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 ev