The Amangani

It happens like this doesn’t it? Just when you’re decrying the lack of something – in my case, the lack of good service in the world these days – you find it. I am delighted to have been made wrong.

Best yet, while I experienced a new high in service at what is an unabashedly luxury establishment, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to find that kind of service at price points way south of what most people consider “luxury”. Because, of course, luxury isn’t about price. It’s about mindset.

The Amangani in Jackson Hole, WY was the venue for a rare blow-out holiday. First spied in a design or travel magazine ages ago. the image of this austere-looking retreat in the snow had lingered with me for years, the very epitome of luxurious serenity. It was only after we’d booked that we learned that the Aman resorts are noted for their incredible service, but nowadays, the tendency is to dismiss that as the product of a good PR machine.

But for once, the hype was right on the mark. The Aman experience is unlike any other hotel, luxury or not. Its essence: a quality of service that was utterly modern: not a whiff of Downton Abbey.

First off: it’s the people (what a surprise.) The service is friendly and cool, not servile and simpering. Staff are dressed casually in keeping with the locale, not like those dreadful marionettes or flight attendants you see elsewhere.  People introduce themselves to you, casually – almost as peers – at a party, not as “Hi, I’m Bob, and I’m your server today.” They have personalities that shine through, unobstructed (so it seems) by corporate “behavioral branding” programs. They joke with you. They make you feel great about being who you are. This immediately gets you thinking of them differently, as professionals, and it shifts the perspective: you get the feeling that you are getting a higher level of service.

You don’t get the sense that this is this is all a matter of policy. What you do get a sense of is that Aman hires extremely well. These folks come off as just kind, caring, thoughtful individuals whose interest is your happiness, not the enforcement of corporate policy and rules. Come back to the hotel a little snow-encrusted? They’ll bring you (unbidden) towels and offer you a drink. Have an extra couple of hours to kill between check in and your flight? They’ll offer to let you keep your room till then (un-asked, un-charged.) Need a car? They’ll get one for you, and not just from the usual suspects (from which other hotels would probably get kickbacks) and drive you a bargain  to boot.

There’s also the Aman practice of having multiple people serving the same roles: in the restaurant, there seemed to be no delineation between servers, bartenders, sommeliers, and bussers. This lack of hierarchy can be a touch confusing at first, but then you do start to wonder: why does there have to be such specialization (OK I make allowances for the kitchen team, where a little experience is a good thing.)

Does this all cost more? Yes, only to the extent you’re hiring the right people with the right attitude of caring, kindness, and commitment to getting your experience right.

Then there are the policies that encourage good service. Like the one where you could have a meal anywhere on the property, no clear delineation between room and restaurant. Like they’ll get you anything you like, whether it’s on the menu or not. Like they’d open the sundries shop for you at any time. The policy seems to be “why not” rather than “why’, and it seems the staff is trusted and encouraged to think on their feet. As a result, they’re confident, open-minded, and generous. What a revelation. How many organizations of any size allow that? Again, how much does this cost?

There’s also their policy of placing a service fee on top of the room fee (which they make quite clear at the outset.) At first, this felt a little annoying: why not include it in the room fee, or better yet, allow us to make the choice? But once you experience it, it makes sense. You never sign a bill while you’re there (unless you want to.) This has the benefit of not turning every service interaction a transaction. Plus, since the staff are all assured of income, it feels like there’s a lot less pressure all around. And, it helps with the sense of camaraderie and teamwork. As one of the spa team said, when she revealed she’d been at Amangani for over 10 years, “I like it because there’s just no drama.” Serene people, serene stay.

Extraordinary service that felt right, not icky; that felt genuine, not manufactured; that felt easy, not forced; contemporary, not old-fashioned. Yes, some of these things cost, but they are not the sole province of the swanky resort. And what it takes is great hiring and allowing that staff to be creative and nimble; imagination in upending convention; and a focus on the bottom line: the customer.

Lovely. Just lovely. And inspiring.