Elevating Hospitality Service: Meeting Customer Expectations in a Post-Pandemic World

Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry has faced a multitude of unprecedented challenges, but lately, there is one issue that has risen to the forefront: customers increasingly experiencing bad service and, in some cases, responding with outright rudeness. This was often overlooked over the last few years because of understood staff shortages and sympathy for workers who did show up to do their jobs.

However, the rising costs of hospitality experiences in both dining and lodging have only heightened customer frustrations. Meanwhile, restaurants and hotels are struggling to find and retain experienced workers, while simultaneously grappling with training young and new hires. In short, it’s rapidly becoming a recipe for disaster. As I talk to my counterparts all over the country, this situation has affected hospitality businesses across the nation. We need to address these issues head-on and find practical solutions to improve worker performance and, in turn, enhance customer satisfaction before it reaches a boiling point.

A primary avenue to elevate service quality is through training and education. The RI Hospitality Education Foundation offers several training opportunities for those in the foodservice and hospitality industries – or looking to get into the business. Our customer service and food-safety training programs are second to none and help to set industry standards for professionalism and certification. Well-trained employees will have the tools to handle difficult situations and de-escalate any conflict that may arise, whether among staff or with customers.

Technology also plays a crucial role in the customer experience. Adopting technologies like robotic bussers, contactless check-in services, and artificial intelligence can streamline operations and free up staff to focus more on personalized and meaningful customer interactions. However, it is crucial to strike a balance between automation and human touch, as customers still value genuine connections with employees.

In light of the labor shortage, we have seen hospitality businesses training staff to perform multiple duties and roles. This not only enhances the versatility of the workforce but ensures a smoother customer experience. Cross-training allows employees to step in wherever needed, reducing wait-times, and minimizing mistakes and the negative impact of understaffing.

Wages for hourly workers continue to rise according to the Department of Labor, reflecting the changing economic landscape. While competitive wages are essential, they alone cannot guarantee exceptional service. Employers must focus on creating a positive work environment that fosters a sense of pride and purpose. Happier employees are more likely to provide better customer service and handle rude customers more professionally.

As I engage with customers and business owners across Rhode Island, it is evident that many frustrations center on a lack of staff and service quality. Employee turnover can be minimized through comprehensive training programs and opportunities for growth within the organization. We should also encourage a culture of appreciation, where outstanding performance is recognized and rewarded.

Employers should be reminding their staff that the hospitality industry is the “service industry,” and the number one priority is the customer. By actively listening to our customers' needs and preferences, we can adapt our services to better meet their expectations and lessen the likelihood of encountering rudeness due to their dissatisfaction, leading to a more pleasant experience for everyone.

Ultimately, improving the customer experience includes collaboration between businesses, associations, and educational institutions to leverage each other's strengths and resources to create a well-rounded, skilled workforce that will leave a lasting - positive - impression on our guests.

The road to restoring customer confidence and satisfaction may seem challenging, but it is not insurmountable. By investing in training and education, embracing technology judiciously, fostering a positive work environment, and prioritizing the customer experience, we can create a climate in which exceptional service becomes the norm. As we move forward together, remain committed to the vision of an industry defined by professionalism, excellence, and unparalleled customer satisfaction.

For more information on the RI Hospitality Education Foundation’s training opportunities, please visit: https://www.RIHospitality.org.