“The Customer Comes Second” – Hospitality Aware

 I have decided to quote from the wonderful Danny Meyer and his book “Setting the table”.

Meyer’s business model intentionally inverts classic capitalist priorities. He believes that to be successful you must first meet the needs of employees, then guests, followed by the community, suppliers and finally investors, in that order. “If you are devoted to your staff and can promise them much more than a paycheck, something to believe in,” he says, “you will then get the best service for customers, which will in the long run provide the best return to your investors.”

After attending only the second workshop run by Danny and his team at Union Square, NY, back in 2010 I became inspired to set up Hospitality Aware. Danny’s approach does challenge our sector. I mean who would think of ever putting their employees first?, especially before customers! Well these guys do and you can feel it if you ever get to experience one of the Union Square Hospitality group venues. There is definitely that warm professional attitude among all employees within the group that would be the envy of any service oriented environment. This attitude is deep within the core of the group’s employee network. Three simple rules apply! (1) Who you hire. (2) How you train (3) The environment you surround your employees in.

For a long period during our busy “Celtic Tiger” years it seemed that Restaurants and Hotels alike lost their way. We recruited employees a lot faster than ever and not taking time out to train. Not only this but the process of recruitment was largely outsourced to very hungry third party agencies. In qualifying our employees these agencies seem to mainly look at technical ability, punctuality and product knowledge for their main criteria. All three are very important but Emotional Intelligence never really features. Now I can train any human to open a bottle of wine, use a tray or reset tables and more……. However, how about having a level of empathy as part of ones make up? How about that wonderful bright smile and focused engagement? This folks is what we call Hospitality! Its what Danny Meyer describes as the caring for someone as you carry out perfect service. Yes its the Feel Good Factor or that little tingle we have all experienced when treated a little differently. Encouraging a more laid back friendly approach. Hey even Ryanair are at it! More banter perhaps. A hand on someones shoulder shows that you understand. This style or manner needs to come naturally among your team in order for them to mean it on the front line. For this to happen we must care for our staff first, then watch as a certain magic takes place. Your staff will treat all customers like royalty, not just the ones that feel they are royalty!

Don’t forget though, good recruitment at the very beginning is vital!

I decided to put this to the test last September in my own restaurant, Seapoint in Monkstown, Dublin. We were in need of front of house service staff and all of a sudden I was being swamped by resumes from High School graduates or in other words, 18 year old college students! Great I thought to myself, this is my best opportunity to put myself to the test. Lets recruit mainly smiley, pleasant, happy and finally technically inefficient hopefuls! I won’t lie to you, this was a truly challenging test for me and for Danny’s model! Don’t forget that our Irish Minimum wage excluding gratuities is not bad for these young new recruits with absolutely no experience. The last thing I needed was for money to be the single motivation here. I just wanted new super stars for Seapoint but with a blank canvas of restaurant knowledge. These past six months of on the job live training have been so beneficial. Like anything in life, what you put in, you will get back! The closer I took care of my new young wait staff the calmer they were in what they knew was essential stuff like opening wine at a table etc… This can be very tricky for the first time at a table of local diners watching on. However, their friendliness and absolute enjoyment of being present in their job has stood to them. Now these new faces are asked for by name on a regular occasion and there is huge trust among all of our staff. As confidence grows, so too does our strong friendly professional team. As long as we surround our staff with the same passion and love for the business that we had in the first week of opening, then our guests can only be in safe and caring hands and will have no choice but to speak highly about us and our wonderful employees.

As Maya Angelou put it;

“I wont remember what you said to me
I wont remember what you did to me
But I will never forget how you made me feel”

That Feel Good Factor begins at home, so keep your staff first!


HA-Website-3Shane Kenny has worked all of his life in customer service. His appetite for restaurant business began at the Pronto Grill in Ranelagh when Shane would, as a young teenager, sneak out onto the floor to showcase his friendly personal touch with locals who enjoyed his fathers home style cooking that dated back to 1960 at this Dublin 6 address.

After completing his Hotel Management Diploma at Shannon Hotel School Shane set off on some invaluable hotel and restaurant management work in Washington D.C.
Shane returned to the industry that started it all by opening the now very well known and successful “Seapoint” restaurant in the beautiful village of Monkstown.

Now in its sixth year of restaurant business Seapoint itself has relaunched its brand and undergone an interior transformation. Shane feels it vital that he has his own hospitality model in this live breathing form at his busy Monkstown venue.


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