art of hospitality

The Interview and Unexpected Delight

These might be the most important interview questions which should be asked if you’re serious about a hospitality culture.

How have you made your guests and colleagues smile? How have you caused unexpected delight?

Because in the end…this is the promise you’ve made to everyone.

Living Room Effect

Treat your lobby, entry, showroom, etc., like a living room. Make it feel warm, friendly and engaging. 

  • Let no one leave this space without connection. 
  • Let no one leave this space unhappy. 
  • Let no one leave this space without seeing a smile.

Bonus points for handshakes, hugs, refreshments and pleasant surprises.

If you don’t have a living room in your business…make one. 

Hostess vs. Innkeeper

  • hides behind a podium 
  • smiles and says hello
  • moves you along
  • processes
  • assigns tables
  • takes you to your seat
  • keeps things moving along
  • says good bye and thank you
  • position themselves to “dance"
  • welcome
  • get to know
  • seek to understand why you’re here
  • pick up clues
  • deliver the unexpected
  • make new friends, and...
  • remember old ones
  • create comfort and trust, so...
  • they can get the truth when people leave
Innkeeping requires vastly different skills than hostessing. But first you need to understand why you’re doing it…so you know who to hire.

The Art of Gift Giving

The foundation of hospitality is gift giving...doing more for others than for yourself. What is often overlooked is when it's most important for the recipient and not necessarily convenient for you. There's very little art in heaping on the expected smiles, catch phrases and giving someone trinkets. The art happens when you go out of your way to do something meaningful...for the moment. That's remarkable. Unfortunately, you can't do this by reading a script. It requires expertise in picking up clues and then acting upon them. Oddly enough, the clues are gifts themselves. So it becomes an it improv. The key is to do something, to act, perhaps go out on a limb, to complete the exchange. Without action, the gift of the clue is wasted. What a shame. 

What makes the story of the video so remarkable is the surprise action by the young man at the end. The real heros might be his parents...thank you.

Hospitality Duty

Tour of Duty Ride from Michael Chaffin on Vimeo.

I’ve spent better part of my life perfecting the art of hospitality, serving and caring for others. And I've learned that almost everyone has an innate sense of duty to help other people. But most of us practice caring in friendly confines. When it comes to danger and especially putting your life on the line, we tend to lean out...and rightly so. Well, there is a minority group of people who lean in. They are willing to assume risk of harm and maybe worse to help people, to keep us safe and to allow us to enjoy the freedom of how we want to live our lives. It might be a police officer directing traffic in a busy intersection, a firefighter working tirelessly to control forest fires or a military member looking for landmines in Afghanistan. This is a different type of Duty...a different type of Art. And the Tour of Duty Ride currently underway across the USA draws attention to that Art.

I literally ran across this group two weeks ago while out for a morning run in Las Vegas. Since then, I helped host them on a stopover in Little Rock and now have an opportunity to join them for the last two stages of their incredible trek. I couldn’t feel more honored to be a part of their quest. These are caring people with nothing to gain but the experience of the journey and the hope of inspiring others to recognize the importance of service through this highest form of hospitality.

I feel privileged to be on board and thank you for your dedication to our collective art.

Driving with Your Head Down

This isn't a post about texting while driving. It’s a post about awareness. It’s obviously not smart to drive with your eyeballs focused on the dashboard (or anything other than outside) for more than a second or two. The same rule applies in hospitality. And it’s the one I see broken the most often.

Go out today and watch how many people don’t see you coming. Test it. See how close you can get before they make eye contact, before they smile and before they speak. Those of us formally trained in the business of service know it as the 10 and 5 rule. If a person enters your 10 foot circle, you must acknowledge their presence by stopping whatever you’re doing and making eye contact. Once they hit 5 feet, you must say something to them, presumably something nice.

Awareness though begins outside of 10 least it does in the customer service business. It starts with your approach on how you do things. You’re either the type that focuses intently on the matter at hand, like sorting receipts or typing an email and tunes out most everything else. Or you focus first on your surroundings and passively on the other busy tasks that you need to get done by the end of the day, shift, etc. Focusing outside your own bubble isn’t something that comes naturally, it’s a developed skill which requires practice. So, if you’re in the hospitality business (who isn’t really), please go practice. And make it mandatory for everyone on your team.


In hospitality we use clues to surprise people...we read them to help us deliver a memorable experience. But, it works the other way around as well. Customers use clues to make buying decisions. And not always the ones a business owner wants them to use. Case in point. The other day I decided to change my insurance company...not because of price or bad coverage...because they insisted on using a fax machine (or worse, the U.S. Postal Service). My decision was based solely on a seemingly trivial point of technology. But my problem wasn’t the fax machine. The fax machine was just a clue. A clue into how the organization they approach business. Do they choose easy over right? Do they do the hard work that gives me what I want? Or, do they stay in safe harbor, expect me to jump through hoops and hope I won’t go away.

Starbucks on the other hand continues to earn my respect, not because they make the best coffee (they don’t), but because they learn, evolve and give me what I want. The other day I forgot my wallet in the car (probably because I was so frustrated about using a fax machine). No worries...Starbucks lets me pay via my smart phone. Pretty slick...saved me a journey back to the car. I also like that innovative idea of the little stoppers that go into the lids so you don’t spill the coffee all over your suit. It’s clear they do the hard work to figure out what their customers want. And I bet they don’t use fax machines.

The more choices, the more clues matter.

Art of Asking Questions

Almost no one seeks to understand a customer. Often, there’s an abbreviation, a stop’s called good customer service. Walking by a table in your restaurant and asking “how was everything?” satisfies your requirement...we did our part. And the customer...”it’s fine”...they did their part. A very simple and pleasant exchange...feels good, good service. What if you went a step further? What if you wanted to know what they thought of the new risotto? How would you approach that? What if you learned they seemed interested in how it was prepared? What if you engaged and invited them into the kitchen? What if the chef took some time to share some insight into her approach to cooking? Once you make the investment in really learning something from people the pay-off is huge. They feel special and you get invite, to learn more, to add another one to the tribe.   

Asking the right questions takes the relationship to a more meaningful place...a place of caring and trust. Asking the wrong questions leaves you with the rest of the pack...just another place...forgettable. 

We're So Glad You Called

Hospitality matters because it takes up where service leaves off. After the phone is answered on the third ring, after the operator uses the appropriate, scripted greeting. After the call is politely transferred to the next person. After the technique, comes the we make someone feel.

If you aren't making people feel like your damned excited to see them, overjoyed that they chose you instead of the other guy, glad that they called you five minutes after closing...shame on you for proclaiming how good your service is.

Don't over focus on the script...spend more time on the art.

Build a Hospitality Culture...or Die

This time of year is loaded with lists...of things you should and shouldn't do. This one by Guy Kawasaki may be one of the most complete I've ever read. It's practically a book full of advice given in a few paragraphs. While he intended it for small business, it applies to everyone, big or small.

Not surprisingly, my favorite point is the first one...put likeable, competent people on the front line. Seems like a no brainer. But, virtually every company does exactly the opposite. They let the lowest paid, least experienced talent make the first impressions. This is a culture developed by big business out of desparation...desparation to control every aspect of a customer interaction. Unfortunately, it often backfires. That's why small business is making a strong comeback, using hospitality...meaningful interactions and personal build a loyal audience of raving fans and stealing market share in the process. Yes, there's plenty of stumbling in the process. But, who cares, as long as the customer is happy and there's enough in the financial tank to open tomorrow.

The smaller the business, the easier it is to put your best people on the firing line. It just works out naturally. The coffee shop owner is the barista, the the innkeeper is at the front desk, etc. But, as your business grows past one or two it becomes exponentially problematic. We're taught (in business school and by experience in other large companies) that when you add staff, you need to add managers to manage control what and how much the group produces. We're taught that this is actually the coveted spot in the organization, first to manage front line workers, then to manage managers and so on. So, as one gets "smarter", they move further and further away from the customer. The irony is that as we move away from our customer, we actually get dumber. A dumber organization with more layers, i.e., smart is that?

So, what to do...

The extreme would be to put the highest paid, most experienced group up front. But, this is financially challenging and organizationally ineffective, especially as you grow. The reality is that bigger means there's more administrative stuff to do. Here's a compromise. Make sure that more than half, closer to two thirds of your management (assuming they're the most competent and likeable) spend more time on the front line with their staff than in an office or cube. This means two things need to happen. Non-customer related work needs to be reduced or shifted elsewhere. If it's non-essential to building a loyal fan base, let someone else do it, i.e., outsourcing. Secondly, build a hospitality culture by hiring people who want to be near the customer. This is the hardest part. Odds are, you're not going to find them in the traditional business school or at a large firm. So, if your priority is to build a hospitality culture (it should be), stop looking there. That means you'll need to either grow your own or find some in small business. Small business produces the most likeable and nimble talent on the planet...out of necessity. They either serve the customer remarkable well or they die. These people can infuse your company with the hospitlaity culture you need to be front line focused. Likely, they'll also be the ones that don't follow rules well or know how develop a fifty- page strategic plan. But remember, your customer isn't buying those things. They're buying likeable people who can quickly solve their problems. So, please get some.





How Do You Do You Provide Exceptional Customer Service?

I saw this question on LinkedIn...

How does your hotel provide exceptional and memorable customer service?

Here's my answer...

It begins with careful reflection on why you do what you do. When you're an innkeeper because you simply enjoy caring for've found the key and most often lost ingredient. Any other purpose defines you as something else and moves you away from hospitality in it's true and root form.

You succeed as an innkeeper (notice I refrain from using hotel manager) by focusing on the meaningful delivery of service...not just the technical components of that service. Checking people in quickly might allow you to achieve productivity goals, but it can erode or destroy a warm, authentic welcome.

Use these filters for every decision...

Does it feel residential?
Does it feel familial?
Does it feel genuine?
Does it feel hand crafted?

And lastly, try to do things that are harder, not easier. Odds are, the guest will benefit.

Of course, there's a lot more to it than hiring the right people. But, this is a good place to start.

Great Service is Overrated

Not because it's not important. But, because it's just the beginning to a magical and memorable hospitality experience. Too often, we focus on perfecting the service, the technical part, and not the hospitality, the delivery and how we make someone feel.

Those who focus on hospitality will outperform the great service providers...every time.


Start with Hospitality

People accept that things break and that systems fail. Almost no one expects perfection with things that are mass produced. It's unrealistic. Weather impacts airline schedules and trash pick-up. A local flu pandemic slows restaurant service. 1 out of 5,000 new computer screens fail. As long as failure falls within normal boundaries, it's accepted.

But people are becoming increasingly intolerant of mediocre delivery. And, they certainly don't accept rudeness, neglect or bullying. They don't have to because someone else is working extra hard, emphasizing hospitality in their organization and placing a high priority on personal care. Someone else puts artful delivery first and darn near everything else second.

So, there's a good case to be made to change the way we think about starting focus first on the how, then on the what. If you can make the delivery meaningful, caring and brilliant, you win...even if your stuff breaks.

Hospitality Work Available- Only Artists Need Apply

If you’ll agree that a primary goal of any company is to create an audience of loyal raving fans, then you might consider the following…

Simply making something better or cheaper isn’t effective any more. You’re not likely to own cheapest or best quality. But, you have a really good chance of being the best in your market at the delivery…the use of care, warmth and comfort as your edge. The best chance to accomplish this is to infuse the Art of Hospitality into everything you do.

I define the Art of Hospitality this way…give people more than they want, deliver it in a meaningful way, and show them you care. Please give attention to some key words…

  • Give vs. Sell
  • Meaningful vs. Average/Expected
  • Show vs. Tell

Now, here’s the hardest and most important step to reaching your goal…hiring the artists to do the work. Recruiting and hiring an artist is different than hiring someone to complete tasks. The idea flow goes like this…

If we are here to deliver the Art of Hospitality, we require artists.

If we require artists, we don’t need people who just do jobs.

If being an artist requires passion and enthusiasm for something, we deserve to know if a person has it.

They should show us. Not just tell us in an interview.

Artists can’t wait to show you what they’ve done.

If a person is an artist, how will their art and passion help our organization move forward?

Bonus: Can they lead? Do they solve interesting problems…in an interesting way?


  • Remarkable vs. Same/Fit-In
  • Robin Williams Effect vs. Order Taker

Every time we have a job opening, we have a chance to hire someone remarkable…an artist. Sometimes, we settle for less. We shouldn’t…because it greatly limits our ability to achieve our goal.


  • Easy vs. Hard
  • Fill a Job vs. Sacrifice Short-Term Gain to Hold-Out for the Best
  • Focus on Trainable (Function/Technical/Efficiency) vs. Non-Trainable (Personality/Caring/Enthusiasm/Passion/Delivery)