In the best-selling book ‘Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More than they Expect, author Will Guidara proposes a simple but impactful sentiment – the magic of great service can (and should) be brought to life in any transaction. A restaurateur himself Guidara took the helm of Eleven Madison Park at the age of 26. Under his guidance, EMP skyrocketed up the ranks from a struggling two-star brasserie to the #1 spot on the famed World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017.
Even if you haven’t read the book, its synopsis does a great job of encapsulating its wisdom, detailing Guidara’s embrace of truly memorable, bespoke hospitality. “Guidara’s team surprised a family who had never seen snow with a magical sledding trip to Central Park after their dinner; they filled a private dining room with sand, complete with mai-tais and beach chairs, to console a couple with a canceled vacation,” the synopsis reads. “Today, every business can choose to be a hospitality business — and we can all transform ordinary transactions into extraordinary experiences.”
Simply stated, great service comes down to great people creating great moments – often within scenarios or environments that might otherwise remain unmemorable. Sometimes it’s a heartfelt conversation exchanged while a cashier bags your groceries, and sometimes it’s an over-the-top example like those stories described by Guidara in his book. One thing is sure, though – these moments (and the effort which brings them to life) should not be taken for granted and, if anything, should be the hallmark of good hospitality and, in general, good business. And with the rise in the popularity of guest reviews and word-of-mouth, excellent service is a way to grow your business by attracting new customers — and, conversely, can be a way to lose new customers if your service isn’t up to par.
Of course, at the same time I share this message, the influence of digital innovation and automation is steadily transforming our world. As someone who sits at the helm of a technology company – specifically, sales and catering tech – I am no stranger to this transformation and have always welcomed it with open arms. We need continued digital innovation to achieve great products and services at scale, and automation is, in and of itself, a catalyst to enhanced service by means of eliminating broken, manual workflows. With each passing year, we seem to unlock new possibilities with the help of big ideas and big tech, and this continued evolution is something I feel fortunate to witness and be a part of. However, in that same breath, I feel it’s ever-important to remind my industry peers of what I consider a central truth and value: You can never automate human connection, and people will always be the hospitality industry’s backbone. Automation should be leveraged not to replace human interaction across hotel lobbies and candle-lit dinners; but rather to enhance the opportunity for more connected experiences.
I can summon a few stand-out examples of this in my life. Halls Chophouse in Charleston, South Carolina is one of my favorite restaurants to frequent, not necessarily because of the food or the environment (although those are great, too), but because of the exceptional service. The owner of this location is the son of the previous owner, and it only takes one visit to recognize the work he’s put in to keep his family traditions alive through his interactions with every customer. At every visit, he will welcome guests at the door, shake everyone’s hand, personally bring champagne to the table to toast special events, and always leaves us with a story to tell. As the saying goes, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel,” and the owner of Halls Chophouse leaves a lasting impression on everyone who walks through his doors.
Not to mention, great service is (surely, to no one’s surprise) a great business practice when we consider its ROI. Studies show that over 80% of customers reported that they would be willing to pay more to get a better experience. A recent report revealed that 89% of companies with “significantly above average” customer experiences perform better financially than their competitors. Moreover, American companies reportedly lose about $136.8 billion yearly because of avoidable customer losses. Unfortunately, a decline in customer service has been observed across industries for some time now. To this effect, American consumers reported declining customer service across the economy in 2022. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, customer satisfaction in the U.S. has declined for three consecutive quarters, the largest cumulative drop in decades. The Wall Street Journal reiterated this sentiment after sharing the results of Forrester Research’s latest annual study on customer experience. “Macroeconomic pressures on companies, such as staffing shortages and delays in the supply chain, have likely contributed to declining quality of customer experience across most industries, said Pete Jacques, principal analyst at Forrester and co-author of the index’s accompanying report. “The changes suggest to us that some companies are reaching the point where they’re just having a hard time keeping up with these customers’ changing expectations or are just distracted by all the other things that they need to be focusing on,” he said.
When we look at hospitality, specifically, we must identify the current challenges facing our industry. While the travel demand has surged in the post-pandemic landscape, our industry is struggling from an operations perspective. The labor shortage (which has long plagued hotels) is seemingly at an all-time high, and hotel brands are relying on less staffing to achieve more work while maintaining strict brand standards. Now, perhaps more than ever, we see hotel brands abandoning their investment in people to invest instead in automation. While this is a natural step and evolution, with 25% of hospitality and leisure CEOs stating that AI will significantly impact how they operate in the next five years, we must maintain focus on staff training and invest in the human side of the guest experience. After all, the guest ultimately pays the salary of hospitality professionals, and hospitality professionals are in the business of providing exceptional, hands-on service that translates to cherished moments for guests. Our industry has such an incredible opportunity to create relationships with guests and customers — and it would be an outright shame not to act on it.
Human connection is invaluable, weaving its way through the fabric of our days to instill meaning in the mundane and to shed light on every dark corner. We cannot exist without it. We thrive in its presence, and if you ask me, it should be the foremost tool any hospitality professional utilizes. As Guidara so eloquently urges, it is our duty (and should be our utmost honor) to transform ordinary transactions into extraordinary experiences with the human touch in collaboration with digital conveniences and innovation. After all, when was the last time you raved to a friend about your self-checkout experience? In a world with no shortage of mundane touch-points, shouldn’t we strive to be like Halls Chophouse?