Importance of Preopening Simulation Training

Whether it is called Play Day, Trial Run, or Simulation Training, an operations practice day is essential for a successful Opening. Think back to the first time you checked in a guest or made a cappuccino for someone besides your peers.  Ideally, you never want your team to have the opening day be the first time they serve a guest.

Simulation training allows the colleagues to have the first try to operate as if the hotel is open.  They will run through their shift checklists, daily operations, and experience serving Guests.

The Benefits of a well thought out Simulation Day

Real Life Practice – Simulation goes beyond practicing with peers. It provides an authentic experience with multiple real-life scenarios and feedback from the “Guest.”

Knowledge Test – Allows the colleagues to practice what they have learned. This is a safe environment that emulates actual day to day activities.

Quantifiable Training – One of the most important factors is to evaluate the successes and challenges and debrief with the team.

Fine-Tune Operations – An outstanding opportunity for observation. Allows the team and leadership to “walk” each process and identify required fine-tuning to the Guest Journey or supporting tasks.

Team up for success – The Leadership will observe each team member’s strengths and areas of development. Enabling them to plan the department’s first weeks’ schedule efficiently and effectively.

For Simulation day to be an effective and positive experience requires significant preparation and set-up.  The goal is to allow the colleagues to practice what they have been training. Experience the operations without the opening day’s pressure. The goal is not to do everything right but to find out where training is required.

There are many ways to run a Simulation day. However the better prepared you are, and the more ‘real’ your set-up is, the more effective your Simulation day is.

Preparation for Simulation Day

  1. Establish the ideal date for Simulation with your ExCom. Make sure it is part of your PreOpening Plan or Critical Path. It should be within the week of Opening date and all training must be completed. You will need at least one-day post-simulation to debrief the colleagues.
  2. Determine which departments will be participating. Ideally, all Operational Colleagues should be participating, including heart of the house.
  3. Establish a budget if F&B service and “Guests” are staying in-house. How many covers do you want to serve, how many rooms will be occupied?
  4. Ensure that invited VIPs do not become the focal point of the day.  The operational management team is to focus entirely on their teams. To answer questions and observe their operation to perform any fine-tuning. Try to avoid large numbers of of corporate and ownership VIPs on Simulation day. Keep their important visit for another day, when the team can deliver a more established and representing experience.
  5. For Simulation day, you will need 5 – 10 “Guests” each hour (the more, the better) to participate.  The recommendation is to include friends and family, as they are always willing to role-play the scenarios. This allows the colleagues to show how proud they are of their new hotel. Do not leave this to the day before to schedule.
  6. Discuss with the PMS vendor if you will be running Simulation in production, training, or development. Verify that the credit card machine and key card cutter are connected to the Simulation system.
  7. Determine the participating departments. Then create/write scenarios referencing training. Scenarios will cover check-in, check-out, inhouse, restaurant, room service, housekeeping, engineering, phone calls, valet, bell, concierge, complaint management, etc. Each participating “Guest” should have two or three scenarios to complete.
  8. When creating your scenarios, record on an excel spreadsheet what reservations will need to be built. You will have various arriving, inhouse, and departing reservations that will need to be booked before simulation day. A successful Simulation day requires well thought through scenarios. Loading the scenario reservations is also excellent practice for colleagues.
  9. Track any props required such as luggage, children (can be a toy), wheelchairs, baby prams, service dogs (can be a toy), etc. 
  10. You will need to create additional reservations to get your hotel to approximately 85% occupancy. This will allow the colleagues to practice room assignments and have enough data to complete all morning and afternoon reports.
  11. Create F&B scenarios to cover various food orders for the culinary team and practice POS and service levels. When creating the F&B scenarios, keep track of the number of covers for budgeting and food ordering.\
  12. Create an instructive document for each scenario. The document will include the scenario details, how they will pay, and the area’s scoring and comments.  Feedback from the participating Guests is critical for the colleague debriefing.

Running Simulation Day

  1. You will need to have a dedicated person handing out the different scenarios as the “Guests” arrive. A second person focuses on meeting the “Guests” post scenarios. This person is responsible to debrief and capture any additional comments for feedback. ‘Guest’ scenarios are organized with required props, cash or credit cards.
  2. Brief the colleagues before starting on the Simulation objectives. Advise Simulation will run as if the hotel is open. Remind everyone that this is a safe environment to practice what they have learned, . They will be responsible for all of the daily reports and activities for their departments. The morning shift will last for 4 hours, and the afternoon shift for 4 hours. End of day tasks will be completed once the scenarios have been completed.
  3. Managers supervise their teams ensuring that daily tasks are completed. “Guest” complaints are managed properly, and entered into the Guest Recovery System. Remember, this is your chance to observe how your team works together and what they have learned.
  4. At the end of the Simulation, consolidate the feedback for tomorrow’s debrief session.

Simulation Day Debrief

  1. The Simulation Debrief is a positive and empowering session, do not use this to point out everything that went wrong.  Use the debriefing as a team building opportunity. Get feedback on how the Simulation went, where they feel they did well, and where the improvement can be made.
  2. Ask questions on how challenges could be handled differently or provide the missing information. 
  3. Prepare demonstrations or hands-on training to improve the skills.

Creating a full 8-hour hotel simulation is a tremendous amount of work. However the benefits are immeasurable for the colleagues and the management team.  Unscripted Simulations where the “Guest” makes up the scenario do not properly test the colleague’s knowledge or skills,. Nor do they give a good base for feedback and scoring.   

Regardless who creates the Simulation training, the end result is the same. The brand standards, service levels, complaint management, and colleague knowledge must be fully tested. Taking the time to create the Simulation Day properly is labour intensive as there are many components. Still, the effort is definitely worth the result; a confident, knowledgeable, and well-trained team when the doors open.

Lisa Zoretich

An extremely motivated, and natural leader with extensive experience in the Hospitality Industry. Breadth of skills deep in Project Management, Business Analysis, Operational Reviews, Policy & Procedure Development, Training, Strategic Business Planning, and Systems Design & Implementation. Adept in applying extensive knowledge of industry best practices to gather and deliver the desired guest experience and market driven demands to best fit an organizations strategic and tactical goals.