Twenty-five Lessons Learned in 25 Years in Hospitality

The ESPN Series “30 for 30” happens to be one of my favorite shows. The documentaries that they have produced are wonderful to watch. I have my own version of this show…well, sort of.

What have you learned in your career? Someone asked me that the other day, and I must admit, I was stumped by that question at first. But when I sat down to think about it, I realized that because of great employees and wonderful coaches, I have learned some pretty good lessons over the years.

Here is Part 1 of 2 containing 12 Lessons I’ve learned over 25 years of managing and training teams (with 13 more to go next month).

1.  We’re in the Hospitality Business, first and foremost. That means that we’re in the people business, creating wonderful events and memories, not the other way around. Make sure you’re involving your people in how to wow the client and their guests, and to make that personal (and emotional) connection with them.

2.  Perception is 9/10ths of the law; how people perceive us usually becomes their truth. This is one of my favorite sayings. Meaning, everything your staff does reflects first themselves, then your brand. A guest or client may determine the entire experience by how your staffer treated them, cared for them or (dis)respected them.

3.  Knowledge is confidence; give people the knowledge they need. The goal is to empower your people and make sure they know what is expected of them and give them the tools to be successful. The only way to do that is to teach them your systems so that they become experts.

4.  Training never ends, especially if you want to be the best.  Make sure that staff training, and development is continual.  Whether through quarterly training seminars, pairing up new employees with veterans to act as mentors, a certification training program, etc. make training an investment don’t just see it as a cost.

5.  Allow for mistakes, not errors. Everyone makes mistakes. Be sure each misstep is an opportunity for learning and growth, and you won’t see people making the same errors repeatedly. Empower team members to fess up to their mistakes, because that provides an opportunity to be a coach, helping them to be on a winning team.

6.  Truly care about the well-being of your people. What we do is hard work. Many of us never get to “play a home game.” (For most in our industry the work we do takes us to multiple locations). Do be sure to always thank your staff for working hard. Remember they’re people not robots. Celebrate all types of successes with them, give them room for hard days and heartbreak. It makes a difference.

7.  Teach everyone on your team how to handle customer complaints. This is one of the best lessons I’ve learned. Empower each team member to handle most of the challenges you can anticipate and to never pass a customer from person to person like a hot potato. Train them how to confidently and effectively diffuse an unhappy customer by role playing and practicing potential situations that could arise. I teach a technique in my seminars that is easy for everyone to master and gives them the confidence to work with unhappy customers.

8.  Work smarter, not harder. Most of the team is already working hard enough, but to work smarter requires thinking outside the box and looking for ways to improve your processes and procedures. Encourage them to be innovative and be prepared to at least listen to their ideas and not shoot them down immediately. And if it’s a good idea be sure they’re involved in the implementation.

9.  The little details make the big things happen. My experience has taught me that one of the keys to success is how the smallest of details gets handled. Train everyone to spot the little details and maybe even fuss over them a bit. Clients will be impressed that you’ve taken care of everything for them, no matter if it’s in your purview or not.

10. Don’t underestimate the power of Appreciation. It’s amazing what a “great job” or “thank you for being here today” does for the morale of your staff. I learned that you can never say it enough. And the key is to mean it. And you should, because well-trained and well-regarded staff are the key to your business success. When you run multiple events in different locations on the same day, you’ll quickly figure out that you cannot do it alone and that your staff absolutely represents you and your company.

11. Keep calm under pressure. Unlike many workers, we must be “on” for every event. People are spending a lot of money with you for three or four hours. That alone is a lot of pressure. If you’re running multiple events on a given day, that just compounds the pressure. Staying calm comes from the top down. Never let your team see you (or any of your leadership) panic. We’ve all seen it, when you panic…so do they. That doesn’t mean you’ll never panic. Of course you will. But try to do it in private, away from them and your clients!

12. Build a culture of Respect. Sure, we wish that everyone who worked together liked one another but that isn’t always the case. However, it’s crucial that they respect their co-workers. If they don’t, that puts a strain on the work environment and ultimately your clients and their guests will suffer. There should be zero tolerance for anyone who doesn’t agree to this rule.

What about you? If someone asks you, “What have you learned in your career?”, what will you say?

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Lessons I’ve Learned from My Customers is coming next month.

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