5 Oct 2009

An Unpalatable Truth (Part 1)

Throughout our social lives and personal encounters with the hospitality industry, we will have tales of bad service: unmet expectations, curt waitressing, disappointing meals and sub-standard hotel stays. Bad experiences are part of the fabric of life, are not confined to the hospitality industry, and will stretch from the dentist’s chair to the supermarket check-out, from the bank manager’s desk to the insurance hotline, from the tai chi class to the hairdresser’s salon, from the garage pit to the aircraft aisle…

Generally you will expect the problem(s) to be remedied there and then by the floor staff or their superiors, and the chance is a happy resolution will ensue, or at least a compromise will be reached. Throughout the journey of this blog, I will no doubt impart with a tale or two of my personal challenging experiences as a customer, however for now, what I would like to focus on is not so much the service pitfalls and challenges from a consumer view point, but from the staff’s perspective, and what they are pit against. My findings are based upon my personal observations, my brief experience working front-of-house in the hotel chain sector, and insider knowledge from contacts who used to or still work, full-time, in the UK chain hospitality industry at large.

Hospitality has enjoyed a boom in popularity over the last 15 years, boosted by the continental café culture model and compounded by binge drinking. Economic recession aside, people go out more often than they used to; when once upon a time they went to the restaurant to celebrate a special occasion, they now don’t need a justification to treat themselves. Besides high street eatery brands and pubs alike have attractive offers on to draw in the pundits, making the entertaining experience look more affordable and tempting!

Lincoln's Steep Hill area

In the process, hospitality has become a victim of its own success. Personal etiquette standards have slipped across the board, and this shift in attitude has been validated by the media and social observers.

Although complaining is the legitimate course of action when a service expectation has indeed failed to satisfy and/ or fallen below standard, customers and consumers are more confident and assertive than ever, and gone are the proverbial ‘British reserve’ and restraint. Some customers feel strongly that raising uncalled-for objections, playing out their discontent and generally acting in an obnoxious and foul-mouthed manner will somehow give them more clout and entitle them to that coveted freebie, a discount or a refund. (to be continued)

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