Mary McKee: First Impressions

Why do restaurants and hotels still place barriers between the associate and the guest?

Hotels have come a long way over the last ten to fifteen years by creating pod check ins as renovations are needed. This is only a positive enhancement if the associate actually steps from behind it to greet and welcome guests. Now I am not suggesting hotels do not do this. I have encountered many times a warm welcome from a guest service agent who steps around and towards me upon checking into a hotel. Unfortunately, too often this is not the case.

The hostess stand. This is an absolutely unnecessary object. And yet, when either assuming a new property or creating a new restaurant concept not having a hostess stand is always received as a questionable decision. The staff is apprehensive and has that confused look on their face when they are informed that we do not believe in hostess stands. Not too long ago I had reservations to dine at a restaurant. Upon my arrival there were four smartly dressed young ladies all crowded behind this narrow hostess stand. Literally crowded, squished behind as if there was danger lurking outside of that barrier. One of the ladies confirmed our reservation and one other brought us to our table with the other two left behind the stand. Not a warm first impression.

Years ago, serving as a restaurant manager I ceremonially destroyed the “stand” with the associates. This was all part of training focused on engaging our guests. It immediately resonated with the team and we realized substantial gains in our positive feedback from the guests.

Yes, there are tools needed to complete a seating for a restaurant or check in for a hotel. These tools do not define the guest experience, but can at times be an obstacle for that warm welcome we all like to provide to our guests.

What to do? As many hotels do a great job of training their associates to either walk from behind the desk to greet the guest initially or at the conclusion of check in, this should be an absolute expectation for all. Remove the hostess stand, period. A side table/console to house the menus along with the chosen technology for reservations and seating is more than what is needed. With the technology available today for restaurants a simple iPad is all that is needed to manage seating and reservations.

To witness an associate to actually take a step towards a guest to greet them changes the atmosphere immediately. Whether it is to welcome a regular guest with a handshake or appropriate embrace or bend down to say hello to children of a dining reservation, you can’t do that from behind a hostess stand.

This is not complicated. We call it Doing the Simple Things Brilliantly!

Mary McKee is a seasoned hotel industry executive with extensive experience in all aspects of operations and a proven track record of optimizing revenue opportunities while containing cost and increasing customer satisfaction.