“The invisible man” How hospitality works; some tips for companies

The Etihad Butlers are renowned for their excellent hospitality and service skills.
Photo: Chris Chamberlin

I’m the invisible man! Last week, I once again, experienced the treatment that is given too often in all kinds of establishments in plenty of destinations; from budget to luxury and from 1 to 5-star hotels; too often I come across businesses operating in hospitality that seem to have absolutely zero understanding of the industry they are operating in. So today, some stories, including some names (because I think you really screwed up guys) and some tips for them to improve their services.

Some practical examples from my experience:

W Barcelona – 5* establishment without service

I went to the bar at the W hotel in Barcelona, a very much 5***** luxury hotel, because it was raining. The bar was packed with people but also full of waiters and servers. After finally finding a spot I tried flagging down a waitress who seemed not to see me. I tried to catch eye contact and waved at her. After 11 minutes I finally got ahold of her only to hear “just a moment“. This was the first moment I was acknowledged by her after passing my spot for plenty of times.

Another 17 minutes passed without even acknowledging me. No eye contact, just passing over 10 times without remembering “hey, this guest asked for attention, maybe I should ask him if he wants a menu“. (“Because it’s my job”)

After a total waiting time of 44 minutes, someone passed by, noticing I didn’t have a drink and asked me if I wanted the menu. Instead, I asked for the manager. After explaining my experience she agreed with me that this behaviour is unacceptable and offered a free drink. I gladly accepted but still left the place with a negative feeling.

LouLou Pizzabar in Amsterdam – “You’re lucky that you can sit here”

On a warm summer day, I settled on the cosy but packed outside terrace of the LouLou Pizzabar in Amsterdam. Ordering a pizza at 19:49 and getting served at 21:25 is too long; especially if I ask the waitress if they could check on my pizza (3 times) and got apologies every time. After more than 1:20 I got my pizza. Upon paying, I shared my experiences with the waitress who sent her manager over.

After complimenting the owner with his excellent pizzas I shared my concern regarding the extreme waiting time. The first response was “Its very warm today and we are doing our best and you have no reason to complain because you are lucky to be able to sit on the outside terrace“. At that point I was mildly flabbergasted; this was a response I did not expect at all. Extremely rude and non-considerable. In all honesty; was I lucky to sit here? And would I have been served faster if I had moved inside?

So after asking this, I got the response “Usually I give people that complain a free limoncello but people that are this rude can pay the bill and leave“.

I guess it goes without saying I will not return back to this place; if you are unable to recognise a mistake or fault in your organisation, you don’t belong in said business and its time to move to another job.

In both examples, I’ve been extremely polite and friendly with involved people. But even then; recognizing and/or reflecting back on bad service is something plenty of hospitality employees and/or entrepreneurs/managers fail to do.

Unique experience?

The two examples I describe above are unfortunately no unique cases. I could write a book about more unhospitable experiences I had in Southern Germany, Spain, Italy, The Middle East, Asia and even in de United States. And while I write this story from a personal note; I hear similar stories from others that see the quality of hospitality decreasing when going out for drinks or dinner.

What is hospitality

In the middle ages, a host providing visitors with shelter, safety and food was considered a hospitable host. This is where the term “hospitality” originates from. In the centuries that followed this phrase has evolved and in current times the definition of hospitality is often explained as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers“.

I’ve had plenty of discussions with other experts regarding hospitality and have to agree that it might be a cultural

In current days I see hospitality as a basic necessity of giving someone the feeling they are welcome and serving someone while retaining a pleasant aura. I feel this is a super simplistic and basic necessity.

So, even being on the other side of the world, in a completely different culture; I hope to get the feeling of my presence being appreciated. Acknowledging this can be done in plenty of forms and I find it fair and to take cultural differences into account

And if you know your hospitality sucks, you better be honest about it!

Why is this happening?

I often read about the individualisation of our society and maybe that’s a reason. Or maybe I perceive offered hospitality wrongly? Also, that could be the case. Another development I see is hiring students for hospitality functions. Are they to blame then? No! If you don’t get a proper training; no-one can expect you to deliver something.

Once again; the most basic form of human verbal and non-verbal interaction should be something easy and natural to people but even this is often missing.

Basics for hospitality companies:

Because it seems that it’s getting worse and worse, I write down a few key tips:

  1. First acknowledgement: I guess this an important one for me, the fact that someone that’s taking care gives me the feeling they have seen me. If you don’t and ignore your guest, they won’t feel welcomed. This can be as easy as looking me in the eye and saying “I’ll be with you in a second”. Basic hospitality for even the lowest scale budget place.
  2. Bring a menu: Make sure there is a menu on the table. If it’s not there; directly bring one after you have executed step 1. Does this need any explanation?
  3. Keep an eye on them: I am pretty sure every hospitality entrepreneur will agree with me; “keep an eye on your guests!”. If the glass is almost empty, why not pro-actively go after them and offer a refill. The more turnover you can create per table the better, right? And every guest will appreciate your kindness to look after them.
  4. Be talkative: Nothing beats a little chat with a bit of humour here and there. But only if the guest starts it or if you are 100% sure they like it. I do it everywhere, also in upscale places and it makes me happy if personnel recognises this and understands “the game”.

Bottom line:

Is the basic level of service and hospitality really dropping? Or am I just too sensitive here? I’d love to hear opinions from others. Let me know!

2 Responses
  1. Ingmar Bruinsma

    I have had a phone call from the owner of the Loulou Pizzabar who invited me over for coffee to talk about my experiences.
    I was assured the above story was an incident.

    I appreciate him reaching out to me.

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About Ingmar Bruinsma

Ingmar Bruinsma is an entrepreneur in the travel industry. He also provides consultancy services in the field of marketing, business development to clients in travel & aviation. He blogs about topics in tourism, travel, aviation, digital marketing.

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