A Way of Looking at What We Do…

  • 30 November, 2011

This blog moves a little away from the garden/nature theme to share a piece of work written while I was working in the hospitality industry.

It deals with the principals involved in a transaction and I’m posting it because I feel that it has uses in pretty much any industry or circumstance where an exchange is made.

The study came about when I was in a previous incarnation as a bar manager in London for ‘All Bar One’. I was possibly the least formally educated of my team that was made up of full and part-time workers a lot of which were students. I had working with me people studying PhD’s in molecular biology, anthropologists, people attending LAMDA and studying film to name but a few. Not to mention all the different nationalities and cultural/ethnic backgrounds.

I would be chatting to one of these people and they would leave in a good mood to attend to someone at the bar and often return in a bad one.

For example: You can work in a bar and someone can come in and not address you with a greeting but immediately say ‘pint of Grolsh’ or some such request. This lack of visibility can leave an uncomfortable feeling and it is the extension of this I would like to explore. Of course there were lots of very pleasant exchanges but there must have been enough ‘negative’ ones to inspire me to have a closer look at what I thought that it was about.

Also this was written as a training presentation within the company so it is filled with corporate language which I’m sure is easily deciphered but:

Team Member = staff

Guest = customer

So, here goes:

I believe there are certain rifts and tensions on a daily basis between the Team Member and the Guest that may seem small and inconsequential but that can build into dissatisfaction on both parts.

This presentation will try to define, explain and remedy these tensions and outline some of the wider issues involved.

By the nature of the industry you can join as a person who is unskilled in that line of work, it may be temporary for some but that’s also the beauty of it. I’ve never met with as much diversity as working in this industry, in its challenging work and its people.

I know highly educated people that work in the industry, in fact I would go as far as to say they make up the vast majority of the work force.

Although by education we could be talking about academia or life experience and subsequently a lot of these people go on to or are in Assistant Management, General Management , Retail Business Manager and corporate roles within the company.

I believe we have a duty to give the industry the respect it deserves by looking to change the way we view ourselves and the consumers we supply.

I’ve seen a need for stress management in this job since I started three and a half years ago. I needed a job at the time and I liked the bar but, firstly I needed a job. Since then it has turned into a career. I wasn’t unskilled, having an education and much experience in the hospitality trade, but I may have been, and many people I employ are, inexperienced in this particular work. But there are many jobs you can get with minimal education or experience with on the job training as part of the package and a lot of companies prefer this because that they can train more easily without having to break habits trained by other employers. Yet there are few that hold common disregard as barman or waiter/waitress. This needs to stop and the way to do it, I believe, is to understand out own position now not from past perceptions.

By making changes in the process, attitude and nomenclature/language where they are needed and knowing exactly what we do.

In other words, what we offer and how we offer it; what the desire of our customers is and if we don’t know, ask why not and work it out.

We cannot reasonably encourage team members to feel confident in their role and respect themselves in their work with heads held high if they/we don’t know what is reasonably expected of them/us.

Can I start by highlighting a few words that I believe to be negative and that wherever possible I don’t use:

  • Serve
  • Service Industry
  • Catering/Catering industry

Let me tell you why I don’t like these words and suggest some other more positive words that can be used in their place.


I believe to be a word that although in popular usage and that has a small dictionary definition as ‘waiter’ or ‘shop assistant’ is largely held in a more derogatory light. Its roots are held in slavery, coming from the Latin word servus slave and I believe to be tied up with wealth driven class structure. The verb ‘to serve’ doesn’t, I feel, relate accurately enough to our attitude to work.

I personally feel more comfortable using words such as:

  • Provide
  • Help
  • Attend
  • Assist

All of which can be used more than adequately in place of ‘serve’ and throw a more positive light over what we do.


Is related to our work, the dictionary definition being: to supply food; to supply meals, amusements, etc’ but amongst other things to ‘pander’ to. I prefer to use the word:

  • Hospitality

Meaning: ‘friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests or strangers’.

The notion of serving is somewhat reactive in that it is to give what is asked for, as opposed to providing, being somewhat proactive, knowing what is desired.

If the ‘offer’ meets the ‘desire’ and there is trust or fair ‘exchange’ we are within the realms of the provider/consumer. This makes it easier to understand that we are skilled in the practice of providing rather than serving.

Now this begs the questions: What is the offer, the desire and the exchange?

So, what do we provide/offer?

  1. Consumables – food and drink
  2. Environment

I think we are pretty well versed in providing consumables but I would like to take a further look at environment.

What do we mean by environment?

  1. Physical environment – warmth, light, cleanliness, air quality, smell comfort etc.
  2. Non-physical environment – relaxation, ease, trust, well being, levels of stress, security, safety etc.

Again, I think we are familiar with the physical environment so we’ll move straight onto the non-physical environment.

How do we go about ensuring a healthy non-physical environment?

  1. By getting the consumables and the physical environment right.
  2. By understanding that a ‘guest’ may not already feel ‘relaxed’ and levels of stress, anger, frustration, or tension may be directed towards you even though you have not caused them, or are not aware that you have caused them.

What is the desire?

I suggest that it is having a place outside the home to go to by oneself or to meet friends or colleagues  in a sociable, safe, comfortable environment that is clean and free from tensions, where that which is paid for is delivered to the expectation (at least) without hassle.

What is the exchange?

For me, the exchange is a very important and vital element of what we do.

My first thoughts on the exchange came about by having to reconcile the ‘server’ that is perceived and that if people are parting with their money to get what they want, you are in some way part of that purchase and in that you are ‘serving upon’ the purchaser.

I say, that yes we are a part of that purchase, in so much as being educated to ‘provide’ a tangible ‘offer’ at a stated price and thereby creating a platform for exchange. If one knows what is on offer at what price, one’s choice to purchase is entirely one’s own.

It is extremely important to me that for this to work well the exchange must be ‘fair’. That is to say that the consumer is guided into a sale with their interests at heart, and are also made aware at that point of any delays changes or irregularities before the sale is made.

So, in knowing these things, how do they benefit us in our everyday business practices?

You create a mental ‘contract’.

The contract consists of:

  • The offer
  • The desire
  • The exchange

You run down this mental contract to see if you have caused any tensions.

If your offer is good, the desire reasonable and the exchange fair then you can assume that apparent tensions are not directly caused by you.

But it is still your responsibility! It is part of our offer to create a healthy non-physical environment.

A guest may be curt, aloof or even rude and so may you. But, I suggest it is better stress management to understand that stress is easily passed from person to person and that if we recognise this, we can break the chain, feel well in ourselves, try to recognise this in the other person and help them whilst completing the offer.

In educating ourselves we cannot help but educate our guests.

The scenarios involved in this are endless, that is why we are individuals and not machines; each nuance and idiosyncrasy must be dealt with individually.

Some are naturally better at this than others; some already know all that I’m trying to communicate, but some don’t, and rifts/tensions created often evolve into bigger rifts and tensions, maybe anger and frustration.

I would like to try to use this material to show and explain to people that if we are strong, educated and responsible, we can greatly reduce the amount of stress/tension in our profession and hopefully spread that wider so that it can be taken away into other spheres of our and our guests’ lives.Whilst looking for definitions and text to illustrate how we view and define ourselves within our business, the effects of that on the consumer and ourselves and how we can positively employ that to ease tensions and be more effective in our daily practices. A need arose to look at the wider picture of how we can view the brand as a whole to encapsulate these observations/theories.

One’s health in an organisation requires a healthy organisation.

  1. Individuals make up an organisation
  2. Products express an organisation
  3. Guests support an organisation

Expanding upon this, the components of each statement are as follows:

a)      Individuals make up an organisation

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Respect                                     = Team
  • Reward
  • View to the future

b)      Products express an organisation:

  • Value
  • Quality
  • Fair Exchange                           = Vision
  • View to the Future

c)        Customers support an organisation:

  • Trust
  • Harmony                                   = Unity
  • Vision

If we have strength of character and standing; if we invest in our teams, recruit wisely, train, respect reward and show a view to the future.

If we offer products that ourselves and the guests value, ensure quality, offer a fair exchange and show a clear view to where we are heading.

If we can gain the guests trust, allow them to share our ideas and view to the future.

We can truly call ourselves successful providers in a hospitality industry.

In order to work on and recognise the more subtle intricacies, we need to be in a position of calm ourselves.

This involves what is known as productivity and efficiency but it is really about the way we go about running our businesses to try as much as possible to exist in a position of stability.

I also believe this leads to longevity in business and profitability.

I would like to show just one last chart which will give you an indication of what I try to aim for in my business:

scale of productivity

Efficiency and profitability are greatly involved in all that I have said in this presentation but they are also much wider subjects in themselves, but in essence I believe it has a lot to do with our attitude to our business as a whole and the way we view ourselves, our teams and our guests.

In order for this to work fully and healthily we must have the support of the whole company, the morning cleaner and corporate team alike.

Finally, this very small rift that I first started to study is as with most very small rifts extremely expansive. In order to see the whole picture, or at least a good deal of it, the research would have to take me into areas of history, sociology, psychology, finance and much more besides. My research has not gone to these lengths as yet, being mainly observational, but I do feel we have a bite size chunk to chew on. There is a danger in presenting an incomplete piece of study but I don’t feel this study will ever be complete, but continuously evolving, so, this is the journey so far of a work in progre

1.      Quote taken from, Deng Ming Doa’s: Three Hundred and Sixty Five Toa 1992

2.      All dictionary references are taken from the Hutchinson encyclopaedic dictionary 1994

3.      All other charts and text are from observations by the author.

‘A way of looking at what we do…’ is taken from a study by Andrew M. Dean. 2002.