Understanding the difference between the two can change everything.

I’m just going to say it. This article is probably going to ruffle some feathers. It may even get negative comments of disbelief and aggressive disagreement. But it doesn’t make it any less true. 

I had an epiphany about 17 years ago. It came to me one night. One night much like the scene in “Jerry McGuire” when he stayed up and wrote his mission statement about having fewer clients. And what I discovered has served me well over more than the last 15 years.

I decided that when it comes to the guest experience, I was not going to give a crap about anything the guest didn’t care about. I think so far you would agree with that. It’s easy to agree with that statement in theory. But, what about reality? Well, if I can alter your mindset and you can truly get behind what I am saying, this will revolutionize your business. But first, a little backstory.

In 2000, I got divorced and I burned out as a restaurateur. I had spent the previous six years trying to learn as much as I could in how to run a restaurant. I had a mentor named Tom Bryan who taught me a lot about building sales and how to run an operation. I volunteered for every responsibility I could. And I rose from rookie assistant manager to rockstar GM for Wolfgang Puck in four years. Two years later, I hit a wall, quit my job, and moved to Las Vegas to wait tables. Fast forward five years, in 2005, I moved to Nashville and got back into management starting back at the bottom.

When I resurfaced into a management role with Fleming’s Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Nashville, I had to prove myself again. The success I had experienced before in Southern California was not known to the restaurant scene in Nashville. So, I thought, how can I really make a mark in Nashville. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what that mark would be: The guest experience!

Nashville restaurants sucked when it came to truly creating phenomenal guest experiences back in 2005. The reality is even today, Nashville doesn’t provide truly life-changing experiences. In fact, outside of some restaurants in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, L.A., almost nobody delivers the kind of experience that guests will never forget. There are maybe 40 restaurateurs in the U.S. who can deliver that kind of experience.

So, what was the epiphany that rocked my world? It was “don’t give a crap about things the guest doesn’t care about when creating the guest experience.” Here is what I discovered that night.

1. Guests don’t give a crap about precise details                                      

In 2005, I trained in Naples, Florida, for my new Fleming’s job in Nashville. There was a manager at that restaurant that literally measured how far every single set of silverware was from the end of the table. In my opinion, he wasted an hour of his day every day checking something the guests could care less about. If you don’t believe me, find a yelp review that says, “I gave the restaurant a three-star review because their silverware didn’t line up perfectly on the table.” Do guests care about their silverware? Yes, they do. They care that it is there when they need it and that it’s clean. That’s it.

I worked as an operating partner for a restaurant group few years back. And I reported to a director of operations who would come into my restaurant and go on a witch hunt to determine that my restaurant was dirty. If he couldn’t find anything in normal view, he would reach up and slide his finger across the top of a picture frame that was 8 feet off of the ground. No guest would ever see that. You may think no big deal but I assure you, being that anal serves no purpose. Dust on top of a picture frame 8 feet off the ground has zero impact on a guest. Don’t get me wrong, it Is important to have a clean restaurant. However, don’t focus on unnecessary, stupid crap. In my 25 years in restaurant management, I’ve never received a guest review that said my restaurant was dirty. 

2. Guests don’t prioritize service as the No. 1 priority

That may freak you out. “How could that be true?” you ask. “Guests comment on service on reviews all of the time.” Guests may call it service but most of the time, if you read the review, they are talking about hospitality not service. Does a guest care about the steps of service? Absolutely they do. But they care more about hospitality.

So, my epiphany that came to me one night was understanding the difference between the two. 

This profound understanding separated me from almost every operator I have ever met. And it earned the most loyal VIPs, and made my restaurants grow substantially in sales and profit. Every restaurant I ever touched, flourished. And I became one of the most recognized restaurateurs in Nashville. It’s about hospitality, not service.

Service is a Skill Set. Hospitality is a Mindset.

Service is What You Do. Hospitality is How You Make the Guest Feel

Service is Meeting/Exceeding the Guest’s Physical Needs

Hospitality is Meeting/Exceeding the Guest’s Emotional Needs

Service is Transactional. Hospitality is Relational

So What?

Guests care more about how they were treated than they do about what they ate. If you don’t show up every day creating the most engaging, human connections with your guest, it doesn’t matter how good your food and drinks are. It doesn’t matter how cool and hip your ambiance and staff are. It doesn’t matter how flawless your service is. The only thing the guest cares about is, did they feel cared for? Did they feel that the person serving them truly make them feel special? 

Danny Meyer says that we all came into this world experiencing two things. As our mother held us in her arms we received love and nourishment. And as adults we still need those things.

If you can get past the old thinking of prioritizing stupid crap and want to create something truly special with your restaurant, Connect with me at www.montesilvacoaching.com. We owe it to the world to create guest experiences that matter. Our world needs to be loved. And I can help you.

Editor’s note: This is the 19th article in a new column from restaurant expert Monte Silva. More on the series can be found here. The first story, on Why Underpaying Restaurant Employees is a Recipe for Disaster, is here. The second, on Why Marketing is Not Expensive, is here. The third, on people-centric leadership, is here. The fourth, on Why Working 70-Hour Weeks in Your Restaurant is Not the Answer, is here. The fifth, on How to Provide Hospitality in a High-Tech, Low-Touch World, is here. The sixth, on ‘The Convertible Culture’ in Restaurants, is here. The seventh, on Why the Old P&L Model Has Set Restaurants Up for Failure,’ is here. The eighth, on How to Scale Your Restaurant Business When There is Only One of You, is here. The ninth article, The Secret to Finding and Keeping Great Employees is Not Difficult, is here. The 10th, What Culture Do You Really Want at Your Restaurant?, is here. The 11th, on Your Restaurant Should Serve People, Not Product, is here. The 12th, on Don’t Let Shiny New Toys Distract Your Restaurant from What’s Most Important, is here. The the 13th, on Why Restaurant Value Shouldn’t Be Based on Price, is here. The 14th, on The Case for Hyper-Focused Menus, is here. The 15th, This is How Your Restaurant Will Survive Beyond 3 Years, is here. The 16th, on The Difference Between a Restaurant Coach and Consultant, is here. The 17th, What is a Restaurant Tech Stack, and How Do You Know if You Built the Right One? is here. And the 18th, You Can’t Make Someone Accountable if You Haven’t Made Them Responsible, is here.

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