18 April 2012

one simple question

I was recently asked about my thoughts on the difference between hospitality & service. Many people consider the two interchangeable. But I see a difference in empowerment, with service being the more empowering of the two.

Q: What would you say is the difference between providing “service” and providing “hospitality”? 
Hospitality, briefly, is giving the customer exactly what she wants, when she wants it. Service is helping a guest make informed decisions — giving her the tools to discover something she will like. The difference is not so subtle. Asking someone what she wants can be dangerous ground; sometimes she doesn’t exactly know, or she may struggle articulating it. Without help, she will likely get something she doesn’t truly want, & both parties end up frustrated. Providing each guest with the amount & the kind of information that she’s looking for will lay the foundation for success. Service is empowering. Hospitality is less so.

It's a question of context. In most coffee shops in America, it is a barista's job to give you exactly what you want, how you want it, & now. That's hospitality. Meanwhile, specialty coffee shops are popping up, showcasing how delicious coffee can be on its own ... which is wonderful, but it presents a problem. How does the guest know what to expect, what she will like, if she can't have it served to her the way she is used to it being served? No vanilla syrup? Nope. But she likes vanilla, so let's start there. We will guide her toward a delicious, heaven-sent coffee that admittedly is different from a vanilla-syrup-flavored coffee. We can't guarantee that she'll love it, or that we'll change her perspective on the entire coffee industry right there on the spot. But we can guarantee that she will see the difference. Hopefully we will have guided her toward an exceptional, full-bodied, vanilla-y coffee, & hopefully — eventually — it will change her perspective on how rich & complex & nuanced coffee can taste (not to mention how it can change the world). Most of all, if we're doing our jobs right, the experience will have been so pleasant & unique, & have made her feel so listened-to & cared-for, that we will see her again. And that is service.

It is our pleasure to serve you. I hope to see you soon.