A surprising teacher

At first glance, it would not seem that luxury hoteliers would have much to learn from White Castle, the chain of about 400 fast-food restaurants largely in the U.S. Midwest known for their small, square “sliders.” However, at the recent International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show in New York City, I attended a presentation by Lisa Ingram, president and COO of White Castle Systems, and was surprised to take away a number of parallels between the work she does and the art of hotelkeeping.

Despite White Castle’s relatively simple, inexpensive menu and no-frills ambience, Ingram emphasized the memorable moments loyal customers associate with her restaurants. She shared examples such as a customer proudly sporting a White Castle tattoo or even couples getting married at White Castle, and she noted that the brand has generated enough enthusiasm to support a Cravers Hall of Fame that has honored a select number of fans since 2001.

“We focus in our restaurants on trying to create as many memorable moments as we can for our customers,” Ingram said, adding that on Valentine’s Day, for example, White Castle locations accept reservations and offer white-tablecloth service as one way to celebrate guests and their love for the White Castle experience.

In today’s hyper-competitive hotel landscape, true luxury is often less about the most elegant setting or the highest-end amenities and more about delivering one-of-a-kind experiences. I thought White Castle provided a powerful example that with a little creativity and a lot of passion, those unique experiences can happen anywhere.