The Power of Ambiance Design

Money! Food! Shelter! And Love! The four cornerstones of life. Hotels plug into this formula when they provide food and shelter to guests in exchange for money from guests. But what about love? When “love is in the air” life seems so wonderful. When “wonderful” happens to guests, “wonderful” also happens to the hotel’s bottom line. How do hotels get ‘love in the air ‘and why should it matter?

Remember lyrics like “I’m in the mood for love”. When guests are “in the mood” they are relating to a feeling that seems to be surrounding them in all that they see and do. That mood makes them happy and agreeable. When guest moods are up so are the dollars that they spend. When guest moods are down, they are likely to notice more problems, complain more and they certainly are not in the mood to spend.

How do hotels create the mood? What mood is most appropriate and what mood should employees be in to deliver…”the mood”? Mood actually translates to ambiance…..the setting of an environment and the feelings that an environment generates. Ambiance is actually a powerful aspect of service delivery. Groups of personnel providing service collectively create a “Service Ambiance.”

When guests visit any hospitality venue, all their senses are potentially in play and can be turned on…or turned off. Each employee contributes to the comprehensive experience and mood of any guest, whether they are on the frontlines or behind the scenes. Guests will feel the impact of any inconsistencies along the way. Those organizations that create a consistent feeling of the desired service ambiance at every point of contact will be rewarded by guests who want more.

Recently, on a trip to Tennessee, we visited a themed hotel that was designed to appeal to all the senses related to this theme. We were delighted with the sights and sounds and especially the wonderful spirit of employees who took great pride in representing the hotel’s “theme” personality. The ambiance was stupendous and so much fun. We had planned to dine out but stayed on property a lot (and spent more dollars on site!), just to take advantage of the wonderful mood we were in while there. Until, that is, the last night of our stay. The hotel seemed to be taken over by teenagers who were allowed to run amuck at 11pm when the rest of the guests were sleeping. The ambiance was shattered and our mood became quite grumpy. The hotel did not appear to manage the ambiance after hours and left ambiance control up to us, the guests. Try telling 50 excited teenagers to go to sleep! Service ambiance and physical ambiance need to be aligned at all times!

The applicable rule for ambiance should be that what is created is what is controlled. Maintaining the physical facility is not more important than maintaining the service ambiance created every minute by personnel. Management has the responsibility of defining the desired ambiance for the hotel’s overall experience, physically and interpersonally, and then sensitizing all employees in their own roles in the delivery of the complete sensory experience.

Walt Disney was a master in ambiance design. Just by taking a walk down Main Street USA at Disneyland, guests experience the clang of the trolley, the smells of vanilla from the candy store, the bustle of store fronts and an overall feeling of home town America. Employees are dressed in costumes that reflect that era and are trained to generate that home town feeling of hospitality. Each point of contact for a guest’s experience was analyzed and mood influencers were designed. The result: guests who begin their experience in a great mood with all their senses alerted. The attitude of each employee attempts to be consistent with the expectation set by the environment.

Hotels and other hospitality environments have so many choices when considering what ambiance they want guests to experience. If the atmosphere is designed to be relaxing and peaceful, then all touch points should be analyzed to create the feeling each step of the way. When phone operators take reservations or respond to inquiries, are their tones in a peaceful pitch? Is each place of employee contact a serene scene and one that reinforces the guest’s sense of calm? Unexpected noises such as radios from the kitchen when a door is opened, loud vacuums, employees yelling to get another’s attention, can all be disruptive to the desired ambiance of quiet. Employee voices and conversations with guests should be more subdued and instill a “we’ll take care of you “attitude to each guest. Physical elements like too many bright lights, table tent clutter in the rooms, strange smells from cleaning fluids or insecticide can also interrupt that peaceful feeling. Just think about candle light and the mood a simple candle can create. Getting that “candle effect” as part of the whole atmosphere is what comprehensive ambiance design is all about.

On the other hand, perhaps an air of excitement is appropriate. Enthusiasm and excitement can be infectious and guests can be “infected” easily by employee actions and attitudes. Bright colors, creative designs and upbeat music wafting through the air will all add to the festive spirit. Foods can be presented with flair of fun and uniform styles can also set the tone. Even furniture arrangement and bathroom décor can subtly impact or distract from a mood.

Ambiance design is a key ingredient in the delivery of exceptional service. Getting guests to “love” the food and shelter they are receiving is the same as getting them “in the mood”. Take steps to analyze the feeling you want each guest to experience. If there are several options, define the range of moods you want to create and what it will take to influence those moods. Orient employees on this mood setting and give them examples of what to do and what not to do. Stress the importance of each employee’s own mood on the moods of their guests. Show them how each interaction can add to or detract from a guest’s experience. As leaders and managers, treat them with the same spirit you hope to generate with guests. Consider designing employee areas with the same ambiance criteria as guests (break rooms, eating areas, and employee restrooms) and get them in the mood before they are even on duty. Take a look at the surrounding atmosphere and evaluate where ambiance is set and where it is upset. Use service ambiance design and management as a tool to overcome deficits in physical ambiance design—it’s much less costly and has an immediate positive impact.

Getting guests “in the mood” is rewarding and it’s fun. It requires focused attention on the senses and a commitment to the desired ambiance in each encounter, from beginning to end. Mood is a conscious state of mind that hotels and hospitality organizations have the opportunity to influence. The result of that influence is happier guests who will tell others about the good feelings they experienced and who are more likely to spend more. On the other hand, they could end up feeling and talking about the moody blues. Get in the mood to set the mood. You’ll be happy you did!