Bill Gross was named General Manager of The Lodge at Torrey Pines in 2014 after joining Evans Hotels in 2006.
Gross made a career in hospitality initially pursuing Food & Beverage opportunities after college due to his passion for restaurants. This eventually lead to the more challenging task of managing hotels with multiple outlets. He spent close to 20 years with Sheraton, Westin and Starwood hotels at upscale resort properties, most of which offered golf.
A five year appointment in Dana Point with Interstate Hotels helped him round out his experience to include rooms and spa until the lure of The Lodge at Torrey Pines became too compelling to resist.
THE GROSS STORY —
I have been interested in hospitality for as long as I can remember. I recall being taken as a guest to an exquisite restaurant in Atlanta while going to school there. It was called the Midnight Sun, housed in the building managed by the Regency Hyatt and it shared a kitchen with Hugo’s which also belonged to the hotel.
I had never experienced service at this level before and was simply mesmerized by the caliber of the operation. I eventually met the Food & Beverage Director and arranged a coffee meeting to learn more about his role in the organization. I realized then that I aspired to have a similar job someday. Having no relevant experience, I needed to start at the bottom and work my way up. One of my first jobs was in a Five Star restaurant which ultimately helped shaped my resume to work in a luxury hotel and make a career of it.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion for you?
As the General Manager of a AAA-Five Diamond resort, I am most passionate about providing flawless service to our customers. From the moment a guest arrives at The Lodge, I want them to feel comfortable, like they’re staying with family, but in an elevated setting. We curate every moment of a guest’s stay – from dining at one of two signature restaurants on property to scheduling tee times and spa appointments – so that upon departure, every guest leaves feeling revitalized.
This week’s PGA TOUR event returns to Torrey Pines — what makes the immediate area such a consistent draw?
Torrey Pines Golf Course is without a doubt one of the most challenging courses and stunning settings in the world. Set on the cliffs of La Jolla, every hole offers views of the remarkably beautiful Pacific Ocean. That view never gets old, no matter how many times you’ve played the course, and that’s why I suspect the PGA TOUR returns year-after-year.
The greater La Jolla area has a number of top tier lodging options — what elevates The Lodge at Torrey Pines to stand apart?
Beyond offering impeccable service, The Lodge at Torrey Pines is architecturally stunning and fits perfectly into the surrounding locale. The Lodge is a true California Craftsman that pays homage to the Arts & Craft Movement that was popular in the early 20th Century. Every detail has been taken into account, from the stained glass front door that welcomes guests upon arrival, to the plein air artwork lining the walls, to the numerous fireplaces found throughout the property. The Lodge is incredibly comfortable, yet sophisticated and luxurious at the same time.
Customer service is bandied about as a constant item of concern for guests – what’s your definition?
Customer service is anticipating a guest’s needs before they make a request. It’s also about customizing a guest’s stay so that it’s exactly as they envision. No two guests are the same. We honor and celebrate that at The Lodge, and that’s just one of the reasons why so many of our guests return on an annually.
Outline some of the specific ways you implement customer service for guests coming to The Lodge at Torrey Pines?
From the moment a guest arrives at The Lodge, he or she is greeted by a doormen and welcomed into the warm and inviting lobby. A bellman walks each and every guest to his or her room and provides information on the hotel’s outlets, architectural style and artwork. Our concierge works with each guest to develop his or her itinerary during their stay, and schedules activities and reservations both on- and off-site. For instance, we provide our guests tee times at Torrey Pines Golf Course, a privilege that few other hotels have.
How do you assess customer feedback and what role does it play in your future operations?
We assess customer feedback by inviting every guest who has stayed with us to respond to a short survey. The feedback they provide leads to tweaks in our operations. We also invite guests to comment on their experiences at The Lodge on review sites and that feedback is addressed daily.
When you get such feedback have you ever simply contacted the person directly to get a deeper understanding of the issues presented?
Absolutely. The hospitality industry is all about relationship building, and we pride ourselves on being proactive with our loyal base of customers.
Given your role what’s your assessment for the travel / hospitality / lodging sector for ’18?
The hospitality industry forecast for 2018 is strong. This is especially true at The Lodge, where we’ve continued to grow our customer base by introducing new experiential components to our already robust list of offerings.
Given your close proximity to one of America’s most important golf facilities — if you could change one thing in golf unilaterally what would it be and why?
Golf is a pretty wonderful sport. I don’t think I’d change a thing about it. We all just need more time to play, practice and improve our game.
Best advice you ever received – what was it and who from. Given your experience in the field — if you could share one piece of advice with those looking to be in the field — what would it be?
When I was young, my father told me to follow my dreams and do what I enjoy and do it to the best of my ability. I’ve taken that advice to heart. Every property I’ve worked at I’ve challenged myself and my staff to think outside the box and do the extraordinary. Sometimes that means exceeding customer service goals, sometimes that means creating new and innovative programming for guests, and sometimes that means reinventing a space within the hotel, like a meeting facility or a restaurant.
For those who are looking to get into the hospitality field, I’d tell them to go for it. Nothing is more exciting than working with customers to create lasting memories.