We’ve Always Done it That Way …

by Steve DiGioia, Featured Contributor

That’s one of the worst things a waiter can say to me.

Something happened the other day that reminded me of a time when I was still new in this business.  Yes, I didn’t have the 25+ years of experience as I do now but I still had enough under my belt to know what was going on and how to evaluate Servicea department and its staff.

I had just started working as a banquet manager at this hotel and found that most of the waiters have been working here for around 7 years and some up to 15 years. After a few days of observation, I made a list of the things that I knew we can do better and planned the steps needed to make it happen. No big deal, I’ve done this many times before.

On the following week’s schedule I listed a date for a mandatory meeting/training class and prepared the topics I would discuss.  The meeting day arrived and we all sat around a series of round tables and enjoyed the coffee and assorted beverages I had prepared for them.

I was already running through some of the topics in my head;

  • Time and attendance
  • Uniform condition
  • Smile
  • Attention to detail
  • Anticipate the needs of the guest
  • Steps of service
  • Opening and closing “side-work”
  • And much more…

As I moved onto the meeting and informed my waiters and bartenders of the changes that will happen and what I would now expect from them (mind you – I only started with a portion of the things out of my list of around 20) you would have thought I asked them to sell me their first born child!  I heard every excuse in the book – this wouldn’t work, why do we need to do this or that’s too hard to do.  Then…they said the one thing that drives me crazy – “but we’ve always done it that way”.

After a pause and a deep breath, my response was this; “I appreciate the hard work and efforts all of you have put into this department and will do so in the future BUT, if we don’t make certain changes, certain improvements, how can any of you expect us to grow our business?  How can you be confident that our volume of business will be consistent, and of course increase, without a continual process of improvement?  Don’t you want to make more money”?

I finished with, “We must keep pace with our competition and improve in all aspects of what we do.  If not, customers will move on to the businesses that will make these changes.”

One brave waiter said “But I thought we were doing a good job”.  “You are, I said, but we can do better, we can always do better.  The proof is in our repeat business, the guest comment cards and the service scores that each department is measured by at the corporate level.  There are “Meeting Planner Surveys”, “Silent Shopper Reports” and more”.  I then put up a slide show listing many of these surveys and comments.  The reports were not terrible, but had much room for improvement.

Well to make a long story short, I laid out my plan for the department.  I had already spoken with our chef and had a meeting set to discuss new menu items and presentation ideas; he was very open-minded with this, which did surprise me frankly.  I also had pointed out to our General Manager about the condition of the staff’s uniforms and had samples already in the mail from our supplier.

Once the staff learned about what was ahead, and realized that we were serious about making sweeping changes and improvements, their willingness to accept these changes increased.

Before we knew it my staff learned how to work better, smarter, and became more productive. They had new uniforms, some new equipment and a new attitude.  Best of all, we started to provide a much better product. The service turned from average to great. They were now able to anticipate the guest’s needs instead of just reacting to their complaints.  We were well on our way to provide that “WOW” service we always dream about.

It was a lot of hard work changing the mindset of many of the staff but it was worth it. “Who says you can’t teach an old dog some new tricks?  “We’ve always done it that way”…not anymore!


Steve DiGioia
Steve DiGioia
With 20+ years in the hospitality industry and a lifetime of customer service experience, Steve DiGioia shares real-world tips and tactics to improve your customer service, increase employee morale, and provide the experience your customers desire. As a certified trainer, author & speaker, Steve has been recognized as a 4-time “World’s Top 30 Customer Service Professional” by Global and a “Top Customer Service Influencer” by multiple industry-leading sources. He is also a featured contributor to the leading hospitality and customer service websites. With a tagline of “Finding Ways to WOW Your Customer”, Steve continues his pursuit of excellence on his award-winning blog sharing his best strategies on customer service, management, and leadership. Follow Steve on Twitter @Steve DiGioia.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more, that is a phrase and mindset that causes complacency and kills progress. Nothing stays the same. As individuals and in business, we must be willing to learn and grow. Steve, you handled this situation well by having done your homework, and not making employees feel bad, but instead recognizing how to take it up a notch and do even better.