Saturday, December 1, 2018

Why Your Estate Isn't Running As Nicely As McDonald's

"The principals expects their homes to run like Four Seasons"  -  Recent online domestic job advertisement for an Estate Manager

It's a catchy command, one that's seen with frequency in the online domestic job ads, wanting one's home to "run like Four Seasons."  One that certainly draws attention and seeks to set an expectation - of sorts. Yet I see it as the employers' version of name-dropping, that of capitalizing on a brand which is not really one's own - just as candidates sometimes do who are siphoning off a bit of fame by using a former employer's famous identity to create the illusion of having a close, personal association of some sort. In my experience with assisting both estate owners and their managers over the years, the reality is this association with Four Seasons Hotel - or as we shall explore, McDonald's - is not very well thought out.

That's no slam on the incumbents, though, yet more so a commentary on the relationships, the nearly invisible, emotional vapors which connect all persons through intents, often unstated, and those which are given life with domestic service staff are often a different apparition - one that's a bit more free range - one which doesn't always survive so well inside the confines of a highly structured and maintained service environment. Like those at Four Seasons Hotel - indeed do.

Where all this usually begins, I've found, is principals of an estate who've spent a weekend at a Four Seasons Hotel; had an impeccably predictable service experience from every service provider they came into contact with - everyone from the doorman, to the porter, to the concierge, to the housekeepers and barkeepers, and perhaps even to the General Manager herself; and as wonderful as that all was, what really wowed them was the experience of having these very same service experiences repeated again - and again - and again - and not only when returning to the same Four Seasons they visited the very first time, yet also at any Four Seasons they subsequently stayed with, worldwide. The service at Four Seasons is so predictable in fact, that many who stay there simply never would dream of staying anywhere else, as they travel around the globe.

Don't let the clown suit fool you.
Lest anyone think to experience such exacting standards they must spend $35,000 (tax + tips not included) for one night at Four Seasons Presidential Suite, I'll use a metaphor here which I can myself, shamelessly admit I relate to very well - and that would be the experience of spending $2.45 for French fries at my midtown McDonald's.  Because if you've done the same (it's OK to admit, I won't tell anyone), you have certainly noticed that not only has McDonald's perfected the French fry, yet they've managed to do so at every one of their retail outlets - in the world.  This one of the reasons the company has remained the success they are over several decades - because where ever you are, whether in New York City, Kansas City, or Mexico City, you know that when you walk into a McDonald's you will experience the very same French fry perfection as the very first one from many years ago, and you can even taste it from memory before you place the order. This high level of predictability provides not only a great French fry, of course, yet that's not really even the best part.... its' more about providing such great comfort and great satisfaction from the predictability itself of knowing, just what that french fry will look, feel, smell, and taste like; that whatever happens in whatever context your day has unfolded, you can at least count on the great experience of that singular food item.

But how did McDonald's get to this level of amazing, absolute French fry perfection - not only at the local joint you visit most frequently, yet also at the one you stopped into that one summer day, maybe it was twenty years ago, while visiting Rome? It's not a big secret, really. They did it the very same way Four Seasons Hotel creates the very same guest experience for you, anytime you are there, at any one of their many hotels:

They have standards.

And there is where we run into the issue on privately owned domestically staffed homes, which are often discovered to be very different places than successful service enterprises such as Four Seasons Hotel. Or even McDonald's.

My job in high school, incidentally, was at a McDonald's, and although it was quite a few years ago, I'll never forget the regimentation of standards evident in every square inch of their establishments. There was nothing, I recall, that had not been thought of, in regards to how anything is done, how every process takes place during prep, organization, storage, presentation to the client, and clean up. If one wanted to learn about how effective standards can be - and become the most successful team effort, ever, I'd suggest a job at McDonald's as a great primer. Because to get the same delicious fries in Rome that you get in Kansas City, one needs to pay attention to the exact same type of potato, the same cut of potato, the same frying oil, the same fryer and temperature, and even the same salt both variety and grain.

This is why the principals' fries at home, no matter how much they'd wish them to, will never be the same as McDonald's fries, because they would not go through the extensive process to replicate the supplies and procedures required to produce McDonald's same product. To give credit to their private chef, though, who no doubt is experiencing some indignation while reading this, they may have fries which (in the minds of those selling the ingredients, anyway) eclipse McDonald's version in some way... the potato may be certified non-GMO, the oil may be first-press something or other, and the salt from the Himalayas - a soothing and translucent pink - with a little 3-ounce bag flown in on a new Gulfstream-VI  -  for just this luncheon!  But if they want the same McDonald's quality of fries it just ain't gonna happen, no matter who designed the interior of that jet.

And this is why to have "like Four Seasons" in a home, one needs to invest, implement, and hold employees accountable for the same level of standards and behaviors found in a Four Seasons Hotel; simply having a domestic agency post the ad online and then everyone crossing their fingers will not bring it into reality.

But why aren't standards always created -  and adhered to - on a private estate, you may ask? As mentioned earlier, the type of employee relationship has been raised very differently. Because despite the well-worn cliche' in the domestic industry of striving for being "friendly yet never familiar," employees on an estate are often part-time employee and part-time family member - and this is by the estate owners' own choice. How this odd adoption of sorts happens is a complicated and longer road than this post will explore, but for now, let's just say that for most estate owners it's awkward to have a human being in their home that isn't also a family member to some degree, so the default relationship shifts to that familiarity. This creates a strong shift toward behaving as a family member naturally would, with individual, egocentric, I'm-doing-it-my-way-because-the-principals-favor-me performances (not to be confused with autonomous latitude), which in turn creates the well-known "hands off" staff member - the bane of team functions everywhere and an employee who would never be tolerated at Four Seasons. Or even at McDonald's.

Estate owners can have their estates running "like Four Seasons" anytime they want - they simply have to want it more than that thing they now have.

I mean... they have to honestly want it.

And that's what an estate will need to know. But only if it really wants to run "like Four Seasons."  Or even better, like McDonald's.

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