Hotel Service: Living in Today's World of Labor

By Al Ferrone Sr Director F&B Marketing, Hilton | October 28, 2008

As our labor force increases and we evolve into more of a leisure society, many of our new-generation workers do not want to spend as much time on their jobs as employees of the past. This means that one of the key words we as managers, should keep in mind when seeking new talent is balance. We need to make sure that the people who work in our industry keep a balance between work, family and leisure time. The more balance, the more stability. The more stability, the more productivity and less turnover. If we are going to attract the new wave of talented managers, we need to measure a person's worth or accomplishments based not on how much time is spent on the job, but rather on the person's productivity. A highly productive 50-hour, gung-ho enthusiastic manager who gives 110% is much more valuable than a tired, half-conscious 70-hour manager going through the motions.

As I spend time recruiting at universities, I am frequently asked, "Do you have any openings in your R&D department?" or told "I would like to work in the corporate office." First, we don't have an R&D department in our food and beverage department, and it took me 22 years of working in hotels before I obtained my first corporate position. As educators, we can impact our students' expectations by explaining that achieving a corporate position in food and beverage is not guaranteed by obtaining a degree, but requires hard work, experience, and accomplishments.

In order to achieve maximum productivity, we need to train consistently - not train employees for the task at hand, but train them for their future positions. Setting next-steps training goals for higher positions increases motivation and reduces attrition, which also increases productivity. If we increase productivity, it makes it easier to pay a competitive wage that will attract a quality workforce.

In addition to productivity, an issue facing our labor force relates to the common phrase, "You have only one chance to make a favorable first impression." Unlike our friends in the manufacturing segment of our economy, we cannot send our labor needs to a third- world country, nor do we offer a durable-goods product that an unsatisfied customer can return or replace. Our business is one of experiences that we create for our guests moment by moment. We must ensure a positive guest experience, as the product we provide (service and food) can be refunded but not returned. In turn, this experience can lead to our establishment's overall success or failure. The hospitality industry workforce is charged with an extreme amount of trust by customers who seek to satisfy their hunger, thirst and pleasure through them and the establishments they represent. In return, the satisfaction our employees receive from contributing to favorable guest experiences is priceless.

We must also incorporate technology, to the best of our abilities, to make us as highly efficient as we can be without sacrificing the human touch which is important in delivering a high quality experience. Using technology to improve service is a must and cannot be ignored. It must be embraced if we are going to continue to be profitable. Increased productivity is the fuel that is driving the economic engine in this country and in most of the mature economies in other countries. The food and beverage industry is the most labor intensive business that I know. In most cases labor is our largest expense and turnover contributes to the cost. Using technology will make jobs easier for our workforce by reducing stress and work loads.

We, as an industry, need to change the perception that most people have of us. Most servers today when asked, "Why have you selected your current job?" will respond with, "I'm doing this until I find something better." In New York and Los Angeles, many servers are out-of-work actors waiting for their next role. We need to find a way to elevate the server position to one of a craft as it is viewed in other countries. We need to bring respect back to our industry. The process needs to start from within our own industry. I love it when I speak to a waiter and ask him/her as to what he/she aspires to be and the answer is, "I'm happy being a waiter." It brings tears of joy to my eyes. There is nothing wrong with it. A great server/waiter/bartender can make as much or more than most white collar professionals.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.