Service is Monologue; Hospitality, Dialogue

I am making my way through Setting the Table by restaurateur Danny Meyer. I say “making my way” for it is not one of those books I devour in the reading, yet there are parts of it which are gems, encouraging me to keep picking it up to continue.

For example, Meyer makes a distinction in his book between service and hospitality which is so eloquent yet so basic. It resonates deeply and intuitively. His stance rings so true when we think about the service we want to receive, yet at givers, we in business rarely figure this out. We managers do not teach, or coach it enough. Meyer writes,

“The beautiful choreography of service is, at its best, an art form, a ballet. I appreciate the grace with which a table can be properly cleared. I admire the elegance with which a bottle of wine can be appropriately opened, decanted, and poured. There’s aesthetic value in doing things the right way. But I respond best when the person doing those things realizes that the purpose of all this beauty at the table is to create pleasure for me. To go through the motions in a perfunctory or self-absorbed manner, no matter how expertly rendered, diminishes the beauty. It’s about soul—and service without soul, no matter how elegant, is quickly forgotten by the guest.”

“Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel. Service is a monologue—we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guests’ side requires listening to that person in every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.”

I remember learning about this kind of hospitality in service back when I was in college, supporting myself by nights of waiting tables at The Third Floor Restaurant of the Hawaiian Regent Hotel (today, it is the Marriott in Waikiki). The distinction we were taught there went a bit further; we were taught by our European managers that exquisite hospitality was dialogue without conversation.

Hospitality which transcended great service was done without interruption or notice. Guests were not at the table to have conversations with us, we were there to serve silently and invisibly so they could enjoy the company of the ones they’d come with. We were there to create hospitality without saying a single word. However this was still dialogue; the dialogue of hospitality that fills golden silence with warmth and gracious service. Such memorable lessons.

In Managing with Aloha, we call this Ho‘okipa

The value of Hawaiian-style hospitality, in which guests and strangers alike are welcomed with your spirit of Aloha. There is complete generosity in Ho‘okipa, and those who aspire to the best practice of this value are highly empathetic, and very perceptive in anticipating the needs of others.


  1. says

    Hi Rosa,
    This whole post is a great TIP.
    My favorite line by Meyers…
    “It’s about soul—and service without soul, no matter how elegant, is quickly forgotten by the guest”
    My daughter Nicole is a server, and
    although I’ve never been a server myself,
    Ohhhhhhhhhhh the stories and life lessons too that I have learned through her…
    I just printed this post and handed it
    to her as she was on her way to work. :)
    Hopefully it will make it’s way to their
    bulletin board.
    Nicole is a great server and has the admiration of her bosses and ohhhhh so many ‘regular guests’.
    Then there are SOME fellow servers who are
    not so happy with her, they don’t seem to GET IT (serving) in the same natural and genuine way she does….
    AND for a server that getting IT, equates to one’s bottom line. !!!

  2. says

    Hospitality and the Comforts of Home, with Company

    “Make yourself at home.” How many times has someone said that to you, and a small voice in your head says, “yeah, right. I’m a guest, I don’t live here” as you take your first look around and wonder where

  3. says

    Ho‘okipa Coaching of the Day ”“ Deliver on the Promise

    KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u (strive to reach the summit) helps us define achievement for ourselves, and for our business. Ho‘okipa (the hospitality of complete giving) will help us define the achievement we must attain to satisfy our guests and our