The Hotel Workforce: ‘One Bad Apple’

Good old Johnny Appleseed! This is his time of year, with peak apple season from September to November. How would Mr. Appleseed have felt if any of the seeds he planted turned into trees with rotten apples? How do hotel leaders feel when employees they have selected, trained and groomed change from positive to negative? Will they end up damaging the rest of the crop of employees as well as guests? It’s amazing how one rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch if not removed.

How do hotels and hospitality organizations handle those employees or even managers who taint the others? What if someone has worked in one place so long, their attitude has soured and they impact the rest of the team? How should employers handle the “service duds” and either get them back on… or off the track?

Recently, while visiting a favorite boutique hotel in the Northeast, we stopped by the bar for Happy Hour. A favorite spot for locals, the bar filled quickly with the regulars, loyal customers who keep coming back and are willing to pay higher drink prices because they enjoy the experience. As the bartender served drinks to two patrons, they noticed one drink was not as full as the other, even though served in the same size glasses. Even though the drinks were different, they were in the same category and price and the guests casually asked the bartender to fill it to equal the other drink. She said no, she could not do that. The amount they were asking for was less than a quarter inch of liquid.

Surprised, they asked her why not since such a small amount and only slightly different than the other drink. Impatiently, she turned to ask the other bartender in a rushed manner and quickly returned with an emphatic “no”. The patron, who remained calm, polite and persistent, said he could not believe this, noted he was a regular and loyal customer, often brought others and asked again why she could not add this very small amount, especially with his track record and loyalty.

The next scene was surreal. She took the glass, grabbed an ice shovel, stuffed his glass with ice until the liquid rose to the desired level, returned with a triumphant glance, plopped it down and said “there, now it’s full!”

We were all stunned. The guest, now very annoyed, said to just forget it to which the bartender nonchalantly replied, “can I get you something else?” as if nothing had just happened. She was willing to waste a drink all ready poured and a loyal customer’s good faith, simply to stand her ground. She was willing to forego the revenue of an expensive cocktail and more importantly, future revenue from a loyal guest who also brought in other customers, to satisfy her own ego and poor attitude. She was a bad apple and bruised the experience for the bunch of us. She used poor judgment and didn’t really seem to care. If that was a bad day for her, she should not have worked that day. If that was typical of her behavior, she should not have been in that role or an employee of that hotel. The bar and hotel’s reputation suffered based on that one experience with that one employee, and lots of guests were there to watch.

Another colleague told me the story of attending a favorite band’s concert at a small but popular hospitality venue. Thrilled with the music, my colleague wanted to see if he could get an autograph. Near the end of the concert, he approached the stage to ask an attendant if that was possible at concert’s end. With no greeting or acknowledgment, she didn’t blink, said no autographs were given at the previous night’s concert, and abruptly told him to leave and go back to his seat. My colleague kept smiling and asked if she could just check and or ask a manager but she remained committed to a mean, negative and devastating, “no.”

Not one to give up easily and encouraged by others in attendance, this determined colleague waited until the concert ended and approached a different attendant on the stage. He gave the attendant his pitch and instantly received a smile. She said “no promises but that she would try.” From there, it only got better. Seated right near the original attendant who so rudely short circuited the initial request, my colleague watched as the album came back signed. He was elated and the original attendant just glared. Amazing how one simple interaction, handled so differently in such a short space of time, could so powerfully impact this guest’s emotions and experience? Perhaps the first unpleasant and guest “un-friendly” attendant was an exception since the rest of the staff was so nice but she was a “bad apple” in a barrel of good ones. In this case, the bad apple should be removed or relocated and replaced with those that recognize the value and interest of paying customers and guests.

Both of these examples illustrate employee moments of truth where the entire service experience was defined by one bad apple. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and both of these employees were weak from the get go. Both had bad attitudes and in turn bad behaviors which negatively impacted each guest experience.

How many rotten apples do you have? How do hoteliers recognize and address the employees that are below the line of expectations in exceptional or even satisfactory service delivery? Should they be tossed from the bunch or are there some steps in performance management that could inspire new growth?

Take a look at Fall’s favorite fruit for some food for thought:

  • APPLES: When picking apples, select firm and bright colored fruit with smooth and shiny skin.
  • EMPLOYEES: When selecting employees, select committed individuals with bright and positive attitudes. Pay attention to attitude in the hiring process. Do attitude checks and tell employees what attitudes are expected. Reinforce attitude with written and verbal reminders, signs and other internal communication tools. Identify weak employees before they turn away guests or rub off on other employees. Rank employees on service attitude and recognize those who are role models for others. If veteran employees start losing their interest and enthusiasm, talk to them about a change in attitude or suggest a change in employment.
  • APPLES: Avoid bruised, soft or shriveled fruit. It should have a fresh scent. Take time to look over your selection and make sure it is what you want and expect.
  • EMPLOYEES: Avoid bruised, disgruntled or uninterested employees. Establish Service Standards as part of company policy. Ask each employee to make a personal and written commitment to those standards. Make them part of performance expectations and review them regularly. People do what is expected when it is inspected. Expect and Inspect!
  • APPLES: The color of the apple depends on the variety. Make sure the flavor is what you want as the sweetness or tartness depends on the variety.
  • EMPLOYEES: The disposition of an employee depends on the variety of circumstances that can impact them in a sweet or sour way. Equip them with the tools to handle the difficult situations and personal frustrations that inevitably can interrupt job performance. Train! Train! And, train again. Training must be constant, consistent and persistent to ensure constant, consistent and persistent service excellence.
  • APPLES: For storage, keep apples at room temperature for a few days. Place unwashed fruit in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a longer period of time. If you prefer crisp apples, then apples will maintain their crispness better in the refrigerator.
  • EMPLOYEES: For longevity, hold employees accountable for their actions and don’t wait for tempers to flare and temperatures to rise. Give constructive feedback to those that may be starting to develop rotten attitudes. Keep performance goals crisp and focused and don’t allow service expectations to get cold.
  • APPLES: Depending on personal preference, apples can be eaten with the skins on or off. The core is never eaten.
  • EMPLOYEES: Depending on personal performance, employees can get better or worse and can be on or off in their delivery of guest service. They should understand the core of their commitment to service and need good leaders and strong role models. Make sure those in supervisory or management roles frequently do attitude checks and lead with good attitudes toward employees as well. Employees that are weak at the core will rub off on guests and the dollars they might be willing to spend or referrals they may want to make. Employees that are strong at the core and “on” in exceptional service delivery will generate the repeat and referral business essential to growth in any organization. They can also be role models for others.
  • APPLES: An apple a day keeps the doctor away! Apples help lower bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. They also are known to protect the arteries and the heart.
  • EMPLOYEES: Ensure employees are the apple of your guests’ eyes. Make sure the rotten ones are not impacting the health of service delivery and protect the heart of guest memories and experiences. Plant the seeds of success and don’t let the bad apples take a bite out of service!