Today, my HR Director turned us on to this TED Talk video by Susan Reilly Salgado. Essentialy it discusses the ability of great leaders to inspire their employees verses motivating them. The core goal here is to create a work environment in the hospitality industry where our employees internally absorb a culture of "authentic, caring behaviors toward others", and in turn learn to project that culture outward upon our guests. Its a valid argument and one that Danny Meyer and other restaurateurs have put into practice in their organizations, often to great success. Its is not easy, but if done well can make a tremendous difference in the public's perception and reception of your business.
I was having a conversation with one of our newer banquet servers after a large wedding event, and I asked how everything went, how was service, etc. This person informed me that everything went really well. They guests completely enjoyed themselves and felt the event was great. I asked how the staff was doing as there are a number of newer employees in the mix, and she said everyone did really well, but that there was some frustration during the event behind the scenes.
It appears that some of the more senior servers were trying to jump the lines for pick-up of plates and it was throwing the other servers as well as the kitchen off as tables were not getting served in proper order and plates were being mixed up. This added to the stress of the kitchen as there were two wedding receptions being catered simultaneously. She told me this was really a problem until one of the bosses (an owner actually) came to the kitchen, at which point everyone started to really jump up their service level.
In fact, this server told me that the floor manager told everyone that they needed to step up their game now that the owner was their as they didn't want to look bad in front of him. This is where I stopped the conversation as I really did not appreciate this message. I pointed out that the guest's experience and the service level should be no less just because there is no one looking over your shoulder or calling you out for potential mistakes or slack service. The response from my newbie server was, yeah, but everyone steps it up when the boss is around. We went back and forth on the tenants of providing top-level service no matter what, and I think I got my point across, but it was a little frustrating for me to hear that the message driven home from the manager was simply reinforcing that it is ok to not work at your best level except when the boss is on deck, so to speak.
This is not how I teach standards of hospitality, nor is it the expectation of my company to provide different levels of experience and service. The guest is paying for and expecting the best service, no matter who is there or not. They are actually paying a lot of money to our company for providing a top experience. Hopefully my message was delivered, but just in case I recommended - almost insisted - that the server read a couple of books and also listen to a podcast by one of the authors as a reinforcement of hospitality standards.
The first couple of books are books I have been loaning out and touting for years - both by Edmund Lawler and Charlie Trotter, called Lessons in Service by Charlie Trotter and Lessons in Excellence by Charlie Trotter.
These are great books for anyone in the hospitality business as they really give insight into what had driven Charlie Trotter to be and run the best restaurant in the country. They are quick reads and should be in the library of anyone looking to be in hospitality and service. I also recommend the Lessons in Wine Service, which is part of the same series.
The other book which is a long time part of my library, is the Danny Meyer classic, Setting the Table. This is a book which is closer to me in several ways, than others. Danny Meyer is of course one of the premier restaurateurs in the United States and since the mid-1980s has been the creator of many top locations in NYC, as well as the now global monster Shake Shack. As someone who has been in the restaurant business for a number of years, this book has given me a foundation from which to learn and create my version of how hospitality can and should work. Danny basically turned the restaurant world on its head 30 years ago, and this book details how he managed to do that.
As I said the book, or at least Danny Meyer himself, is someone who I am a little closer to in more than just reading. I have met Danny several times and seen him speak, but more importantly, my boss used to work with Danny in their earliest days. He then went on to open and create a restaurant group, which I now work for, where many of the ideas of proper hospitality and service overlap with what Danny has put forth in his work.
This was reinforced to me recently when I came across the Podcast called I'll Drink to That by Levi Dalton - episode #363, in which Levi interviews Danny. I really like IDTT in general for its style and topical nature, but it is especially interesting when Levi interviews someone from the industry beyond winemakers. Don't get me wrong - the winemakers are great and Levi's questioning style is fantastic, but I am often looking for good insight into more than just wine production and such. I like broader industry information, which we all have to deal with at one point in time or another. I have recommended this podcast (#363 specifically, but also IDTT in general) to several of my employees - again usually with hospitality in mind - as an easy way to reach them and encourage them to think differently about where good service should come from.
I'll Drink to That also happens to provide a very accessible platform for insight and learning. I usually tune in while walking the dog in the morning, and it gets me thinking about the day and what I can do to improve my business practices. I also learn a lot and pick up ideas for wines to check out - very useful, and I have made some new industry connections simply through this interview list. IDTT is available for download and listen on a number of services, just follow the link to the main page www.illdrinktothatpod.com.
So to conclude, my point is that there are messages delivered every day to service staff about what we do, but not always why we do it. I find it extremely important to understand the basics of great hospitality, but providing that service level at all times, not just when the boss is around, is key to the best guest experience.
By the way, the newbie server happens to be my 19 year-old daughter who is working several jobs while on summer break from college. Setting the bar high for service standards is really important to me and my role in the industry, and she is doing a great job of picking it up.
Add these great reads on hospitality and service to your library:
A 25 year drinks industry expert, Brian has worked on just about every side of the beverage business, specializing in wine & spirits education, staff training, creative consulting, and of course service. He lives and works in Connecticut, where the number of working Somm's is limited, but he hopes through the effort of this site and its related events, that will change.
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