Every employee at the Tampa Airport Marriott needs to have an inner hospitality radar.
It should go off whenever anyone staying at the hotel or attending an event there comes within 15 feet of the Marriott employee. The worker should acknowledge the visitor's presence, usually with eye contact, a friendly nod or some other gesture.
Then, when the subject comes within 5 feet, the employee should smile and say hello.
It's called the "15/5 rule," and employees must apply it to each other as well as those they serve. Everyone who visits the 298-room hotel is an "external guest."
Employees are "internal guests" — and they must treat each other with the same courtesy. That mutual respect for each other is one of the reasons why the Tampa Airport Marriott made it onto the Tampa Bay Times' employee survey of Top Workplaces.
"I learned it in all my years at Marriott," said event assistant Charmaine Kerr, 41. "A smile makes a difference."
It's part of the culture of mutual respect and recognition the hotel's workforce has built over the decades, and it's working. The hotel is ranked in the top 10 percent within the Marriott chain for customer satisfaction.
"Our 15/5 rule is something we practice from an external as well as an internal perspective," said general manager Zach Curry, 44. "The rule has been in place for Marriott for a very long time.
"Last year we really energized it as an organization. We made it our rule of the year and put a tremendous focus to on it to make sure that every guest was acknowledged and to thank them for selecting us."
Marriott does other things to foster that team spirit: Every shift starts off with a "stand-up" briefing, recognizing employee achievements, birthdays, milestones, and emphasizing the key customer service points of the day. The basement wall is already filling up with note cards from managers and guests alike, praising individual employees (recognition earned via online travel sites is especially valued). There are also constant contests awarding gift cards, and a chart outlining 27 categories of guest and event service that are graded weekly.
The employees responsible for those grades have had plenty of practice at customer service. More than a third of the hotel's 150 workers have been there for 20 or more years. The hotel itself celebrated its 40th anniversary in October.
What's even more impressive, Curry said, is that the airport hotel's guests only stay an average of 1.1 nights. So employees don't have long to make a good impression.
"The tenure of the ladies and gentlemen here is the thing that resonates so much," Curry said. "This hotel has always been a gem in our organization."
Even when she's off the clock, Kerr said, her hospitality radar is always on.
"I was at Burger King and I had to tell the cashier, 'Can you make eye contact? Can you smile?' " Kerr said. "When we go back, my daughter now says, 'That's the person who doesn't smile.' "
Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji @tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.