The Fundamentals of Exceptional Service

with Jeff Wielgopolan, Meadowood Napa Valley

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Would you like to provide world-class hospitality, and empower your teams to do the same?

If so you’ll love learning from our guest today, Jeff Wielgopolan, who led learning and training for Forbes Travel Guide - where he oversaw training and development for both line staff and management at hundreds of the world’s best hotels, and today is responsible for creating and maintaining the experience for guests, members and employees at Meadowood Napa Valley - the only property in Northern California with Forbes Travel Guide’s Five-Stars designation for Hotel and Spa - and one of only 11 properties in the entire United States to receive Michelin’s prestigious new “Three-Key” distinction for excellence.


The “funnel” offers a roadmap for understanding a guest's journey from dreaming about travel to booking a stay at your hotel. It is broken down into four key stages: Discovery, Planning, Booking, and the Guest Experience. Learn how this framework can guide you in effectively attracting, engaging, and delighting guests at each stage.

The Fundamentals of Exceptional Service

Jeff Wielgopolan, Service Director at Meadowood Napa Valley

Jeff Wielgopolan is a hospitality expert who has led learning and training for Forbes Travel Guide and is currently responsible for creating and maintaining the guest experience at the award-winning Meadowood Napa Valley. You can listen to us here on the podcast, and I’ve summarized some of my top takeaways below.

Why does providing good service matter?

"People travel now for experience. And I'll be pretty blunt and say that, yes, we have exceptional beds here and we have exceptional amenities and we have exceptional food and beverage programs and all of those things. And so do all the other hotels in our competitive set."

Takeaway: Exceptional service differentiates a hospitality business from its competitors, driving loyalty and word of mouth that leads to financial success.

Exceptional service opens up opportunities

Jeff shared a great story of a bellman he met at a St. Regis hotel who had big dreams for his future and wanted to prepare for them by working in hospitality.

"He had said that he wanted to work at a five-star hotel so the rest of his life, he could say he was a five-star employee. That he understood how to operate at this level, how to perform, how to be professional. He wanted to surround himself with CEOs and CFOs and heads of state and politicians and movie stars so if he was to go into a pitch meeting, he'd be perfectly comfortable speaking to people because he's already done it for so long.”

Takeaway: Working in luxury hospitality provides valuable skills and career opportunities. (We should highlight these during recruiting!)

What is luxury?

For Jeff, it’s very simple:

"Luxury is the ability to not have to think. If we can get you on property and do all of the thinking for you and your only job is to just experience, I think there's nothing better."

Takeaway: True luxury means anticipating guest needs and making their stay effortless.

The challenge many hospitality providers face

Jeff touched on something Ryan Mann and others have alluded to earlier: it’s hard to ask someone to provide something someone hasn’t experienced themselves.

"What I find really unique with working in the luxury segment for the past 25 years is that when you think about a luxury hotel the staff are being asked to perform something that they themselves rarely, if ever, get to experience for themselves. That most likely a housekeeper or front desk agent isn't going to pay $1,700 a night for a room when they go on vacation, but then are asked to perform a five-star arrival."

Takeaway: Training staff who haven’t experienced luxury themselves is crucial to help them understand what exceptional service looks and feels like.

Put this in action:

  1. Provide detailed training programs that simulate the experience you aim to provide.

  2. Conduct role-playing exercises to help staff become comfortable with luxury service standards.

  3. Consider offering incentives for staff to experience services firsthand as a guest.

Words matter

The language team members use is vital to providing great hospitality, and Jeff has a unique focus here:

"Sometimes when you work at a fancy place you're told all of the words that you shouldn't say. Here at Meadowood, we don't focus on that. We focus more on the words that you should say."

Takeaway: Focus on teaching staff the right language to use, emphasizing positive and sophisticated communication.

Put this in action:

  1. Create a list of words that work and you want your teams to focus on using.

  2. Conduct training on effective and appropriate communication.

  3. Regularly review and practice these phrases during team meetings.

  4. Provide feedback on language use in real-time during service interactions.

The power of a greeting

For Jeff, it’s all about first impressions.

"We have a phrase here at Meadowood called 'beat the greet.' The staff are the very first to provide a wave, a hello, a good morning. We have internal competitions that if I open the door, who's the first person to say it?"

Takeaway: A proactive greeting sets a positive tone and makes guests feel welcomed and valued.

Put this in action:

  1. Implement a “beat the greet” goal where everyone on your team aims to greet guests first.

  2. Create friendly competitions to encourage warm greetings.

  3. Train your teams to greet guests with a smile and eye contact.

  4. Recognize and reward those who provide excellent greetings.

Leading with positivity

For anyone leading others in hospitality, Jeff finds this most effective.

"Lead by positivity. And so if you see someone do something really exceptional or great, just say, ‘Josiah, great job,’ or ‘Josiah, that was perfect.’"

Takeaway: Positive reinforcement boosts morale and encourages exceptional performance.

Put this in action:

  1. Frequently acknowledge and praise your team members for their good work.

  2. Share positive feedback during team meetings.

  3. Encourage your team to compliment each other’s efforts.

  4. Develop a recognition program for outstanding contributions.

Don’t ask fill-in-the-blank questions

For Jeff, it’s all about providing options.

"If you're checking into Meadowood for the very first time, and I ask you, where would you like me to place your luggage? You don't know the answer. So you're just going to kind of like aimlessly look around the room and be like, I don't know. It's right there. What if I told you, would you care for me to place your luggage on a luggage rack at the foot of the bed or inside of the closet?"

Takeaway: Providing specific options helps guests make decisions easily and enhances their experience.

Put this in action:

  1. Train your team to offer clear, specific options instead of open-ended questions.

  2. Develop standard options for common guest interactions.

  3. Role-play scenarios to practice providing options.

  4. Learn and adjust based on guest feedback.

And that’s a wrap! This email was handmade for you—it took me 40 minutes to write this. If you found it helpful, I’d be very grateful if you could forward it to a friend or colleague who might also enjoy it.

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Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you here tomorrow.


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