The lobby of the Boston Harbor Hotel has Italian marble floors, elegant five-foot-tall arrangements of orchids and beach grass, and views of of luxury yachts and cruise ships docked outside. Amid all this opulence are black-and-white portraits of 21 employees, many of them immigrants, who have worked at the hotel since it opened 25 years ago: Beena Jaikaran in the laundry room, Carmen Dejesus in room service, Yok Lam from housekeeping.
The hotel is the highest-ranked medium company in this year’s Top Places to Work survey, and the respect management shows to its staff is a big reason the employees rave about working there.
The managers at the Boston waterfront hotel, one of just three five-star properties in the city, know that in order to deliver the highest level of service, workers need to feel like five-star employees. The hotel pulls out all the stops for its guests — filling up bathtubs with pink champagne if they so desire — and this VIP treatment extends to its employees, many of whom make their living doing the decidedly unglamorous work of making beds and washing towels.
Managers listen to their opinions, don’t second-guess their decisions, and reward “never-say-no” behavior, such as the room service attendant who ran out to buy gluten-free bread for a guest. There is always a pot of rice cooking in the free employee cafeteria for the many Asian workers who like to eat rice every day; the menu, ranging from salmon fillet to pulled pork to marinated flank steak, is created by Daniel Bruce, the executive chef who runs the hotel’s swanky Meritage restaurant and Rowes Wharf Sea Grille.
“They understand their internal guests, us, just as much as they understand the guests that walk through the door,” said chef concierge Nathan Goff, who has worked at the hotel for 10 years.
The word employees use over and over again to describe the hotel is “family,” and the abundance of longtime workers — nearly half of the hotel’s 251 employees have worked there for more than 10 years — is a big reason for that. Many of them came from other countries seeking a better life, and they found it, thanks in part to the hotel’s benefits — including health insurance, language classes, tuition reimbursement, and grant assistance – as well as to the camaraderie they have found inside the grand hotel’s doors. General manager Jonathan Crellin sometimes eats with the employees when they bring in food from their native countries, recently sharing a sunset Ramadan meal with a group of Moroccan workers.
“The women in housekeeping who came here not speaking English, that just came to America, and now they own homes and their kids are in medical school, and they’re working alongside people that they’ve worked with for many, many years,” said Crellin. “They’ve been the backbone of the culture and the feeling of the family spirit.”
Every month, the hotel, owned by Boston’s Pyramid Hotel Group, honors employees’ Milkshake Moments — named for the book “The Milkshake Moment” by management consultant Steven Little, who wasn’t able to order a milkshake at a hotel because it wasn’t on the menu, even though it turned out the kitchen did have ice cream and milk.
Hotel employees who go the extra mile to create “milkshakes” for their guests are honored at a monthly employee meeting and given a blender from Crate & Barrel and a copy of the book.
Goff, the concierge, won the award for cutting up a linen napkin from the restaurant to create a pocket square for a groomsman who realized shortly before a wedding that his was missing. Goff, 33, knew that management would back him up, even as he was in mid-snip and realized, “Oh God, this is an expensive napkin.”
David Marr, a doorman who grew up in South Boston and checked the first guest into the hotel 25 years ago, wasn’t afraid to approach his boss when Big Dig construction took away the hotel’s valet parking, and the doormen’s tips. Management listened, and put extra money in their paychecks to make up for the lost income.
“I’m not a complainer, but when there’s a major issue, I’ll bring it to their attention, and they look at it. They look at all sides,” said Marr, 54, who has a business degree from the University of Miami and had only planned to stay at the hotel for a few years.
In fact, all four of the doormen have worked at the hotel for more than 20 years — and this longevity speaks volumes to the guests.
Peter Nikitas, senior vice president at Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Co. Inc. in Smithfield, R.I., estimates that he has stayed at the hotel about 50 times on business in the past year — and he wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.
“It is 1000 percent about the people,” he said. “When the lady who brings me a pot of coffee and an omelet in the morning tells me she’s worked there for 18 years, it tells me everything I need to know about what kind of a place this is.”