MACKINAC ISLAND, MI – As the staff at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island opened the resort for its 134th year a few weeks ago, they knew this season would be a little different for guests and workers as they put in places new guidelines to help protect everyone’s health during the coronavirus era.
They said they also knew there were a few things that they would need to tweak once people started to arrive and they evaluated how the new practices worked.
So while guests can still enjoy the experience that defines a stay at a Grand Hotel – the rocking chairs on the porch, the afternoon tea service, the multi-course meals in the dining room. – regular visitors will notice changes as soon as they enter room 397 of appeal.
“I think we’ve created a culture. Employees and guests work together, ”said Ken Hayward, senior vice president and general manager of the resort.
What staff have learned over the past two weeks has led them to add more signage in specific areas, reposition hand sanitizing stations, and master the replenishment needs for disposable masks, sanitizing wipes and other articles.
“There have been improvements in dealing with the realities of executing our plan,” said Hayward. As for the first reactions of the guests? “A first-time guest… probably won’t notice.” Long time guests and veterans, (it will look) a little different.
Here’s a look at the differences you’ll likely notice first:
1. Face masks
All the staff of the Grand Hotel wear masks. You’ll notice them on everyone from front desk and housekeeping staff to the dining room crew and housekeepers. All guests are also requested to wear a face mask in the common areas of the resort. If you enter the hotel without one, reception staff will suggest one. Ditto for the Grand Hotel’s off-site dining properties like Woods, where a silver bowl filled with individually wrapped face masks awaits guests upon arrival. At eating places, you are welcome to wear them until you are seated at your table.
Day visitors are also encouraged to wear masks. The Grand Hotel charges non-guests $ 10 to explore the gardens and access the hotel during the day. If you pay to enter the property and do not have a mask, you will be offered one.
On the first day the Grand Hotel welcomed visitors this year, staff handed out around 50 masks to non-guests wishing to access the resort, Hayward said.
“It comes down to the culture that we are trying to instill,” he said. “When everyone sees everyone wearing a mask,” it makes it more normal for all guests and visitors to keep them on.
“Communicating with masks and plexiglass at the reception makes things a little different – sometimes difficult – but necessary,” he said.
2. Plexiglas and hand disinfection stations
Large plexiglass screens have been installed at the reception of the Grand Hotel, in its service area, as a barrier to its concierge desk on the lounge level and in all the bars of the establishment.
There’s plenty of room for things to pass underneath, whether it’s your room keys, brochures about island activities, or an afternoon cocktail.
3. Dining room
Dining in the Grand Hotel’s main dining room and its offsite properties probably won’t look any different – until you sit down. Instead of removing 50% of the tables in their main dining room, staff decided to leave all tables as is, but keep half empty to create social distancing. Hayward first said this confused some guests – why couldn’t they sit at that empty table by the window with its expansive view of the Straits of Mackinac, they would ask staff. It was available, wasn’t it? To clarify matters, staff have since added signs to these voluntarily left vacant tables explaining that they are “only for social distancing.”
In other areas, take-out and alfresco dining options have increased at all of the resort’s restaurants. At Woods, small tables have been set up far apart on the outdoor patio. And the new Grand Coffee and Provisions store, which replaced the hotel’s first-floor tea shop, is designed for take-out convenience.
Norman Dillard, who manages the staff working at Grand Coffee, said they think it’s important to give customers a new way to get fresh items to go. They stock everything from local whitefish dip and other gourmet items for DIY picnic baskets to freshly made sandwiches, made-to-order espresso drinks, bagged snacks, beer, wine and other drinks and sweets.
“We wanted to be more relevant during this time,” Dillard said.
4. The largest porch in the world
At 660 feet long, the Grand Hotel has the world’s largest porch. And while it welcomes guests throughout its columned and flagged expanse, it looks a little different. Hayward said they initially toyed with removing half of the iconic white rocking chairs from the porch to ensure good social distancing. Then the staff realized they could stagger the rocking chairs – some spaced along the front of the porch and others resting along the back wall. Small tables and chairs are equally spaced.
5. New spot for the Service Desk
The service desk had long been located at the cat’s corner of the resort reception. But a change has been made this year to give check-in customers more space to spread out in the reception area and separate them from those who might need help from after-sales service staff. for luggage or other items. The service office has now moved to a nearby hallway where a children’s area once stood. In this season of social distancing, having a kids’ area was no longer practical, Hayward said. So moving the service area there created a separate space that worked well.
6. No delivery to the room or cleaning
To ensure that guests are the only ones to access their rooms during their stay, the Grand Hotel has suspended all room deliveries by staff, as well as daily room cleaning services. If you are ordering room service or just want to drop off extra towels, guests can place those orders over the phone and items will be left outside the room doors for contactless service. The same goes for the “welcome benefits” that some guests enjoy, such as bottles of wine or sweets. Once alerted by reception staff, they can now be picked up at the concierge.
While Hayward believes months of staff planning have paid off with an openness that has prepared them for new safety protocols, he knows more adjustments may be needed as the season progresses.
“I can tell you that most of the time people thank us for finding a way to be able to open,” he said. “They are so happy that they are not home.”
“As more than one guest told me, if you have to wear a face mask for us to come here, it’s worth it.”
For more information on the health and safety practices of the Grand Hôtel, Check here.
For more information on reservations and special vacation packages, see the resort website.