Anyone who has endured the pleasure of my company has no doubt been regaled a story or two about my dog Hondo. To say that I’m obsessed is an understatement. As an oversized, 160-pound bouvier, he’s a giant drooling and snoring fluffball, goofy to no end and impossible to resist. Out for walks, I get stopped by nearly everyone where the most common question is whether it’s a dog or a bear.
Physical appearances aside, Hondo wins people and other canines over with his eternally calm and friendly demeanor, and this brings to list several important lessons for hospitality.
- An elated greeting every time. Coming home each day, it’s always the same scene – a massive dog lumbering towards me with a big smile, brushing right up against me and licking whatever piece of fabric is closest. While I wouldn’t advise slobbering on your guests, the broader idea is that an enthusiastic greeting with some form of energetic body movement will help uplift moods all around. Whether it’s the front desk clerks or housekeepers patrolling the corridors, no one will ever fault your staff for being in good spirits.
- Friendly even in the face of hostility. Oftentimes Hondo encounters those aggressive, annoying, yappy toy dogs with serious inferiority complexes, and his reaction is always the same. He stands there with his tongue hanging out and tail wagging, then slowly approaches to sniff the other snarly pooch. Even if this other dog nips at his face, all Hondo does is gently turn his head to one side for a moment, then resumes his happy-as-can-be approach. Eventually, Hondo wins them over, turning foe into friend. As this concerns your guest relations, talking with irate customers is never anyone’s preferred job responsibility, but remaining unbreakably calm in these situations will always play to your favor.
- Never far from your side. It’s inherent in any herding breed’s nature to remain at your side at all times. While there are times when I’m cooking in the kitchen that Hondo decides to sprawl out next to the appliances and turn every step into a potential fire hazard, most often he lays down out far out of anyone’s path but still well within earshot. If ever there’s a raucous clanging of metal or a distressed shout, he’s alert and by my side in under a second. Similarly, the supreme goal for your staff is to be available at a moment’s notice yet self-aware to know when guests need their space.
- A constant source of affection. Whenever we have guests over, Hondo is sociable and perfectly affable, especially when there’s food nearby. Never shying away from new faces, he’ll rollover for a belly rub or give his paw to just about anyone who requests it. To put this in human terms, it doesn’t mean your servers should all take up juggling or immediately invade your guests’ personal space as a means to force congeniality with, say, a hug. Rather, there are certain aspects of proper communication that would allow your team to be perceived as both friendlier and courteous, and these can all be conscientiously trained. This starts, of course, with your body language and tone of voice as well as the actual words selected, and I would advise situational instruction so that small groups can workshop different scenarios as preparation for whatever attitude a future guest presents you with.
- Consider getting an onsite dog. I realize this isn’t in the cards for many properties, but never once has this tactic failed to win over guests and earn a few social media brownie points. If you are able to recruit a friendly and well-trained canine to roam your lobby and greet guests, this will undoubtedly help uplift the moods of all around, staff included. While this will create some additional work on your part, as online reviews these days are emotionally based you can only imagine the potential benefits this move might accrue as a dog greeter might help you offset some other flaws that would require some serious CAPEX to remedy.
As a final aside, if any of you ever find yourself in my hometown of Toronto, I am more than available for an in-person meeting so you might experience firsthand how Hondo can help show you the true meaning of hospitality!
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HOTELS Magazine on November 3, 2017)