I was recently holidaying at a lodge in the Rocky Mountains. Deer Lodge - it's a charming old place that serves excellent game dishes, and is close to some lucious scenery and skiing.
Unfortunately, they have the challenge of all remote seasonal resorts -- getting and keeping good staff.
This year there was one remarkable incident that illustrates the issue.
Breakfast at the Lodge
We were having breakfast, and had ordered two coffees, which arrived with a refill carafe. "Nice touch!" I thought. Our waiter, a ditzy young man we had seen before, kept coming by to pour refills. I wanted to save my refill to savor after finishing breakfast, so said "No thanks." So did my husband.
Next thing I know, he has grabbed our carafe, still half full of OUR coffee (at $3.75 per serving, I might add), and whisked it away!
My amazement only grew as I watched him take it to the servers' station, top it up from a pot there, then whisk it over to another table. Probably not the experience the manager had in mind. And lukewarm coffee for the next guys!
Breakfast at the Airport
By contrast, a day later I was having breakfast in the airport in Calgary. The server there seemed to effortlessly handle a very large number of tables, quickly nodding and smiling at people, dropping off menus here, adding coffee there, telling people she would be back shortly to take their orders.
They were out of coffee mugs for some reason, so she had cleverly obtained a pile of large paper cups from the nearby Starbucks, and was giving everyone a generous pour in these explaining as she went.
A fairly pedestrian meal made much more pleasant by the impressive hosting capabilities of the staff.
What's at stake: only your brand
It's a reminder that you can only be as good as your front line staff. You can't always hire the people you wish you could. Instead, you have to ensure your processes are as easy to deliver as you can make them. Because poor staff will short-cut, they will forget, they will be inefficient, and they will barely be paying attention. After all, they came for the skiing / boarding, not the server job. Or they are trying to get work as an actor or artist. Or just put themselves through school.
But the brand and reputation at stake is yours, not the individual staff person's.
In this case, frankly, I was so astonished that I just laughed.