Archive for the ‘club challenges’ Category

Lists of Tens

Monday, September 28th, 2015

David Letterman is famous for the Late Show Top Ten, a humorous compilation of 10 items usually relating to some prominent topic of the day.

Hospitality managers can also use lists of ten to uncover issues and opportunities as part of a process of continual improvement in their operations.  It’s a simple matter of asking employees to list their top ten “whatevers.”  Recognizing that employees are often the people most familiar with an organization’s challenges due to their intensive laboring in the details of the operation, I have found that asking for anonymous submissions will yield the most truthful and helpful information about what needs fixing or improved.

Managers must make it clear that it’s not required to list 10 items.  The purpose is not quantity, it’s to get answers regarding what’s troubling staff or customers/guests/members.  Here are some lists of ten examples:

  • Ask food servers for a list of their top ten complaints from customers.
  • Ask front desk staff for the top ten complaints from guests.
  • Ask housekeeping and maintenance staff for their top ten obstacles to completing their tasks efficiently.
  • Ask the bag, range, and cart attendants for their top ten ideas to provide better or higher levels of service to golfers.
  • Ask all employees for their top ten frustrations about working at the establishment.
  • Ask employees for their top ten ideas to wow customers.
  • Ask turn house and beverage cart attendants for the top ten snack items requested by golfers that aren’t carried in inventory.
  • Ask the accounting and HR staffs for their top ten frustrations with employee work and departmental submissions.

As can be seen, the list of ten questions can be far-ranging and cover any aspect of employees’ jobs and the challenges of service and service delivery.  The real benefit in posing such periodic questions to employees is that they often reveal unspoken issues and obstacles that make their jobs more frustrating.  It’s a simple matter to take the submitted lists, collate the results, and review for any consensus of opinions.  Often some of the issues raised are easily solved by a change in policy and procedures or some minor purchase.

Managers must always thank employees for their input and get back to them about any proposed action to address issues raised or ideas given.  It’s also important to let employees know if any of the issues will not or cannot be resolved and give the reasons why.

The ultimate purpose of the list of tens is to discover issues and opportunities in the operation.  Using periodic lists of ten and acting on the responses sends a powerful message to employees that their ideas and concerns will be listened to and, if possible, addressed.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Hospitality Resources International – Management Resources for Hospitality Operators!

The Hospitality Challenge

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I’ve learned a lot about the hospitality business since my first position as General Manager of an historic hotel in the late 70s.  In a variety of positions in hotels, resorts, and private clubs – in startups, turnarounds, and repositionings, I’ve learned a number of key lessons from my efforts to deliver high levels of service.  Here they are:

The customer is King.  The only perception of quality, service, and value is the customer’s.  Hospitality managers must learn as much as possible about their customers in order to meet their needs and wants – where they come from, why they come to your establishment, what are their expectations, what do they like or dislike about your property, what are their complaints, what would they like improved?

The hospitality business is detail and people-intensive.  It takes a lot of people doing all the right things everyday to deliver consistent, quality service.  Therefore:

  • Written standards, policies, and procedures ensure every employee knows what to do and how to do it; help develop specific training materials; and ensure consistency and continuity in the operation.
  • Formal training is a necessity.  Operational processes cannot be left to oral history or chance.
  • Continuous process improvement is a must.  We can never rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.
  • Thorough benchmarking of all areas of the operation ensures that we know what is going on and what our customers are telling us by their spending habits.

“The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”

  • Consistent, property-wide leadership is a must.  Disparate and competing leadership styles confound the staff and sow divisions in the team.
  • Values and behaviors must be spelled out in detail and reinforced continually.
  • Excessive employee turnover is damaging to an organization in continuity, lost time, and cost.  Except in extreme cases our first impulse (especially in difficult labor markets) is not to fire, but to examine causes; improve processes, organization, disciplines, and training; and instruct, counsel, and coach employees.
  • Employees must be empowered to think and act in alignment with organization values, the property’s mission and vision, and carefully defined management guidelines.  “Without empowerment an organization will never be a service leader.”  Why?  Because there is far more to do and monitor on a daily basis than any management team can possible handle.  Authority for service and service delivery must be pushed down to the lowest levels of the organization – where it takes place.

Work planning and ongoing performance review are essential to holding managers accountable for their performance and the performance of their departments or work teams.  Without accountability only the General Manager is accountable and he or she will fail or burnout trying to succeed.

Leadership is key at all levels of the organization:

  • To set an unimpeachable example for employees.
  • To uncover, analyze, and solve problems.
  • To thoroughly communicate standards, policies, procedures, information, and training.
  • To engage customers and staff continuously.

All of the foregoing requirements must be institutionalized so that the operation continues undisturbed in the face of any turnover and 80% of the operation functions routinely – allowing management to focus on strategic issues, planning, execution, problem-solving, and customer interface.

These lessons learned have led me to formulate a plan to create and deliver high levels of service.  This plan can be found in a white paper I’ve written entitled The Quest for Remarkable Service.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Attending to the Basics in an Organized and Disciplined Way

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I received a phone call a couple of weeks back from an industry colleague who belongs to a private club.  He said he was serving on a committee to look for ways to increase membership and revenues, while cutting costs.  While I mentioned a couple of ideas, I launched into my familiar pitch that almost any club could benefit from attending to the basics of the business in an organized and disciplined way.

Most of us recognize that our business is not rocket science.  The basics of what we do are well-known to any club professional.  What makes our jobs so challenging is the sheer volume of things that must be attended to daily in a detail and people-intensive business.  Unless a club operation is well-organized and its managers highly disciplined, it operates in a state of barely-controlled chaos interspersed with periods of downtime.  The challenge for all is to transition quickly from storm to calm back to storm while remaining focused on long term goals, ongoing projects, and continual process improvement.  The solution is to organize the club so that most things happen routinely and that managers at all levels be highly disciplined in approaching their duties and efforts to improve the operation.

The great majority of private clubs suffer from similar problems rooted in the same underlying causes:

  1. Standalone operations with limited resources and few economies of scale.
  2. Clubs operate multiple businesses — food and beverage, golf, tennis, aquatics, retail, recreation, and the major maintenance effort involved in golf course operations.  The knowledge and skill set to operate clubs efficiently is large and complex, and especially challenging for lean management teams working long hours and weeks.
  3. The club business is both labor and detail-intensive requiring significant ongoing training, yet without the necessary resources to adequately provide it.  As a result most clubs operate from oral tradition and service complaints are a continuing issue.
  4. Most clubs operate without a written operations plan made up of detailed standards, policies, and procedures which, as Jim Muehlhausen says in his book, The 51 Fatal Business Errors, requires managers to reinvent the wheel every day.
  5. The hospitality industry as a whole and clubs in particularly offer relatively low wage jobs, limited benefits, and challenging working conditions.  As a result high levels of staff turnover are common, particularly among line employees.
  6. Older clubs with aging memberships and outdated facilities find it challenging to find the right mix of facilities and activities to attract new members.
  7. In most markets, there is ample competition for the members’ discretionary spending — and often from operations that offer limited well-designed and executed products or services; whereas clubs must be all things to all members.
  8. In a sense, club members are a “captive” audience and can quickly grow bored or dissatisfied with the same old events and activities.  A club staff, without the ability or resources to provide frequently changing “wow” factor events, will often hear the comment, “What have you done for me lately?”
  9. In some clubs ever-changing boards offer little continuity of direction.

Given these and other specific challenges that vary from club to club, it is absolutely imperative that club managers organize their operations in detail.  My own list of requirements includes:

  1. Leadership and management training for all managers and supervisors with an aim of having consistent and disciplined, service-based leaders taking disciplined actions (the benefits of which are discussed by Jim Collins in Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t).
  2. Well-defined and consistently reinforced organizational values and culture of service.
  3. A written operations plan made up of standards, policies, and procedures — absolutely critical for human resources and accounting, and fostering organization and discipline in club departments.
  4. Communicate thoroughly with members through a variety of tools and techniques, including newsletter, members only website, management calling programs, and General Manager’s letters.  Understand members’ wants and preferences by taking the pulse of the membership with an annual online survey and monthly surveys of smaller subsets of members.  Analyze member spending habits and purchases to determine individual likes and dislikes, as well as popular and unpopular club initiatives and offerings.
  5. Provide ongoing, thorough training of managers and employees.  This coupled with service-based leadership and a constantly reinforced culture of service will foster employee empowerment — and as John Tschohl, President of the Service Quality Institute says, “Without empowerment, an organization will never be a service leader.  Empowerment is the most critical skill an employee can master and a company can drive in order to lure and keep customers.”
  6. Use Tools to Beat Budget or some other means of real time tracking of revenues, payroll, and other expenses to quickly spot and intervene to correct operational under-performance.
  7. Benchmarking of all areas of the operation to establish the norms of the operation.  The value of benchmarks tracked over time is immense and includes establishing realistic goals for future periods, establishing measurable accountabilities for managers, and easing the preparation and improving the accuracy of future budgets.
  8. Detailed planning, both strategic and tactical, at all levels of the operation and a habit of Continual Process Improvement.
  9. Thorough work planning and performance reviews, coupled with a policy of strict accountability for performance.  This requires developing measurable performance criteria for all managerial positions.
  10. A membership marketing plan based upon the realities of the marketplace and requiring weekly call and action reports from the membership director.  Recognizing that satisfied members are the best recruiters of new members, involve hand-picked members in the membership sales effort.

Each of these necessities, while challenging, will improve the organization and discipline of the club while fostering consistently higher levels of service.  The resulting efficiency and service of a well-run club will make it easier to attract members, which improves dues and revenues and ultimately better positions the club in the marketplace.

Many of the tools and resources to implement the initiatives mentioned here are available on the Club Resources International website — most at no charge.  Currently the website has 1,550 high quality, fully integrated resources available — and more being added all the time.  Come explore the site and see for yourself!

Next Week:  Creating Measurable Accountabilities

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Training: The Achilles Heel of Club Operations

Monday, January 11th, 2010


Recognizing that we work in a detail-intensive business, most club managers understand that comprehensive and systematic training for both subordinate managers and line employees is an imperative.  Yet, the sad fact is that training is an afterthought in many operations, left up to department heads or front line supervisors to conceive, design, and implement.

Why is this so often the case?  I offer the following as some of the factors that make training so difficult for all of us:

  • First, is the standalone nature of most clubs. Busy managers have little time and, in some cases, lack the necessary skill set to design a comprehensive training curriculum for employees. Complicating this is the fact that club operations span many disciplines, including accounting, human resources, marketing, member relations, golf operations, food and beverage, aquatics, golf course maintenance, and other areas. Few, managers have the detailed knowledge of all these disciplines to design the well-integrated systems, policies, and procedures that cover all areas of the operation.
  • The general manager and management staff have not formally defined the standards of quality and service they wish to provide the membership. Without formal standards, how do they determine their training needs?
  • Given the many positions inherent in club operations, there is the need to develop a curriculum for each position to provide employees the appropriate skill set.  This is a daunting task, though focusing on critical member-facing positions is the first step.
  • In addition to individual skills training, employees must be trained in the club culture and values; laws affecting the workplace; employee work rules and policies; liability abatement training such as safety, sanitation, and public health; human resource issues such as sexual harassment, discrimination, conduct, and performance criteria; accounting policies and procedures relating to their work such as point of sale training, inventory procedures, and timekeeping; and all the club’s various organizational systems that allow it to function efficiently.
  • Managers at all levels must be trained in a variety of disciplines including leadership; club culture and values; various laws affecting club operations; club systems; accounting standards, policies, and procedures; human resource standards, policies, and procedures — to name a few.
  • Few clubs have a comprehensive training plan that guides subordinate managers in training standards, responsibilities, budgets, resources, and necessary curricula.
  • There is no easy way for the general manager to monitor training execution due to the lack, in most  clubs, of training administration software and training benchmarks. Short of attending each training session, how does the GM know who is training and meeting the ongoing requirements of a multi-faceted curriculum.
  • In times of tight budgets (and when is it ever not such a time?), the cost of every hour of training is multiplied by the number of employees being trained and their hourly wage — and this can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
  • The management staff does not have the will to make it happen given all the other management requirements, demands on their time, and competing priorities.
  • The club’s board, while demanding high service levels, does not understand the direct link between formal training and quality service or, even more importantly, the challenging task of designing and implementing an effective club-wide training program. In many cases, the general manager has not developed the training goals, assessments, plan, proposed budget, and “sold” the board on its necessity.

The bottom line on all these issues is that unless focused on and attended to religiously, they fall through the cracks.  While the training requirements of a well-run operation seem overwhelming, they can be effectively implemented by a variety of strategies which we’ll talk about next week.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Service the Ritz-Carlton Way

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to attend a one-day training seminar at the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center in Chevy Chase, MD, to learn how they provide their “legendary service.”  The seminar was eye-opening and impressive.  The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is a management company that operates 61 properties worldwide for the Marriott hotel chain.  As most of you know, they serve the international luxury market and are celebrated for their high service levels and attention to detail.

While the instructor provided ample handouts to explain and illustrate the Ritz-Carlton way, I took over fifteen pages of notes.  I shall try to summarize the main elements of how they consistently provide such high level service.

First, Ritz-Carlton has a well-defined corporate culture of service built upon:

  • Mission and Vision statements,
  • Key Success Factors, revised and refined each year, and
  • What they call their “Gold Standards Foundation,” which is made up of the following:  The Credo, The Motto, The Three Steps of Service, The Service Values, and The Employee Promise.

The company culture is so important to Ritz-Carlton that they review aspects of it every day, every shift, in every property worldwide during what they call their “Daily Line Up.”  By this discipline all employees from the CEO and President down to each line employee are constantly reminded of their “reason for being.”

Second, Ritz-Carlton has devised a new hire screening process that focuses on 11 basic talents and every position in the company is indexed on how much of each talent that position needs.  For example, a housekeeper position needs high levels of “exactness” (attention to detail) because there are over 150 items or details that must be checked in every room every day; on the other hand, front desk and guest service employees need high levels of “relationship/engagement” skills to interact and engage guests in a multitude of ways.

The hiring process with Ritz-Carlton can take up to eight separate phone and face-to-face interviews to ensure they hire people with the right set of talents for the positions they seek.  One impressive element of the interview process is that specially-trained line employees conduct the first telephone screening interview to ascertain the candidates “Talent Index.”  If the candidate does not meet certain minimum levels in this interview they are eliminated from consideration.

The success of their screening process can be seen by their employee turnover rate.  When they first started the company in 1983, they experienced a 73% turnover rate.  Last year, it was 23% with 15 of that 23% being voluntary resignations for a variety of reasons.

Third, Ritz-Carlton invests in training.  Each new employee receives a two-day orientation which is heavy on company culture and values, then 20 days of on-the-job skills training for their position.  The trainers of the skills training are line employees who have been trained to train and who derive prestige and a higher compensation level for their role as trainers.

On day 21 of the initial training period, each employee without exception receives a recap of the values and culture, benefits enrollment, training in guest recognition and how to handle difficult guests.  The end of the day is a celebration of their completion of the initial training.  Finally, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire to ensure that the promises made to them at the outset of training have been kept.

Leaders are responsible for ensuring that all employees are certified in their positions.  Employees must be certified within 21 to 30 days of their orientation.  As Ritz-Carlton says, “We never want to practice on our guests.”

Each year, line employees receive 320 hours of ongoing and refresher training.  Leader/Managers receive 250 hours of training per year.

At the end of an employee’s first year, on day 365, each employee has a one-day refresher session designed to “psychologically engage” with employees and “figuratively hire” them all over again.  At the end of this day, they receive their one-year service pins.

Fourth, the company trains and empowers each employee to solve problems.  Any Ritz-Carlton employee can spend up to $2,000 a day per guest to solve problems and, not to just satisfy their guests, but to wow them with outside-the-box service.

Here’s an example:  an international guest at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington DC, checked out and flew to NYC to catch an international flight.  Upon arrival at JFK airport, he realized he had left his overseas flight tickets at the hotel.  He called the Ritz-Carlton in a panic.  The desk clerk with the OK of her supervisor and the hotel GM, took a flight to NY and personally delivered the guest’s tickets in time to catch his plane.

Fifth, Ritz-Carlton is heavily invested in benchmarking all areas of their operation to include conducting random surveys of guests each thirty days.  The results of their ongoing measurements of processes and guest feedback are used for continual improvement of their products and services.

Sixth, Ritz-Carlton has designed a proprietary software and database package called “Mystique,” to record guest preferences.  Each property has two designated individuals, the Mystique Manager and Mystique Coordinator, who have access to this confidential database.  Every employee carries a pad of “Guest Personal Preference Communiqués” with them at all times.  Any time an employee notices a personal preference of a guest or overhears a guest mentioning some detail that would enable the company to better serve them, the employee fills out and submits the communiqué to the Mystique staff, who enter the information in the database.  This system, designed to better help the company personalize their service to individual guests, is a central part of their building a strong service identity and a loyal base of clientele.

Overall, I was impressed with the thoroughness of the Ritz-Carlton systems; their training, treatment, and empowerment of their employees; and the degree to which everyone from the highest executive to the most recently hired line employee is dedicated to service – not just to their guests, but to each other in the performance of their duties.  As one employee said during our late-afternoon Q&A with line employees from the Washington DC property, “I’ve never worked anyplace where I feel like I’m such an integral part of the team, where my ideas and input matter so much, and where I feel like I’m part of a big, caring family.”

While there are clearly aspects of the Ritz-Carlton way that are beyond our reach in the private club business due to budgetary constraints and economies of scale, there is also much we can learn from them – probably the most important being their absolute dedication to high levels of service and their “will to make it happen.”


Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Staff Training

Monday, May 4th, 2009

High quality and consistent service is something that our members not only expect, but demand.  Yet in a detail-intensive business such as ours where so much has to be done just right in every service encounter, training employees is a gargantuan task, made even more challenging by a transient workforce and high turnover in critical service positions.  Often our employees who have learned the most from our service culture are lost to the lure of the newest restaurant in town or the one with the highest tips.

Given the importance of training and the reality of tight budgets, it seems the only solution to the club training challenge is to organize and format training materials to be easily-given with a minimum of time investment for both instructor (manager) and student (employee).  One solution is to use “on-the-go” training materials where information and skills are provided in frequent, small and easily-digested doses.

But there is more to training employees than just the skills of their particular position.  Employees must also have a thorough grasp of the club’s culture and service values.  Otherwise, each employee is simply doing what he or she thinks is best.  While well-intentioned, this clearly doesn’t foster a consistent quality of service.

There are also a host of policies and procedures that each employee must know – again, this is an area where consistency is imperative.

With so much to teach each new employee, do you have a training strategy beyond osmosis?  Have you ever fleshed out a curriculum for each service position?  Is your training material written down for consistency and formatted for brevity and clarity?  Do you test your employees on training materials?  Do you offer follow-up or refresher training?  Do you track the training that each employee gets to make sure everyone is trained to the same standard?  Do you encourage feedback from employees regarding the adequacy of training?  Do you periodically review and revise training materials?

All of these are legitimate questions about your club’s training effort.  But who has the time you may be thinking?  Some managers will excuse the lack of formal training by saying it just isn’t in the budget.  Yet I would say that training is more about organization, discipline, and the “will to make it happen” than it is about cost.

NEXT WEEK: Even more important – Managers Training!

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – where membership and all resources are FREE!

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The Challenge of Standalone Club Operations

Monday, April 27th, 2009

My wife is a high school English teacher and I get to hear her periodic horror stories from the world of public education. Several years ago, growing interested in her comments on the state of our schools, I picked up a book called Crash Course by Chris Whittle. Whittle made his money in magazine publishing and with Channel One, the news program provided to public schools. He then turned his attention to public education and founded Edison Schools, a for-profit education management organization that would hopefully bring a solution to some of our worst-performing schools. While Edison Schools has not been as successful as originally envisioned, I found his review of public education insightful and full of interesting ideas.

In his book he discussed the challenges facing small town and rural school districts with limited resources and few economies of scale. As I read his critique, I was amazed that so many of the points he made about these school districts applied just as much to standalone club operations. For me it was a moment of epiphany. Throughout much of my career I worked in independent hotels or clubs with no more resources than our lean management staff could muster among ourselves. In job after job, we had to create personnel and accounting policies and procedures, job descriptions, training manuals, employee handbooks, and other materials to support our operations.

What made it so difficult was that we, the management staff, were up to our necks in operations and daily crises. Some of the operations were 24/7 and finding the time to develop organizational material was a nearly impossible challenge. Yet, if we ever wanted to stop reacting to problems, we needed to organize the operation for efficiency and consistency, while spending more time planning and thinking strategically.

Over the past thirty years the hotel industry has successfully consolidated into chain operations and management companies, but the greater part of the club industry has not, and probably never will, due to the individual ownership of clubs by members and the reluctance of many to hire management companies. This leaves the industry full of standalone operations with limited resources and benefits of scale.

In response to these challenges Club Resources International, a portal website serving club industry managers at all levels of the operations, has recently been launched. On this site you’ll find a variety of resources from White Papers; Best Practices; Job Descriptions; Standards, Policies, and Procedures; Training Manuals and materials; programs to improve the understanding and efficiency of operations such as Tools to Beat Budget and Operations Benchmarking; as well as links to other industry resources.

The vision of this website is to grow into a one-stop resource for the materials that managers need, but don’t have the time to develop. Since so many of club operations are similar, there’s no sense in “reinventing the wheel.” Simply register for free on the site, download the desired material, and customize it to your own needs.

Lastly, we actively encourage other voices and points of view. Just as there are clubs with varying combinations of amenities, there are also  a number of ways to organize and operate a club. All quality submissions will be posted with appropriate attribution to individual author and organization. Harnessing the collective power and intellect of club managers worldwide makes more sense than each of us trying to go it alone!

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf


This is the first in a series of weekly blogs commenting on and discussing the club industry and its challenges as we all labor to provide the haven our members want and have come to expect. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

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