Back Of House With Bill

A Series On All Things Hospitality

March 23, 2020

The Heart of the Hospitality Industry

As news has surfaced concerning some wealthy lawmakers in the US Senate who profited from the coronavirus crisis by selling hospitality stocks back in January after receiving what appears to be privileged classified information of the financial impact of the coronavirus, (which of course they are denying and blabbering about how they had no such idea their financial flunkies were making these moves) I cannot help but consider those who are most impacted. Of all the pieces out there during this extraordinary time, this news made me sick and it also highlighted that there are a whole group of workers in all industries that Washington and, to a certain extent, leaders of industries pay lip service to.

The right things are said, but rarely done, and their actions, as in this case, do not reflect in any way or even remotely back up their words. I don’t believe government will forge the way back in the service arena, I believe it will be up to visionary leadership within these industries to act as the moral, financial and strategic compass in returning us to a vibrant and robust service industry economy.

In the industries that we work with: Hospitality, Travel, Gaming and now HealthCare, attention needs to be focused on the wellbeing and safety of our unsung team members, those that are at the front line of customer/ guest/patient service. Leaders in these industries now need to focus attention on communicating regularly with their team members, particularly those that have been furloughed, serving as the starting point and one step in preparing for our way back.

These team members, those most impacted, were referred to me as the underappreciated or undervalued but completely invaluable group to all customer service industries. I could not agree more with this definition of a group of team members whose lives have forever been changed. Over the course of the next few weeks I look forward to sharing my experience and thoughts on how the Hospitality industry (including these individuals) can rebound from these unprecedented times.

Who are these workers in this industry? These are the guys and gals who do the jobs that we take completely for granted. The group that cleans guest and public bathrooms (toilets and all), bedrooms, public areas, outside doorways. The group that cleans dishes and clears away trash, that fixes everything and anything that is broken, unclogs toilets, and manually sets all meeting space. The group that serves customers food, clears away the food, the group that carries luggage, checks guests in and out, parks cars, serves drinks, deals with drunks and difficult customers. The group that cleans your airplane, that stocks the food onboard, that loads your baggage and fuels the plane. The group that is the front line in dealing with complaints, comments and questions. In short, the group that deals with all the non-sexy essential functions of a hotel, an airline, a casino and incidentally, a great number of this group rely almost entirely on your tips to survive.

Many years ago, I volunteered a shift as a room attendant (I didn’t make it beyond the third room…shame on me.) which validated my feelings of how back breaking, tedious and sometimes just plain overwhelming work these individuals face just based on the state that guests sometimes leave rooms in. Honestly, room attendants earn every penny they make and probably more and the same is true of most front-line jobs. Try standing on a front desk of a casino hotel for eight hours checking hundreds of people in and out and then five minutes before your shift ends dealing with a difficult guest who is complaining about not being able to get the movie request authorized because the credit card put down is maxed out.  Think about a dealer in a casino dealing with a drunk who has just lost $30,000.00 on a blackjack table and is remonstrating at 2:00 AM in the morning. Think about telling a guest at check in that a room for which he/she has paid for is not available and you are ‘walking’ him/her to a hotel three miles away at 11:00 PM at night. These scenarios are real, they happened… and it is the team member at the sharp end of customer service that has to deal with these guests; not a corporate executive, or in lots of cases not even a member of the property’s senior management. When business is open and times are good, we rely heavily on these mothers, fathers, students, single parents and host of others and now is not the time to forget them.   

Lets get back to my weasels in Washington. At some time in the future they may be part of the lawmakers who decide on whether to give a bailout package to the hospitality industry or not. If they decide to award such a package, they need to wake up to the reality that any bailout should only have one requirement; all the money should be allocated to the frontline employees that support this industry at it’s very foundation. That money should be distributed in equal parts to assist out of work employees in these extremely trying times. The overall objective of all business should be to keep as many employed for as long as possible and once layoffs occur (which many have already faced), support them as much as possible for as long as possible. Just for the record….  try maintaining stock prices without these frontline team members …that would be a good trick.

Each company has a moral obligation to support for as long as it is able, all employees financially and emotionally during difficult times, it is this which separates good leadership from poor.  There are difficult decisions that have been made, need to be made now and will need to be made in the future. We all know that. It is critical though that a team member feels fairly treated and also feels that the environment and culture of the company encourages all employees in desperate times, to call for assistance if needed, be it emotional or financial.

I am sure most corporate executives have taken temporary salary cuts (I read that Ed Bastion CEO of Delta took a 100% cut) you may well say they can afford it, I am sure they can but these executives must drive the major cost saving from the corporation and ownership group first and foremost. These salary cuts are the foundation to begin saving these frontline team members and the entire industry as much pain as possible. As a long-term strategy that type of action and messaging pays off in repaid loyalty tenfold.

We all realize that hard decisions are sometimes easy to criticize, but difficult to make. The hard decision here is for senior leadership to push hard for huge savings at the ownership and corporate level, while concentrating on preserving as many of those who belong to the undervalued/underappreciated group as possible. This has to be a priority.

One final thought, perhaps the weasels in Washington instead of defending their actions and wasting all our time listening to that piffle, should be persuaded to give any profits from their ill-gotten gains to organizations that will distribute the cash to the in need, out of work frontline families who are struggling the most………just a thought.