Anyone who works in hospitality will likely tell you the industry can teach you a lot. A lot about people and service quality. They’ll likely also tell you it’s a great place to learn how to become a manager.
I knew I wanted to work in hospitality at age 10 when I stayed at my first hotel. I was living overseas at the time, traveling throughout Europe with my family. Hotels, I quickly learned, offered atmosphere, terrific people-watching opportunities, restaurants and the best part—my own room.
I couldn’t get enough of them. Even when I returned to live in the States, I found myself wandering through hotel lobbies for a glimpse of what they offered.
I was 15 when I landed my first real hands-on hospitality job…literally. A major hotel chain hired me as a dishwasher where I learned—from all the cooks yelling at me—about hard work and teamwork. Shortly afterward, I was promoted to busboy and then to bellman. That led to other stints during high school and college such as working in a fast food chain’s kitchen, supervising my university’s campus dining room to managing a hotel’s front desk.
Those jobs provided me valuable learning opportunities. Besides meeting new people, I was able to manage large numbers of employees—sometimes up to 300—and develop my management style. I also got to experience the rewards of customer service up close.
At 24, I was fresh out of school but back on a college campus working as a food service director for a bunch of unhappy students. Rather than ignore the comments I would hear walking down the halls, I decided to hear them out and started a complaint box. I’d respond back to critics with tongue-and-cheek answers, even going as far to post them in a common area within the cafeteria for people to read with humorous nutritional nuggets (i.e., “remember to eat your five daily servings of vegetables…like salad bar broccoli.” The buzz around my message board grew, and soon I was inviting students into my office to hear their feedback face-to-face. By getting on their level and really listening to them, I was able to pinpoint the problem areas, improve our offerings and turn around their impression of food service, all while staying within budget.
If only managing today’s industry challenges could be like that! Today’s hospitality landscape has dramatically evolved since I started, but there are opportunities that can and should be realized.
Hotel brands, once U.S. based, are now global, and the industry must work to recognize and understand the values and needs of non-American guests to gain service loyalty. In regards to the hotel C-suite, we must remember the value of executives who’ve been in the trenches and worked their way up to really understand the intricacies of the business.
But of particular interest to me is employee retention. Retaining top employees is a must as more hotels are under pressure to provide top-notch service to keep and attract customers. Among other steps, the industry must create opportunities and a pay scale to retain key performers, and make exceptions for good people, especially in an industry where it takes time to move up.
My hope is that 2011 will represent a turning point for the industry to focus its efforts on talent and leadership retention, and for brands to identify ways to reconnect with customers to improve their overall experience.
Some 10-year-old kid, who’s walking through a hotel lobby experiencing its energy and offerings for the first time, may hope you do too.