This is not a story I tell very often because I have been known to get a little choked up from telling it. It happened nearly twenty years ago, but it still has an impact on how I view my job on a daily basis. My purpose in sharing it is not simply to stroll down memory lane, but to explain the power and value of true hospitality. The word hospitality is so often thrown around as a buzzword in restaurants that it loses meaning. When we focus on what true hospitality is we can realize the power it holds and can recognize the ability it has to transform the way people perceive us and even themselves.
I did not grow up in a wealthy family. My father has done very well for himself in the years since, but when I was a teenager he was putting in the hard work to start his business. My family made sure I never needed for anything. They sacrificed to make sure I never missed out on an opportunity. There just wasn’t a lot of extra money for the newest clothes or fancy dinners. I was never resentful of people who had those things, but I was a bit insecure around them.
When I was 17, I was relaxing with my girlfriend and her father watching a football game. At halftime he had some pizzas delivered and told us that he was invited to watch the game at The Pryor Mansion, but would rather watch it with us. His daughter said, “Yeah, but we would rather watch it over there.” He thought about it for a moment and put the pizza in the fridge. We all left the house to watch the second half of the game there.
There wasn’t another house that could really be classified as a mansion in the part of town I grew up in. I heard it had an elevator and an indoor pool, so I was pretty sure it made the cut. It sat on a bluff and had what I could only imagine was a tremendous view of the city. Mr. Pryor was the head of Fred Pryor Seminars (now known as CareerTrack) and the man who invented the one day hotel seminar. My father would often point it out as a parable illustrating the point that you don’t get to have a house like that by going to work for someone else. Instead, people with vision who take risks have houses like that.
When we arrived, I discovered one important fact that I was not aware of. Earlier that evening his granddaughter had performed in a recital. Everyone was dressed in suits and the occasional tuxedo. I stood there in a t-shirt and well ventilated jeans feeling incredibly insecure. I was terrified and felt that this is what happened when someone like me starts to feel like they should be at some place like this. Mr Pryor came over and introduced himself insisting that I call him “Fred.”
Mr Pryor started a conversation and asked if I would like a tour. We strolled through his house and he showed me the indoor swimming pool. It had a shark tank next to it and a glass wall in between that made you feel like you were swimming with the shark. We stepped out back and he told me about how he had been trimming back his trees over the weekend. All of the tree companies he had called gave him absurd bids, so he got out a ladder and trimmed them back himself. The view was spectacular. He introduced me to his mother and we had a wonderful conversation about raising race horses. She invited me out to their stables to see the operation anytime.
During this time my insecurity faded away. I almost felt embarrassed by how much attention everyone was paying me. I mingled and was introduced to so many people that night. By the end of the evening, many of my perceptions had changed. Maybe I did fit in. Maybe my insecurities were based more on my biases than the biases of others.
I will never forget what Mr Pryor did for me that evening. I refer to him now as Mr Pryor out of sincere respect rather than a sense of intimidation. I feel it speaks volumes of his character to go so far out of his way to make me feel welcome. I went from uninvited guest to feeling like the guest of honor. There are a lot of adjectives you could use to describe how he acted that night. I prefer to use just one: hospitality.
This isn’t the story of a time that I went into a big house. I have been in even larger houses since. If that was the story, it wouldn’t have stuck with me. In fact, the house is pretty irrelevant. This is a story about hospitality. I am sure everyone reading this can remember a time that you were truly welcomed as a guest in someone’s home and the impact it had on you. I chose a career in the hospitality industry and named my company The Hospitality Formula for just this reason. Hospitality in its truest sense is both memorable and potentially life changing.
We may never have our own mansions, but we do have the ability to show hospitality to our guests. The next time you have a guest who seems to feel out of place at your restaurant, you have a choice to make. You can choose to try to expedite their meal as much as possible while using descriptors that cause them to feel even more out of place. You can also choose to be a gracious host and do everything you can to make it clear that they belong in your restaurant as much as anyone else. Think of the impact you can have on your guests by showing them that level of hospitality and making them feel truly welcome. These are the guests you can have the greatest effect on and the ones that will remember the service you provide.
And just in case he happens to read this, thank you Fred. Even 18 years later the hospitality that came so naturally to you is still remembered by the kid who grew out of the torn up jeans and t-shirt.
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