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 the bathroom is, and how soon you’ll need to escape to it.

A platitude as short as “Make yourself at home” is also as far as many managers get in training their staff on the delivery of hospitality, telling them to give their customer exceptional service, and asking them to be gracious about it.

The giving of hospitality is something that managers must teach, train, and coach their staff to do, and sadly, this doesn’t happen nearly enough. Service might be taught, but not hospitality, for managers make the faulty assumption that as long as their people “play nice” and are kept in good spirits, they will be nice and share their good spirits with the customer, something that is not necessarily true.

As a young manager I struggled with this too, until an aha! moment I had one day as I stood in front of a class of new recruits ready to tell them about the “Three Steps of Service” our hotel company had built our reputation on.

Three Steps Of Service

  1. A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name.
  2. Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.
  3. Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest’s name.

    I was with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

We were ready to open a new hotel, and my corporate curriculum was set, but what I saw in those faces looking back at me expectedly was that they’d need a bit more from me. I was confident that they would learn the service part easily enough, everyone did. The part that was always trickier to accomplish, was the hospitality part; in our obsession with service, it was easy to overlook the spirit of ho’okipa that would make our flawless execution of service truly warm and intimately special.

My aha! moment? I’ll tell them what mom taught us as kids, and ask them to help us do the same thing here.

Whenever someone would come to the house, our mom’s lesson for us was straightforward and simple. She would say,

“You stick by their side and make them feel comfortable. Find them something they can do with you, and be there to talk to them when they feel like talking.”

Leaving a guest to fend for themselves and somehow make themselves feel at home was unthinkable, and well, it was plain silly, for it was our home, not theirs. How could they possibly know what to do, and how to fit in without us? Not only that; why on earth would they want to be in our house alone?

This simple thing called comfort with company is so blatantly missing in our customer experiences today. My mom was right, and in every class going forward, that is what I would teach, by asking my staff, “What can we do to make people comfortable? When should we be with them?”

It made the world of difference, both for our customers, and for my staff, who understood how needed they were.

Additional Reading: Please visit the March archives for this posting I shared on Danny Meyer’s definition of the difference between service and hospitality. He is so right, and beginning to separate the two words in your own language of intention will help you greatly. Managers who are exceptional trainers and coaches use the right words, and they use single words that are clear in their meaning each time they are said.

Visit Service is Monologue; Hospitality, Dialogue.

“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.”



Our value of the month is Ho‘okipa, the Hospitality of Complete Giving.


  1. says

    Hi Rosa
    Thanks for these thoughts. One thing you always do on this blog is make us feel at home – it’s good to read about how you apply these principles in a ‘service’ setting too.
    One of the things that struck me about the dialogue point is that it immediately points you to the two people who are part of the equation: not just the customer, and not just the service provider but the relationship between the two.
    It is when the ‘host’ provides something of themselves – an insight into their character, their lives, their homes – or does something in which they personally take great pride – the food they cook, the place they take you to – that we get that sense of ‘connection’, of feeling at home, that lies at the heart of hospitality.

  2. says

    So true Joanna. Just as my mom knew that we had a kind of “insider’s advantage” in our home to be shared, we always have some kind of expertise to be given to our customers in the service setting. When it becomes personal and the connection is made it transcends good service and becomes sincere, gracious hospitality.
    And it doesn’t take much. So I really have to wonder why we don’t all experience it more often … the lack of exceptional service is such a curious dilemma; we all want it and crave it, it’s relatively easy to give, and yet it still happens so rarely. It saddens me.

  3. says

    Rosa, I wonder if it is something to do with the speed that we all go at? Does good hospitality require us to go that little bit slower? I’m just wondering what some of the blockages are – since, as you say, it’s something we crave and yet don’t experience too often.
    I realise ‘slow service’ might not be a strong selling point! But there might be lessons from the slow food movement for example that could transfer here.
    So much to learn!

  4. says

    My mother taught me that no matter who you meet, you and they have something in common. She thought that if you found that, it was the place to begin to talk and that if you were the host, it was your job to find it.
    My father was a pastor and his parish when I was in high school was near the UN. So we often had parties at the house that included people from different countries as well is businesspeople, politicians and the like. Before each party my mother would go over the guest list with my sister and me, identifying what each of us had in common with each guest so that we could be gracious hosts.

  5. says

    Wally, that was very good teaching from your mother. I’ve tried this a couple of times in training situations and looking for the connection is a great way to establish rapport, fast. I can see how it would work in the context of hospitality too.

  6. says

    I think you make a great point about the speed and frenzy of our lives Joanna; when we have a lot to do we look for shortcuts, and before you know it, those shortcuts taken under pressure create some new habits that really shouldn’t be our normal m.o. – especially when caring for guests and customers.
    Thank you for joining the conversation Wally, and I agree with Joanna – you received great teaching from your parents! I especially love how your mom gave you a kind of “pre-shift” fully respecting that children CAN be seen AND heard when they understand how to be respectful and share hosting duties.
    Back to the work world, it reminds me of my time as a Director of Catering & Conference Services for the Hyatt Corporation. We would produce resumes on visiting groups for all our employees so they would have profile information they could connect to: We shared things like the group’s affiliation, home state, professional pursuits, and if they were strictly on business or were bringing family with them to combine their stay with vacation time. We took such care to be comprehensive with these profiles, and it was frustrating when managers at the operational level would ignore all the information and lead blindly, also denying their staff of the potential hosting advantages had they received some tips on how to connect with the individual guest in a meaningful way.