Comment: Think hospitality not service

There are many lessons to be learned from rethinking what hospitality means

Opinion, Columnists

I have been wanting to read Danny Meyer’s Setting The Table for a while now, especially since so many hoteliers and restaurateurs have told me about how much they enjoyed the book, how much people in the hospitality business can learn from it, and why some lessons from it stay eternal.

On my birthday this year, a friend gifted me a copy, but I only recently managed to find time to read it. Going through the book was a great experience — not just to read about Meyer’s journey and that of Union Square Hospitality Group, but to gain insight into his thoughts and ideas about the industry.

One Meyer quote (among many gems!) that stood out, and something that The First Group director of global F&B Duncan Fraser-Smith actually introduced me to more than a year ago: “Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you.” I thought at the time, and when I read it myself this year, that that attitude and belief makes so much sense. If all hoteliers embraced that thought when working towards creating memorable moments for their guests, what a wonderful thing it would be. Meyer also outlines the distinction between ‘service’ and ‘hospitality’ in his book, while calling his method of operating ‘enlightened hospitality’.

Part of this modus operandi is how he places his stakeholders in order of importance: employees, guests, the community, suppliers, and finally, investors. Not just in hospitality, but in business in general, if this pyramid of stakeholders is kept in mind, I think a lot of organisations will be happier places. It stands to reason that if your employees are happy, they will make guests happy, whose continued patronage will make investors happy. It’s such a simple concept, yet it’s baffling when you find companies who don’t subscribe to this belief. It was, therefore, very pleasant to hear 12 colleagues of Raffles Dubai, who have been with the property since its opening 10 years ago, tell me — in separate sessions — that they have stayed with the property because they feel like they have been treated like family [see pgs 46-51].

It’s also what Meyer refers to as ‘soul’ in his book that makes me think of service (or should I say, hospitality) standards in this region. There are some hotels and teams which exude a sense of personality and character while staying true to brand standards — it’s not an easy feat. But it also obviously ties into empowerment (another factor mentioned by Meyer as important for running a successful business). Once empowered, and feeling a sense of ownership, employees are more likely to double efforts to make that business more successful.

However, there’s a problem. According to Gallup’s World Poll, only 15% of employees globally are engaged in their roles. That’s not a lot.

And as Gallup CEO and chairman Jim Clifton said in his blog post on the topic, old management practices such as forms and annual reviews are grinding the life out of millennials who initially join a job with all the enthusiasm in the world.

In fact, with the data from the Accel + Qualtrics Millennial Study showing that 82% of millennials believe that their job is an important part of their life (a higher rate than older generations), it’s up to organisations to tap into the willingness of this crew to learn and excel.

So I finished the book Setting The Table with a sense of enthusiasm, and oddly enough, of despair — enthusiasm for the industry and most people who work in hospitality, and despair at the thought of employers who may not ‘get it’. As Meyer says in his book: “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple and that hard.”

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