I have long embraced this philosophy when it comes to restaurants, but it also can apply to any business.  How we greet and welcome people into our fold does have an impact on the quality of the product and experience we offer.  Let me explain:

A few years ago, (50 years ago) I had a conversation with a wonderful woman who owned and operated a successful neighborhood restaurant.  She wasn’t a chef as we might describe that person today, but she was a terrific cook and a savvy businesswoman.  Customers would like up, sometimes around the block, hoping for a seat in her rather small restaurant where she featured, what we called – blue plate specials.  If I remember accurately, she prepared roasts, meatloaf, chicken dishes like fricassee and chicken and dumplings, omelets, and even liver and onions.  Nothing fancy, just good old – stick to your ribs comfort food.  I asked her what made her food so special?

She smiled and walked me into the kitchen and pointed to a jar on the shelf:

“This is my secret ingredient”.

I said I was confused since the jar was clearly empty.  What was the ingredient?  She looked me in the eye and said:

“My secret ingredient is love.  I love my customers, I care about them, I am happy to see them, I want to know more about them, and I am grateful that they put their trust in my cooking.”

She used this secret ingredient as she greeted guests, checked on their experiences during the meal, worked hard to make sure that their meal was excellent, and sincerely thanked them for coming.  This may have been the most important lesson I ever received, and I have carried it with me through more than 50 years as a chef, manager, educator, and consultant.  This love is what we call “hospitality”.  Hospitality is not something you do; it is who you are. Hospitality is what makes the experience of dining special, and it is most definitely what brings people back.  In fact, when done from the heart – hospitality is your greatest advertising tool because your happy guests will pass along the word.

Hospitality, if it is to be true, must happen with guests, with your staff, with your vendors, with your bankers and accountants, with the health inspector, the plumber and electrician, and with anyone else who encounters your restaurant or your department. 

We tend to focus on other essential skills and outcomes while forgetting to acknowledge that people will gravitate to you or your business if hospitality exists. Hospitality needs to be our most important essential ingredient that is used freely throughout the organization.  When we care about people, when their experience is important to us, when we communicate the very best of what hospitality means then the whole feel of the business falls in line.  Happy, welcomed employees produce happy food.  Happy employees and guests want more of that experience and will return. Happy people, resulting from your hospitality, will go out of their way to bring along friends and family the next time they walk through your door.

Do you want the very best ingredients and service from your vendors?  Then treat them with hospitality – care about them, care about their experience in dealing with you and your operation and acknowledge how important they are to you.  Try it, you may be very surprised with the results.  Do you want your employees to feel good about their jobs and come to work excited about exceeding expectations?  Then try treating them with hospitality – show that you care about them and the quality of their work experience, listen and be empathetic, acknowledge how important they are to you and thank them for the effort they put in.  Try it!  Do you want your customers to write great reviews, boast about how fantastic their meal was and share that enthusiasm with others?  Then focus on hospitality.  The food and service still need to be there, but it will be that hospitality effort that makes the experience unique.  Try it.

Here’s the thing – very few restaurants understand this, very few businesses understand this, so if you buy in, your will stand out from the pack.  It will be automatic, and it will be dramatic.

So, build hospitality into everything you do.  Make a New Year’s Resolution that makes sense.  Give it three months and see the difference it WILL MAKE.  Guarantees seem to mean less and less, but for what it’s worth – I guarantee you will be happy with the results.  Remember, this is not something that you do – hospitality must become part of your culture, it must become second nature because it will be who you are.

BE “hospitality” and learn to be great.

“Hospitality is central to the restaurant business, yet it’s a hard idea to define precisely.  Mostly it involves being nice to people and making them feel welcome.  You notice it when it’s there, and you particularly notice it when it isn’t.  A single significant lapse in this area can be your dominant impression of an entire meal.”

-John Lanchester

“Hospitality is present when something happens “FOR” you.  It is absent when something happens “TO” you.  Those two simple propositions – for and to – express it all.”

_Danny Meyer


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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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