We can mandate service standards all to hell, but in the end it comes down to the front line people having the autonomy to speak from the heart in an excellence oriented culture. A waiter in Baltimore last week reminded me of that, and of two other occasions where the hospitality professional knew just exactly what to say.
"Hi, I'm John!" That's how John at the Baltimore Hilton greeted us. "Good morning Miss Williams," (reading my breakfast partner's convention name badge). He turned to me and extended his hand, "Good morning sir, I'm John." I wasn't wearing my badge. I shook his hand and said "Pleased to meet you John, I'm Jeremy." John then gave an outstanding overview of the breakfast menu, apologized that we had to wait for a table (5 minutes at most) and for the rest of the meal he addressed us by name. "More coffee, Jeremy?" Cool. In his greeting he had advised that if we wanted pancakes or waffles as part of our buffet, he'd arrange to have them made for us fresh. We didn't ask, but he showed up unexpectedly mid-way through the meal with a waffle for us to share. "I thought you might enjoy this!" Very cool.
"It's my problem, not yours." The second coolest thing ever said to me was by a hotel Assistant Manager a lot of years ago. My former boss was throwing one of her trademark tantrums about the hotel room and something about a hair dryer and how she'd already been moved once, and I just couldn't take the whining anymore, having put up with it for several trips already that summer. Nothing was ever good enough. I went to the manager on duty and asked them (begged them) to apply my frequent traveler upgrade for my boss' stay but unfortunately the offer was non-transferable. I pleaded with them to concede just this once and put her in a suite, and put me out of my misery. "You don't understand," I said. "She's making my life hell!" The Assistant Manager smiled and said, "If your boss is unhappy in my hotel, it's not your problem, it's mine. Leave it with me." Very cool.
As a young restaurant manager just out of Chef's school at the start of my career it was an unforgettable moment and not just because it was Mr. Sardi. It was almost the last time a manager or owner has ever dropped by our table. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'm saying it doesn't happen often. Mr. Sardi made welcome the penniless kid and his wife enjoying what, to this day, is still one of the best meals we've ever experienced.
This is a great career if you're humbly inclined to the service of others.