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Reinventing Five-Star Service

In Asia, the approach to building a luxury service experience is less formal. The Oriental in Bangkok sends all of its employees to a Buddhist monastery for a week to absorb—not "study"—the spirit of what service should be: a certain gentleness, never saying no, thinking of others. It is probably the Amanresorts properties that take this approach the furthest. Aman's service is effortlessly casual—the ease with which employees speak to you and react to you is a constant surprise. Aman makes attention to personal interactions a key element of its service, and it incorporates local customs and attitudes at each of its resorts. "Four Seasons is an excellent product," says Adrian Zecha, Aman's founder, "but what I absolutely do not want for Aman is Four Seasons' everywhere-you-go standards of experience."

At Amanjiwo, in Borobudur, Java, everything is undergirded by organization. Each morning and afternoon the general manager receives a briefing on engineering, food and beverage, and housekeeping, and he and the department heads make adjustments as needed. But you don't feel this in the delivery of the service. What you feel is the staff's authentic courtesy. Jack, one of Amanjiwo's cultural guides, says that Sharon Howard, currently training personnel at the new Amanbagh in Rajasthan, India, wanted to know "how we greet people in Java, about Javanese etiquette, how we receive guests in our homes. And that is exactly what the hotel wanted—to take Javanese culture and turn it into Amanjiwo service."

Like Luxury Attitude or Green Ink clients, Aman instills in its employees a sense of self-worth and, above all, a zeal for observation and anticipation. Each Aman property conducts its own training in the low season, and while there is little formal instruction—"There will never be a service manual as long as I'm here," Zecha says—employees know to ask discreet questions about guests' clothes (figuring when they might offer to do the laundry) and about what foods they like (which appear later, unbidden). Having learned to spot Hermès Kelly bags, the waiters at Amanpuri on Phuket, Thailand, began placing an extra chair at tables so that women wouldn't have to put their bags on the ground.

At the Hôtel Métropole training session, the one unequivocally positive luxury-service experience was recounted by the sous-chef and the chief steward, whom Meyer had sent to Piaget. "If I had any money, I would have bought the watch! He received us like kings," says one. "He was entirely courteous, incredibly giving," says the other. "He even offered us a drink! 'A coffee?A fruit juice?'" They had been treated with dignity and respect. Meyer smiles. "Piaget is luxury, and luxury is a voyage on which you take the client," he says. "Luxury is not the watch. Luxury is the beauty of the voyage into the watch's universe." And with that, the students dispersed, eager to guide their guests into the luxurious universe of the Métropole.

CHANDLER BURR is the author of The Emperor of Scent and has written for The New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly.

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