The hospitality industry is famously demanding. Whether you work in hotel management, in a restaurant or bar, on a cruise ship or at a travel agency, there are several critical skills you'll need to hone in on in order to climb your way to the top. These attributes don’t have anything to do with a specific physical task or craft—instead, this list contains the “soft skills” that will be necessary for your development in any line of work.
In hospitality, the work you do and the way you convey yourself is immediately on display for customers. Your company's or business’ success is built upon your ability to leave customers with a great impression. Think of it this way: A smile, a little extra attention to detail, and a gift for expecting the unexpected can make or break the entire experience. Your customers are dining, adventuring, and vacationing; they chose to do so in order to get away from the stress and anxiety of daily life. You are there to deliver that perfect moment of escape in a way that’s simultaneously creative and personal.
Developing a customer-centric mindset is a great place to start, but working on your smile is only the beginning. The following list contains the top ten most important skills we have found to be critical determinants of success in the hospitality industry.
Read on for more information about why these skills are so important and how you can work to improve them within the context of your daily life.
10. A positive attitude
Positivity not only creates better impression in front of customers, but it helps you enjoy your daily routine and maximize your productivity at work. Yes, it’s easy to say “just be positive” and “put a smile on your face,” but you’re sure to encounter days where this is just about the last thing you want to do. It takes incredible mental fortitude to power through a rude interaction or series of unfortunate events; it takes even more concentration (think meditative zen) to turn your negativity into positivity. But it’s important to remember to do so: a negative outlook will promote fear and increase stress hormone production, which can quickly become a vicious cycle. Positivity, on the other hand, promotes longevity.
To work on creating a positive attitude, do the following: Surround yourself with positive people, remember to practice gratitude, solidify your daily routine, and fill your mind with positive input. Your customers will notice the difference, and that’ll quickly reflect back on you. Lastly, don’t forget to take breaks and prioritize your own needs - it’s impossible to be positive when you’re completely exhausted and running on fumes.
9. An eye for aesthetics
While not everyone is a born artist, it’s not difficult to develop a sense for design and aesthetics. Doing so will quickly set you apart in the hospitality industry. If you know what looks good, you’ll be able to recreate and reimagine your existing setup to make it even more appealing to the customer. Good aesthetics don’t need to be costly: It can be as simple as knowing how to drape a throw blanket across a lawn chair or garnish a cocktail with a sprig of rosemary. Little touches can really add up, especially when you can create a setting that looks expensive and is truly photogenic (your customers will Instagram away).
You don’t need to go back to college and get an art degree in order to work on your eye. Just use it more often (literally). Pick up a few books or magazines featuring fashion, architecture, cuisine, or interior decor and carve out some time each day to flip through and make note of what designs speak to you. Then, ask yourself why. It doesn’t hurt to shadow a friend who works in a creative field, too, to pick up some tips and tricks firsthand.
8. Dedication to your craft
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything, and he has yet to proven wrong. No matter which part of the hospitality industry you work within, your job requires a unique set of skills that can only be improved over time. Whether you’re a housekeeper, line cook, manager, or concierge, your job requires ‘hard skills’ (like perfectly making a bed, searing a steak to medium-rare, effectively communicating with employees, or developing a relationship with customers). These ‘hard skills’ require attention and practice. If you don’t enjoy or care about your job, you won’t feel the dedication and drive to constantly improve - and this might be a sign that it’s time for a career switch.
Once you’ve found a path that you truly enjoy, dedication to your craft will come naturally. Just don’t forget to set aside designated hours in your day to practice and refine what you already do well (and work to improve some of the tasks that don’t come as naturally). With dedication and a little bit of time, you’ll soon be able to land any job you want.
7. Time management and organization
Time management can be one of the more difficult skills to develop when working in the hospitality industry because every single day on the job is different. You’re constantly faced with new challenges and unique circumstances that you’ll need to adapt to on the fly. Sometimes these challenges will throw your schedule out of whack. Just because things constantly change, though, doesn’t mean you can forego an organized schedule.
Time management means learning how to prioritize your day and making an effort to do so in advance. Start out by writing down a loose schedule for your day the night before, putting the most important tasks early on. Take mental notes as you proceed with your day and be conscious of the ways in which you could maximize your efficiency. Is there a particular task that involves a period of “latent time” (like waiting for a piece of equipment to finish a cycle) that you could use to work on something else? Capitalize on this. And lastly, don’t forget to set some boundaries for yourself. Yes, you might have to break out of your predetermined schedule to deal with an emergency, but make sure you’ve clearly defined what counts as an “emergency.” This can be tricky when you’re dealing with demanding customers, but sometimes you’ll need to draw a line.
In the hospitality industry, you always need to stay at least two steps ahead of the game. Don’t just address a customer’s needs when they announce them - instead, think ahead and anticipate their needs so you can get the task done in advance (and save time for more important things). The ability to think ahead is called proactivity.
We can learn a lot from just the definition of the word. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, proactive means “creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.” The words ‘create’ and ‘control’ here are significant. Being proactive means learning how to act, or create, in advance rather than simply respond. When you work proactively, you’ll maintain control over your day and avoid lags in your schedule, which feeds back into skill #7 (time management).
To increase your proactivity in your day-to-day environment, come up with a list of common “interruptions” that you find annoying or disruptive. Then, brainstorm ways that you might be able to prevent these (or bring your list to your manager if necessary) and try to enact one or two items each day.
5. The ability to work under pressure
There’s no denying it: hospitality can be tough. You’ll have days when your team is short-staffed and customers are more demanding than usual, and you’ll need to learn coping strategies for those stressful occasions. The ability to work well under pressure isn’t something that most people are born with, but there are many ways you can practice and become comfortable in doing so. Our #6 strength, proactivity, is a great place to start: When planning out your week, predict certain times when your workload may suddenly increase, whether due to an increase in customers or an external factor (such as a holiday or long weekend). Think about ways in which you can prepare in advance for these days, and give yourself plenty of time to do so.
When you’re in the thick of it, make sure to keep your focus on the present. Don’t get distracted by something that just happened a couple of minutes ago or the next ten things you need to do in that same hour. Keep your head “in the zone” and mind purely on the task at hand - this way, you’ll prevent mistakes which can be costly in terms of lost time for a do-over. In addition, try to change how you think about stress and pressure. Instead of worrying about a near catastrophe or recognizing the stress your body is dealing with, think of pressure as a fun challenge, like finishing a marathon, that you feel confident in tackling. Know that as soon as you cross that “finish line,” you’ll reap the benefits of your hard work and feel a great sense of accomplishment.
4. A creative approach to problem solving
The hospitality industry will throw plenty of curveballs at you - and fast - that you’ll need to know how to react to within a moment’s notice. While almost every job in every industry requires some degree of problem solving, you’ll have to learn an especially practical approach to the task in hospitality. Many of the problems you’ll face won’t have a simple or obvious solution, so you’ll have to think outside the box to quickly smooth over any issues before your customer or client has time to form a negative impression.
Becoming a skilled problem solver is a lot like becoming a scientist. You’ll need to learn to examine the problems you face from a new angle, interpreting it from both a quantitative and qualitative angle. To improve your problem solving skills, you can start by finding new ways to stretch your brain. It may sound frivolous, but you can strengthen your neurological synapses by working on logic puzzles and games in your spare time (like crossword puzzles or sudoku) and keeping an idea journal. Don’t limit yourself to solutions that have been done before - instead, think about new ways to attack a problem, even if they initially seem impossible. And last but not least, make sure to get a good night’s sleep: Nothing is worse for creativity than sleep deprivation, so don’t forget to make room for your own wellbeing when drafting up your weekly schedule.
Whether you’re a manager, owner, or junior staff member, you’ll need to enact leadership skills on a daily basis within the hospitality industry. As a service-based industry, there are always thousands of “moving parts” to keep track of, and if even one of these parts fails, your entire effort could be at stake. Inevitably, there will be times when you need to step up and take charge. Perhaps a co-worker is injured or has to deal with a family emergency -- in these moments, you might be the only one who can sub in for their responsibilities. Leadership means not only volunteering yourself in these moments but knowing how to delegate and direct the rest of your team in an efficient and logical way.
To become a strong leader, you must first be confident in yourself and your own abilities. Know your strengths: Maybe you have a particular knack for fixing broken machinery, or you can de-escalate conflicts that come up with customers. Show up and take charge when these situations arise, or offer to help a coworker who is struggling. Then, take it a step further and make sure to recognize (and mentally catalog) the strengths of others on your team. If something comes up that you know someone else would be perfect at handling, acknowledge their talent, first, and then ask for their assistance.
To be a leader is to be a role model, so try to carry out every action in your day as if a younger family member or sibling was watching. Keep your head up when things get tough, and always offer to step in and help out when someone else is struggling.
Communication is key. Because the hospitality industry is so fast-paced, you absolutely have to have great communication skills in order to succeed. Since you are interacting with customers constantly (and, more than likely, ten or twenty other team members), you have to be able to deliver information in a clear, comprehensive, and positive manner regardless of external factors that might be in play. Sometimes, the information that you’re delivering won’t be exactly what your subject is hoping to hear, and you need to develop skills to cope with this and navigate tough conversations.
To improve your communication skills, start with this: Always set expectations. Never over-promise something when you know it won’t truly be possible. While it’s not the most fun to tell a customer that their experience will be anything less than a ten out of ten, sometimes you will be required to do so to avoid an escalated situation later on. When you’re delivering what may seem like “bad news,” keep your tone of voice positive and polite, and be sure apologize when expectations are promised but not delivered. On the flip side, be careful of over-apologizing when a customer is angry for a reason out of your control (unfortunately, we don’t have superpowers over the weather).
Effective communication also involves a mutual understanding of language and social cues. In hospitality, you will likely encounter customers hailing from multiple cultures and nationalities around the world. Be aware that some cultures will have different standards and expectations, and try to align your speech, mannerisms, and actions to those of your customer. The same goes for other members of your team. Communication is a two-way street, and both parties must be capable of some degree of flexibility to achieve optimum results. Be clear about what you expect and what you can deliver within a certain amount of time, and you’ll find that everyone can work synchronously.
1. Attention to detail
Perhaps most important to success in the hospitality industry is developing a keen eye for detail. While it may not seem like the most obvious key to success, it’s truly the one characteristic that will set an exceptional worker apart from all the rest. While it’s easy to throw the term around in your cover letter or during an interview, truly paying attention to detail is much more difficult in practice. It requires dedication and care, and it’s admittedly not a skill that all are born with.
Defined simply, attention to detail is the ability to achieve thoroughness and accuracy when completing a task. So, in order to improve this skill in your daily life, keep a checklist (physical or mental) of the following three things whenever you’re working on a task:
First, check for accuracy. Setting up for a customer’s wedding or private dinner party? Make sure to go back and check the number of guests in attendance to ensure they match the number of place settings, chairs, amount of food and drink, etc. Second, check for consistency. In this same example, this means looking over each table to make sure every table looks as close to identical as possible to the others, and, from a bigger-picture lens, that your overall venue is decorated and prepped to the same standard as other events you’ve put on in the past. Finally, check for completion. Have a to-do list (again, this can be either physical or mental) and double check that every single box has been ticked. You may find yourself adding a couple other items to the to-do list along the way -- and this is a good thing! If you feel that something else, even a minor detail, is necessary to finish off a job, spare no effort or expense to get it done. This will be the defining characteristic that makes you stand out and garners respect from customers, managers, and team members alike.
Why hospitality is important, watch the video below.
Author: Emily Fearey