Demand or Wait for Service?

Have you ever been at a restaurant or coffee shop when the staff have simply not seen you or are so busy serving other patrons that they just don’t serve you?

When I speak or run a training session in a new country, I like to spend a day in that country familiarising myself with local life and the people to bring local relevance into what I will be sharing. Part of this learning is the service rendered by the local businesses and hospitality industry as this will give me a good idea of the quality of life and the amount of kindness that exists in the community.

I won’t mention names as this will not add to the story. I was booked into a 5 Star hotel for 3 nights by my client who was the local tourism agency and some of the hotel management would be attending my session the following day.

My plan for the first day was to visit some of the local attractions and do some shopping. I decided to visit the hotel’s in-house coffee shop and answer a few emails before venturing out. When I came into the coffee shop I greeted some of the staff and found myself a table, connected to the wi-fi and started with the emails.

After a while, I realised that I had not received any service and thought to myself, ‘They look busy but I am sure they will attend to me.’ I continued to work until I was rudely interrupted by a large local businessman shouting and demanding he gets served – at this stage it was apparent that I was not the only one who was not getting service. He got what he demanded from a very flustered looking waiter.

The coffee shop had already started to empty, and I had still not been served after waiting another 20 minutes and having been there for more than an hour already.

What would you do in a situation like this? I would love to hear your comments.

What I did was as follows, I packed up my things and left the coffee shop quietly and proceeded to the general manager’s reception. Here I asked to see the general manager and the receptionist asked what it was about. I then reminded her that I had politely asked to see him and that I did not need to justify why I needed to see him. She was rather taken back by my reply, but then she realised the direction I had just come from and asked if I was just at the coffee shop and I said ‘yes’. She asked me to take a seat and wait.

After a few minutes, a manager appeared who was clearly not the General Manager (I have worked long enough in the hospitality industry to identify a GM when I see one) but introduced himself as the manager. I appreciate honesty and this guy was not being honest with me, but he did ask if I had a problem.

My response was ‘No I actually don’t have a problem, and I feel sorry for every guest of this so-called 5 Star hotel, as they are not delivering the level of service that would be expected.’ His response was to ask what can they do for me and before the complimentary offers came I interrupted him by saying ‘I want you to do nothing special for me, I would like to see you and every member of your staff serving quests to the best of their ability and if I notice any of your staff trying to treat me any differently to any other guest I will be visiting the real General Manager.’

It was amazing as from that moment on the guests in the hotel looked happier than I had previously observed.

The actual general manager who was in my session the following day approached me during the lunch break to give me his excuse for the level of service in his hotel and how they were short staffed due to budget constraints. He then told me that by comparison, his hotel had one of the best service ratings in the city, which made me very sympathetic to the guests of the other hotels. When I asked him about the lack of service in the coffee shop, he replied by saying that the service is good and I had just experienced a shift change. The general manager believes his own lies and the staff follow his wonderful example.

The moral of the story is one of leadership, and if the leader is honest and kind the level of service will always be good. We can never expect staff to treat customers better than the leaders have treated them. The fish begins to stink at the head, not the tail.

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