What does it mean to be named one of the top 15 lake resorts in the nation by Travel + Leisure magazine?
Better yet, how does it feel to be voted as Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s top Midwest resort?
Those accolades were part of the recognition Elkhart Lake’s Osthoff Resort received in 2012, as affirmation of its culture and values.
While the honors are exhilarating, they also bring a sense of humility and gratitude with them, Osthoff general manager Lola Roeh said.
“We were so thrilled with those honors,” Roeh said.
When Roeh attended the awards ceremony for Conde Nast Traveler magazine in New York, it truly hit home of what the recognition was all about. “We had people at our table from Bermuda, New Zealand and Abu Dhabi,” she said. “The magazine publisher made the most moving remark of all at the end of the presentation. She asked us to look around the room at all of our counterparts. ‘Understand that you represent the 100 best resort properties in the world.’ Those were his words. It was incredibly humbling to think about that.”
And Roeh understands that the intense pride that comes with such an award must be tempered with humility—and reminders of how the awards were earned.
Award follows mission statement
It’s almost uncanny that the year 2012 began with The Osthoff’s newly developed mission: To deliver the best Midwest resort experience to our guests. Period.
“To have our guests respond like this in a survey and select us as the recipient of that honor is so rewarding. It’s the real litmus test of how we are doing,” Roeh noted.
The best part, according to The Osthoff general manager, is that the voting reflects performance based on the resorts values and culture. Those values include statements like “Make it happen,” “Anything is possible,” and “Treat each other well.”
In the ratings for Condé Nast magazine, The Osthoff scored highest on special events. The year-long list of specials gatherings includes major events like Jazz on the Vine and Old World Christmas Market. Equally important were things like big band weekends and ballroom dancing events.
Hard work to maintain
With the recognition comes the realization that the resort has to work even harder to maintain that status in years to come, whether it is the next visit or the next day of a guest’s holiday.
“We want people to feel comfortable with every aspect of their visit here, and that means comfortable with the decor, with the dining selections, with the amenities, and most importantly with the hospitality put forth by our staff,” Roeh said.
Proud of staff
The Osthoff takes great pride in the staff it has assembled. About 98 percent of the staff is from Wisconsin, and remarkably 95 percent of staff come from the counties immediately surrounding the resort.
“Ultimately our staff has to deliver the experience to our guests,” Roeh said.
“We have built an attitude of service. We always try to hire on attitude and demeanor. They are far more important than skill which can be taught and fine-tuned through mentoring,” Roeh said.
The one thing that can’t be taught is empathy. “You either have the ability to feel empathy or you don’t. It makes such a difference in the experience of our guests,” she said.
That’s not an easy task, when assembling a staff that approaches 400 in the high season.
Nothing left to chance
The Osthoff makes a concerted effort to infuse its values and culture into the training of all employees.
“We teach the values and we teach team building at our summer kick-off meetings,” Roeh said.
They are the only mandatory all-staff meetings of the year.
Working with three generations of staff, The Osthoff seeks to find the common ground for its staff in that values system. “We all serve guests. It’s the one thing we have in common,” she said.
For some, it’s a first job. Other team members with more experience help to remind everyone of the resort’s high service standards and the details that make the difference.
Hospitality begins at home
For many Osthoff employees, the experience of their family culture forms the basis for their value system and their attitude toward service.
“That’s where I learned hospitality,” Roeh said. “When people were guests in our home, as kids we were called out to the kitchen to serve. Drinks were mixed and our guests were served on trays.”
Some new twists this year
Maintaining the top Midwest resort experience for its guests means being dedicated to ingenuity and ongoing innovation.
Those who revel in the smell and taste of baking bread will be pleased to know The Osthoff is rolling out its own bread program, having installed a bread oven. “Our chef has done a marvelous job of creating a line of signature breads for our dining guests. They are wonderfully unique and delicious.”
The Osthoff will also be expanding the food fare offered at its Lake Deck this year, beyond the select menu served in the past.
“We will continue to place an expanded emphasis on our garden-to-table food initiative. We feel we have a good chance of producing a lot of our own food in the summer season,” Roeh said. Coordinating between the chefs and the grounds staff, The Osthoff expects to expand its growing area to approximately three to four acres this year.
All foods grown on the Osthoff plot are organically fertilized and cared for.
In order to maintain a top-of-the-line quality experience, The Osthoff is in a constant cycle of upgrading its facilities. “People may not notice, but we are always in a state of maintaining and improving the property to take it to the next level,” Roeh said.
All guest rooms in the main building have been upgraded. Flat screen TVs have been installed throughout the resort.
Those entering at the main entrance will be greeted by new marble flooring and new carpeting in the Elk Room.