Monthly Archives: June 2012

What’s Your Story?

Everyone loves a good story, you just need to read the pages of Hello magazine, or even our own trade press such as the Caterer to see that we like to hear about what goes on in people’s lives behind the scenes, and get a feel for the real person.

And for any hospitality business telling your own story is a great way to engage with your customers – be they existing or potential.

Hopefully your perfect customer is the type of person you want to spend time with, because you have an affinity with them, share a passion, or like to engage with them.

Telling your story is an ideal way to communicate to your customers what you have in common, and what is different about your restaurant or hotel.  Everyone talks about identifying a USP (unique selling proposition) but some business owners find this a challenge.

Telling your story makes it easier as even if your restaurant is almost identical in every other way to half a dozen other hospitality businesses in your town or area the one thing that will make you different is the story behind you, your team and your business. And because you’re talking about you, it’s so much easier to be authentic.

Your story provides a great way to grab people’s attention. It creates a less obvious or blatant way to build your credibility and customers’ trust in you. You are starting to build that relationship, demonstrate empathy and create that sense of belonging for your customers. It’s also a great way to share information, and educate your customers.

Before writing war and peace consider what you want people to remember from your story. Your story becomes a part of your brand; your identity; so ensure people are left with an image that’s congruent with everything you believe in and is important to you. This is your chance to show why you are perfect for your ideal guests or customers. This is the point where you make sure you tell everyone about and demonstrate your difference – in detail.

Describe what you do, who you are, what is important to you, what makes your hotel or restaurant different, what makes you the best in your market or your area or your price range. And don’t be afraid to go into detail; all good stories give detail. The more detail you give, the more compelling the reading, providing it’s in tune with your ideal customers’ needs and interests.

Reflect back on all the things that customers ask you about – the history if the building, the origin of the name, what’s the story behind a peculiar feature, where your meat comes from

Here are some more examples of being different and how telling a story can help.

  • If all your veg comes from local organic farms, or even your own kitchen garden, describe this, maybe even a little bit about the farms, and the gardeners. If you go up to Smithfield to buy your meat tell people why you’re prepared to get up at an unearthly hour and what you look for in your choice, and what makes it so delicious. One hotelier I know even rears his own pigs – the perfect story especially when combined with photos of the pigs running around!
  • If you’ve made efforts to reduce your carbon footprint, detail your goals, what steps you’ve taken so far, the support you’ve had, the changes you’ve made to your systems, purchasing, equipment, and training, and some of the challenges you’ve faced. Tell them about the quirky practices or products you are using, and what customers might see around the restaurant or hotel as part of your mission. What has been the impact to date, and what are your plans for the future?
  • If you’re a hotel and you provide special activities for guests, make sure you tell people not only that you provide them, but go into the details. How did you get involved in this in the first place – maybe a hobby of yours, or from a quirky request from a past guest that led into something more. Talk about the hosts for these activities and their story too.
  • If you provide picnics, tell people what’s included, about the quality of the products, and about how it can make their day special, and what opportunities it opens for their day out. Give some example itineraries, places to go, discount vouchers – the ideal ‘morning for walkers’ or an ‘afternoon out for foodies’. Don’t just end up being the same as everyone else. It only makes your job harder.
  • If you’ve designed all your rooms or your restaurant around a particular theme, tell them how this came about, the research you did, the features you’ve incorporated and the added extras they can expect. If you’ve had a checklist or criteria for your rooms then share this with guests. It’s not to brag, but to show the care, thoroughness and attention that you’ve given to their experience.
  • What’s the history of your building, village or community, and other places of interest associated with them (including places they may be familiar with outside your area)

And don’t forget the individual personalities that truly make your restaurant, hotel or hospitality business unique. What are their stories?

  • How did any of you end up being where you are today?
  • How does your chef get his inspiration?
  • What’s the story behind that exceptional flare of your waiters
  • Who’s the inspiration for your beautiful gardens

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

And the best bit about these is that your team can tell their own stories, to bring them to life.

Once you have your story(ies) you can use them on your website, for PR, in marketing material, in your blog, include snippets in your menus and other onsite merchandising, at networking events, even in sales conversations or speaking… Anywhere you want to engage and get the attention of your potential or existing customers.

You know that even if you’re in a road with 20 other restaurants or hotels, there will be unique personalities in your business or values that you can promote. Now it’s time to tell your customers about your special features and in detail to ensure they book with you and not your competitors. Keep your perfect customer(s) in mind throughout, and show you really understand them.

So, what’s your story? Write up your story to include: what you are selling which is unique, what makes you different, and your passions and values to reflect your identity.

Stop being a shrinking violet, get out there and tell your story!

For more articles and resources

Genuine Hospitality

Last week I was hosting one of the Business Clinics at the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Business Summit in London. One of the sessions in particular stood out for me, from Jonathan Raggett of Red Carnation Hotels.

He said that in a climate where many hotels and restaurants may be on a level playing field, one way to differentiate is thorough your people. It’s very difficult to fake genuine hospitality.

I’ve always been an advocate of ensuring you have the right people who provide genuine hospitality rather than just going through the motions (see my blog post as an example!)

Amongst all the other very positive things Red Carnation Hotels do to get the best from their teams (and there are plenty I could mention) Jonathan talked about recruiting people with a high ‘HQ’

He listed six things you want to look for in your people: (My apologies to Jonathan if I’ve mis quoted any of this…..)

  1. Kind – good to be around
  2. Curious – see each day as an opportunity
  3. Extraordinary work ethic – Want to get things right
  4. High empathy – be aware of the wake they leave behind them (And recognise you can’t control the mood of our guests)
  5. Emotional self awareness – irrespective of the weather!
  6. Integrity – do things because they care

(I think the original Hospitality Quotient from Danny Meyer is slightly different to this, but the principles are the same)

How much energy do you put into looking for these less tangible qualities rather than just focussing on experience and qualifications, so your team can offer genuine hospitality?


Is anyone guilty of faking great customer service in their hospitality business?

A trip to my local garden centre yesterday was going so well. The girl who helped us knew her stuff and was very helpful in helping us find what I wanted. She went out of her way to suggest things and help us find them in the store. All great service up till that point.

Then all that goodwill and rapport she’d built up with us just went out of the window when we got to the check out when she proceeded to carry on the conversation with her colleague who was serving us at the till.  Not only was it inappropriate for us to hearing about her ailments, which frankly we were not interested in, she was distracting her colleague who should have been focusing on US, the customer!

Are we ever guilty of this in our hotel, restaurant or hospitality businesses? We go all out to give a great first impression making the guest feel special, then do something at the last minute that leaves them feeling it was all a fake.

Creating rapport with your hospitality business customers

Yesterday, we looked at the principles of building rapport, be that with customers, staff or suppliers within your hospitality business.



What we actually talk about and the words we use will go some way to building rapport, so listen out for the terminology others use and try to use their terms rather than yours. But this also extends to showing common interests, common goals and common values.  So assuming you share these let them know, as these can help to bond you together.  A relationship with a customer will be a lot easier if you share something you have in common.

What terminology will your restaurant or hotel customer best relate to? This doesn’t only apply to face to face communication – it also extends to any other forms of communication – so consider this in your marketing messages, on site promotions and any customer notices or information.



A part of building rapport is respecting the state, style and feelings of others – essential factors when dealing with customer complaints, and staff concerns; e.g. if someone is feeling frustrated by poor service show understanding for that frustration.

The biggest impact on this is our tone – Do we indicate an understanding for someone’s complaint rather than sounding defensive?  Do we sound empathetic towards a customer’s frustration instead of sounding irritated by it? And if someone is excited or happy about something, do we also show excitement or happiness, or do we dampen their mood through being apathetic and impatient.  The closer you match the other person’s tone the greater the degree of rapport.

What if they are angry? Should we still match their tone? In a way, yes. What we want to match is the level of energy in the voice. Let’s put this into context. If a customer has a complaint and is angry about this and they then get a placid, calming response, instead of calming the person down, in the first instance it may actually make them worse as it appears patronising and as if they are not being taken seriously. By matching the level of energy and concern in your voice you indicate to the customer that you are taking it seriously, so you’ll get into rapport more quickly. Then (and only then) are you in a position to lead towards a calmer tone.



I am sure you have experienced a time when you have arrived somewhere and felt instantly out of place because you felt either under dressed or overdressed.  This is just one example of how our appearance matching those of others helps build rapport.  But this aspect also includes the wider and less obvious aspects of our body language, gestures and facial expressions, and can also extend to our actions, and even our breathing.

Next time you are out, just take a look around you and you can easily spot people who are in rapport.  The way they stand or sit will mirror, their facial expressions will be similar and the chances are that when one reaches for their drink or to take a bite of food, the other person will do the same.  So to build rapport, ensure you match the other person – you don’t want to be too obvious about it, but it is surprisingly easy to do this without it appearing as if you are mimicking.

So remembering that the tone and physiology will be more unconscious ways to build rapport, next time you are in disagreement with someone (i.e. the 7% based on words) work on matching the other 93% – their tone and physiology – and you will be amazed at the impact this can have on your ability to reach agreement.

How to achieve great rapport for your hospitality business

Yesterday, we looked at why rapport is important. Today we’ll discuss how to get into rapport with your customers be they a hotel guest or restaurant diners or anyone else you deal with to a run a successful hospitality business.

Think of people with whom you already have great rapport.  What is it you do, how do you communicate and what do you talk about?  All these factors can give us a clue to the key aspects of building rapport.  But what can you do in business if it doesn’t occur naturally?

Firstly show your interest. It’s more important to be interested than trying to be interesting! Show that you’ve been listening by using their name and asking appropriate questions. Sincerely. Most people spend 95% of their time thinking about themselves. They love it when you show genuine interest in what they’re doing. Use this as an opportunity to find common ground from the beginning of the conversation. Generally, people like people who are like themselves.

Smile and make eye contact. And hold it for longer (without the mad staring eye routine). Make your body language open. Uncross your arms, avoid covering your heart and turn to face the person you are talking to. This encourages openness and trust.

Listen for verbal thinking preference clues. Is the person you are talking to Visual (I see what you’re saying…), Aural (I hear you), Kinaesthetic (How do you feel about?)…

Step into the other person’s shoes and try imaging life from their viewpoint. Not a single person on the planet has exactly the same perspective on life, yet we often imagine other people see things exactly the way we do.

We need to pay conscious attention to matching or mirroring (not mimicking) those elements that are part of natural rapport.

There is often quoted research that suggests that as much as 55% of the message we convey comes from a person’s appearance and physiology. That a person’s tone, volume, pitch, emphasis accounts for a further 38%. And that only 7% of our communication comes from the words that we use – for example the use of common expressions, terminology, etc. Although this research was applicable to a slightly different context, there’s no denying that body language and non-verbal communications is by far the most powerful.

So how do we make use of these factors?  Well, the closer we can match these (not mimic) to the other person the more likely we are to build rapport.

Tomorrow we’ll take each in turn.

Why is rapport important for your hospitality business?

How is it that we are able to just ‘click’ with some people, and with others it’s a real uphill struggle?  When I’m training I frequently get asked to help delegates establish rapport.  In hospitality – whether you are in a hotel, restaurant, café, spa or conference centre, the ability to build rapport is key. Having rapport with you hotel guests or restaurant diners will inevitably give them a better experience, but it’s also important to have rapport with suppliers and staff, in turn making our job a lot easier and more enjoyable.

And of course it’s important that our team know how to build rapport too, so they can do their job effectively.

What is rapport

Rapport is a relationship of mutual understanding or trust and agreement between people.  It is what happens at an unconscious level that makes us ‘click’ and is enhanced by a perception of likeness and liking.  It includes the ability to see the other person’s point of view (even though you may not necessarily agree with it), and is a vital element in any form of communication, including the business context.

Indicators of good rapport include

  • Similar body posture
  • Gesture in similar ways
  • Same rhythm in movement and speech
  • Breathing levels are similar
  • Voice tone

Why is rapport important for your hospitality business?

So let’s establish why rapport is important for your hospitality business be it a hotel, restaurant, café, spa or conference centre.

How often have you heard “She was so rude”, “He just didn’t seem to care”, “You don’t understand”, “I’m not sure if I trust him”.  Rapport gives the ability to relate to others in a way that creates a climate of trust, openness and understanding; it is a key part of building relationships in the business world.  Having the ability to build rapport helps with:

Customers: All things being equal people will have a better experience being served by people they can relate to, and are more likely to do business with people with whom they have good rapport.   And by maintaining that rapport throughout will enable us to identify what our customers really want, to help us provide the best services we can.  And the more relaxed and at ease our hotel or restaurant customer the higher their willingness to spend, and ultimately the greater our chances of further business.

Suppliers: Be it your butcher, your plumber or your accountant, having a good rapport usually leads to better service, puts us in a better position to negotiate when we need to, and makes it easier to ask for assistance when it’s needed.

Your team: Having great rapport with your team will open up 2 way communication and builds trust.  You’ll get the best out of them if they feel comfortable to make suggestions, they are less likely to be critical of ideas offered to them, and for you it will be a lot easier to call in a favour when it’s needed.  And it makes for a more pleasant working environment all round. Having good rapport with management is likely to have a rub off effect in increasingly the likelihood of a staff having a good rapport with your customers too.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how to build rapport.

Pageants, Processions and Pride

I swear I wasn’t the only one with a tear in my eye as we watched the closing moments of Dame Kelly Holmes’ two gold medal winning races and that proud moment as she stood on the medal rostrum to the sound of the National Anthem. The word she used to sum up how she felt was ‘Pride’, and this was repeated a year later when she heard the news that London had won the Olympic bid.

In the UK we’ve certainly had plenty of our own proud moments over the past week with all the pageants and processions of the Diamond Jubilee.

So what’s this got to do with running a successful hospitality businesses?

When I am presenting anything to do with customer service I often ask my audience to share something they are proud of either at work or home, past or present. It’s amazing to see the transformation in people as they share their proud moments. Their whole physiology changes, their eyes light up, there’s a sense of energy and enthusiasm about them that really projects a ‘can do’ attitude.

Creating that sense of pride can be projected into our businesses too.

Do you have a business and an offering you are really proud of? Rest assured if you aren’t proud of what you do and are prepared to shout about it, your team and suppliers won’t take much pride either and this will certainly have an impact on the quality of product and service your customers receive.

If you wouldn’t want to stay in your hotel, eat in your restaurant or drink in your bar, why on earth would your customers? If you’re not proud of what you do, change it! Find something you are passionate about and is authentic to you.  Home in on one or two specific offerings that are your real stars of the show, that you can proud of and shout about, and which make you stand out. (And don’t be afraid to charge accordingly.) Make this something that appeals to a cross section of your target audience and for any given time of day or type of event, so this almost becomes your signature offering.

And if you are proud of this, it will be so much easier for your suppliers and team to show their own pride too and rave about this to all your customers.