Spoiler alert! The answer is … hospitality. I’m learning many other valuable things, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on hospitality.
“Hospitality: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.”
– Google Dictionary
I used to think I was a decently hospitable person, but I’ve realized that I was really only hospitable to those I wanted to be hospitable to. It’s not that difficult to receive or try to entertain my own, invited guests with friendliness and generosity. I’d say most people do a decent job of that.
The “strangers” part though… that can be a bit harder sometimes. Most customers are very nice, and quite friendly and happy. It’s definitely easier to be hospitable (by definition) to them.
When they’re not that nice to be around, receiving and entertaining them with generosity and friendliness – there’s the challenge; that is true hospitality.
I had the rudest of rude customers a while back. He seemed to make it his mission to hate all the wine, and commented how much so after each taste (which basically never happens at my job – we have excellent wine and are a reputable wine brand); I even caught him making gagging faces with his finger down his throat at other customers while I was getting his next taste of wine … Real mature, sir.
I’ve had drunk customers cuss me out for not serving them as much alcohol as they’d like, or get cheeky with me when I can’t serve them any more at closing time.
I still feel like I’m just getting my feet wet in dealing with these types of people, but I’m watching some great mentors do it with class. Some of my colleagues know how to stick to their guns, yet still come across to angry, or drunk, or even hostile customers as hospitable; I’ve seen some interesting situations diffused calmly and quietly, when they could have easily gone the other way. It amazes me, how these colleagues can be so truly hospitable to anyone and everyone, and it’s honestly an admirable skill that I hope to pick up bits and pieces of more and more. All will come in time, as I learn.
Now that I’m in this industry, I’ve started paying even closer attention to how hospitable and welcoming others are to me when I’m visiting a place, and it’s often the smallest things that can make a huge difference. It really doesn’t take that much more effort to be helpful to someone in a small way, but it can really change the outcome of their day, or make their experience with me, our establishment, their day, or their entire holiday better.
For example, the other night at work, a lady had just ordered a glass of wine, and ended up knocking her glass and spilling half of it. Our Event’s Manager offered to fill it back up for her, at no cost. She could have just pretended she didn’t see it happen, or charged her for another glass, but she went out of her way to do something nice, to make that lady feel special; I’ll bet it went a long way.
Going to other Cellar Doors and restaurants in our travels, as well as recently in New Zealand, and even visiting our own wineries on our days off, have really reminded me of what it’s like to be on the customer’s side. Those have been such beneficial learning experiences (sometimes positive and sometimes not, but beneficial either way).
The Golden Rule really comes to my mind a lot in this business.
It requires humility and grace.
It requires me to put another’s needs and wants above my own.
It requires selflessness, generosity, forethought and planning, or adaptability and flexibility.
It sometimes requires sacrifice.
It’s about putting myself in the customer’s shoes, and thinking about how I would want to be treated in any particular situation. Some days that’s easy enough, and other days, that’s hard, to say the least!
Despite it all, I believe hospitality can be learned through mindset and practice, if someone is motivated to learn it.
Even more importantly, I’ve become more aware of how the skill of being hospitable isn’t just useful in a hospitality job; it’s a life skill of incredible value to offer to those around me. Anyone can benefit from being more hospitable in their workplaces, communities, friendships and families. I’m thankful that I’m getting all this time to practice it.
So cheers to all of you incredible hospo people out there, who work hard and make your customers feel truly welcome and special in your care; you are amazing.