I’ve been out sick for two days. Two long days. But during my sickness I came across a dish that was so simple, so clean, refreshing and heart warming, that I had to sit and ponder while stuffing my face. I pondered the word “Simple.” What I ate was a dish of red beans and rice. Here’s the ingredients: red beans, rice, water and salt. That’s it. Simple. I know that a plate of red beans and rice is not going to come across as profound to most, but I’m telling you it was great.
What’s this have to do with hospitality? (I hate when people ask their own questions and then answer them.) Red beans and rice has nothing to do with hospitality. Now I sound stupid, but give me a minute. It’s usually the simplest dishes that are the best. But, again, the word is Simple.
Hospitality is simple. Just be nice and make your guests feel welcome. Make people feel good! Simple and cheap. Hospitality costs you zero.
Please, simple, again with the word, I know, but it really is a simple thing. Hospitality is simple. Be grateful because the fact that you have people eating in your restaurant is a miracle–not simple.
The next time you leave to eat out count how many restaurants you pass. How many pizza shops, convenient stores, fast food, grocery stores, etc. Or you could change your mind and stay home; eat out of the fridge or freezer. PBJ is so damn’ simple and good. Or you could call the local pizza guy and have them deliver food to you. Be real lazy and keep the door open so that they can come in and put it on your lap. Please close and lock the door on your way out. So many eating options but I decided to come to your restaurant–a miracle!
So if this is such a miracle, why cold fish at the door or the dick behind the podium? Why? Astounding! Without a whole lot of Me’s there’s no you–you should be kissing my feet! Literally, you should hire someone to take my shoes off the door and then kiss my feet all the way to my table and continue until the starters arrive.
I’m spending money at your place. My money and my time. I could purchase the equivalent of three days of groceries for this one sitting. And yet, I’ll go out to eat and visit another 20 restaurants in a week, because of my day job, and get zero hospitality. Maybe it’s me and I’m the dick. Maybe, but it happens way too often–and I’m not always a dick.
Here’s all you have to do: Smile for crying out loud. Remember my name, I like “Mr. Arico.” How about a sense of urgency in getting me a table. Make a fuss or at least pretend. Make sure I’m comfortable. Get me something to eat or drink as quick as possible and make sure I’m happy with it. Say “Thank You.” Make eye contact. Make menu suggestions. If I’m a regular, you should be so lucky, buy me a drink. One lousy drink means a ton! If I’m a once-a-week regular, pick up the check or at least pick up the appetizer. Why not? That money spent will go a lot further than what you paid the advertising guy.
Also, hospitality can save a restaurant. If my food sucks–do something about it! If you ask me if everything is okay, and I say yes, but in reality there’s something wrong because I’ve left you a big clue: I only took one bite and I don’t want to take it home–DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! If I’m sitting with three others and I’m the winner of “the meal that has to go back to the kitchen,” bring me a cup of soup to eat while I wait so I’m not the only one at the table not eating. I did this once when I was a server a long time ago. Four people eating, but one guy’s food was wrong, don’t remember the specifics but it had to go back. The soup of the day was roasted red pepper so I brought him a cup. Turns out he doesn’t like roasted red peppers. Damn’ it, right? No. You should have seen the response I got just for caring. Hospitality can save a bad meal.
I close with this: Great hospitality will equate to tons of word-of-mouth advertising. In today’s Twitter era, one great meal with a side of hospitality will have the potential to reach thousands via Twitter. A bad experience could crush you.
Joe Arico is an active LFS.com member and curator of a food blog. Arico has been a food service professional for over twenty years and we think he has fingered the single most important aspect to survival of the independent operator - hospitality. It's not written about enough in restaurant reviews, not taught enough as an RBP by independents to their staff, but in the end, it's what enables a restaurant to hang on and prosper.