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Service with a smile? Oh, yes please

Business consultant Steve Elsom laments poor hospitality service but says there is a clear route to helping staff perform much better.

I have been lucky enough to take a couple of trips to Europe over the last few months and I’ve been mightily impressed by the way that I have been welcomed, served and looked after in shops, cafes and restaurants.

You might be thinking ‘well that’s obvious, they need your tourist income’, but don’t our shops, cafes and restaurants need income, too?

I can’t speak Portuguese, Spanish or Italian apart from the most basic phraseology but the staff in the establishments have gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed and understood. Indeed, they love it when we have a convo over Google Translate! I always feel comfortable and that my custom is welcomed and appreciated.

Now contrast that to an experience that I had in Suffolk last week. An almost deserted restaurant (perhaps in hindsight that should have told me something), and when I stood at the ‘Please Wait Here to be Seated’ sign, I wasn’t greeted, I wasn’t welcomed – I was ignored. For over a minute I stood like a dummy just waiting to be acknowledged. Eventually, a server appeared, said that he had to clear a table and would be straight back.

When I eventually sat at my table, the menu wasn’t available, and when I did eventually choose from it, I subsequently found out that they had a ‘specials board’ that wasn’t in view and wasn’t mentioned to me.

Steve Elsom wonders why there is such a difference in attitude, in tonality and in general service levels abroad and in this country

So why do we see such a difference in attitude, in tonality and in general service levels? Am I concluding that every restaurant in the three countries that I have visited is ‘five star all the way’? Of course not, and by the same token not every restaurant in Suffolk provides ‘one star’ first impressions, but we have to look at how in Europe it seems that working in hospitality is deemed a good job with positive opportunities, whereas in the UK it’s often seen as a ‘stop gap’ until something more exciting turns up.

Is it the management, the training, the leadership, the team ethos, or is it just the fact that hospitality roles are often stigmatised as being poorly paid and with long shifts? The latter are really for the industry to resolve; if there are so many vacancies across the sector, there must be something awry. The management, the leadership and the training can be improved by spending quality time with recruits, providing detailed training, providing details of the menu, the tastes, bring to life the ‘theatre on a plate’ and undertaking role plays so as to help the member of staff gain experience of such situations.

I remember a few years back in Dubai, a young waitress explained that the staff undertake role plays every week…using a middle aged British diner complaining about their coffee being cold, as their ‘case study’. It made me wonder about the ‘Victor Meldrew’ reputation we have maybe created overseas, but also admire the way that the staff were being trained to handle and resolve such scenarios with a smile on their face.

If only my server in Suffolk last week had completed that training.

If there is anything around ‘first impressions and role plays’ that I can help your business with, just ask via

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Steve is a regular contributor to B2B publications, see some of his recent articles for insights into current business news, leadership and much more...