Mindfulness and the culture of service in hospitality 

 May 28, 2020

By  fouts

The hospitality industry is all about serving the customer’s needs and creating a customer experience that creates loyalty. We want them to come back again and again, trusting that not only will we do right by them, but that we will provide what they want, even if they don’t know what that is yet.

It’s a tall order, but in my history in the hospitality industry, I have worked with some legendary human beings who truly found their joy in service, like the waiter who can read a table as they sit down and know who is in authority and who needs a little bit of extra attention to set them at ease. The server who can accurately predict what on the menu will please each person and suggest modifications is an art form.

Knowing how to resolve an issue with the food, even if it’s not about the food at all, with grace and courtesy is an art form too. These men and women set the bar high for anyone in any sort of service role, be that customer service, retail, or corporate sales. The job is about setting and exceeding expectations through careful attention to what the customer needs.

I’ve worked in service since I was a child, serving guests at my parent’s resort, then working pretty much every position in foodservice from dishwasher and busser to server, manager, line cook, pastry and chef de cuisine. I will always believe that everyone should work in the service industry at least once to truly learn what service and respect are. But that’s for another, likely much longer rant!

Hospitality staff often work under very high stress and physical pressure, day after day. Obviously, this can result in a less-than-perfect attitude when they run into a challenging customer or co-worker. It’s a volatile environment. Stress like this can cause a number of maladaptive behaviors. Substance abuse, depression, aggression, and behavioral sublimation are easily recognized by those in the business. It’s also common for emotional exhaustion to result in employees exhibiting obvious, forced emotions, which further erodes mental health.

Stemming from this stress, we may see a drop in productivity, efficiency, chronic tardiness or failure to show up for work. Turnover rates depend on the culture of the organization and the general feeling of the team. Of course, all of this also trickles into family relationships or dropping out of school and support programs.

Whether you work in hospitality, sales, customer service, or support, the job is all about service, but if you don’t have good tools to cope with it and support from the employer, it can be a harrowing experience.

Improving well-being and service skills
Organizations can be overlooking simple ways to improve company culture and the well-being of the staff. Offering personal development services can dramatically improve the culture and well-being of the entire organization.

According to this study on work-related mental health and job performance, mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) can be effective when a trained instructor works with employees to be more mindful.

MBI is a secular (not based on religion), conscious discipline around how we pay attention to our life. It’s most simply described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as the intentional cultivation of moment-to-moment awareness. Simply stated: being aware of the present moment without judgment of self or others.

The practices of mindfulness have been shown to be transformational in a number of industries. Westin hotels, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Facebook all have programs to aid employee wellness that goes beyond the usual insurance plans and on-site gyms.

Famed Chef Eric Ripert, owner of Le Bernardin, credits meditation for his transformation from screaming and plate throwing to express himself, to a happier, more productive, and compassionate chef.

Making It Work
A single meditation class is not going to change the culture overnight. The trick to making mindfulness part of the culture is in repetition and, especially, knowing that top-level executives are committed to their own well-being too. However, that doesn’t mean it has to disrupt service or workflow.

For example:

  • Take a breath before approaching a table to minimize distracting self-talk and improve communication.
  • Develop mindful listening skills to be more attentive to body language as well as what the customer is saying and how to ask better questions.
  • Switch from the traditional “smoke break” to a “sanity break,” -a way to get out of the fray for a moment and recollect. Consider creating a quiet room where micro-breaks can be taken without disruption.
  • Spend time with employees to talk about stress and the benefits of mindfulness and meditation as well as the physical effects of stress.
  • Create opportunities for employees to learn more through repeating classes on emotional intelligence and mindfulness to boost self-awareness, resilience, and communication skills.
  • Consider subscriptions to training programs to promote mental fitness in the workforce. Even if there is not an established program, employees can learn simple methods of staying focused, reducing stress and conflict, and improving the well-being of the entire organization through the use of micro-practices they can do anywhere at any time.

Many of these practices are simple to do in a moment, and not at all disruptive of the flow of work.
The key is to create an environment where these tools are supported and with a skilled mindfulness trainer who understands the complexity of the service industry and can accommodate the sometimes chaotic workflow.

Rather than adopting a rigorous program, it’s often best to start small and demonstrate results. It’s wonderful to hear someone say they feel more grounded and find jobs that were once onerous now less so. Finding joy in simple tasks allows us to be happier throughout our day and our life.

If you or your team are struggling with burnout, lack of communication, or service quality issues. Let’s talk. I can help you be your best self–resilient, focused, and feeling better about your relationships at work, with your customers, and at home.

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