Red Flags to watch out for to save your Business and Reputation!
So what are the prime factors that are bound to put you on a downward escalator making the climb back even more arduous and painful than when you started out!
Nonchalant Staff that is ill-trained and lacks service orientation
When we go out to work – in any job or industry – we cannot afford to be uncaring, perfunctory and uninvolved. It is a moral binding that we bring ourselves fully to our positions regardless of internal irritants that exist or imagined issues that we wrestle with.
And when we are in the hospitality industry – a show business of providing experiential service to guests who come and spend their top dollar with us - such dismal disregard is completely inappropriate and unbecoming.
In the Front of the House areas I find Reception Desks, Mise-en-place stations and Micros centres to be such terrible breeding grounds for overly germ-y behaviour that I dread being seated anywhere close to those.
We recently went out for Dinner to a popular Italian Restaurant run by a celebrated City Chef. Unfortunately, the layout of this restaurant was perhaps such that you were always at an arm's length from those chit-chat coves. This evening, we had staff joking around, gossiping and doing anything but work at those hubs in a near empty restaurant.
This behaviour pattern is such a dead giveaway for bad training, lack of interest in one's job and lack of respect both for the Company and the guests. The smirking and the smart alec-y attitude does more long term harm than can be envisaged and undone.
The Missing 'Attention to detail'
Paying attention to detail is a valuable trait in any profession. But in the hospitality industry it assumes far greater significance because there are so many levels of product and sub-product presentations and so many strata of service delivery opportunities.
Dropping the ball even in the smallest of tasks in any section of the hotel can have a direct repercussion on the guest experience or an indirect one in terms of Brand delivery and reputation.
When we walked into the above-mentioned spiffy restaurant, we were showed to a table that was not clean. Even a Fast Food restaurant with a packed house, pick-eat-go nature of service and fast turnaround cannot afford to seat guests at tables that have not been wiped; this place certainly had no excuse for that.
We were seated on a table that was not ready - missing napkins and sundry other things. Soiled mats is never a good way of showcasing a restaurant and you do make matters worse when simple additions of EVOO and Balsamic Vinegar are missing from the table of an Italian restaurant.
The lighting of the place was abysmally low making it difficult to read the menu. Poor lighting is an oft-repeated mistake committed the world over, in the name of ambience and mood.
How can restaurants miss the basics while planning the structure? Hotels and restaurants have to have a 360 degree view of issues: – light – natural and artificial, temperature control, noise, location, pollution, traffic, accessibility amongst a host of other pertinent aspects.
My biggest woe, however, at any restaurant is their complete negligence of cleanliness – telling-tales in the tines of forks, stain marks on glassware, napkins with stubborn reminders of rather sharp gravy, staff uniforms that bear the stench of climate and callousness.
There are scores of restaurants – stand-alone and those in the confines of glitzy Five Stars – that kill guest satisfaction with their indifferent service and sub-standard offerings.
Technologically challenged Staff, also not in step with the latest advents
Technology, as is the human need, is evolving every nano second. A new gizmo is being invented or an old gadget updated at lightning speed for our ease, efficiency and convenience. So it is in our own interest that we stay on top of it, unlearn and relearn so as to give our optimal output.
Many chains and independent hotels and restaurants invest sizeable energy and budget to systems and devices upgradation and to training their workforce in it. At a Bistro in a well-known hotel, a steward thrust a Tablet in front of me for feedback, not knowing how to operate it himself. When asked to return to a previous page he said resignedly in Hindi "woh toh chale gaya. Ab nahin milega. (The page is gone. I cannot retrieve it)."
The steward erred grossly on two counts – first, he resorted to colloquial language while conversing with a guest when he should have stuck to the formal language of communication. Secondly, he or his establishment had failed to provide him with the requisite training. I felt like leaving the same sentence and sentiment as our comment on the contraption!
The Heart of the Matter is not in its place
At places with ill-trained staff, the food and atmosphere can be a great saviour. Suffice it to say that at our ill-fated outing at this 'all shine – no substance' Italian place we were denied even that. The pizza was most ordinary. Domino's does far better. The little accoutrements were
missing, the breads were far from fresh - yes all three, the Parmesan was floor dust massed-up in little balls and not freshly grated. And the tomato and basil spaghetti from the eponymous restaurant left a lot to be desired - the sauce was a thick, over stirred mass, overly salty and robbing the pasta of any taste or flavour, the spaghetti was not quite al dente. If you get your two basic dishes so wrong, how would you instil confidence in the customer to try out your trumped up menu that is heavy on the design value and comes out as a piece of literary fiction because your heart is not in its place!
I once had this well-established and feared food critic share her exasperation on how the Doormen made her feel small each time she came to the hotel in a tuk-tuk / auto rickshaw. The disdainful behaviour of one team member made her feel spiteful of the hotel at large.
On the other hand, I fondly recall the spotlessly liveried Doorman of The Pierre (a Four Seasons Hotel at the time of my visit) who was such a joy to have the first interface with as I got down from a public transport that was carrying me from around Newark Airport to the heart of Manhattan. The wise, well-behaved, thoroughly groomed Gent set the tone for one of the best hotel stays in my life.
When up-selling leads to short-selling
Spaghetti Kitchen, the Italian Restaurant, we have been talking about in this article messed up so badly on staff that were not only ill-trained but also wrongly trained.
Now, we know that all hotel staff is tutored to up sell – from the Sales & Marketing representatives and Front Office folks to the Food & Beverage personnel. But up-selling is an art form and a fine-tuned strategy. Its art lies in making subliminal suggestions to the guests who then think that it is either their own choice or have been done a favour by being sold a higher priced service / product.
The good fellas at Spaghetti Kitchen were appallingly trained to be pushy and aggressive about all that up-selling they unleashed on us and other guests – from pushing heavily taxed bottled water to diners who do not drink water with their meals, to openly snickering at our small two-course order for the late, late-night quick meal we went for, to pushing desserts to a table that was disinclined towards them, to at least try to shove overrated coffee to the couple that wished to finish the meal with a simple tiramisu – these Brand Anti-Ambassadors managed to short sell their reputation and image, pushing the guests even farther from their brand.
Failing to close the loop on a Guest Issue
Hotels and restaurants, since they are a people centric industry – by the people and for the people – fall open to a multitude of issues and crises that revolve around the troika of human ability, attitude and emotion. Nobody likes to be short-changed in their service expectation and product usage. In technological things, one can still blame the science or physics but in the service industry it is thinking, rational and able people who are at the centre of it and cannot get away by saying that the hardware malfunctioned or there was a systems error.
In the case of the Italian Restaurant we have been referring to, we let our displeasure known several times during the evening. Our complaints seemed to be falling on uncaring, unwilling ears. It was only when we let the strange people at Spaghetti Kitchen know that we were "industry folk," that some sense of respect was brought forward and the erring waiter quickly replaced by the Manager and the Maitre'd. This sort of knee-jerk reaction leaves a lot to be desired and robs the guest of any confidence he may have in your brand.
Since there were a plethora of issues we faced on that fateful "so-called" fine-dining dinner, we scaled up the matter to the Company's Image managers. The PR Reps., who call themselves PR Pundits, picked up our rant on the Food Forum and came back with too little, too late and too dispassionately. I gave the PR lady a reminder (reminders are sacrilege in the PR world of work); she gave me a passing apology perhaps only to go back to write her nth note to the restaurant management. The Management eventually wrote to me with the standard invite to 'come try them again "on the house"' without realizing that faith is never won with a free meal.
In our line of business, there are warning signs that flag out much before they become crises for the guests. We must learn to read them in time and draw out our plan of action to keep our SOPs well-oiled much before we are coerced to get into the battle zone to do the damage control.
L. Aruna Dhir