Having worked in the hospitality for the best part 16 years this should be a pretty easy subject to write about right? Well, a recent meal I had recently, followed up by a simple gesture to a friend a few days later really got me thinking. What is true hospitality? And what makes hospitality in the restaurant and food industry?
Rewind to last Sunday. I’ve just finished work for the week and have a rare opportunity to spend a Sunday evening with my fiancée. We’re tired and starving hungry and got our eye on a new pizza spot in Old Town. To cut a long story short, they were closed when we got there but invited us in even though it was well over half hour after last orders. Chef’s hate late tables so this in itself was a huge gesture. You're no longer in restaurant time, your in someone else's time. And it's not the same. At the end of the night, time is precious to people who hardly have any for themselves. There now feeding us because they want to look after us not because they have to because they're open. Everything was perfect, the staff instantly felt like your friends, the food, the atmosphere, the weather, the company. A really rare combination of everything being perfect at the same time. A perfect meal and an example of hospitality in its truest, purest sense.
This all made me think. Is it hospitality we’re providing in the restaurant industry or is it just a service. We seem to be always talking about providing great service to our customers. All restaurants have procedures to make sure they're providing it. Be that the way they welcome you when you arrive or the standard check back to the table two minutes after you’ve got your food. All this is box ticking. There’s procedure with how you deal with everything. Restaurants even employ mystery shoppers to eat there and give feedback on the service. Again, more box ticking. All this is meant to add up to your perceiving you’ve had good service and add value to your experience. You may well think it has but it's not hospitality. There only seems to the be an emphasis on service and not being truly hospitable to your guests.
True hospitality is different and it can lend itself in many ways. None of which are covered by the standard procedures of restaurants in my opinion. So what is hospitality? I think it’s essentially going out of your way to do something for someone else and make them feel better. That could be something as simple as making someone a cup of tea at work or inviting someone to your home for a meal. It's looking after someone, going the extra mile for someone when you don’t have to, being warm, generous, friendly and caring. The other day a friend wasn’t feeling too great and needed cheering up. So we invited them over for dinner. It was a really nice evening and made everyone feel a bit better. I think Gin might have helped a bit too. It felt great to be hospitable so why don’t we do it more?
I imagine in the old time's people were more hospitable to each other. Nowadays we’re more suspicious of strangers. Growing up people used to knock on your door and you’d invite them in the tea and cake. Now if a stranger knocks on your door you open it with one hand and a baseball bat in the other! (maybe not that extreme but you get the idea)
So what can we do in the restaurant industry to get away from this idea of box ticking service? Well, I think to start off you need to have a passion for what you do and true belief in the product you serve and the place where you work. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people who end up working in restaurants never wanted to work in one. It wasn’t their dream! But there are some people who genuinely just want to make other people happy and love their job and the food they serve. These are the people who will provide hospitality and not just decent restaurant service. And if they turn up in your local Pizzeria even better!