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If hospitality is theatre, are you hiring proper stars?

What’s the difference in running a hotel in 1850, 1950 or 2050?  On the face of it hardly any; you welcome guests, give them a room, serve them food and drinks, provide breakfast, ensure they settle their bill and then bid goodbye.


It’s a role played out, day in and day out, in the past, present and likely to be repeated in the foreseeable future… millions of times, by millions of hotel employees, in thousands of hotels, worldwide.


Some industry experts compare hospitality to theatre, where the hotel is the stage, its staff the actors/actresses (cast) and the guests the audience. But, does hospitality and theatre really go hand in hand?


In some ways, the correlation may fit several hotels, including those that provide consistent standards and dependable service. But where it goes wrong is when the cast perform the same play every day, without reading the audience, meaning: being aware of the audience in the moment.


One can know who the audience will be ahead of time and plan well, but if in the moment, should the audience seem uncertain, impatient, interested in something in particular or even annoyed, it’s important to recognise this. This is referred to as “reading the room” as well as recognising the audience as individual guests.


And that’s the conundrum that traps many hotels including strong brands when they teach staff to recite a particular script at certain times in the name of service consistency. The emphasis is in hospitality communications – essentially the “script”, which staff must make sound as if it is genuine conversation being delivered for the first time, each and every time they spill it out.


Staffs are forced to ‘play a role’ and compelled to be something they may not be. Imagine Mr. Bean in the role of 007 in a James Bond film – seriously not…unless in a comedy spoof!


Studies have shown that the majority of guests prefer to engage on a personal, genuine and authentic level with staff. When staff adopt a phony role, it can go wrong as guests who see through their poor acting will not believe the message behind the words.


Hiring staff that are genuine with each other and are truly authentic towards providing gracious service to guests will lead to long term success. They must not possess a Jekyll and Hyde personality – showing a good face ‘on stage’ and a bad or ugly one to co-workers in the back of house. Employing staffs who are excellent actors is a simplistic route to take and never works in the long run. Remember, some of the best actors behave badly back stage and good actors sometimes feature in bad shows.


At the theatre the audience is usually passive. They sit a distance away from the stage, looking at the actors from afar, whereas, in the theatre of hospitality, the audience is a central part of the production and their participation has to be encouraged.


The show must also allow for the actors to ‘improvise’ – in other words, let the individual personality of the staff members to shine through, even if means bypassing the set rules and guidelines to delight the audience. Such performances can lead to standing ovations in the form of rave reviews, repeat business, and ultimately, profitability.


No one wants to stay in a hotel that is in a neglected state. Lest it be forgotten, take a hard look at the theatre. Maintenance is an essential aspect of running a successful performance venue. Is it in need of renovation and or a facilities upgrade? Neglecting maintenance can lead to costly repairs, hiccups in performance, and even hazards for actors and the audience.


Shafeek Wahab– Editor, Hospitality Sri Lanka, Consultant, Customer Service Trainer and Ex-Hotelier



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