Chocolate Pillow | Engage and Educate, Don’t Serve!
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Engage and Educate, Don’t Serve!

07 Apr Engage and Educate, Don’t Serve!

Trends change in hospitality on an almost weekly basis, with consumers quickly changing tactic on how they want to be served and what their ideals are.  Whilst this may seem fickle to some, it is the nature of the industry – what was novel and new 6 months ago is now industry standard, what was amazing and groundbreaking 12 months ago is now old news!

One thing has been slow on the change over the past few years – and that is the nature of how people expect to be served.  I am old-school with this and like to dine in peace with my companions, with only the odd interruption t check how the meal is; but I am one of a dying breed as more and more engagement is necessary in order to entice, and more importantly retain, your customers.  This has become more evident with my increased focus of recent on Food and Beverage service.

Reception is my forte – it is where I built my career and my style of hospitality has been described as cheeky and ‘in your face’; this has always bode me well and has resulted in some fantastic interactions with all types of clients, from celebrities to joe bloggs from two streets away.  But this is my style and one that has to be ‘right’ – it has taken years to perfect.

I like to talk and I love to interact with people, but sometimes I see staff who shy away from actually engaging with guests – this is needed in today’s consumer climate as more and more people want engaging and educating rather than simply telling or serving.  Social media plays an important part of marketing strategy in most venues, and as many social media specialists will testify, the key to a successful strategy on social media is to engage with your clients, and not just blatantly market to them.  This is a philosophy that should be extended to your service.

So here are some of my top tips for engaging your guests during service:

  1. Know your product.  I don’t mean that you have to just know what you offer, but this is about knowing the full ins-and-outs of your product.  This is knowing where it was sourced, how it is prepared and the processes behind it.  Take for example afternoon teas where I work; I provide a short educative section – I explain where the teas come from, how they are made and how they taste.  I do this for the food items as well across all menus.  This is ever more important as more and more people take a conscious interest in where their food is sourced and how it is prepared.  Engaging with a guest often lends to better upsell opportunities also!
  2. Take an interest.  Nothing is better than asking why someone is with you for your services – why are they dining out? why are they staying away from home?  This not only opens a conversation, but allows you to plan those special moments and touches that make the visit special – candles in the dessert for a birthday or a glass of sparkling wine for an anniversary – even contacting the turn-down maid to put something special in their bedroom or telling all other departments so they get a congratulations from all the staff.  This engagement also allows you to take an interest in the guest and cater to their needs.  Talk about what interests the guest and shared common interests – perhaps you can recommend places to see when they are on holiday or can provide suggestions on activities whilst they are staying with you.
  3. Plan effectively – guest engagement takes time.  This in turn has to be allowed for during service.  Always bear this in mind when arranging staffing or allocating tables.  Also take care never to reprimand staff for engaging with guests.  Remember that it is always possible for your to bow out of a conversation gracefully.
  4. Know your boundaries.  Sex, sexuality, religion and politics are subjects that should never be discussed, even if the guest wants to.  This is because they often form core beliefs for people or underpin their value base – one wrong word can make the difference between an amazing conversation and a catastrophic one!
  5. Have fun.  Guest engagement should never be strained, it should flow naturally and be enjoyable.
  6. Know when to stop.  Some guests simply want service and do not desire engagement and you need to recognise these signs – usually short answers, fidgeting, or generally looking uncomfortable should all be taken as signs to limit the conversation.

Remember that getting engagement right can be an art-form in itself; it relies on confidence and an ability to start and end a conversation.  An engaged customer is more likely to return and spend more than a disengaged one.  Service still takes priority, but serving with a smile and a conversation is better than simply serving!

Matt Shiells-Jones

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'

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