Making a Mess out of Service

A man sitting in a restaurant was waiting for his soup appetizer. When it arrived, the man noticed a fly in his soup. He summoned the waiter and asked, “Waiter, what is this fly doing in my soup?” The waiter calmly replied, “Why, I believe he is doing the back stroke sir.” While this joke has been told many times to amuse patrons everywhere, the unappealing prospect of scenarios like this really happening is far from amusing.

As summer kicks into full swing, hot weather strikes, the bugs come out, attitudes relax, food seems sloppier and dirt makes bold appearances. Cleanliness is next to Godliness and so it goes in service too. Making sure clean is clear and constant for guests is a critical facet of service excellence. When places, people or things are not clean, the organization hosting those “unclean” environments makes a statement that they do not care and that there are other priorities which take precedence.

I have studied this issue for many years and along the way hairs not belonging to me started appearing everywhere. I found them in salads, on hotel shower walls, around bathroom sinks, nestled on carpets and couches and submerged in soups. I think I even saw one in an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen”, the relatively new TV reality series. I wondered whatever happened to hair nets and began to search for them. Several restaurants, hotels and attractions later, I only found one place that still wore them, Nacho’s Tacos and Seafood, a small family run restaurant in San Marcos , California . Unbelievable! And, not only do they wear hairnets; they always smile and deliver delicious CLEAN food in a CLEAN environment which makes me feel safe and well served !!! Whew! Such small efforts can be so reassuring and provide high value in the service delivery model.

Perhaps some sort of hair patrol should be set up as part of service standards. We all lose hair every day (I think my hairdresser said at least a handful each day) but these hairs should be not lost on guests, where they stay or what they eat. A wonderful head of hair can be quite attractive but not without constraint in the world of hospitality. Grooming standards should be strongly in place and “head first” should top the list. If not hair nets, then some way to hold back loose hairs, especially for those in food service and delivery. Those entrusted to cleaning may be trained to have extra radar for hair and not leave souvenir hairs of their own as they do their jobs. Grooming checks should take place throughout a shift, not just at the beginning. Supervisors should allow a few extra minutes for an employee to go through a checklist and mirror check before each shift and after each break.

Fingernails, toenails, ears, tongues and clothing should also be clean. Dirt under nails, wax or unidentified material in ears, whitewashed tongues or stained clothing will gross guests out. Anyone who has seen those TV commercials with the yellow and green animated germs may be more terrified and shaken by these service “dirties”. In certain minds, unclean also means unsafe and in an increasingly bacteria minded world, that is not good. When guest confidence plummets, so does their spending. Guests are less likely to order more, stay again, or refer others if they feel sanitary service standards are not in place. They are more likely to leave with a queasy feeling in their bellies and great stories to warn other guests. Lack of sanitation can cause loss of reputation.

Washed utensils and glasses are another clean statement. I’ll never forget visiting a major entertainment attraction and waiting for a bowl of pasta in a buffet line. As the server filled my bowl, she dropped the ladle on the dirty kitchen floor, looked around for it, picked it up, and continued filling my bowl. Needless to say, I lost my appetite. Wine or water glasses, in restaurants, hotel rooms or bars with lipstick leftovers can be very unromantic. Silverware with smudges, smears and smells can make smiles go away. Are servers, cooks, chefs, and housekeepers keeping up with cleaning checks and balances? Training should include cleaning “what if’s” and how to handle them. Several eyes should be checking before the guest takes a look.

Hygiene behavior can be another huge turn off for guest spirits and their dollars. What could be worse than a sneeze shower as the final touch to a meal? Or, a coughing spell which is shared freely and hexes and vexes guests? A runny nose that causes guests to run away? Teach employees the revised way of handling these body moments: rather than covering the nose with the hand that will soon touch guests, their food, their luggage, their utensils and plates, lean into the arm or shoulder. The spray or invisible germs will then go to a private place rather than the public space of guests. It’s a simple modification to hygiene behavior but one which is proven effective in reducing the dreaded spread.

Keep in mind that your employees will only do what is expected when it is inspected. Set up sanitary service standards for each facet of the guest experience. Evaluate how “clean” can greet guests and not gross them out. Consider the following points in establishing a more germ “unfriendly” environment that results in more guest friendly results:

  1. Establish a “hair patrol”. Heighten the awareness of hair control and recovery. Fly away hair has no place in the kitchen and hair should always be pulled back when serving food. In other environments, hairs should be detected and removed before guests have a hair raising experience.
  2. Consider adding a “Grooming Station” to the work place environment. It could be near/in the break area and be introduced when an employee is hired as part of job requirements. The “Grooming Station” could feature manicure tools for cleanliness, sanitized combs ( as in many spas, the combs are located in a sanitized solution), hair nets, hair clasps/rubber bands, stain removers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant and a LARGE mirror. If uniforms become soiled, provide alternatives . Next to the “Grooming Station” would be a list of the Grooming Standards essential to service excellence and pleasant guest experiences.
  3. Orient employees on how to ensure utensils and beverage holders are cleaned and how to inspect and clean them before guest delivery. If items fall to the floor or become dirty, provide clear instruction on how to replace that item or wash it immediately.
  4. Introduce the newest form of hygiene behavior (using the shoulder or arm) for coughing and sneezing and reinforce the technique at all points of contact. Have Kleenex tissue readily available for those who may need it. Consider a diagram as well to ensure cross cultural understanding for all employees.
  5. Make sure bathrooms are checked and cleaned on a regular basis. Add doorknob and door cleaning as part of the routine. They are one of the most touched areas where germs spread. Wipe off counters, faucets and consider having special wipes on hand for touch ups which any employee could quickly do. Add sanitizer gel dispensers as an added commitment to guests.
  6. Keep bugs on a short leash. Alert management to any creepy crawler. While some may not be able to be helped, others may foreshadow a bigger problem. Consult the experts and bring them in sooner than later. Also, be wary of smelly insect sprays that do the job but turn guests off with the aroma. A bug’s life should not be long in any hospitality environment. Bugs should not have the opportunity to do the backstroke in any one’s soup!
  7. Inspect what is expected. Train management to look for and inspect the cleaning side of service. Make sure grooming, hygiene and focused attention on the clean details that make the guest difference are top of mind for any employee.
  8. Make cleanliness a recognized part of the service delivery model. Each person in any organization has responsibility for cleanliness, not only those who directly serve or clean.

Millions of dollars are spent on hotel and hospitality design, décor, food, materials, marketing, sales and more. Yet, only one hair or one lipstick stain can negatively impact all that those dollars attempted to create. Make your hospitality environment a clean, keen, sanitary service excellence machine! It costs almost nothing and yields refreshing opportunities for service. Hygiene helps hospitality. Don’t make a mess out of service. Set up sanitary service excellence standards and enjoy the fresh smell of success.