Improving hospitality through customer service training

By Corey T. Nyman

What is at the core of delivering superior customer service and welcoming hospitality for our guests? A good answer would certainly include training and the implementation of systems, being consistent and providing each and every member of our teams with the tools they need to deliver on the service quotient. At the core, we must be PROACTIVE, rather than REACTIVE.  If we prepare our staff for almost every situation and guest, we can allow our teams to operate a successful restaurant.

A good example is the usage of E.A.O. – incorporating Empathy, Awareness and Ownership. These three letters should drive us and all that we do when working with our team members and delivery on the promise of hospitality to our guests.

  • Empathy – The feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions; the ability to share someone else’s feelings.
  • Awareness – Knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists. Feeling, experiencing, or noticing something (such as a sound, sensation, or emotion).
  • Ownership/Taking Ownership – Being responsible for your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.  ‘Own’ the choices you make and the results that follow.

When training, our job as operators is to teach accountability for oneself and the staff overall, to focus on development that leads to growth and longevity of staff within our operation, and to focus on our overall goals. At the same time, when things go wrong (which they will) – what do we do? It is all about having a positive attitude, taking action and making sure that guest satisfaction is paramount.

Importance of pre-shift meetings

In keeping with this theory is the role of a consistent “Pre-Shift” meeting before service, which allows management and staff to set the shift and the expectations, opportunities and items that should be highlighted that day and in planning for the future. We need to make sure that we host a daily meeting with our team, keeping everyone in the loop, allowing questions to be asked, bringing a discussion of features and special events and the opportunities that lie in the shift ahead.

As owners, operators and management, we need to determine the experience we want for our guests. Our job is to fully understand who our guest is, why they are with us and what their expectations are.  When we understand these things, we can establish a training program that best fits our team and what is needed to deliver to our guests.

Who needs training?

Everyone needs training! Not only at the start of an operation, or for new team members, but throughout our day-to-day operations. When discussing training, we always must set a baseline and determine what management’s expectations are for the staff. It should include the importance of setting goals, enforcing training and methods and being consistent. Developing a culture of training will allow staff to gain respect for one another, understand each other’s jobs and have overall knowledge which they can apply to their daily tasks and build unity.

As with all elements of service and hospitality, it goes back to how to speak and connect with guests. The words we use lead to how our guests perceive us as a service team, and our entire operation. Examples might include such things as talking about “guests” not “customers” and “team members” not “employees,” using positive words and phrases to drive the process. Additionally, it’s not only verbal communication, but the importance of non-verbal communication and the value of a smile. It starts with our body language and the image that we are sending out to our guests in how we stand, how we address them when not speaking and how guests observe us.

Case study – YYC restaurants

A recent example is our launch of two training programs for management and line level staff at the expansion of YYC Calgary International Airport, at three of their restaurants: Belgian Beer Café, Bistro on the Bow and Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. For management, we implemented our Train the Trainer Program that empowered them with the knowledge and skills to work together with team members and how to be a better manager on a daily basis. For the team members, we incorporated the Training 101 Program with a greater view than that of just being servers and bartenders, but as ambassadors for the cuisine, their environment and the overall Calgary and Alberta communities.

With the Train the Trainer program, there is a focus directly upon management and supervisory staff – reviewing their overall aptitude in the hospitality industry and balancing that with the culture we are trying to create. From learning the importance of giving praise to teaching managers how to give critical feedback and coaching to self-analysis and introspective awareness, this training is about further developing managers.

For the Training 101 Program, it is designed to invest in team members in order for them to be better at the positions in conjunction with the standards that we have implemented as operators. It is really a high-level educational experience that is about more than just serving from the correct side and delivering food hot and fresh. It is using the principle of, “The Answer is Yes, now what’s the Question” as a way of always delivering on guest expectations. Using their knowledge to act as marketing agents for the venue, reading guests to keep them coming back and their “restaurant eyes” to constantly be observing their guests, members of their team and the overall environment.

As we all know we are in a business of pennies, or fractions of pennies, so any advantage that we can have as operators is a benefit to our overall operations. We want to give our guests the best experience we can, through service and true hospitality. Taking the time to train is better than taking the time to fail.

About the author:

Corey T. Nyman serves as the Director of Operations for The Nyman Group, an organization of hands-on operating professionals, specializing in consulting services, restaurant management and project management restaurant and hospitality industry. They have devoted their experience and energies to directing cutting-edge restaurants, hotels and foodservice programs of today and developing and planning in the ever-changing marketplace. For more information, visit