Going beyond customer service
If you’ve sat in on any of my seminars you may have heard me ask the question, “What is the difference between hospitality and customer service?” It is such an interesting question because there are such diverse answers.
I’ve queried both industry professionals who have 30 plus years under their belts and the 16-year-old who has never had a job, and I’ve heard it all! “Hospitality and customer service are the same!” Or, one of my favorites is this: “Customer service is not screwing up the order and hospitality is smiling at your guests.” Which, I guess in layman’s terms, sums it up.
I can best describe the two like this — customer service is executing the mechanics of the job. I refilled your drink, I took your order and I didn’t screw it up! But hospitality, well, that is how I made you feel while I performed those tasks. I firmly believe that we must provide both exceptionally well to be truly successful.
Have you ever been to a restaurant, and everything was on point, your order was taken in a timely manner, your meal came out hot and fresh, but something was missing? You left thinking, “That was fine, I got my belly full, but nothing to write home about.” Is that how you want your guests to feel about their experience at your restaurant? Just fine?
Just fine is the kiss of death! You might as well have told me that everything was awful! Nothing sends panic through my soul more than a guest who tells me everything was fine! So, if the food was great and your drink was always full, what was missing? Your server did everything right, except make you feel like family, like you mattered to him and that he was truly happy to serve you. This is hospitality!
The question of hospitality versus customer service is so important to us as an organization that it is one of the first questions we ask each applicant before they can proceed to the in-person interview.
The fact is, you can teach someone the mechanics of almost any position in your restaurant — but you can’t teach them to genuinely care about others. That is something their mama should have taught them a long time before they walked into your restaurant. Some of my best guest-facing employees have had zero experience, but a warm smile and genuine care for others can make up for inexperience.
While showing hospitality to our guests is paramount, it goes farther than that. My philosophy is simple: hospitality starts from the bottom up. And at the bottom of our org. chart is not the dishwasher or the part-time host. So, who is at the bottom of our org. chart? Us!
We are the foundation of our organization, and hospitality must start with us. How we treat our team is every bit as important as how we treat our guests. If our team doesn’t feel welcomed, valued and appreciated, how can they pass that along to our guests? Have you ever walked into a restaurant where all of the employees looked like they’d rather be anywhere but there? They have nothing nice to say about each other, let alone their leadership team and they treat their guests the same way. How we make people feel is the key to all aspects of business. Happy, fulfilled team members want to spread the love and at its core that is hospitality.
We can show our team hospitality in many ways. It doesn’t take much to stop and talk with a team member about how their family is doing or remember that their dog is sick. What if you offered to replace the car battery for a team member whose husband is out of town. How much did that really cost you in the end? You cannot put a price on how you made that person feel.
Delivery drivers and service providers are also a key component of your restaurant’s success. You can establish a good relationship with your ice machine technician by showing him a little hospitality. Offer him a drink, buy him lunch and make sure that you say the magic words, “Thank you”. A little gratitude goes a long way. Model this behavior for your team so that they extend the same hospitality whether you are there or not. What if everyone thanked him? He might make you a priority next time you need help. How great would he feel about making the trip on a Saturday and not charging you the on-call rate?
Hospitality for your community can show up in many ways. Bring a stack of pies to the public works guys after a big snowstorm and thank them for clearing your curb or keep a case of water in your car and hand them a bottle of water while they are working outside on a hot day.
Hospitality doesn’t have to take place inside of your four walls. You are the face of your business, and if you think people don’t recognize you, think again. With social media and the Internet, more people know you than you might think. This gives you so many opportunities to show hospitality to others. Go next door and welcome the new coffee shop owner to town, open up a tab for your team and treat them to coffee that day. Support other local businesses by purchasing Christmas, anniversary and birthday gifts for your team. Not only have you shown appreciation to your team, but you have also supported another business and probably gained a loyal customer.
The long and short of it is that without hospitality you’ve only filled people’s tummies, but you haven’t filled their hearts. At Wholly Stromboli our mission is simple. It is “to enrich the lives of everyone we meet through exceptional hospitality, food and drink.” And everything we do is in support of our mission. So go fourth and share the love!
Don’t miss Melissa Rickman’s “The Pyramid of Hospitality” session Monday at 9 a.m. EST at Pizza and Pasta Northeast in Atlantic City. More at PizzaandPastaExpo.com.
MELISSA RICKMAN is co-founder of Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and member of the World Pizza Champions.