“Must-Have” Qualities and Traits for Success in Hospitality

Nancy Anderson
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Ah, the glamour of working in a beautiful five-star hotel or resort in an exotic location, a trendy ski resort perched on the side of the Alps or a rugged wilderness destination accessible only by boat. You may report for work at a seaside paradise or at a two-star motel off the interstate. There is much diversity in locations for hospitality jobs—as many as there are dots on a map. While in the past, vacation destinations were accessible only to a privileged few, world travel has become more affordable for a larger segment of the population. Discounted fares, lots of travel deals online, and more people refusing to put in the 60-hour, 7-day workweek are bringing a diverse mix of guests through the lobby door.

This may be good news, but hospitality is making people feel welcome—all people. Not only are guests becoming more diverse, they bring diverse needs as well. When your job involves direct guest contact, making everyone feel welcome, regardless of race, gender, age and lifestyle, delivering great service can become a challenge. Here are some qualities you need to have or habits you’re willing to cultivate to be successful in hospitality.

1. A world view -- Expecting guests to behave like they do in “the South,” with a leisurely pace and genteel manners, or with a sense of purpose and urgency like they do “Up North,” can make for a very unhappy service employee. It’s a natural tendency to like people who are like us, but in hospitality, you have to leave your own expectations behind be able to accommodate all types of personalities. You have to resist stereotyping behavior or intent by geography, origin, or race. Learning to appreciate and accommodate customers from all over the globe will add to your expertise and marketability.

2. Respect for individuality -- Guests on vacation have great expectations, and with individual preferences, things like menus and schedules go out the window. People want customization. How do you handle a litany of changes, substitutions and special requests with a smile and follow-through? The one word that guests don’t want to hear is “No.” On an eight-hour shift, you are expected to be as cordial and friendly the last hour as you were on the first.

3. Flexibility – Your name tag may read “Room Inspector”, but if a guest is struggling with an overflowing luggage rack in the lobby, needs help cleaning up the spaghetti Billy dumped on the floor, or flags you down and requests more towels, that request is now yours. Your name tag identifies you as an employee, and that’s good enough for the guest. Giving him a number to call or just telling him to talk to a supervisor may make sense to you, but to the guests it can be rude and unfriendly.

4. Patience -- Seniors are traveling more due to good discounts, more time on their hands, a longer lifespan and better health. More families are traveling together, bringing their little darlings that turn into something from a Gremlin movie before you can recite the dinner specials. They travel with enough luggage and equipment to stock a Wal-Mart. Weary parents desperate for a little relaxation may lose track of Susie who is down in the breakfast area opening all the cereal boxes and rolling donuts on the floor. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you are surprised again. Patience, diplomacy and problem-solving to the satisfaction of the guest will make these situations part of the adventure, not a nightmare.

5. Sense of humor and fun—If your overall view of people is that they are rude, selfish and out to get you, find another profession (or a good therapist!). In wanting to relax, forget their worries and have fun, guests can forget that they are getting loud, obnoxious or demanding. See the humor in a situation. Always wear a smile, and be the first to greet someone. Approach situations with, “How can I handle this situation so that the guest is impressed by our excellent service? How can I make this encounter so positive that the guests will tell their friends and make them want them to come back again? “

The hospitality industry lets you meet new people every day, and provides hundreds of opportunities to make a positive impact on them. Something you say or do can brighten an otherwise stressful day and make their vacation a success. Cultivating the above daily habits will confirm the fact that you have what it takes to successfully handle a diverse clientele and whatever situations that come your way.

By Mary J. Nestor-Harper, SPHR; MJNH Consulting

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