Service Secret #6: Nothin’ But A House Party

Have you ever hosted a party in your home?

Or are you one of the millions that would rather not risk the indelible damage to your self-esteem, living in constant fear of ego shattering rejection, the words “and nobody came” echoing through your subconscious for all eternity?

If you count yourself part of the second group, put on your Imagination Cap. We’re going to trace how  preparing to host a House Party mirrors the process of planning and executing a memorable Service Experience.

Think about it. Both begin with an invitation, an extension of opportunity or availability, then rely on the concept of Choice. Which is why your planning process begins with gratitude. Guests or customers will choose to accept your invitation . . . or not.

While the pandemic has limited gatherings to no more than 10 people, we’ll think back . . . or think forward . . . for the sake of our exercise.

Personally, I never had the desire to host a party. Then something changed.

It was about a month before I was to report to the Coast Guard Academy. While my mother and sisters were away visiting relatives along the Coast, two friends and I decided to throw me a Going Away Party for the ages, complete with 128 of our closest friends.

There we were, under a magnificent blanket of stars, two blenders blurring, a keg floating in the horse trough, wishing the night would never end. 

At one point, I remember standing on a slightly elevated perch, observing the scene in front of me. People were having fun, some dancing, most just sharing a good time with friends. Everyone behaved that night, and all made it home without incident.

I will never forget that feeling. It was epic.

The Guest List

You’re planning a casual party in your home. Nothing too fancy, simply an opportunity for friends to gather and share in the moment. Together we’ll do a side-by-side comparison of what it takes to plan, and execute both a successful House Party and a successful Service Strategy.

We’ll start with the guest list . . .

House Party: The more formal way of inviting people to your party involves generating a guest list and sending invitations, respondez s’il vous plait (RSVP) included. Today, that function can be replaced by email, text, or by simply contacting your guest list individually.

The purpose is to generate a rough idea of how many people we be attending. This will determine what food and beverages to purchase, how much you will need, and the overall set-up and flow of the party. 

Business: At any given time, do you have an idea of how many guest or customers you are expecting? Absolutely. Hotels and restaurants have reservations, physician’s groups and service departments have appointments. Retail operations rely on walk-in customers, but there are trends that can be tracked to help you prepare.

While these numbers may not result in exact volume, they play into every element of planning, from staffing, to procurement, production, and preparation.

Procure and Prepare

House Party: Now the fun begins. You approach this from the perspective of your guests, taking into consideration what they would enjoy most. While you want to appeal to the overall group, major points can be scored by having so-and-so’s favorite beverage or snack.

Time to get busy in the kitchen, whether your menu requires food preparation or a focus on food presentation. Either way, you want to have as much ready ahead of time to create a great first impression, so guests can dive in upon arrival.

Business: If your hotel or restaurant is based on a theme, that will guide most of your procurement selections and preparation routine. From a retail perspective, you will want to ensure you have an appealing inventory.

Recognizing and delivering on VIP preferences presents our greatest opportunity at this stage. Smaller operations carry a slight advantage in this process, in that there are fewer channels to process a preferred table, favorite bottle of wine, or when celebrating a special occasion.

As operations grow and become more complex, the process becomes more of a challenge. We would have guests arrive at a resort and share during check-in that they were celebrating their Anniversary in two days. The information would be noted. Two days later, when no mention or gesture was made on behalf of their special occasion, you can imagine the emotional impact on the guest, “Well, we told the gentleman when we arrived”.

Technology aside, delivering on guest preferences requires a human commitment, a personal investment in the satisfaction of each guest. Remember, major points (aka Loyalty) hang in the balance between someone recording a preference, and the team working to deliver a memory.

Make customer preferences part of your daily, or weekly discussions. Develop and promote Empathic Empowerment among your Guest Facing staff . . . if I’m part of your team, that Anniversary in two days should mean as much to me as it does to my guests. Perhaps even more.   

Clean Your House

House Party: You want to create the best impression, which means cleaning the house from top to bottom. Party guests will forgive second-hand, mismatched furniture, if everything is clean and tidy. The bathroom receives special attention, since its going to see a lot of traffic.

Business: Cleanliness and sanitation top the list of basic expectations among travelers and retail customers. People will approach cleanliness as an extension of their personal space. Your business must look clean, feel clean, and most importantly, smell clean.

If you have windows, ensure they are spotless. Brass fixtures should be polished and free of tarnish. Glassware and flatware in a restaurant should be free of food debris, and polished to remove residue. Floors should be clean and dust free, polished where appropriate. Retail items should be organized and visually appealing.

The time invested in creating a clean, sanitary environment may not garner verbal recognition, but trust that your guests will appreciate and respect the effort.

Clean Yourself

House Party: All that hard work cleaning the house, shopping, and cooking have left you, um . . . fragrant. Jump in the shower, choose a wardrobe to reflect the occasion and your commitment as Host for the rest of the evening.

Business: Professional grooming and hygiene standards are critical to the success of any service-related operation. While these vary across industries, consistency is the key to creating the proper impression.

Bottom line is that you should always look prepared to welcome your guests or customers. This translates as well-groomed facial hair, an appropriate amount of make-up, clean fingernails and hands, and clean, well-fitted uniforms.

We were visiting a restaurant for the first time. As our server approached, everything looked perfect – pressed pants, appropriate make-up, her hair pulled back into a neat bun. Once she came closer to the table, you could not help but notice severe staining around the collar of her white blouse. The blouse itself was clean and pressed, but obviously had seen its share of wear and tear.

Whether a personal or operational responsibility, uniforms need to be replaced when they become worn.

Welcome Your Guests

House Party: A warm welcome consists of more than just opening the door. You greet each guest personally, with a sense of pride, thank them for coming, and provide a brief tour of the party layout. This is to establish a sense of independence . . . so everyone knows where the bathroom is, where the drinks are, what delicious food you’re serving, etc.

This is also a time for your guests to ask questions, and for you to solicit if there is anything they might need at that moment.

Business: Another opportunity with unlimited potential. A warm welcome does more than set the Tone for the rest of a guest’s experience. It communicates gratitude for having chosen your establishment, an intuitive commitment to dedicated service and personal attention to the smallest of details.

Did you realize there was that much at stake the last time you said, “Hello, welcome to . . .”?     

The steps are simple:  smile and welcome each guest personally, using their name, thank them for choosing your business, provide an overview of the layout, menu, retail options, etc. to establish a sense of independence, ask if there is anything else you can do at that moment.

One final expression of gratitude should be the last thing a guest hears before venturing off into the experience.

Eye contact is key to a great first impression. If there is information that requires confirmation through a computer, remember that the computer is a tool . . . your opportunity to serve, to create a connection, is standing in front of you.

When introducing your guest to a fellow teammate, do so with confidence and pride. Use your teammate’s name, and introduce them using the guest’s name, as well. This will add to a sense of well-being, a feeling of connection that is both comfortable and reassuring.

Work The Party

House:  The party is in full swing, and you’re workin’ it!

Tall Tim Tip: Once guests choose to attend your party, and arrive, everything you do from that moment forward is to ensure they want to come to your next party.

You mingle amongst the crowd, listening for any questions or cues, checking on guests to make sure they’re having a good time. This is important . . . the last thing you want to hear is, “Great party, too bad you ran out of salsa”, knowing you had a container full of salsa as back-up in the kitchen.

Business: Interacting with your customer or guest serves the same purpose: you are working on their willingness . . . and eagerness . . . to return in the future.

Having a presence in the service environment is a benefit to both you and your guest. Many guests prefer not to interact unless they need to, so the visibility and approachability of the staff becomes critical.

However, these chance encounters provide an opportunity to solicit feedback, inquire as to additional needs, and express gratitude for their choice.

For hotels and resorts, advances in technology have turned these mid-experience encounters into potential warm welcome opportunities. With mobile devices allowing a guest to complete their arrival process without assistance, a visit to the restaurant or pool area may be their first interaction with a living, breathing member of the staff.

Be vigilant, be ready, and be a gracious host.

Fond Farewell

House Party: The party was a huge success, and while you may feel exhausted, the time to collapse will come later.

As guests depart, you thank each personally for attending. You ask if they enjoyed themselves, drop subtle hints about returning for your next party, and wish them a safe drive home.

Then you collapse.

Business: Arrival and Departure carry the same potential for a positive impression. This is also your last opportunity to solicit feedback about the experience.

While you hope that any distractions have been addressed earlier, this is a moment where you might have to take one for the team. Could be positive or negative . . . but if the guest has something on their mind, they could choose your inquiry as a time for sharing.

The steps of Departure almost mirror those of Arrival: smile and thank the guest using their name, review final billing or sales as appropriate, ask if there is anything else they might need, wish them a speedy return and a safe trip to their next destination.

At the end of your shift, you too, are free to collapse.

Final Review

The process of planning a successful House Party is rooted in gratitude . . . recognize that your guests have other places they could be, but they have chosen to attend your party. This feeling extends throughout the process like ripples in a pond, influencing your food and beverage choices, your demeanor during the party, and a heartfelt good-bye once the party is over.

Follow this closely, and your party also will be “Epic”.

When guests or customers have chosen your business, your perspective must shift to gratitude, as well. There are a lot of choices out there, a landscape filled with options. Work to recognize VIP Preferences, both recording them and executing with attention to detail.

Be visible and available to your guests, be ready to receive and process on-the-spot feedback.

Gratitude permeates a Fond Farewell, your final opportunity to thank the guest, wish them safe travels, and extend an invitation to your next party . . . I mean, an invitation to return.

Wow, these concepts really do mirror each other . . .

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!

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