“You Can’t Handle the Moment of Truth” (aka Do You Work Here?)

Forgive my rather obvious play on words. Blame it on a moment of introspection.

Being the son of a career Marine, I spent my formative years in the company of my Dad’s peers, some of whom bore an outward resemblance to Jack Nicholson’s character from the film “A Few Good Men”.

Most of the group had bonded while serving as Drill Instructors earlier in their careers, charged with the daunting task of transforming raw recruits into the Nation’s Finest.

Collectively, Drill Instructors understand that when the 16-week window of Bootcamp closes, those recruits must be prepared. Regardless of how they get there, or current state upon arrival, basic survival is dependent on the quality and impact of training delivered.

Beyond that, vigilance becomes a product of preparation. Something, somewhere, at some time, is going to happen. The Corps’ enduring legacy of readiness is also dependent on the quality and impact of continuous training delivered.   

That legacy of readiness applies to the Service Industry, albeit from a more life-enhancing than life-threatening perspective. Everyone, somewhere, at some point will hear the four words that can strike fear in even the deepest of service souls:

“Do you work here?”

We operate in a never-ending Moment of Truth, a continuously fluid environment requiring acute awareness and rapid application of intuitive reasoning. Vigilance also reflects preparation.

Whether anticipating the needs of our guests, responding to requests or opportunities, or adapting to changes in society, our perpetual survival is dependent on the quality and impact of training preparing us for the inevitable.

Reviewing the Protocol

There is a specific protocol of “Proficiency, Perfection, Past Perfection” to consider as you prepare your team to handle the Moment of Truth:


Consistent and proper training will form habits that guide natural reactions. You know the standards and performance thresholds for your team, along with the time, tools, and techniques available to create engaging development activities.

Proper execution must become a habit from the beginning, making your team capable of performing to its true potential.


Disciplined behavior enhanced through repetition and reinforced through great coaching. It’s easy to buy into the approach “if it wasn’t done right, do it again”. Where we stop short is the approach of “if it was done right, do it again”.

A repetitive approach will improve Cognitive Memory, taking performance beyond awareness and driving it into the subconscious where we need it to be. Again, be maniacal about proper technique and execution.   

Past Perfection

Assess the best course of action, given the situation and resources at hand. Improvisation becomes a product of intense rehearsal and developmental critique.

Once you have perfected performance, take it into the real world where things are seldom perfect. Factor some anxiety into the repetition – better to deal with it in practice, where you are free to cogitate and proactively critique.

Build Empathy Through Reality

The intrinsic value of preparing for the Moment of Truth is a shift from Empowerment to Empathic Empowerment, an emotional perspective that truly connects with the Moment.

The challenge surfaces in that few, if any of us, have the time to schedule additional formal training activities. No to worry.

Here are a few Tall Tim Tips to incorporate along the way:

Daily Meetings

If you are limiting these daily interactions to discussing business of the day, you’re leaving money on the table.

As a team leader, you have significantly more access to information than members of your team. Chances are, people know how to do their jobs, and discussion is limited to time frame, quantity, and preferences. Use your daily meeting to extend vision beyond the immediate.

Devote five minutes to the purpose, the “Why” behind those actions. Generate interaction to connect function with essence, bringing the person into the performance.

Since these occur daily, they are a great foundation when forming habits.


Spend some time observing your Guest Facing Environment.

Notice the demeanor of Heart of House associates traversing the space. Does it look like they would give anything to be covered in a cloak of invisibility? Or is there no connection to the environment at all?

Launch a well-intentioned, impromptu Role Play to seize a precious Learning Moment. Focus on common questions a visitor is liable to ask anyone with a nametag or uniform: 

How do I get to the pool? What time are you open for dinner? Where can I send a Fax? Isn’t this on sale? Are you open on Saturdays?

Department or Team Meetings

Recall that one of the main sources of behavior is Knowledge. Foster development by dedicating a portion of your scheduled monthly or bi-monthly gatherings to preparing for the Moment of Truth.

Making a conscious commitment to improving awareness will translate into greater confidence . . . confidence in knowing the answer or knowing where to turn in the event the question is beyond your scope.

Then practice, practice, practice.

A Few Precious Moments

Realizing what’s at stake in the Moment of Truth extends beyond verbal or written instruction.

It must be ingrained as a vigilant, Next Level instinct that strives for survival by doing what it takes to satisfy those we serve.

MOT Case #1: Downtown Double-Dribble

Tampa was hosting a Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament over the Winter Break. This was a great opportunity, since business around Amalie Arena usually takes a nap that time of year.

Included in the four-team field was the University of Syracuse Orange, slated to play the Florida Gators later that evening.

I had attended a meeting at one of our hotels earlier that day and was crossing the barren lobby on my way out.

As I passed the elevators, one opened and out walked Jim Boeheim, legendary coach of the Syracuse team. We made immediate eye contact, so I proactively greeted the coach and welcomed him to Tampa.

He then asked if there was a place to grab some lunch. I mentioned our Sports Bar, but he declined . . . too much exposure. Some place off property within walking distance would be preferred.

Knowing an entertainment complex with a variety of restaurants was nearby, I wasn’t familiar with their hours of operation during the Holiday Season. Last thing I wanted to do was send the coach there only to discover everything closed.

As luck would have it, a Restaurant Supervisor walked by on his way to cash-out a server. My saving grace dressed in khaki pants and a logoed polo shirt. I asked him if he knew the hours of operation for the restaurants in the Channelside complex?

Sorry, I’m not that familiar with the Downtown Area” was his response, as he and the server walked away.

I turned to stone, my mouth frozen in the open position by what had just transpired.

By the time I turned around, the Coach was halfway across the lobby. I called to him in the hopes of offering further assistance, but he just waved his hand and walked out the revolving door. I could see him interacting with members of the Valet Staff, all pointing in several directions as they described available options.

Time Out Critique:

Local Area Knowledge is one of the most over-looked resources when preparing for the Moment of Truth. Unless you work in the Hotel California, expect guests to leave and explore a new city, local attractions, or attend popular events.

This local knowledge is not proprietary to Concierge or Arrival Staff. It is the responsibility of everyone to be familiar with happenings outside of your operational circle. Especially for a Food & Beverage leader . . . a sense of community enhances success, fosters healthy competition, and exudes confidence in the eyes of your guest.

As a side note: The Supervisor in question left the organization less than six months later. Knowledge is important, so is Desire. Without either, he was encouraged to pursue opportunities more aligned with his personal talents and aspirations.

MOT Case #2: A Maddening Search for Mascarpone

Who knew the holidays would cause a run on mascarpone cheese?

We were in a grocery store where shopping is known to be a pleasure. Having already searched two other stores for the delicate fromage, desperation was setting in. Unsure of this location’s layout, we asked for assistance from an associate who was stocking a nearby display.

“What?” was his initial reaction, accompanied by squinting eyes and ruffled brow, a facial expression normally reserved for something painful, like a root canal or in-grown toenail.

When we repeated our quest for mascarpone cheese, he had already returned to his display, managing to point in the opposite direction with his thumb, and mutter a curt “Over by the deli.”

We decided to leave the delicate genius to his work and set off in search of the deli.

Reaching the cheese display, we still could not locate mascarpone. Our son approached another associate walking behind us. “Excuse me” he said, then noticed the associate was filling his cup at the beverage station and carrying what appeared to be his lunch.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” our son said. “I didn’t want to bother you on your break.”

The associate stopped, “No, that’s okay. What can I help you with?”

We explained our exhausting search and futile results. The associate had moved to join us in staring at the overwhelming variety of cheeses in the case. Not familiar with mascarpone personally, he confirmed that if some were in stock, this is where it would be located.

“I can go in the back and check to see if we have some there?” We graciously accepted his offer.

He returned to confirm the sad news. The store was out, and not expecting a new supply until the next week. We acknowledge the information, thanked the associate, and turned to depart the cheese area.

“Is there anything else I can help you find?” he extended.

“No” I sighed, accepting the reality there would be no Tiramisu this Christmas.

Time Out Critique

Successfully navigating the Moment of Truth doesn’t always produce the intended result. But it does indicate your willingness to engage and influence a customer’s loyalty to your brand.

The difference in these two reactions speaks to the need for consistency. The first was an imbalance between performance and purpose; the second an extension of emotion, a connection nurtured through simple effort. We’ll focus on three positives:

As your customer, know that I want you with me, even if that means interrupting your break. Trust me, I’ll return the favor by coming back again, and again.

Provided access, I’d check to see if the product was in the back . . . I’m counting on you to do that for me.

The offer of additional assistance meant this was not a Service Drive-By, that he was invested beyond one item.

In the end, Tiramisu became part of our New Year’s menu.

Semper Paratus

Latin for “Always Ready”, the phrase carries significant relevance for the Service Industry.

We operate in an environment of continuous ebb and flow, the fickle demands of society drawing us away from our circle and into the Moment of Truth. How we prepare our teams to deal with those circumstances has everything to do with our perpetual survival.

You know it’s going to come, so be ready when the question is posed: Do you work here?

Become fanatical about the basics, local knowledge, product inventory, hours of operation. Build habits that support greater cognitive response. Be willing to extend emotionally, either in person or with the assistance of a team member.

Be there for your customer . . . or be ready for them to seek a relationship somewhere else.

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!  

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