Hospitality and Service in contract catering

What’s the difference?

I have read many articles about the difference between hospitality and service, which are both connected to customer service.   

Hospitality can be described as “the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with some amount of goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.

Service can be described as “the action of helping or doing work for someone”

If you are working back of house and you don’t have any interaction with guests you will provide a service. If you are working front of house you will provide a service with hospitality.

Within our workplace dining contracts the labour structure is such that all members of the team provide service and hospitality. Our kitchens are open plan meaning that the customers enjoy a bit of theatre while the Chef Manager is working,  have a bit of banter, or discuss how the food is prepared, provenance, and allergens, for example. Our Catering Assistants establish a close rapport with customers at the hot counter serving breakfast, lunch and backshift, and while servicing the vending machines. Our customers are in their place of work regularly, so the relationship between customer and catering team becomes very strong. Standard questions like “What would you like for breakfast?” are no longer as important, as people are creatures of habit.

Our team intuitively remember individual likes and dislikes, those with allergens or special dietary requirements, who likes to have a bit of banter and who doesn’t. They quickly understand who fits in where in the organisation, and how to act around them in an informal situation on the counter and a formal situation providing a sandwich lunch in a sales meeting.

Our team tend to be the first person an employee interacts with when the production line breaks, or at the end of a tense phone call, or an appraisal, and absorb the mood  of the person accordingly. They learn all about their job, the issues, the highs and lows, personal life, family, and what is going on in the workplace. And they adapt their behaviour accordingly by offering sympathy, a smile, a recommendation for today’s special, or just lend an ear when required. And they know that discretion is everything. That is hospitality and empathy. You can train someone to be empathetic to a degree, or there are people in the industry who are just naturally talented at hospitality and service and would also make excellent social workers or therapists as they have a naturally caring personality.

I saw a classic example of this the other day in one of our sites when a customer had received some bad personal news, and a member of the team brought their favourite lunch to their desk without even having to be asked for it. Or the time I answered the kitchen phone at a site and a customer asked to order a salad. Drilling down to the person’s requirements was met with “I don’t really know – Jackie usually decides for me”!

People buy people, and workplace dining is such a personal style of hospitality that can’t be compared to buying your lunch at a local sandwich bar, or ordering a takeaway delivered via an app. As we are in the workplace we become an intrinsic part of the employee’s daily life.

I salute everyone involved in hospitality and service for making someone’s day – every day!

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