Oberoi GM perfecting service culture, even in lockdown

GOSTELOW REPORT—“In India it has been written for thousands of years that a guest is god, and warmth comes naturally to us,” says Jay Rathore, senior vice president and general manager of The Oberoi, New Delhi.

 “If you grow up with that as part of your intrinsic culture, it is not surprising that Indian hospitality has such a well-deserved reputation. We are also hard-working, with lots of tenacity and stamina,” he declared.

The 220-room property opened in 1965, and it has been continually upgraded and constantly refreshed to make it always sparklingly up to date. Now, the last of the long-stay tourists have finally been repatriated and, apart from four long-stay inhouse residents, the hotel is temporarily closed for additional business (as the world media report, New Delhi’s lockdown is extremely strict).

Jay Rathore working, last week, at an unusually empty poolside at The Oberoi, New Delhi
Jay Rathore working, last week, at an unusually empty poolside at The Oberoi, New Delhi

The “boss” can, unusually, enjoy facilities normally reserved for guests. But he is working as hard as ever, either in his office, surrounded by images of one of his great passions, wildlife, or poolside, revelling in an aura of greenery.

Rathore is, for instance, perfecting Oberoi’s service levels. The entire team is 700 strong (the number includes laundry, bakery and looking after the meticulously tended six acres of surrounding grounds). Apart from the English director of F&B and four specialist culinarians, all are Indian. Annual staff turnover is 25%, which includes those retiring, as is compulsory, at the age of 58. There is no difficulty in finding new hires.

“We so are so privileged that we, at Oberoi, attract the crème de la crème of the workforce. Many come from the Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development, OCLD, but, anyway, we are extremely particular about whom we recruit. We have made a conscious decision not to hire for skills but for genuine smiles and body language. We like extroverts who are eager to please, and show visible sincerity.”

Rathore also points to the national tendency to be fairly disciplined which, with an organizational structure in place, adds to a workforce that has the highest possible standards.

This makes it all the more essential, at this unique time, to keep his team engaged. Every manager is responsible for distance-mentoring about 15 line staff, and Rathore does monthly hotel-wide Zooms complemented, every day, by two Zooms with small numbers from one department.

“Depending on whom I am speaking to, I may fill them in on Delhi’s medical state, talking about the new norm, talking about communication. We discuss the need, when we re-open, to be extremely sensitive to guests’ needs. What are our customers really fussed about and what are they not fussed about? We talk about the need to create efficiencies in operations, and how, personally, this is the time for everyone to make themselves useful in their own environment. In all, I talk for 20 minutes and then we have questions.”

He describes his methodology as would a sports coach, which perhaps is not surprising when considering that, as a boy, he really wanted to be a professional cricketer — he realized that was not realistic, so hospitality was his obvious choice.

“Today I am more than ever aware we need to look at new operational procedures, to get away from some traditional silos. It is a little early to be more specific but when we re-open, and we do not have any date yet, I do know that we need to change some aspects of our business.”

This is a highly disciplined hotelier, impeccably groomed even when he is in an empty hotel, who admits he is used to challenges. “Again, it is in our national psyche, we just get on with life,” he explained with a Bollywood grin.