An assignment for school
| I have been in the service industry for over twenty years. I have been everything from a retail sales associate to a server to a bartender to a sales director to a customer service representative for a cell phone company. Those positions required me to do many different tasks, but the most important one of all was to cater to my customers' needs in a friendly and professional manner. I have always tried to make the customer the center of my world during my interaction with them -- in my mind, that's what I'm being paid to do, and I believe that if I'm doing a job to begin with, I should to it to the utmost of my ability. Not all of those positions were tipped positions, many I got paid the same regardless of my interaction with the customer. I brought my "A game" because that's what I always felt I should do.
The restaurant industry, however, is not just a service industry; it is a hospitality industry. At least that's what we like to call it. Hospitality is the feeling we generate when we interact with our guests. It's going that extra step to make them feel welcome and appreciated. Service is simply the tools we use to help us give the customer that experience. They are interrelated and interdependent in our industry: you can have one without the other, but you won't be able to give an exceptional experience to your guest. For a restaurant to give good service, it is important to have guidelines and expectations of their front of the house staff so that they can stay on track and have consistent results. For instance, a restaurant may have a rule that a table must be greeted within thirty seconds of sitting. This helps the guest feel that they are going to get the attention they desire from the wait staff. That is service. How the greeter, be it a server or manager or other staff member, interacts with the guests turns that service into hospitality. Or not. I personally see this as a very important part of the server-guest relationship. It gives me a chance to introduce myself as their "entertainment director" of the evening. If I go to them and follow a scripted monologue in a wooden voice, they aren't going to care about me or have any confidence that I care about them. By smiling, making eye contact, and truly making them feel welcome, I have started my experience with them on the right foot.
Unfortunately, that is a step that too many restaurants miss. They may be on point with their service techniques, but customers are treated like another product, processed through the plant. The restaurant industry has become almost like an assembly plant, with everything timed (greet in thirty seconds, beverages in two minutes, dinner within ten minutes of order -- by the way, how are you going to cook my well done steak in less than ten minutes? -- check two minutes after clearing table, etc.) Nothing seems tailored to the individual customer, it's all about cost plus pricing and maximizing income for the restaurant. Never mind that it costs me, as the diner, five hours of work to take my family out to dinner.
I personally believe there are two main factors for this gap between service and hospitality: corporatization and apathy. Restaurants have gone the way of so many other businesses in America. Instead of being locally owned and operated, they are owned by a large company, located elsewhere, governed by a set of rules that sometimes don't make any sense. For instance, Buffalo Wild Wings here in Bowling Green used to have a rule that whoever answered the phone had to follow a script, which was about three sentences long and included "Home of UK Basketball." They were not allowed to mention Western basketball.
In order for a corporation to maintain control over all of its different stores, it must have a set of guidelines that each store and each employee must follow. Unfortunately, that doesn't give a lot of room for individual managers or employees to personalize service. Managers of these type of restaurants have to adhere to these guidelines and report on them. That's the main way the corporation itself can monitor the store. And many managers' bonuses and salaries and other compensation is based on the data from these reports. When this set of factors are in play, managers often neglect personalization for monitored results. It's like knowing what's going to be on a test before you take it: you only study those things and miss what other relevant information may be in that material.
In a corporate restaurant, managers' concerns are usually only about timing, food and labor costs and keeping guest complaints to a minimum. They are doing themselves a disservice however, when they try to buy off the customer with a free desert instead of trying to get to the root cause of the problem and fixing it. Which leads me to apathy.
There are two types of apathy that factor into the gap between service and hospitality: staff apathy and customer apathy. To the staff, it often doesn't seem to matter how well they treat the customers, they must adhere to certain guidelines and are called out if they are not met. If I'm late on greeting a table, I'm late. It doesn't matter that I may have been helping a guest in a wheelchair find the bathroom. I'm still late for that other table. If my job performance review is effected by that, then what am I going to do? Eventually, I will stop caring about the customer and only care about the job. Or I will quit.
I truly don't believe that most people care as much about doing a great job as I do. Most people are apathetic to begin with: in our society, it no longer seems like anyone can achieve greatness by work alone, so most people don't try. They are there for their paycheck and their days off. When a server can make as much as I as a manager, and work half the time, why should they care to do anything different? And if they make sure they meet all the minimum requirements of the job, they're going to keep the job with little effort.
There is also the customer apathy. As consumers we have become accustomed to poor customer service, ridiculous contracts, unstableness of work providers, and the inability to make a change regardless of how passionately we feel about it. As consumers, we've given up and let the market control us rather than controlling it. I must have made the same complaint every month for two years about a particular problem in a restaurant I went to. I know for a fact it would have cost about $60 to fix the issue. It never got fixed. (The wifi service in BWW. They needed a new router.) Eventually, if I wanted to work on my laptop and enjoy a beer, I found a different establishment, basically taking about $150 a month away from BWWs and giving it to someone else.
Our apathy as consumers lets establishments get away with not showing us hospitality. Those establishments know that someone else is waiting for my table or bar stool, so the absence of me is irrelevant. And the ignoring of my complaint for so long left me feeling that I have no control other than to change venues. BWWs did not suffer from my change of venue. If anything, it was one less guest complaint per month.
I believe the only way hospitality can be brought back to our industry is with a complete societal change. Consumers need to demand it rather than expect to be treated as chattel. The people who work in our industry need to believe in hospitality. They need to realize the value of a great dining experience and work hard to make that happen. Corporate workers need to realize that there is more to the hospitality industry than numbers: it's the people that make up those numbers.
All of this can come with awareness and training. When someone is trained for a management position in a restaurant, the training should include a hospitality seminar or class. Once the people at the top of our industry chain recognize the importance of hospitality, they can then train their staff on how to recognize the need and achieve it. And consumers need to start demanding and expecting it. If I have to work half a day to take my family out to a one hour dinner, it should be worth the time I put into it. In all reality, that's why we don't dine out often. It's much more fun and comfortable at home, and the food's usually twice as good.
We also need to empower our wait staff to do whatever is necessary to make sure that guest has a fabulous dining experience. If we train them in hospitality to begin with and explain the guidelines of our service expectations, then they will be able to work within those guidelines and still fulfill the guests' personal needs as well.
As someone I know says, "The fish stinks from the head." If the leaders of our industry will take a moment and reevaluate how hospitality can ultimately affect their bottom line, perhaps they will begin to foster the idea within their corporations and restaurants.