The Hospitality Promise

Sitting in my Nanjing hotel on a rainy day, during my third visit to China, I’m struck again by the realization that hospitality is not just the purview of “the hospitality industry” — bed and breakfasts, hotels, resorts, amusement parks, or restaurants. It’s also not culturally dependent, though culture plays a role in making others feel welcome, comfortable and at home. This is the third hotel in which I’ve stayed in as many months, and I have had a wide range of hospitality experiences.

One hotel room was so dark, even with all the lights on, I couldn’t read the numbers on my suitcase lock to get it open, so I resorted to using the flashlight app on my phone for the needed light; poor hospitality. In another hotel, every employee I encountered showed their appreciation for my presence with smiles, service, and sometimes even a big thank you; top notch hospitality. Luggage delayed from the airport was brought straight to our room with a smile; perfect hospitality.

Maybe those don’t seem like big gestures of hospitality, or “un-hospitality”, but that’s part of the point. What seems like nothing to one person will seem like an impossibly large gesture by another.

As a B&B innkeeper your daily actions are (or should be) the epitome of hospitality; that’s a lot of what brings your guests back and has them recommending to friends and family your inn as the place to go. Cleanliness and good food help, but ultimately it’s the service, the hospitality, that makes your business sing and shine. Can you do more than you are doing?

Hotels can sometimes strive to imitate that B&B hospitality, and some even succeed, but they often miss the mark. Not enough delegation of power to the people on the front line, and rule-laden and bean-counter controlled policies interfere with the natural flow of hospitality. It often seems to me that hotels just don’t care enough to think about offering the service to their guests that brings them back with joy.

Hospitality Outside the Lodging Industry

In a broader focus, I think that any business which interacts with people is in the hospitality industry. Get much health care? Doctors, nurses, and front desk people would benefit by paying more attention to courtesy, and treating their patients as if they matter! They could offer hospitality along with their health care and be well ahead of the competition.

Travel any? Airlines, train and bus companies, and taxis could learn something about customer service and caring for people. Restaurants can fall short of the mark as well. Hospitality is an easy way to differentiate yourself and bring customers back to you.

The same holds true for amusement parks, golf courses and health clubs, lumber yards and building supply yards, shoe repair shops, grocery stores and pharmacies, jewelry stores, phone and utility companies, bookstores, and even movie theaters; they can all benefit by applying basic hospitality to their business model to keep their customers happy and coming back. McGuckin Hardware, a long-time Boulder, Colorado, hardware store, used to have fantastic customer service; any employee of the store knew where anything you were asking about was located. They have grown so big that I find that’s not the case anymore, but they at least know who to ask to help you find what you are looking for, and then walk to you where it is to help you locate it. That’s hospitality in my book.

I have long used the West Point Grocery store in Akron, Ohio, as a prime example of market niche definition and follow through — they consistently act on what they’ve defined. It’s occurred to me that they also demonstrate fabulous hospitality — they are true to themselves and treat their clients with respect. When you go to that store, which doesn’t look like much from the street, or even the parking lot, and step inside, you are transported into a magical land. Not only is the quality top notch, but the staff greets you and offers to help. The store is laid out in such a way as to help you find what you want easily, and if you can’t find it there are numerous people working there who are glad to help. You are promised excellence, and you get it. Hospitality oozes from every corner of that store, and from every employee. Why can’t other business do that?

Excellence doesn’t have to mean highbrow and expensive. Excellence means the best of what you promise to offer. If that means you promise the best bargain-basement products and prices, then that’s what is provided. If it means you promise the best 7-star experience, then that’s what it is. Heck, Durgin Park in Boston promises surly waitresses, and that’s what you get — and love it when it happens! Hospitality is caring for your customers, and the service of providing to the level of that promise. If you want to be known as the Surly B&B, and people want that, go for it and do it well.

While different cultures have different ways of showing care and service, you still know it when you have been treated as if you matter. Perhaps the Chinese don’t make big facial expressions or use big hand gestures to communicate, but you still recognize a warm welcome when you see it.

You also know when you have been treated like dirt, or that you don’t matter, or that you are only a meal ticket to the person providing service (or not). It doesn’t matter where you are when you experience that kind of poor service, you don’t like it and won’t be back if you have any control in the matter. Your guests feel the same way.

Do you appreciate your guests for coming to stay with you? How do you show that gratitude? Do you respect your guests? In what ways do you show that respect? Have you determined what level of hospitality you offer in your bed and breakfast? Are you consistent in delivering your promised level of hospitality and service?

Hospitality and customer service are the most important part of your job as an innkeeper. Are you doing your job? Are you growing your business as best you can through your hospitality style?