Technology and training will change the way you interact with your guests, but the fundamental art of service will always endure
"Every guest wants to be taken on a journey," according to Monica Or, founder of Star Quality Hospitality Consultancy. "In fact, these days, you could say it's more of an adventure." She is referring to hotel stays in particular, but the statement holds equally true for restaurants.
Hospitality customers increasingly want more bang for their buck and operators have to become ever more creative at meeting that demand. Personalised guest experiences are growing in prevalence, but things have come a long way since hotels started displaying their guests' names on the in-room welcome message on the television.
Or explains: "The hotel is no longer just their destination, but part of an experience that is created for them. To do this well, the hotelier has to research their guests, find out their preferences and tailor an individual experience."
Guest profiles and social media are vital tools to help hoteliers better understand their guests' wants and needs, but as Or points out, "the best way to get this information in the first place is to go back to the true meaning of being hospitable and talking with your guests so you get to know them better."
Keeping it casual
"Starched white tablecloths are a rare sight these days," says Paulo de Tarso, co-founder of Margot in London's Covent Garden. "And in many restaurants staff will no longer pull out your chair, place your napkin, or help you with your coat when you leave."
"I love this casual style of dining, particularly when you can sit at a counter and interact with a team. There are so many restaurants that do it brilliantly, but sometimes it seems to have gone too far," warns de Tarso. "Casual service should never be an excuse for bad service - the focus should always remain on the guest."
It's a universal point that applies just as much to five-star luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants as to high-street pizzerias and the local pub.
De Tarso adds: "Breaking bread - sharing a meal with family and friends - is one of the most simple, important and beautiful things.
And that is something that all restaurateurs should remember."
Technology has fast gone from the unusual to the ubiquitous in how we work, rest and play, and guests now expect to find the sort of kit they have in their homes to be available in their hotel stays, says Or.
"The use of technology starts with the booking process, as artificial intelligence drives direct bookings from your website," she explains. "Algorithms detect your guest preferences and increase guest loyalty." Hospitality operators are increasingly looking for more innovative ways to use technology to enhance their guests' experiences beyond the nuts and bolts of bookings.
"Hoteliers are opening their minds as to what is possible. As friendly robots become part of the team, this frees up humans to spend quality time with their guests. Communicating with guests via smartphone apps, having 'live wallpaper' or razor-thin integratated flatscreen TVs, and playing with the senses through clever lighting and music are just some of the ways technology is being introduced," says Or.
"Marriott in the US is working with Samsung and Legrand to create futuristic hotel rooms, and Accor in Paris is designing smart rooms that are accessible and personalised. The way forward for hoteliers is to partner up with technology companies to introduce immersive experiences for their guests."
The new apprenticeships
Great service begins with great staff, says Edward Griffiths, chairman and co-founder of the Gold Service Scholarship. And getting great staff begins with how an operator recruits. "In most organisations I have worked with, we've recruited for attitude over skill," explains Griffiths, who was previously the deputy master of the Royal Household. "It doesn't mean that we ignored skill, but attitude is the most important element because you can't teach it."
Of course, once the right personality is in place, good training is crucial. Or says the way staff are trained has gone full circle as apprenticeships are back in the limelight.
"The new apprenticeship model has been redesigned and revamped for today's operations and it's a win-win for both the employer and the employee," she says. "While in employment, apprentices will be both earning and learning. Their apprenticeship lasts a minimum of a year, which will help with your retention, and staff that are invested in tend to stay loyal to their employer."
Research published by People 1st reveals that 80% of companies that invest in apprentices report an increase in staff retention.
"Regardless of the size of your business, whether you're a small independent hotel or part of an international chain, apprenticeships are more accessible," adds Or.
"Service as a culture, rather than a specific technical food and beverage term, is evolving," says Griffiths. "People are realising the importance of it to their business. It's paramount."
Hospitality operators striving for business success are increasingly recognising the value that good service brings to their business because serving a good plate of food or providing a clean and comfortable bedroom alone is not enough. Front and back of house must work together.
"If a customer goes to a really good restaurant and the food is fantastic but the service is awful, the customer will almost automatically decide not to go back there," he says. "But if they go to a restaurant and the food is mediocre but the service is fantastic, they might say the restaurant is really nice even if the food could have been a bit better."
This, says Griffiths, is the reason the Gold Service Scholarship, which is now in its sixth year, has picked up such a high level of industry support.
"But the important thing to remember is it's a marriage of both front and back of house," he adds. "It's neither one nor the other. And that is a very welcome trend."
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