I’ll never forget the moment I learned the difference between service and hospitality.
While working in an action-packed restaurant catering to tourists, I became accustomed to the “us versus them” mentality commonly found in such establishments. My coworkers and I engaged in critical assessments of our customers from within the safety of the kitchen.
The job was fast-paced and fun, the money was good, and the amusement from cruel jokes plentiful. I didn’t yet know that I was missing out on the authentic joy of providing true hospitality.
A few years later, on my first day of a new job in a small neighborhood cafe, I walked into the kitchen and unleashed a stream of complaints about a man I had just served. The cook looked at me and very gently replied, “You know, we really like our customers here.” I was shocked, and a little bit ashamed.
In an instant, I had been transformed from a server to a dedicated hospitality professional.
The difference between mere service and true hospitality comes down to one key ingredient: empathy. Whether you’re in a dive bar or high end restaurant, empathy can create a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Empathy is exhibited when you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. In the world of hospitality, employing empathy as a technique has many benefits: resolving conflicts becomes easier, cutting off a customer can be viewed as an act of kindness, and responding to unfavorable reviews online becomes an opportunity to show customers that you care about pleasing them.
As restaurant professionals, we can spend a lot of time and energy focusing on the components of good service, but unless we teach ourselves and our staff to sincerely relate to and care for our customers, we are not engaging in true hospitality.
If you’re looking for the secret ingredient to instantly transform your business, focus on teaching empathy to your staff with these simple practices.
Start From the Top
Was the cook at the cafe some kind of serene Buddha, driven to encourage her coworkers to be kind to all creatures? Nope. Actually, she was kind of nasty. The owner of the cafe, however, did have a deep respect for her employees and guests and because she did, we did. We were treated with respect and so we treated our customers with the same respect.
Customer satisfaction really is as simple as server satisfaction, and yet so many restaurant managers disrespect their staff and then criticize them for passing their behavior on the customers. Use your head: if you want empathetic servers, be empathetic.
Create an Atmosphere of Trust
One of the most embarrassing moments for a server is when a manager is called to speak to customers. All too often, the manager makes excuses for the server to gain the customer’s good graces. While this is a common technique, it takes little skill and only serves to create mistrust among staff members and solidify the divide between servers and guests.
Instead of becoming defensive or blaming your staff, try acknowledging your customers’ complaints while keeping your focus on potential solutions. Your employee will feel valued and cared for. When employees know that managers trust them, they will perform with greater concern for the customer.
Talk About Empathy
We focus on things we talk about, so the most sure fire way to get your staff to start thinking about empathy is to start talking about it.
Take time during lineup to talk about empathy. If you’ve observed caring behavior that you’d like to see more of, recount it to your staff. If morale is low, explain that you’re available for private conversations on how to improve working conditions. If a server recently had a bad experience with a guest, ask them to retell the interaction with a different outcome.
If your restaurant is stuck in a toxic “us versus them” mentality, the reassuring news is that you’re in complete control. When you introduce the key ingredient of empathy, it will become a pervasive and transformative power in your establishment, translating into greater customer loyalty, an increase in sales, and more favorable reviews.
Lisa Machac creates content for restaurants, hotels, and recreation providers. If you’re in the hospitality industry, she can help connect you with your fans through the power of a good story. Portfolio at lisamachac.com.