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Nipping Bad Hospitality Behaviors in the Bud

In this competitive Los Angeles restaurant scene where several restaurants are opening each week, it is extremely important that you make a great first impression because that is often all the chances you get. If new customers are not blown away by your fresh new concept, fantastic hospitality, or delicious food, they will cut their losses quickly and move on. I encourage management to seek out the very best employees they can afford that have natural smiles, are extroverted enough to initiate a casual conversation, and have a willingness to learn new skills. These skills alone can often be your saving grace in the early days and will off-set a guest’s negative impressions when they experience mishaps or delays by the new staff with lower technical skills and it will build a stronger bond that will hopefully create frequent visits. Top that off with an outstanding guest focused owner or manager, success is greatly magnified. Let me illustrate this idea with a snapshot of a visit to a new restaurant.

I sat sipping a steamy latte surveying the happenings—The music was Bahamas - Lost in the Light, the smell of sizzling bacon drifting through the air probably would have made a vegan toss their avocado toast, but it was having the opposite effect on me. The place looked spotless and many of the things I had suggested had been implemented to great success. I was particularly impressed with the owner who was greeting guest after guest by their first names, engaging in casual conversations that I could tell had been started on their previous visits. I wish I had videotaped him. He would have been my star in a training video on what to do to build guest traffic. He had a warm smile, his positive energy was contagious, and he was educating his customers why their coffee was far superior to their competitors which charge significantly less. Guest were responding very well and were even bringing him in items they wanted to share with their “new friend.” I was witnessing how repeat customers are built first hand-- one interaction at a time. Several mentioned they had been in on the evening shift with friends to play board games and linger. They loved having this new place in the hood to hang with friends where they felt welcomed. Things were definitely moving in the right direction.

Then I noticed something that I knew would harm his budding business if not corrected immediately particularly in this “semi- service” fast casual model. Despite all the owner’s best effort, what I saw could be the kiss of death to a new restaurant. The problem was the wait staff. They were experienced and had good technical skills, they were polite, but unlike the new owner they were not showing any warmth. I watched as guest after guest approached the counter to order. Both asked if the guests wanted to order something with complete dead pan faces. No smile, barely any direct eye contact, no energy in their voices. They were counteracting everything the owner was trying to build. I noticed most of the guests who interacted with these staff members did not smile either and didn’t stay long, while the ones the owner had interacted with seemed highly satisfied, lingered, and bought more.

The question that has plagued me for years is why does an outstanding owner or manager working their butts off, consistently executing at a high level in hospitality and performance standards, proving that these standards can be done with all guests, allow others on their team to have lukewarm hospitality or subpar technical performance long after the learning period is over? I have concluded, it boils down to the one or more of the following manager behaviors:

> The manager is too wrapped up in what he or she is doing that they have blinders on and don’t see it.

> hey have not grasped the concept that their performance is not evaluated on what they can do, but what they can achieve through their people

> Or they see it, but don’t have the confidence to address the behavior

You see, doing the hospitality part is one learned skill where they may be extremely comfortable and excel, while monitoring employee behavior or knowing how to effectively correct poor behaviors are skills they may not have competency. In this case the owner was aware one of the staff rarely smiled, but due to turnover issues he was choosing to “temporarily” accept the poor behavior. We watched some of the guests ordering at the counter and he concluded that neither employee was smiling or selling to the level he wanted.

We discussed the strategy to correct the problem and he decided that he would speak to the employees at the end of the shift and explain to them that he was trying to build the business and it is imperative they help him to do so. He would speak positively to the behaviors he wanted them to continue and then ask them for their support in changing the hospitality behaviors where he needed to see improvement so that his business could thrive. He later reported that conversation went well and the employees said they would help in whatever way they could and there was noticeable improvement in their hospitality skills. The same team members were actually enjoying their jobs more as their changed habits were causing more positive interactions with the guests and their pride level blossomed as the reputation of the restaurant grew. This is an excellent illustration of how prompt corrections early in the game before they become habits or “the norm” and regular monitoring is all that is needed to cause a big culture change in a restaurant and keep it flourishing into the future.

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