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Ms. Nedry

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

The Weight of the Wait... Time is Money!

By Roberta Nedry, President and Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.

Waiting: "To dream that you are waiting, is indicative of issues of power/control and feelings of dependence/independence, especially in a relationship. Consider how you feel in the dream while you were waiting. If you are patient, then you know things will happen at their own pace. If you are impatient, then it may mean that you are being too demanding or that your expectations are too high.

Alternatively, the dream may denote your expectations and anxieties about some unknown situation or decision. There is a sense of anticipation. You are ready to take action."

Taken directly from the Dreammoods.com website, this interpretation of a "waiting" dream seemed more like reality in today's world. Think of how much today's consumer 'waits' on a daily basis; the doctor's office, traffic, on hold while on the phone, supermarket and gas lines, at the bank, DMV or utility office, for a spouse, for kids, for friends, for meetings to start and the list goes on and on. As noted in the dream site, many consumers and guests DO feel a loss of power and control in these situations and do have high expectations. Today's world presents a constant deficit of time and hoteliers need to recognize that guests are already experts at waiting. They arrive with a sophisticated portfolio of waiting experiences and time zone expectations. Time is a critical issue in service delivery. Guests do not want unknown situations and they seek hospitality environments to reduce the anxieties of everyday life.

This dream analysis presents insight on how hospitality professionals can make waiting for service an opportunity to deliver service while waiting. How many times does the guest feel like they are the one waiting versus the wait staff waiting on them? What are the timing issues that make or break a service encounter? How does timing impact the overall guest experience as a service factor? Consider making time to analyze 'time' with employees who have "time" with guests.

The 'weight' of the wait in the world of service delivery should not be underweight or overweight! When arriving at a crowded restaurant, with a reservation, what is a reasonable amount of time a guest should have to wait if their table is not ready? After all, they did call in advance and make the commitment to come spend money. How quickly should a table be made available to them if the restaurant is full and how had the restaurant prepared for this? If they do have to wait, what options are made available to make guest waits more pleasant? Are there actually other income opportunities to present to guests while they are waiting? Could they sit at the bar, order drinks in the area they are waiting, walk to the gift shop or learn about upcoming special events? Could they read publications, articles or menus which will further excite them about what the restaurant has to offer? Once seated, how long should guests wait before a server approaches them? Are guidelines in place for how long it should take for the welcome, the menus, the water and bread, the drinks and the meal order? While timing is not always predictable, service should be both forecast and predictable and if timing goes askew, servers should be prepared to step in and provide transitional solutions. Managers should take time to evaluate each touchpoint involved in the service delivery experience and what the minimum or maximum zone of time for each touchpoint should be. If service cannot be delivered within those defined time zones, plans should be in place to address situations when timing is not optimal. The experience within that time zone must be maximized to deliver exceptional service.

I never ceased to be amazed at Nobu, the trendy Japanese cuisine restaurant chain. After visiting locations in Dallas, New York and Miami Beach, I have noticed their staff seems to consistently know how to manage the wait for their guests by introducing ways for guests to enjoy the moments before they are seated. Whether it was enjoying drinks at the bar, visiting the adjoining hotel, taking in the unusual ambiance and d'ecor or simply checking out the scene, the Nobu staff seemed to know how to direct us to something interesting and fun in each place and keep us happy and entertained while we waited. They recognized and defined the wait as part of the Nobu experience.

When any experience starts to become overweight or underweight, hospitality leaders and their teams should be ready. Overweight can be when the wait staff is taking a long time or is caught "in the slam" and can't get to a newly seated table within the time zone defined for acceptable service. Management should have other staff trained to step in or cover, if only to take that initial order and get things going. Perhaps servers covering other tables could step in to assist, or the hostess, or even the manager. A good manager and a good restaurant is looking out for these situations and making sure guests are not left starving for attention and food!

On the other hand, a dining or service experience should not be "underweight" either. Nothing is more unsettling to a guest than rushed service. Drinks and appetizers are ordered and then arrive at the same time. Before the first drink is down, the salads show up and two bites later the main course. Turning tables may be profitable when done in a well-orchestrated manner that still addresses the guest's comfort. When guests feel that they are not able to enjoy each phase of their meal and that they are being rushed, they are bound to lose their appetite for the meal...and the restaurant. Servers should be trained to understand how making things move too fast can be unsettling and unpleasant for guests. There is a fine line between rushing a guest and interrupting the flow of their table dynamics.

Servers and all restaurant personnel should be constantly watching their assigned tables and "serving "their guests. Customers go to restaurants for that exact reason. They want someone to take care of them and relieve them from the routines and duties of meals at home. They want to enjoy the ambiance and the family or company they are with and not have to worry about making things happen. Customers and guests are willing to pay extra for this and enjoy the environment they have chosen, not be annoyed by it. When they are finished with their meal and ready to pay the bill, they are ready. Unless they are lingering over coffee or dessert, they don't want to wait again and expect transactions to be completed on a timely basis. Time IS a service issue and a guest's time should be valued highly in the service delivery process. If there are hiccups or hold ups, they should be addressed and resolved to benefit the service guests are expecting.

Each touchpoint in the guest experience will be impacted by time and the surrounding factors that make service delivery predictable or unpredictable. Developing expectations and setting time goals is critical in how each touchpoint is executed. Another area greatly impacted by waiting and time is the valet or parking-the guest's departure and final impression. At a major theatre event, I could not believe how long it took to get out of a parking lot. The show experience ended around midnight. The parking experience ended around 1am! Though the show was great, my parting memories were miserable. At another major hotel catering event, the valet wait took over 40 minutes. For this well-known, relatively new, luxury hotel, this was a damaging final impression to leave on a lot of first-time guests, especially with an expensive valet fee to boot. Many don't want to visit again because they don't want the hassle. How can a hotel which knows in advance that they will have large numbers of cars to handle figure out a better solution that leaves guests with time on their hands and not their hands in the air? Can valet and parking companies figure out a better way to handle the timing of departure moments and make sure that parting "tis such sweet sorrow" and not the bitter kind?

Most guests do not factor "waiting time" into their appointments, engagements, outings and meetings. Hotels and hospitality venues should not impose these unasked-for-moments on their guests. Hospitality leaders should evaluate each aspect of departure and what they and their teams can do to prepare for and alleviate the wait. Look for the weakest link in the chain of service delivery and take a "time out" to think it over and strengthen the chain. Employees can anticipate and equate "wait" with opportunities to make their own service deliverables better.

Equip employees with an understanding of guest "time zones" and how to impact them in positive ways. Beyond the more obvious timing settings of the restaurant and valet, consider all other areas of a hotel or hospitality environment impacted by time zones set by either the guest or the hotel.

During a recent visit to check out the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, in Ojai, California, a wonderful and totally unexpected service moment took place during a brief time zone my family had defined for us. We were in the area and had simply stopped by for a quick few minutes just to see what this property we had heard about was like. Shortly after entering, we walked by their fragrance gardens and marveled at the lavender growing in abundance. Veronica Chala, Director of Risk Management and the Manager on Duty, noticed our admiration of the blossoms, welcomed us warmly, invited us to take a lavender sprig to enjoy it more personally and shared why she loved the property so much. She saw us and seized a moment to expand and impact our few minutes and made them more memorable. There is no time like the right time and she made the time right for us. We were "waited on " and we didn't even have to ask. We did not have to wait for a nice moment to happen.

Whether it is checking in at the front desk, calling for room service, handling a phone reservation, retrieving a car, answering a question, settling a bill, conversing with the concierge or any action which requires time with a guest, time is a service factor, time is money and your guests do not want their time wasted.

  • Set goals for the duration of each touchpoint in the guest experience and consider defining minimum and maximum "service time zones"
  • Create and define exceptions and the understanding of how to deal with them
  • Create strategies to implement when timing is not optimal and involve other personnel when timing challenges take place
  • Define opportunities for additional service moments and additional revenue when waiting must take place
  • Seek out ways to positively impact guest time zones in both expected and unexpected moments
  • Develop strategies to acknowledge the amount of time things take and how to maximize the quality of time so the experience is not negative
  • Understand how these elements drive methods for setting time expectations and integrate TIME as a key facet of exceptional service delivery
  • Observe guests in time zones and intercede when time zone expectations and reality are in conflict
  • Be responsive to guest timing cues and clue in to making them work Back to the Dream moods website:" to see a waiter in your dream, suggests that you are in need of nurturance and to feel special."What a perfect analogy for what guests do really want and need. They want to feel special and they want each moment of their experience to be nurtured. Guests do not want issues of timing to be on their shoulders or up in the air. Respect time as an essential service ingredient and evaluate where delivery may be too slow, too fast or non-existent. Coach employees on how to look for service opportunities, even small ones and not wait for the moments to happen. Take care of waiting guests and do not leave guests wondering when the wait will be over. Make time to analyze "time" with employees who have "time" with guests. Call "Time" on time and give employees time to get the message. Hospitality leaders and their employees need to weigh in on the wait of each part of service delivery. Otherwise, guests will not wait around, but they will make the time to spend their money elsewhere.

Roberta Nedry is President and Founder of Hospitality Excellence, Inc. and has spent over 32 years exploring, delivering and managing guest and customer experiences and service training. She helps organizations to reach levels of exceptional service and regularly consults with executives and managers on transforming customer experiences. Her Hospitality Excellence Team is internationally recognized for its expertise in creating customer experience strategies that zero in on and inspire the DNA of each client yielding enhanced internal employee experiences and external customer and brand value. Ms. Nedry’s diverse background with both public and private companies allows clients to draw on her extensive career experience for business solutions. Ms. Nedry can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com Extended Bio...

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