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Viewpoint: service isn’t a science, it’s an art

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Viewpoint: service isn’t a science, it’s an art

Demonstrating empathy and taking the smallest considerations into account really make the difference with guests, says Simon Numphud

With consumer interactions good, bad or indifferent being regularly shared on social media, the customer’s experience can set businesses apart from the competition and be a major influence on repeat business. The key to delivering a great experience lies in excellent service, making those working in the hospitality industry critical to its success.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers” – and that is exactly what each of us strives to achieve day in, day out. There is no secret to the art of professional service, nor is it rocket science. It is underpinned by a number of fundamental values: attention to detail, training, consistency, and a desire to connect on a human level.

The most fundamental aspects of professional service centre around the tangible: cleanliness, available facilities, team presentation, lighting, heating, table settings, menus and so on. These first impressions can dictate the atmosphere for customers and are important when you are looking to set a positive tone. It’s also useful to remember that this experience needs to be adaptable to environmental factors; lighting may need to be adjusted as it gets darker outside, heating should be varied depending on the weather; music volume should be based on the overall noise level as you get busier.

From here, focus can shift to your team. Investing in training is critical, equipping your team with the necessary skills to deliver great service. Product knowledge is equally important, with customers having noticeably more confidence in staff who fully understand what they are serving.

Best practice is to have regular tastings and menu briefings, engaging with suppliers to help educate the team on provenance and product details. Also consider empowering your people so they can create memorable moments, address complaints quickly and show small gestures of generosity, which go a long way in perfecting the guest experience.

The final cornerstone of good service is the ability to connect with customers. Often teams can be so focused on the task at hand, or on completing processes, that the customer experience suffers. Understanding the experience as a guest is the best way to develop true empathy. A simple approach is to treat every customer as if they were a close friend. By viewing them in this light, staff will show genuine care in guest welfare and comfort, considering their needs before being asked.

Listening is also key to developing a connection with the customer. It allows you to personalise your interaction, tailoring your service to their needs to show that you really care. It’s the small details that really make the difference, even ones that seem obvious, like good eye contact, positive body language or remembering to smile! Reading and anticipating guest needs is a skill, but unless you create a dialogue and rapport beforehand, you won’t have the opportunity.

Through this combination of careful environment management, team training and connecting with guests, excellent service can be an inherent part of your customers’ experience, creating a great impression and ensuring that they visit you time and again.

Simon Numphud is managing director of AA Hotel & Hospitality Services

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