Ms. Ross

Food & Beverage

Hotel F&B: You Never Know Who You Are Serving

By Susie Ross, Founder, Waiter Training

The restaurant and bar crews were sorely understaffed to handle a small influx of people in October. There didn't seem to be a presence from management of any kind. The front-desk staff couldn't be bothered by petty requests and inquiries. One incident stands out in particular and I witnessed it - no exaggeration from the person to whom it happened.

The bride's uncle and his wife drove up from a small town in Texas. I'll call them Jerry and Marilyn. Jerry and his wife are unassuming in appearance and are probably aged in their mid-sixties. When they arrived at the hotel the afternoon before the wedding in their very expensive, shiny black Corvette, the valets eagerly awaited the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of the car to drive it 100 yards to a parking space.

Marilyn spotted a family member and went to chat with her in the lobby while Jerry stood back from the counter, waiting to be acknowledged. The hotel employees were assisting other guests. When they were finished with those guests, they saw no other would-be guests to whom they should be paying attention. They did see a maintenance man, dressed in dark work pants, work boots and a blue, striped shirt with a name patch, on which was embroidered the name "Jerry." They ignored him.

Jerry is a smart man, a businessman. He owns a company that paints commercial aircraft. It's not a large, Fortune 500 company, but he is successful at what he does, in part because he is a hands-on kind of business owner. He enjoys driving his Corvette and is comfortable wearing his work clothes after a day at work to get to his niece's wedding in Oklahoma City. Being a smart man, Jerry understood what was happening. So he went to the counter and asked if he could check in. He was a little angry, but he was willing to let their ignorance pass. However, the person he chose to talk to acted as if he might be insane to think that he could afford to stay in a hotel such as this. He skeptically began the check-in process.

That is basically the end of the story. Jerry checked in quietly and no one apologized for ignoring him. They happily took his money, though. He didn't complain to the hotel management; he didn't think it would do any good. However, he vowed they would never see his money come across their counter again.

Guess what the topic was at dinner that evening! The bride's family, other guests, including me, all of whom were having our own issues with the hotel, were only too eager to have another red mark added to our long list of complaints. We all certainly told other people. The tragedy for the hotel is that it's an international chain. People came from all over the United States and Canada for this wedding.

Statistics show that, instead of complaining to an organization directly, 96% of dis-satisfied customers will gripe to an average of nine other people. I'm sure our group fulfilled that statistic and then some!

You never know whom you're serving. Appearances can be deceiving. When you're serving a party of 65 for the holidays, know who the host is, whether it is an individual or a company. Also remember that the rest of the people, nameless as they may appear, all have names, careers, influence on others, and many have reasons and means to pay for a party of their own someday. Bad hair or a cheap-looking suit should not be taken for a bad person who has no value or influence. Besides being extremely rude to someone who is a guest and doesn't deserve to be ignored, you may be quashing a future opportunity to make money and promote your business.

This chart speaks for itself; don't let this happen to you! Be aware of your staff and their actions; make sure you lead by example and don't be a part of that 68% crowd!

To be fair, there were a few examples of fine customer service in Oklahoma City. We noticed that it came from a couple of different people on a consistent basis. They were mentioned in the overall comments and complaints. To be fair again, the hotel could have been having a bad streak of days - the days our group was there! Most of us can forgive mistakes and move on. The key is in the recovery.

An experienced server will tell you that he can make more money from a table with a complaint than a table that didn't have a complaint. When a mistake is made, or a string of mistakes are made, heavy burden is placed on the shoulders of the server. A service-oriented person will:

All of this is done sincerely and, if the mistake is bad enough, the correction may go above and beyond what is normally necessary. What really bothered all of us was the severe lack of concern and recovery. The huge burden is on the shoulders of the hotel chain; how do they insure excellent customer service across the nation and the globe? That's another story entirely!

Right now, as I write this, most of the hospitality industry is gearing up for the summer and tourism. More staff is being hired to handle the masses; deep cleaning is being done to make your establishment sparkle!

It seems that we're in one of those "wobbly" times in our economic outlook; people aren't sure if they should or shouldn't go far away for vacations. Fuel is at prices we never thought we'd experience. Families want to make the most of whatever vacation they can afford. Large sport utility vehicles are being left in garages for smaller, more economic cars.

Who gets those tourism dollars? Those who have cultivated in previous tourist seasons, that's who. They continue to do so year after year.

How is your staff? Are they really service-oriented? Service-oriented, means, among other things, they will treat all your guests the same, whether or not they drove up in the SUV, the shiny black Corvette or the Hyundai Elantra.

If at no other time of the year, this is the time when the hospitality industry really has to make sure everyone on their team is truly service-oriented. Management and hourly staff alike must treat every human being as a potential guest, either current or future. All those tourist dollars must go somewhere; a little of it is better than none at all. And word-of-mouth advertising is the best you can get - it's free and it's the most effective!

The key is proper training; a posh resort or any business that prides itself on customer service will train their staffs to treat everyone like a VIP.

Susie Ross founded Waiter Training. She holds a degree in Speech/Communications with an emphasis in Theatre, from Metropolitan State College of Denver and has made a successful career of selling and serving food and beverages. Her background in the restaurant business includes fast-paced, breakfast and lunch service and a more formal, evening and dinner atmosphere. Building confidence in both experienced and inexperienced staff has become her trademark. Susie believes servers must approach the table with confidence and an ability to sell the menu, irrespective of the type of restaurant. Ms. Ross can be contacted at 720-203-4615 or susan@waiter-training.com Extended Bio...

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The challenge for hotel food and beverage operations is to serve the personal tastes and needs of an increasingly diverse population and, at the same time, to keep up with ever-evolving industry trends. In order to accomplish this, restaurateurs and hoteliers have to flex their creative muscles and pull out all the stops to satisfy their various audiences. One way to achieve this is to utilize existing food spaces in multiple ways at different times of the day. Lunch can be casual and fast, while dinnertime can be more formal and slower paced. The same restaurant can offer counter service by day but provide table service by night, with a completely different menu and atmosphere. Changes in music, lighting, uniforms and tabletop design contribute to its transformation. This multi- purpose approach seeks to meet the dining needs of guests as they change throughout the day. Today’s restaurants also have to go to great lengths to fulfill all the diverse dietary preferences of their guests. The popularity of plant-based, paleo, vegan, and gluten and allergen-free diets means that traditional menus must evolve from protein-heavy, carb-loaded offerings to those featuring more vegetables and legumes. Chefs are doing creative things with vegetables, such as experimenting with global cuisines or incorporating new vegetable hybrids into their dishes. Another trend is an emphasis on bold and creative flavors. From chili oil to sriracha to spicy maple syrup, entrees, desserts and beverages are all being enhanced with spice and heat. The August issue of the Hotel Business Review will document the trends and challenges in the food and beverage sector, and report on what some leading hotels are doing to enhance this area of their business.