Get in the fast lane and stay there

Speed is an important element in service delivery that requires more focus from many different angles. It is a point often highlighted by customers, yet there seems to be little evidence it is dealt with sufficiently. We feel it is a bigger issue in Europe than in the United States. Evidently U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently listed queuing as one of his favorite British loves — hardly an approach that focuses the mind on speed! The right approach and focus on this issue is, in our view, the first step in getting it right.

Mankind has spent much time trying to beat various speed records, and there is no reason we should not apply a similar discipline in service businesses. There are profitable rewards to be had in addition to happier customers.

Historically, the U.S. approach of getting the customer seated, serving water and perhaps bread and delivering the menu quickly to the table always seemed preferable than early European practices of being seated in a bar and having to ask for menus and everything else. Perhaps we are being too critical, and things have certainly improved over the years. Nonetheless, speed is a critical issue within many operational situations and not always thought through sufficiently.

The fact that we put time-delay warnings on some menu items and operations such as room service seems defeatist and evidence that perhaps we should spend more time perfecting rather than excusing.

Here are some of our pet dislikes and irritants in the area:

  • Failure to readily acknowledge the customer
  • Being kept waiting unnecessarily
  • The use of “wait to be seated” signs
  • Failure without cause to commence a process
  • Team players not concentrating and talking internally and presiding over badly managed lines of people

The most annoying trait of all is an apparent acceptance by the provider that it is the norm to be kept waiting. If a product or service has a long delay factored in that cannot be addressed, then it has probably had its day anyway.

Our responsibility in hospitality is to fix the issue and improve the speed. Here are some of our suggestions for improvement:

  • Communicate the importance of speed to the staff responsible and review the people and processes to include the nonvisible team players who can contribute to making it happen faster.
  • Involve the team at all levels in seeking new and more efficient practices.
  • Establish challenging targets and measure and review them.
  • Incentivize improvements.
  • Test new measures to ensure targeting is realistic.
  • Allow staff to experience product and comment.
  • Create enthusiasm for getting it done faster.
  • Train supervisors to spot delays and opportunities and to get involved and lead by example.

These are just a few of the available initiatives, and we would like to hear about yours. The absolute key is to give the subject of speed far more attention, focus and time. The customer appears to be doing just that!