I´ve been haunted for years. There is a ghost, a mini-voice of the mind continually questioning whether another venture would be a rocket ship success. Could the next restaurant, Number 9, be the most successful of all my eateries? Could the knowledge, the experience, the techniques learned over time alleviate the stress? Would that one Bikram Yoga class I took, months ago help.
Because of that voice – a demon lurking below the choir of sense – I have become an obsessive student, a nomadic observer of all things hospitality. Although I long for great experiences, I am not necessarily disappointed when someone else in the business stumbles at delivering. I find this to be more and more the norm as the world becomes homogeneous.
When I began my walk up the gangplank of the Century, a Celebrity Cruise ship that would be home to Kranston and I along with other family members on an 80th Birthday reunion I was anxious to see if the experience would be better than the one I endured on another ship over a decade ago. We all had just sailed over smooth seas receiving boarding passes, ship identification cards, and a quick boarding picture along with stateroom assignments and directions. Once we crossed the slightly raised metal threshold leaving land for sea the plastic ID card was slipped into a machine, a bell sounded, a crewmember cordially welcomed us onboard The Century and we were assigned a stateroom attendant.
The journey was about to begin and the hospitality demon who frequently rings loudly, scrutinizing every corner for cleanliness, every uniform for spots, and every mirror, window, and door handle for dirt and smudges went to work.
"Look over there, is the mirror smudged? Are there any spots on the carpeting? Does the ship smell boaty?" were all questions that rung loudly in my mind.
I was sure I could find something on board a ship that had just disembarked 2000 passengers, only hours earlier, that would please my demon of disaster. Let´s be honest, every restaurateur loves great service, food and presentation, but down deep, in the demon´s dungeon, we all feel a bit of a reprieve when another restaurateur or a competitor trips.
This wasn´t the case on The Century. There were no trips, missteps, or stumbles. There were no smudges, spots, or dirty public bathrooms. There was never any paper on the deck and the wind blew fierce at times. The ship was almost as glistening as the staff itself. It was a remarkable sight. Fellow restaurant owners, the journey was a step in service perfection. For all of those who have never owned a restaurant, yet long to get your feet wet, the service on this cruise was the example you want to set.
Once aboard I can´t remember passing a crewmember-whether an officer wearing stripes, a waiter wearing a uniform, or a stateroom attendant wearing a smile- that I didn´t offer the appropriate greeting of the hour followed by "Sir." I was sure during the first day that this would wear off as we logged miles at sea. However, the formality became more sincere with hallway encounter as crew and passenger made eye contact more frequently throughout the journey.
What was the technique used to train this crew of international residents- 66 countries were represented onboard- to all speak the language of hospitality? Truly, it was amazing. I don´t impress easily as I have been tainted over the years by the conflict between perceived value and actual value. I also have experienced program deterioration through individual creativity.
I´ve had difficulties, as I am sure you have, getting one dining room staff to think the same for one eight-hour shift. At one point, when my wait staff topped 75 employees, the task of training became so horrendous I hired a so-called professional trainer-another culinary mistake.
For years, I have been an advocate of pre shift meetings. Although I haven´t always practice what I preached, I realize in order to beat the demon of disaster everyone needs to essentially brainwash your staff on a daily basis. The one element, however, that can´t be propagated is the need for passion in the business. Celebrity has managed to do this. Every crewmember exudes passion for people and pleasure with their jobs. That is what is missing in many restaurants in America.
Hospitality service is frequently thought of as a task, rather than a profession. And, until restaurateurs can effectively hire those who take pleasure in serving and look at it as a profession rather than a stepping stone to another adventure owners will continue to suffer from the stress of attempting to perfect service.
Tomorrow: Melwyn, Gusti, and Goran make a difference.