HOSPITALITY SKILLS IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL
In an era of face coverings, social distancing, and digitization, it can be difficult to communicate effectively with customers. Joey Medrington from Montpeilers, Edinburgh shares his top tips on how to overcome reduced face-to-face contact, continue providing amazing customer service and make customers feel safe.
A Crazy Few Months
What an absolutely bonkers time to be working in hospitality! We’re a resilient bunch but we were definitely tested over the last year! It’s a good job we do it for the love, isn’t it? Few industries have had to adapt and evolve quite as much as ours but, as always, we’ve done it with imagination, bravery, and most importantly a smile on our own sweaty faces – even if they are hidden behind masks.
Whilst sat in the front seat of the 2020 rollercoaster, dipping from full lockdown to ever-changing opening hours, via prohibition (in Scotland) and everything in between, it can be very easy to lose sight of what it is that makes our industry great, why our customers come to see us, and why they will be back in their droves once normality is restored.
Remembering the Roots - Hospitality
It can be incredibly difficult to look past the gnawing worry over your business’s health or your team member’s jobs, but if we’re to survive through this the focus has to be entirely on the customer and their experience because if they don’t come back there’ll be no business or team at all. Thankfully this is what we as an industry do best! With that in mind, here is my guide to making your customers feel welcome, happy, and comfortable during the new normal.
The First Touchpoint: A Warm Welcome
The first consideration is the warm welcome, how do you make your guest feel at ease, at home and comfortable whilst minimising contact and maintaining a safe distance? We’ve found the key is to start the customer journey, and in turn the hosting, at the earliest possible time. Our guests are going to be worried about venturing out so a reassuring tone of voice should be firmly established at all steps of the customer journey, from social media to website or booking platform. From there, we’ve found a courtesy call to all our guests prior to their booking, explaining our policies and what they can expect in terms of service and safety, sets the tone for their whole evening. In times of uncertainty, it’s amazing what a friendly voice over the phone can do to give someone peace of mind and increase guest confidence. Once they arrive at your door it’s down to having smooth and coherent communication between the hosts and servers, so that each guest is seated and settled with minimum wait. The slicker the welcome, the safer and more comfortable they will be.
A Normal Ordering Process
Once your guests are settled, it’s now about getting them back to feeling as normal as possible. The chances are they came out to the venue to either relax and unwind or to celebrate, and either way they want to feel safe, secure, and confident both that they’re going to have a good time, and that you and your staff know what you’re doing. Giving your guests enough space and limiting contact is of course important, but you don’t want to come across cold, or even worse incompetent, so it’s important to make each interaction count. Obviously, coming across as warm and genuine whilst wearing a face mask can be a challenge for even the most accomplished server, but any negative impact that may have on customer service can be mitigated by making the rest of the service experience as normal as possible. In my eyes, you can’t go wrong with a good, old-fashioned, paper menu. If, on the other hand, you do decide to use one of the new digital menu/ordering solutions available then just make sure the design and language get across your venue’s personality.
Speeding up your Service
Once the order is placed the clock is now ticking to get it made and delivered in seconds' flat. The age-old adage is that five minutes stood at the bar without getting served feels like 25, well once you add the current uncertainty, seating only, and no music (another Scotland only regulation) that five minutes feels like 17 years, so speed of service is of paramount importance. In our largest and busiest venue, Tigerlily, we had to learn this lesson and learn it fast! On day one of service, we quickly realized that it’s a lot easier to serve a full venue from 10 stations with customers at the bar than it is to serve 180 covers from two dispense stations, so we had to switch our thinking, start acting like a kitchen, and implement a pass system. This has been one of the standout improvements we’ve made and one we will continue with once things are back to normal as it has improved both our speed of dispense and the standards of our drinks! Having a senior staff member on either side of the bar, one calling drinks, and one managing floor staff, means each and every cocktail has had to pass the scrutiny of two sets of eyes before it reaches the tray.
The Main Show: The Serve
Now more than ever you need to be 100% confident that your serves are the best they can possibly be as there is nothing to hide behind. As someone who spent many years as a bartender, I knew that I could gloss over any inadequacies of my cocktails with a cheeky smile or high five with my guests, but now those tools are stripped away and it all comes down to the look, feel, aroma and flavor of the food and drinks we’re putting out. I’ll say it again, there is nothing to hide behind, so be sure your serve fits your venue, suits the customer’s needs, and is the right price. Our survival in these times will be down to repeat custom, so you need to ensure that what you're offering is enough to keep your guests coming back again and again – such as a show-stopping signature serve.
The Customer Journey
So, to recap, our priority right now has got to be on the customer journey and experience. If we can nail that, fingers crossed the business and staff welfare will look after themselves.
I firmly believe that we, as an industry, will come out of this on the other side stronger than before. We’ll be battered, we’ll be bruised, but we’ll still be smiling, with clean hands and open hearts.
- Now more than ever we need to make the customer experience the best it can possibly be
- Welcome – this starts way before your guests arrive, ensure you have a warm and reassuring tone of voice from the very start of the customer journey
- Ordering – if introducing a digital menu then make sure the design and language really represents your venue
- Speed of Service – ensure your wait times are as low as possible. Look to implement a pass system on the bar if you don’t have one already
- Product – what you’re creating for your guests needs to be the best it can be and make them want to come back for more