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Service Station: Credibility in the Hospitality World, Part II

Eric Weiss - July 10th, 2014

Service consultant Eric Weiss (founder/president of Service Arts Inc.) guides us through establishing credibility.

It’s a question I ask myself frequently: “How do I establish credibility?” Some of the touchstones were discussed in last month’s “Service Station,” and this month, we touch on several more.

Effective Questioning— Gathering information from one’s guests is an essential part of excellent service. The more specific the question, the more specific the answer will most likely be. For a server asking, “How is everything?” my occasional response can be, “My financial status, my health, or my marriage?” Instead, it’s so much more effective to speak about the specific item they’re eating. It shows them you’re observant, knowledgeable, and, ultimately, it’s translated that you care.

Reading Between the Lines— Frequently, what people do not say is equally or more important than what they do say. Our guests constantly give us nonverbal cues. We, as hospitalitarians, learn to pick up on them. If two guests are talking, and one of them indicates they are college friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time, the message is clear—give them some time, don’t rush them, they probably don’t want to make any decisions immediately (unless otherwise indicated, of course).

Respect of Privacy— Too often, I’ve had servers who felt totally comfortable contributing to conversations at the table. Several months ago, I was discussing a film with my tablemate when suddenly the server chimed in with “I didn’t necessarily think that the film should have ended that way.” A sense of discretion is not only a contributing factor to excellent service, but an expected one. If you’ve seen the recent film The Butler, you may remember the advice that the main character was given by the maître d’ when he began working at the White House—“You hear nothing, you see nothing, you only serve.”

Not Making Assumptions— In a previous article, I spoke about assumptive service as being the antithesis of excellent service. The more we assume, the more we make an ___ of you and me. Whether it’s the couple approaching the front desk you mistakenly address as Mr. and Mrs., or the bottle of wine offered to the male guest at the table for tasting, even though his female tablemate has ordered it, beware of this service pitfall.

Collaborative Service— People sense when there’s a team surrounding them or if it’s every man (or woman) out for himself. Don’t think for one minute they’re in the dark when it comes to sensing a unified team. Our guests in many ways are like children—they pick up consciously or unconsciously on many things. A crucial element is the seamless way in which one teammate passes the service “baton” on to the next.

Honesty— There is probably no better way to establish credibility than by being honest. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to share that the steak dropped on the kitchen floor or that the previous hotel guest was violently ill and the room needed to be completely disinfected. Keeping people abreast of what’s going on is a likely antidote for frustration and anger. Whether it pertains to a plane delay, a detained entrée, or an unready hotel room, keep them informed.

Credibility is a challenge to gain and perhaps even more difficult to maintain.

Jean-Claude Nédélec, longtime friend and co-owner of the iconic Glorious Food, once said to me, “You’re only as good as your last catered event.”

So true.