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Kind hearts & hair nets

HOSPA CEO Jane Pendlebury asks for some consideration on all sides as the sector gradually reopens.

Hospitality has been missed over the past 15 months or so. The simple pleasure and convenience of grabbing a coffee from a café, the sociable interaction of a drink with friends at a bar, spending time away from the routine of home on holiday – all of these were taken for granted before the pandemic began. No one would’ve anticipated these straightforward enjoyments ever being restricted as we moved into 2020.

Now though, many months later and with that very thing having happened, people have a new-found appreciation for hospitality. Or so I thought ahead of reopening, at least. Now, I’m not so sure. I do believe this to be true to an extent, but I’m shocked and horrified by the negative experiences of front-end staff. Hospitality businesses have been missed and people are delighted to be back to some form of normal, however the way many staff are being treated you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

I understand that expectations from guests are high. People have been waiting for what has often felt like an interminable amount of time. And having finally been given the green light to meet friends in a restaurant or to stay overnight in a hotel, people are eagerly anticipating the perfect evening out or weekend away. Naturally, it’s in our best interests to welcome guests back and deliver the wonderful experience that they’ve been yearning for. Most of us working in hospitality have the desire to exceed expectations so deeply rooted within us that it’s effectively second nature. Little or no effort is required to smile and to endeavor to address the needs and wants of our guests, however demanding they might be. Hoteliers rise to challenges day in, day out and take pride in the successful resolution of any issues.

Given the desire is there on both sides – for guests to have a good time and for staff to deliver one – this reopening period should be joyous. It should be happy faces all-round, from the guests to those serving them and everyone working behind the scenes too, who are all just as excited to be back.

From what I’m hearing though, this simply isn’t happening. Guests are coming away disappointed. Staff are ending up in tears. Where has it all gone wrong? It’s easy for us who work in hospitality to see it from both sides. We are the privileged ones who understand that front-end staff have been away from work for so long, and that there is a nervousness about going back into work and likely straight into a series of very busy shifts. They have their own concerns about the virus and the new way of working, while quite often they’ll have new colleagues to interact with. Much of what was familiar to them has now changed. A huge issue, and cause of many problems, is the massive shortage of staff. So many good people have left the industry during the pandemic – a situation that’s been compounded by the restrictions on freedom of movement as the result of Brexit.

Many of our guests don’t want to be reminded that there are new rules and regulations to abide by. They just want to have a good time. They don’t want to follow a one-way system to the bathroom, or have to turn back because they’ve forgotten to put on a mask. They certainly don’t want to be reminded – by someone they don’t know – to observe these new measures. No-one really enjoys being told what to do, after all, not least when they are out having fun.

What we can do though, as employers, is to empower our teams with confidence. Give your teams some key phrases to use when talking to difficult guests about the new restrictions. Encourage them to speak up and if the smile isn’t coming naturally, then to fake it until they make it. Even with masks on, it’s evident from our eyes when we are smiling so they mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking their expressions are hidden and should always act like their face is in full view. Employers though, should also understand when staff are doing that. It’s by no means easy to keep smiling even though it’s a given of our trade, so praise them, thank them and appreciate this additional, new hard work.

Both employers and guests perhaps need to be reminded that some visitors and staff remain super cautious about the virus. Some people will be constantly looking out for their own safety, whilst others – probably a growing group as those wearing their double vaccination label increases hour by hour – are fed up and are less inclined to respect the rules and guidelines. Both sides have their own reasons for viewing things as they do, and we should be wary of judging anyone – be they cautious or cavalier – but we do need to highlight the rules where necessary.

I don’t think there is any harm reminding our guests that the team serving them are working hard to give them the best experience – but that there are new processes that are still being learned. Signage with humour is great. Lots of friendly reminders that COVID restrictions are not imposed by today’s receptionist or waiter but are coming from a much higher power!

Above all though, be kind – a phrase that has been worn out by its constant use – but BE KIND. How can we get that message out to the wider public? Consider putting just that ‘Be Kind’ on your signs and on your menus too! We’re all delighted to be back open and trading, but everyone has to adjust.

The pandemic has affected each and every one of us in different ways and we all need to be mindful of that and considerate of others. One day soon we can hopefully see the remaining restrictions lifted, but in the meantime, we all need to work together to make that possible.

Jane Pendlebury HOSPA CEO


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