Hospitality is a touchy-feely business!

NANDINI VAIDYANATHAN speaks about the hospitality industry and why is it important for them to give the best customer experience every time

Hospitality is tricky business. Behind all the glitz and glamour, it has so many sensitive touchpoints with the customer that it is almost as if it is set up to fail! It does not matter what the format of the business is. It may be a QSR, it may be an artisanal café, it may be a street ‘thela,’ it may be a ‘dhaba,’ it may be a high end resort or it may be a star hotel, part of an international chain. It is a tough business to keep your customer happy. It is even tougher to make your customer keep coming back.

We have been running our Indo-French eatery in Jaipur called Concoctions for the last eleven months. Not only have we learnt lessons galore, it has also made us more observant, more conscious of the behavior of people around us, and by people I mean, both hotel staff and customers alike. A week ago we stayed in a five-star hotel in Delhi on our way to Nepal. We stayed at the same place both while going as well as on the return. I am sharing my observations here based on our experience.

We had booked standard rooms. On our onward journey, we were told at check-in that we had been upgraded to a junior suite. The unexpected largesse made us happy. But the complete absence of communication between the check-in team in the lobby and the reservation team to whom the payment had been made resulted in repeated phone calls on my mobile late at night (we had slept early) from the lobby team and my irate reaction after being woken up from sleep. So the happiness of a junior suite soon evaporated.

Next morning we went down for breakfast. I love this hotel because they have a huge and flavorful spread for breakfast. I had eaten my first course, so I left my used plates on the table and went for my second. The assumption is that by the time you come back to the table, the table would be cleared of the used crockery and cutlery. To my surprise, it wasn’t. I looked around, couldn’t find the F&B guys, so I called out to the person who was manning the desk. She looked at me, looked around to see if she could call out to an F&B guy, and looked away. I realised that she wasn’t going to clear the table as it wasn’t her job. She’d rather have a customer hanging on to a full plate with no place to put it down than come to the table herself and clear it; because it is not the done thing in Indian culture.

In Concoctions, Dominique who is a Michelin Star Chef not only cooks and bakes, but serves. Not only serves, but clears the table. I am a senior corporate professional, but I cook, serve and clear. Never has it occurred to either of us that clearing the table of someone’s ‘jhoota’ plates is beneath our dignity! Many of our Indian guests baulked at the idea of us clearing the table, but not so our expatriate customers.

We also noticed that sauces, marmalade, jam, dips, honey, butter were packed in plastic. Dominique, my partner said, this is strange, breakfast service makes for first or last impression, depending on whether you are checking in or out, why would a big branded hotel like this present the table with plastic packaging?

It was intriguing because the previous day we had NYC sandwich and Greek salad in the same place and it had been beautifully presented to us. And the dips and sauces that accompanied this were in very cute single-use bottles!

On our return, we checked-in at the same hotel. I asked the lobby person, four days ago, we had been given an upgrade to a junior suite, are we getting something similar? Her reaction was quick, no way; you are just getting a deluxe room. My point is this. Both onward and return bookings were done together. Why would you give me an upgrade once and make me feel happy if you can’t be consistent about it? I did not ask for an upgrade, so one way of looking at it was, be happy we got an upgrade once. But my mind refused to accept this inconsistency and I felt a little let down.

In all of the above, making the customer happy was not going to burn a hole in their pockets. It is just that the team had not been indoctrinated with why it was important to design the best customer experience not just by one but by every single one of them, not just once but every single time, not just in one of the touch points but in every single
one of them. There has to be zero tolerance for even a single breach.

Just as customer happiness index is the most important metric for evaluating performance of a leader, it has to be the same for the bell-boy, the butcher, the baker and the bartender, no exception please. Because when someone asks your customer how the experience was, you don’t want your customer saying very tentatively: it was good, but……..!

That but is your brand’s epitaph. Whilst most organisations boast of their employees being their biggest assets, hospitality brands carry the very same employees as the albatross around their necks!

And it never ceases to surprise me that somehow in a small mountain country like Nepal, they have cracked the code of sending their customers to la la land!

The columnist has commenced her fourth professional avatar with her bakery and restaurant business in Jaipur ( with her French Michelin-star chef life partner. Email:


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