Never saying no (after all, it is the Ritz-Carlton Club) |

Never saying no (after all, it is the Ritz-Carlton Club)

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.’s motto is “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” But how exactly do ladies and gentlemen tell other ladies and gentlemen that they, ah-hum, aren’t allowed to sit where they are sitting?

That delicate subject is one of scores of intricacies that the new staff of the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands is studying. The cream of the company’s management crop from around the United States is in Aspen this week preparing a staff of 125 workers for Saturday’s opening.

The Ritz-Carlton Club is a different kind of beast for the world-famous hotelier to tame. Instead of renting out hundreds of rooms, the company is for the first time operating a private residence club. The 73 residences are being sold in 1/12 interests.

Portions of the club’s primary building are open to the public while other areas are private. Club members will rub elbows with the public at the restaurant and huge outdoor deck. Anyone is welcome in the lobby.

But the guest lounge – actually a living room just off the entrance – is for members only.

The pool is in its own category. Any owner of free market single-family homes, townhouses and Ritz residences can take a dip. But owners of the neighboring Highlands Village’s employee housing aren’t welcome. And members of the Highlands Ski Patrol, for example, wouldn’t be able to soak in the hot tub after coming off the slopes.

Because there are no clear lines of distinction between what is public and what it private, there’s not a question of “if” the Ritz-Carlton Club staff will have to ask a person to vacate the members only areas, it’s a question of “when.”

“It’s so different because we never say no to a guest,” acknowledged Audeline Witjaksono of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Buckhead, Ga., near Atlanta. Witjaksono, considered by her bosses to be one of the best teachers in the company, is in Aspen this week to train concierges, front office and PBX or switchboard operators.

She didn’t miss a beat when asked how she would handle a situation where two people who weren’t members plopped down in the guest lounge. She would give them the same warm greeting given to all who enter a Ritz property, start discussing the club, inquire about their familiarity with Aspen, then offer to escort them to the sales office.

Intruders won’t simply be asked to leave.

“We would never do that,” stressed Alex Walterspiel, director of new business development, who is playing a major role in launching the Ritz’s new venture.

Witjaksono said many luxury hotel companies have rules in black and white on how to deal with different situations. Ritz-Carlton also has general guidelines but it empowers employees to delve into the gray areas.

“You can operate in the gray as long as you go back to the foundations,” she said.

One golden rule for employees policing the private areas of the club is to be courteous. “Elegance without warmth is arrogance,” said Witjaksono, quoting Horst Schultze, who retired last Friday as Ritz-Carlton’s CEO.

A fair share of the Ritz-Carlton Club’s current staff of about 125 won’t need much of an introduction to the company’s credo. Walterspiel said 25 percent of the employees were with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel when it operated in Aspen.

Ritz pulled out of that hotel in August 1997 during a dispute with the then-owner. The old Ritz is now a St. Regis Hotel. Ritz officials confirmed they benefited from defections from the St. Regis, but they didn’t discuss numbers.

When the entire 73-residence club is built out, Ritz anticipates employing a staff of 150. The number could change, Walterspiel said, because the company has never operated this type of project before.

The club will also have 876 members at build-out. It now has about 340 – a

number that company officials said is “on pace” with projections.

About 50 percent of the current members had never been to Aspen and bought the luxury condominiums “sight unseen,” said Walterspiel. The other 50 percent had Aspen ties.

Those members will decide what type of service the club will offer and, ultimately, how many employees Ritz-Carlton needs to offer that service.

Not that service will be shoddy to begin. Concierges will be assigned to specific club members and expected to take care of all their needs – from stocking their kitchens with groceries to booking dinner or an activity like a paragliding trip.

Walterspiel believes the Ritz-Carlton Club will be able to exceed the high level of service the company offers at its hotels simply because there are a limited number of residences and limited number of guests.

High quality service doesn’t necessarily mean high-brow help. Ritz-Carlton is trying to meld luxury service with Aspen’s laid-back approach.

“There’s not a single uniform in this place that has a tie,” said Walterspiel. “It just wouldn’t fit.”

The property hopes to prove starting Saturday that it fits with Aspen Highlands.

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