The difference between service and hospitality and how to leverage that for business success.

Danny Meyer, the great restaurateur of Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, and Shake Shack fame, defines the difference between service and hospitality like this, “service is the technical delivery of a product, hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel.”

This clearly identifies two dimensions. One, service, is more technical, it is about skills and knowledge, and is largely transactional in nature. It focuses on getting the job done. It is centered on successfully delivering the burger, shirt, plumbing service, surgery, whatever.

Hospitality on the other hand is more human, it is about how things are done, it is focused on interaction and human connection. How people feel when they experience everything is the concern here. Providing a welcoming sense of belonging along with helpfulness that is proactive is the key.

Why does this matter?

As times continue to evolve and we move from old, Industrial Age thinking that sees business as simply a means for getting products into the hands of needy customers to more enlightened, Digital Age thinking that sees business as a partnership in helping people accomplish things, ongoing relationships are key, and how people feel along the way is what can make or break these relationships.

Again, Meyer has great words on this in his book, Setting the Table, “It’s remarkable to me how many businesses shine brightly when it comes to acing the tasks but emanate all the warmth of a cool fluorescent light. That explains how a four-star restaurant can actually attract far fewer loyal fans than a two- or three-star place with soul.”

What this means to today’s business leader is that they must think carefully about more than one dimension. They must think about not only what they deliver but how it is being delivered. This means more than worrying about hiring people who might have the warmth necessary —that’s usually about as reliable as a coin toss— it means creating a culture where this warmth becomes second nature.

When I first entered the world of hotel work –I was working for an event technology company contracted in the convention space—I remember my first few days. My manager was showing me the ropes and reiterated over and over that helping guests was paramount, and it did not matter whether that help related directly to our work or not, we were just expected to be helpful. “Service with a hospitality approach,” he said, “is what we do, and after a while it will be such a second nature that you will find yourself helping people everywhere. You will see someone unloading their groceries at the checkout counter and you will help them. You will see someone with hands full and you will rush to open doors for them. Service will become part of your DNA.” And he was absolutely right. His prediction came true. As I saw everyone around me helping guests, I followed suit. If I wanted to be part of the team, I had to do what the team did. And that carried forward into my personal life. To this day, I find myself helping people in all kinds of different ways and places.

This is exactly what business leaders need to do to create that hospitality customers crave and demand. They need to make it clear that while service, successfully delivering the product, is a must, it is just table stakes. The thing that will make the company stand out is a hospitality approach. They need to communicate this as the life blood of the organization and an expectation for employment and promotion, not just some lame mission statement that will go away over time.

Then, to make it a habit, it will need to be demonstrated throughout the organization. Leaders will need to demonstrate hospitality to their teams while team members demonstrate it to each other. And when leaders see it done and done right, they will need to recognize it and celebrate it.

The point is to make service with a hospitality approach part of the DNA of the organization by making it part of the DNA of leaders and team members alike.

No training or anything else will truly ensure great service that makes customers walk away feeling great unless the hearts and minds of the organization are aligned and committed to the hospitality mission. Once you make this happen though, fasten your seat belts because your business will start taking off like never before.

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