Originally created 05/15/04

Hotels train staff on customs



SAVANNAH, Ga. - Over coffee and biscuits, Domenick Buffone gives his staff at the Hyatt Regency a quick lesson in welcoming guests for next month's G-8 summit of world leaders.

"Buon giorno," they repeat in Italian, then switch to French, "Bonjour."

"In Russian, you just go, 'Hi, y'all,' " said Mr. Buffone, the hotel's general manager, getting laughs from his 48 staff supervisors gathered for a training session on international customs and etiquette.

Putting a foreign accent on Southern hospitality has been serious business in Savannah as the city gets ready to play host to 5,000 international delegates and journalists during the summit June 8-10.

Efforts to minimize culture clash are well under way at the Hyatt, where more than 250 guests from Russia, France, Italy and Germany will stay, overlooking Savannah's cobblestone riverfront.

The hotel has already hoisted flags representing each of the Group of Eight countries overhead in the lobby atrium. Room-service menus are being translated into foreign languages. The front desk has arranged to download exchange rates so it can change currency.

Hotel supervisors sat through a three-hour session Thursday to learn the finer details of catering to delegates from each country - pointers they will pass on to bellhops, waiters and maids.

"Especially now, when Americans tend to be viewed by a lot of the world in negative ways, each individual person they come into contact with is going to leave an impression of who Americans really are," said Krista Rahe, a Denver consultant hired to train the Hyatt staff.

For example, the hand signal Americans use for "OK," making a circle of the thumb and index finger, is an offensive gesture to Russians. The word "entree" means appetizer in French, so waiters are asked to avoid it when referring to a main course.

"It's really a combination of all the little things that will make them feel like you put some special effort into understanding their needs," said Ms. Rahe, who has trained hospitality workers on international etiquette since the last G-8 summit in the United States, which was in Denver in 1997.

Four Savannah hotels will house most of the G-8 delegates as President Bush meets with the countries' leaders on Sea Island, 80 miles to the south.

One has been reserved for U.S. delegates, and another will hold the British and Canadians. The Savannah Marriott Riverfront has had an easier time planning for Japanese delegates than expected, sales director Jody McIntyre said.

The Marriott had planned to bring in interpreters and chefs with experience preparing Japanese food, but visitors from the Japanese embassy in Washington told hotel managers not to bother. They were thrilled the hotel had a TGI Friday's restaurant downstairs.

Mr. Buffone said the cultural insights should help his employees loosen up and relax when it comes to dealing with their foreign summit guests.

"They have to understand, they're people, too," he said. "We might do something wrong. We probably will. But it won't be anything we can't recover from."