there. So, it’s where we can bridge and give access to certain local services and businesses that have not had the option, because of restrictions and being closed. So we found ways to creatively give the guests more to do. Things are authentic to West Palm Beach and things that maybe they haven’t seen elsewhere. We’re establishing a really cool experience so that guests can say ‘I’ve travelled but the last great stay I had, that was super hip and cool, was at The Ben.’“
Questions from the audience
One question from the audience was, “so you used to be the general manager at properties like MGM and Caesars during your time in Vegas. I’m really curious what processes you brought from there to the Ben if any?”
Bernardo answered, “I mean, each brand is definitely different. I would say, using your mobile device as an extension of your person. So the guest can check in with their mobile, get a room key to go directly up to the room and even order items. I think utilizing mobile technology to our benefit is something that the guests like – it’s like drinking water nowadays, you kind of have to have it. That’s one thing. I think the approach I brought here is making sure that once you have a brand you got to stick with it. What I mean by that, you can’t dilute it. You know, not that we don’t value everybody’s feedback but sometimes some feedback, if you were to follow it, it takes you away from your original mission. So if we talk about the Spruzzo lounge, on the pool deck, it’s a place where the music is a little bit loud. It’s not, you know, hurting anybody’s ears but it’s louder and if you want to talk you’re going to hear the lyrics. The food is very eclectic and includes traditional Mediterranean dishes. We might get requests or have guests say ‘why don’t you put a tuna salad sandwich on the menu?’ Those are delicious, nothing against the tuna salad sandwich, but it doesn’t fit. It doesn’t exist in The Ben. So if we’re saying we are from the Mediterranean we got to have menu items that exemplify that.”
The second question from the audience was “do you find the use of technology makes it easier for your staff to provide better service to the guest, yes or no?”
Bernardo said, “you got to be careful with technology in the human business because sometimes you introduce too much of it and you overcomplicate simple processes. You have to ask yourself what am I going to win if they’re now three times as slow as they were before, even if the technology gives me great reporting? But with that said, there’s a lot of trendsetting reporting that comes from using technology. We have internal systems within Marriott and other things where guests request preferences. You know you like to be in this type of room versus that type of room. You typically check in around this time versus that time, which is extremely helpful to us. We only have the preferences that the guests provide us directly for confidentiality reasons, but we use that to our full potential. We review everybody’s arrivals, we know that people love cheese or they hate nuts. Mobile ordering and eliminating the middleman, sometimes you can do that and be very efficient, but it’s still a ‘people’s part’ of a people’s business for me. You still have to be in front of the guests with a big smile – that doesn’t change.”
Dave and Bernardo dive into even more details in the webinar, feel free to listen to it here. As a reminder, Micrometrics believes that businesses should create more meaningful connections with the people they serve by enhancing face-to-face interactions and creating connections with guests at scale. Our hospitality clients leverage powerful messaging automation to improve customer experience and operational efficiency at their properties. You can learn more about us at https://www.micrometrics.com/hospitality/