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West Federation


Scott Smith
Johnson and Wales University, Denver

We Are Hospitality, We Are in the People Service Industry

Scott R. Smith is West Federation President of ICHRIE and Professor and Department Chair at Johnson & Wales University, Denver

As hospitality professionals, we teach and work in an industry where we need to interact with people every day. Whether we are engaging with guests in our hotels, customers in the restaurant, coworkers, students, or even friends and family, we need to be able to communicate with them. In an age where we do much of our personal and professional communication though technology, I see a trend where we are actually interacting with the screen on our mobile devices much more that we are with each other. It is almost as if there is a void or lost art in the personal communication between people. I see this lack of interaction at meetings, in the classroom, at conferences, and just about any other place where you have a gathering of people.

So, how do we begin to reverse this trend and get people to engage with one another? The easy answer is to just put away our mobile devices (how many times you have mentioned at the beginning of class to put those things away!). But what happens after that? As educators, think about the students we are currently working with. We now have a generation of individuals who were raised with a mobile device in their hands. To this point, in a Baylor University study, it has been estimated that college students spend approximately 8-10 hours a day on their mobile devices (Wood, 2015). Consequently, they may not have had as much training or practice at the art of face to face social conversation. 

Let’s, consider how this might impact the hospitality businesses. Jan Carlzon explains this best in his book, Moments of Truth (1987). He states that anytime we come in contact with our guest we have the opportunity to make a positive or negative impact on their experience. Imagine how the lack of communication skills can affect the guest’s experience. The same can be said when we interact with each other in the classroom or on the job. If we do not start off with a positive interaction between each other, how can we expect our staff to have one with the guest?

I was taught early in the business of hospitality there are three things we do when we meet people. The first is the greeting; a simple “hello,” welcome, or even a meaningful smile will do. The second step is making contact. Here is where a handshake, eye contact, and/or some other jester is involved.  The third step is the name. Including the other person’s name in this exchange can add a sense of personal touch. This process can be considered as a moment of truth. While very simple to do, it can be often ignored. That is my personal experience, but what about what is required or expected in industry?

Many hospitality operations have training manuals and guidelines which will help new employees learn what is expected of them in providing the best customer service. For example, one guideline which might be used is the 10 and 5 Rule. This rule is sometimes referred to as the Zone of Hospitality. Basically, this zone can be described as when a guest is within 10 feet of a staff member, he or she should make eye contact accompanied with a warm smile of acknowledgement. When in the five-foot zone, this is where the sincere greeting or friendly gesture should accompany the eye contact and smile (Gurtman, n.d). Other organizations may have similar guidelines, such as acknowledging the guest within three seconds with eye contact and a smile or a greeting, eye contact, and a smile (Muddle, 2012).

If we know there is a deficiency and a lack of social interaction skills with our students, how can we prepare them to be successful? As an educator, the first step is to model the appropriate behaviors in all that we do. We can start by keeping our own mobile devices in our pockets, if we are not using them as a tool in the classroom. Now, depending on whether your class is purely lecture based (low-interaction between instructor and students) versus a student-centered class (providing multiple opportunities for students to interact with each other and the instructor) will determine what you can incorporate into your lesson plan. If you teach a pure lecture based class, you may consider moving towards the student-centered style. Looking at the student-centered model, you may include more social interaction skills development so that you class:

Contains activities where the instructor can receive student feedback to determine if there is a need to adapt the direction of the lesson; Has multiple opportunities for interaction between the instructor, individual students, small student groups, and the whole class; Capitalizes on the diversity of student experiences to generate alternative solutions to (open-ended) problems and to explore student ideas within the context of the lesson; and Includes sufficient time to have meaningful discussions around student activities and arrive at fully realized responses” (Center, 2016, para 3).

Another idea is to figure out ways to integrate social interaction activities into the curriculum or lesson plan. In one class I teach, on the first day of class I do an ice breaker activity where I have the students mingle in the classroom, personally introducing themselves to each other using the greeting, contact, and name method. It is surprising how many of the students are actually meeting a classmate they have had classes with for the past three years for the first time. Even at professional organizational meetings, I will do an opening activity where I will have the attendees introduce themselves to someone they do not know.

There will always be the challenge of getting the attention of our students, as well as our own, away from the screen of our mobile devices. If we can integrate some positive influences or strategies into our lessons, behaviors, and actions we stand a chance to improve the social interaction skills of ourselves and our students. As educators, we owe it to society and our business partners to help our students become better at interacting and engaging with each other and the guests they will serve in industry. This is where we need to remember our mantra, We Are Hospitality, We Are in the People Service Industry!

Scott R. Smith, PhD, CEC, CCE

Carlzon, J. (1987). Moments of Truth. Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing Company.

Center, S. E. (2016, November 3). Classroom Observation Project. Retrieved December 27, 2017, from Science Education Resource Center:

Gurtman, J. (n.d.). What is the 10 and 5 Staff Rule? Retrieved December 30, 2017, from

Muddle, G. (2012). Healthcare Customer Service Training – Module#2. Retrieved December 30, 2017, from Health Care Warrior – Serious Title. Serious Misson. Seriously:

Wood, J. (2015, October 6). College Students In Study Spend 8 to 10 Hours Daily on Cell Phone. Retrieved December 31, 2017, from PsychCentral:


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