Too many cooks in the hotel kitchen

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” before, used to describe a situation where instead of a leader bestowing a project, product or company with a singular, unified vision, said mission gets watered down to something safe, bland and often incomprehensible. We know this design by committee’ exists – as it is written into every textbook this side of World War II – but we seldom consider it for our own organization.

As a fun segue before we dive into it, here’s a link to the hilarious spoof broadcast by Adult Swim. It beats the issue to pulp…at least from a Hollywood business sense, although the extensions to the hospitality industry aren’t that hard to imagine.

Moreover, when was the last time you were in a hotel kitchen? During peak hours, it’s a battleground – chefs and washers hustling to and fro; the endless clanging of metal and china dishes; open flames and sizzling pans; servers yelling at cooks and vice versa – and not exactly a comfortable setting where they’re room to go against the person in charge. When there are customers to be served, you buckle down and complete the task as best you can based upon the vision of the executive chef.

Using this as a prelude, you should definitely give this topic some thought to see how it applies to your own surroundings. With owners, asset managers, general managers, executive committees, management companies, brand affiliations, brand managers, soft brands, hard brands and a host of other stakeholders or company mandates all vying for a chance to steer the ship that we call a hotel, it’s all too easy to lose sight of that frisson of vision which will bring something truly exceptional to a property.

I am in no way espousing a complete excision of internally crowdsourced ideas or forming a committee to handle a creative project. At best, there should be a system in place to evaluate which tasks should be decided by an individual versus a group. In a general sense such a scheme would entail a greater reliance on visionary and bold leadership, but beyond this the criteria would be especially tricky to formulate as they would depend upon the preexisting makeup of an organization’s specific corporate structure.

I think inherently we all know when an idea has succumbed to groupthink – you simply don’t feel it. This is something I learned from my early days in the advertising world; you can discuss marketing in terms of selling features and benefits all you want, but in the end if you can’t make a prospective consumer emotionally connect with your brand then you will fail. As an exercise, look at a piece of advertising and record your gut reaction. If you are in tune with your own emotions, a billboard, magazine spread or television commercial should be self-evident whether it was led by a clear vision or over-boiled to the point where all the flavor has eroded.

A too many cooks approach to marketing naturally dictates that you ‘play it safe’ and try to give ‘something for everyone’. But in reality, when you try to appeal to everyone, you end up emotionally appealing to no one. You’d be better off aggressively pursuing a narrowcast group and pique their specific interests. In this sense, your ‘foot in the door’ doesn’t reach the entire block, but your close ratio increases, which can be a big cost saver in its own right.

As a preventative or treatment for any form of operational groupthink – whether it be in marketing, amenities or even a total hotel redesign – the first step should be to clearly define parameters for how to balance short-term and long-term strategies as well as boundaries for each high-ranking position. For instance, a GM may focus on occupancy and ADR for upwards of two to four months ahead of time (and often in collaboration with a brand manager) whereas the asset manager or owner has set goals to achieve at every five year interval. This gets even more complicated when you consider that the asset and the brand may have completely different objectives regardless of timeframe.

Yes, a compromise is essential for these sorts of business relationships to work, but there nevertheless needs to be a grand vision to add as the soul of any property – one that weighs the scales from the point of view of the asset, the brand, the individual property and the management company. It’s not an easy task to balance this soul with short-term and long-term objectives – especially in a highly turbulent hospitality landscape – but I have no doubt that with enough hard work you will prevail!