Have you eaten your banana?

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

It’s like a secret code among management and staff at Fairmont Le Château Montebello: “Have you eaten your banana?” It’s a funny, non-threatening way to say to even the most senior manager, “Hey, put a smile on your face!”
It’s all part of the “Banana Culture” or “Attitude Program” implemented at the Château starting in January. 

A year ago, Le Château Montebello’s JD Power scores indicated that employee attitude was among the 10 lowest ratings at the high-end resort property located in Quebec halfway between Ottawa and Montreal. The hotel’s top management addressed the bottom 10 scores at a leadership retreat last fall. GM Genevieve Dumas assigned seven people including Jean-Francois Fortin, who was recently promoted to executive chef, to brainstorm solutions.

Left to right: Marcel Mündel, Jean-Francois Fortin, Annie Piché, Sylvain Courcelle, Sylvie Legault, Nathalie Beauchamp and Marie-Helene David.

Left to right: Marcel Mündel, Jean-Francois Fortin, Annie Piché, Sylvain Courcelle, Sylvie Legault, Nathalie Beauchamp and Marie-Helene David.

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They came up with the idea of a banana as a symbol for a smile. At the resort’s annual general assembly in January, a committee (shown at right) was formed to meet every second week and implement the program.
That’s when the fun began.

The committee launched the program with posters of bananas around the hotel, Fortin told CLN. “How many times does a room attendant pass six guests and stare down at the floor? It’s not what we want. We want them to smile and say good morning.”

The bananas reminded them to do just that.

“The chef created the program to remind colleagues that smiling is part of the job. If staff are satisfied in their work life, they will meet client expectations,” added Amandine Martel, sales and marketing trainee.

Reminders are everywhere: the staff door is papered with banana photos; Banana Culture is part of employee orientation; people can get their pictures taken with the ambassador billboard, a huge cardboard banana with a hole for the face; and for the last three months there’s been an award for the Banana Personality of the Month.

“It’s had a big impact,” said Fortin. “Since February, attitude hasn’t shown up in the bottom 10 scores. And we hear comments saying our staff is ‘so welcoming’ and ‘smiling all the time.’”

Fortin even took photos of employees with banana smiles at Fairmont The Palm in Dubai, when he went there on a six-week assignment. 

“You don’t see a lot of people coming to work [at the Château] with a bad attitude,” said Fortin. “A smile is part of the uniform.”