Five steps to a great welcome


Five steps to a great welcome

Five steps to a great welcome

Associate Director of Hospitality Culture, David Pepper, offers some key pieces on advice on creating a great welcome.

“Getting a welcome right is a nuanced business,” says David Pepper, HGEM’s Associate Director of Hospitality Culture. “What for one customer might be brisk, efficient service – just what they need, may feel rushed and impersonal to the next.” Front of house staff need to be adept at reading the mood and requirements of guests. However, despite these variations, there are a few cardinal rules that apply across the board.

In our recent survey, over 900 of our mystery guests filled in a detailed questionnaire. We asked them to talk us through specific examples of welcomes that have stuck in their mind as particularly memorable (and on the flipside, those that were hard to forget for the wrong reasons). We’ve sifted through what they said and drilled down to five essential elements of a good welcome.

Eye contact

Psychological research shows that co-operation and eye contact are closely correlated. When human beings are willing to co-operate, they look one another in the eye. Eye contact is also a way to signal active listening and it’s the simplest way to acknowledge another person’s presence. Overwhelmingly, in our survey, the number one marker of a poor welcome (listed by 42% of those questioned), was: ‘Not being greeted with a smile and eye contact.’ A member of staff who makes brief eye contact with a waiting customer (even if they’re are busy with the person in front of them in the queue), ensures that person feels welcome.

Staff who are happy to be there

Staff are far more significant than décor or cleanliness when it comes to guests’ first impressions of a restaurant or hotel, with 44% of those surveyed in our questionnaire listing people as the most important factor in creating a good welcome experience. One of our respondents told us: “Our main server met us with a smile and something in her manner gave us the feeling she was happy we were there. She was happy to be serving.”

Time and again we heard that good welcomes came from staff who: “…seemed genuinely happy to be there.” This is something it’s impossible to fake. It grows out of a work culture that comes from the top down. As David Pepper says: “The culture of any business is dictated by its leaders. They set the tone and style for the business. At a basic level, the way that staff are treated is reflected in the service they give your customers. If you treat your staff with trust and empathy, they will be far more likely to respond to customers with sensitivity.” It’s a no-brainer, but it’s something that’s all too easy to forget.

Going over and above standard service

Any opportunity to go the extra mile scores serious brownie points: whether a member of staff runs toward the door to hold it open for a buggy, whisks wet coats away to dry near a radiator, or makes it clear that guests can choose an alternative table if they don’t like the one they are shown to. Customers remember these welcoming extras (all of the examples just listed came from our survey). “Individual gestures will have a disproportionately positive impact on the experience of your guests,” explains David Pepper.

“Anything that’s out of the ordinary and unique to the interaction that guests have with staff can help create a feeling of authenticity. It ensures that the guest is made to feel like a valued individual, rather than just another customer,” he says.

Organic conversation

We’re all negatively attuned to conversation that strikes us as fake. But there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to stock one-liners that get overused in hospitality. “Have you had a good day?” can seem genuine when it’s said with warmth and engagement, whereas asked in an off-hand way, it can be so much worse than saying nothing at all. Of course, much of an establishment’s welcome comes down to the personality of its staff, which is why recruitment is so key. “Pick the right people for front of house roles, treat them well and a warm welcome will follow,” says David Pepper.

and don’t forget…

Before they arrive

“For customers deciding where to eat and stay, the online presence of a restaurant or hotel is their first brush with the culture of your business, so it’s important that it’s a welcoming one,” says David Pepper. In addition to being an obvious information tool, your website should help to set people at ease before they arrive. “Formal restaurants can make it clear if there is a dress code and guests can get a feel for the style of food and atmosphere in advance of their visit. All of this will help them to feel comfortable when they arrive, as they’ll know, broadly, what to expect.” Ensuring that the language on your site matches your brand is an obvious way to convey your identity and ethos to your customers. There’s an old phrase in hospitality – ‘you could hear the smile down the telephone line.’ “Now, that applies to the online ‘voice’ of a brand too.”

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