by David Klemt

Raise the Bar: Service vs. Hospitality

by David Klemt

Several spray paint cans next to one another

During the 2023 Bar & Restaurant Expo in Las Vegas, Mia Mastroianni, Art Sutley, and Phil Wills addressed what separates service from hospitality.

For the sake of those who are unfamiliar, a brief summary of each member of this informative panel. Art Sutley is a nightlife and hospitality expert recognized by Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Thrillist (among other publications).

Phil Wills and Mia Mastroianni should be recognizable to anyone who has watched Bar Rescue. Wills co-founded Spirits in Motion, a beverage consulting agency. He’s also a bartender’s bartender who’s passionate about hospitality. Mastroianni, equally as passionate about the art of hospitality, is a seriously talented bar professional and hospitality expert who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

It’s difficult to imagine a more qualified trio when it comes to discussing the differences between service and hospitality.

What is Service?

Before they all dove in, Sutley shared a simple but impactful take on the guest experience.

“It’s checking boxes,” said Sutley. “We want each guest to check every box, and a few extra.”

That description helps draw a line between service and hospitality. Per Sutley, Mastroianni, and Wills, service is a transaction and meeting expectations. Reinforcing this idea, Wills said, “Service is black and white; it’s simple.”

Operators and their leadership teams, after developing their steps of service, can literally or figuratively track the service transaction. Training staff—from onboarding to pre-shifts—on the steps of service and an operator’s non-negotiable standards ensures the guest experience transaction is delivered as expected.

Worryingly, Mastroianni expressed her concern that the quality of service appears to be dropping. If that’s true, however, that provides an opportunity.

Per Sutley, the industry is getting more difficult. There are more competitors out there, and guest expectations are becoming increasingly stringent. So, if Mastroianni is correct and more concepts are failing to deliver on the expected service transaction, operators who commit to building and training teams that deliver high-level service will stand out.

What is Hospitality?

If service is black and white, guess what hospitality is?

“Hospitality is color,” said Wills. “And we go above and beyond to relate to guests.”

Going further, Wills said that how an operator and their team chooses to “paint the picture” defines the level of hospitality they deliver.

For Mastroianni, if service is transactional, hospitality is emotional. Hospitality is how a restaurant, bar, nightclub or hotel team makes a guest feel. Drilling deeper, hospitality is how we in this industry connect with guests on a deeper level than simply transactional service.

To throw in my two cents, I like to think that even brand-new operators understand the transactional part of hospitality. It’s the people part, the guest experience element, that catches many operators and their teams out. Service without hospitality is mediocrity in motion.

Regardless of where one stands on the topic of service vs. hospitality, it’s crucial that operators become acutely aware of the experiencing they’re giving their guests. What do they see when they look at the picture they and their team paint each shift?

Image: Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash

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