What can hoteliers learn from restaurateurs? Simple, easy-to-execute ideas to WOW guests!

A few recent mind-blowing restaurant experiences have inspired me to challenge open-minded hoteliers to see what we can learn from innovative restaurateurs. Here are three simple ideas that could have a huge impact on making service experiences highly memorable and share-worthy.

Greet customers by name… “hello Andy and Paul”

So, if you know me my name is Adam, and my significant other is not Paul. Who are Andy and Paul? They are not us, but I remember those names. Why? Read on.

When you check into a restaurant one of the first typical steps is introducing yourself so the host can match you to a reservation. Similar to hotels, right? However, a restaurant host usually takes just a second here (No big system look-ups, ID match or credit card processing). A top notch restaurant will add a personal welcome “Hello Adam, welcome to XYZ restaurant.”

So what do Andy and Paul have to do with anything in this little story? Recently on arrival at a top-notch restaurant the host greeting us made a mistake, and when we introduced ourselves she heard “Andy and Paul.” A second later as she was double checking our names and saying “nice to meet you,” and introducing herself, she quickly realized the mistake. A momentary mental lapse possibly… it happens to the best of us! It was a funny and memorable second or two, as she had not etched our names into her mind. The entirety of the rest of the night she consistently called us by our names (the right ones) each time she checked in on us. The snafu showed me she is a human – no one is perfect and getting a name wrong after just hearing it is entirely fine. It makes the encounter personal.

In another recent experience, I had dinner sitting at a casual steakhouse bar where the bartender greeted me by asking my name and then used is eight times over an hour (after the third time I started keeping count). I heard this bartender, and her coworkers, greeting guests by name over and over throughout the night. Amazing!

As hoteliers, what can we do? Make a casual, genuine greeting the most important first step to check in. Period. Even if a team member gets a name wrong and has to correct it – it will likely lead to a positive impression with the guest if it’s done in a genuine way. What if your host introduced themselves by their first name, immediately probing guests for their first name (if the guest has not already said it)? That initial connection builds a more personal relationship, lightens the stress of check-in and sets off the next few minutes on a much more casual and positive note.

Add a simple welcome gesture – shake my hand!

What’s one simple step further than calling me by name? Layer on the simple aspect of touch to personalize the welcome. Restaurateurs know how impactful the greeting is, as someone has the job of personally walking you to your table. Excellent service often has an element of a personal connection – an offer of “follow me the the table,” pulling the chair out for you as you arrive or handing you a napkin or menu after you sit. On these lines, a personal welcome that blew me away recently was the two-hand handshake greeting by the restaurant host. Alternatively, if you sit at a bar for some time, a great bartender will ask your name and begin a conversation, shaking your hand as she welcomes you in (as you get ready to leave she will probably shake your hand a second time inviting you back).

In hotels with open-style front desks, why not walk out from beyond the desk and offer a handshake as part of the initial greeting? This simple gesture is thousands of years old, and in the U.S., the traditional handshake is a regular greeting we practice to show trust and introduce two people for a first meeting. Why don’t we use it more often in casual hotel settings?

What if you encouraged your teams to take a few seconds to do this before jumping into the PMS and starting the keyboard clicking and reservation processing? Make the “human” aspect of the encounter the priority- remind your guest how team members are not kiosks!

Be genuine, not generic, with an unexpected treat

Offer up a sincere and thoughtful “goodie” to help guests remember you – one that aligns to your offer and can help etch a memory in someone’s mind. If done right it can be memorable and “icing on the cake” to foster love of your service experiences.

Think of the amuse bouche, or first gift from the chef at a great restaurant — one bite to get your palate ready for the meal? Or a sake shot to take with the chef sitting at the sushi bar? A single bite of a house made chocolate infused with a local flavor, given with your check? A mini homemade granola bar to nibble on “tomorrow morning” and given by the host as you walk out of the restaurant? What these have in common is they were not asked for or ordered by the guest, they offer a positive surprise, they are unique (NOT generic), they increase perceived value of the experience and they help strengthen the connection between the guest and restaurant.

Great news for us as hoteliers! These are also programmatic and can be inexpensive yet be big memory makers in support of the rest of your service experience. Can you think of any unexpected surprises you could develop with a small budget impact, yet have the potential to deliver big guest smiles and set your experience apart from your top five competitors? Spend some time on that!

So what, now what?

These touch points (or ones similar) don’t cost a fortune to implement and don’t require adding many new team members or big budget line items. They can be incorporated into service delivery at hotels across price categories. However, implementing these ideas requires commitment from leadership and prioritization of team member training and empowerment. These breadcrumbs can lead to experiences becoming more story-telling worthy, higher review scores, repeat visits and ultimately increased long-term profitability.

Agree? Disagree? Do you have other simple-to-execute and impactful ideas? I would love to hear your thoughts.

The inspiration for this short article came from recent visits to three wonderful restaurants – cutting across price categories from fine dining to casual. Kudos to O-Ku(Atlanta, GA), Single Thread Farms (Healdsburg, CA) and Saltgrass Steak House(Houston- Sugarland, TX) for delivering memorable and inspirational service! If your travels take you to any of these spots I wholeheartedly recommend.