How critical is authenticity to hospitality business success?

Ollie Brand

The people we hire and work with in hospitality are the essence of the experience we want for our guests. But how authentic does this sentiment need to be?

As an industry, we want people want to feel welcome and cared for when they visit our hotels, restaurants, pubs, bars and coffee shops - and the people we hire and work with are the essence of this experience. In the face of a tight labour market and a bigger battle for a share of consumers' dwindling disposable spend, businesses are waking up to the fact that staff happiness, loyalty and job satisfaction are intrinsically linked – and critical - to the quality of the customer experience we want to deliver. Much of the conversation across season 1 of our Recipes for Success podcasts has been about the importance of hiring passionate people. But how genuine does this sentiment need to be? And, to what extent is the way in which guests are greeted and served throughout their experience linked to the authenticity of our front of house?

Why does authenticity matter? With consumers feeling the pinch of rising costs, the market has been turned on its head for many, and the topic of authenticity is coming up time and again. In our Recipes for Success podcast with Katy Moses, Founder and MD at KAM (available here), we were interested to hear her thoughts on the very real need for staff to create an instant connection with customers today. Katy emphasised the importance of customer experience as the biggest driving force for the sector and how, since the pandemic, the industry has been working much harder to keep customers happy. Likewise, Matt Grimshaw, Founder of Youda, and another recent guest on our Recipes for Success podcast (available here), spoke about the authentic customer experience and how important it is for staff to learn those key skills ‘on the job’, believing that it takes a highly skilled individual to connect authentically with others and to inspire those around them.

How can you become a more authentic business? Psychologist, Dr Laura Friesen, previously spoke about the importance of authenticity in hospitality in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research (source), where she discussed how authenticity can help to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. She also pointed out the number of ways that the hospitality industry can convey its authenticity to others through human traits such as kindness, honesty and humility. Dr Friesen also suggested that in embracing our true selves and living more authentically, we become better human beings and better at creating more memorable experiences for those around us. With the turbulence faced by the hospitality sector over the last few years and the continued uncertainty around rising costs, staff shortages and energy hikes, delivering a more authentic customer experience should be a key priority right now.

Of course, creating an authentic experience also spans beyond staff service; it is also about recognising and living your business purpose. Over the last couple of years alone, this need for authenticity has gained even more traction amongst consumers. Despite spending less, consumers are increasingly favouring authentic products, quality over quantity, support for local community and the planet, and they are looking for a general authentic character in terms of the environment they choose to dine in, for instance. This is also about a shift in culture and the need for hospitality providers to put greater thought into their customer relationships. Ultimately the goal and the business purpose is to build a more authentic guest experience – and that means focusing on the experience of our own people.

Can technology support greater authenticity in the workplace? Many teams are over-stretched, swamped with admin and paperwork, tired, over-worked, underpaid and under-trained. This has a knock-on effect on staff happiness, retention and general day to day job satisfaction. Developing a positive team culture where people have more free time and greater flexibility to foster customer connections and deliver a first-class service, needs to be at the heart of everything. In doing this, you will not only improve your guest experience, but you will also build a stronger and increasingly motivated workforce along the way.

Thankfully, advances in technology is helping hospitality businesses to improve the customer and staff experience, through automating admin-heavy, mundane tasks and freeing up more time for staff to spend on the job they love – keeping their customers happy and building relationships. There is a lot of innovation happening in the industry right now and this needs to translate across the systems and processes businesses use too. Technology will play a huge role in helping businesses to put their people first and improve the guest experience.

It is clear that being authentic, specialising in and knowing your subject, as well as operating a ‘people-first’ strategy, are key to greater resilience for your business – even in challenging market environments - and will undoubtedly result in a stronger business for you, and a more robust hospitality industry across the board.