Service with a Smile

The next time you are pleasantly surprised or delighted by excellent customer service it may be thanks to an idea. An idea conceived by Phil Hawkins, Assistant Culinary Coordinator at UCC. Several years ago Phil attended an inspiring seminar, sponsored by Food Services of America, featuring Paul Paz the author of a text book used in Culinary Schools, ‘Service At Its Best: Waitress-Waiter Training’. So, Phil wanted Paul to come to Douglas County to do a seminar for his students but couldn’t manage it without help.

A partnership of Umpqua Community College, Seven Feathers Casino Resort and the Small Business Development Center of Roseburg made it happen and brought the inspirational speaker to deliver his seminar, ‘Customer Service is Your Business’ on Thursday and Friday, April 28 and 29. Held at Seven Feathers, it was well attended.

Attendees ranged from experienced employees to recently hired trainees. They came for different reasons but all left with a smile … a big smile. Paul Paz reveals a basic truth, that attitude is a choice. How we choose to be is up to us. Enthusiastically, Paul teaches a wide variety of tips and techniques for wait staff personnel. He said, “The metaphors from dining work because everyone has had poor service and everyone has had excellent service and so they can all relate to what I teach.”

“Here at Seven Feathers, we have an emphasis on service so this was a great fit for us,” added Dave Johansen, UIDC Employee Development Manager.

Prior to the seminar, Crystal Wright, a veteran employee from Wildlife Safari, said “It’s always good to learn something new. I hope I learn to deal with our guests better. Our job is to make sure that every guest enjoys their visit.” And Austin Snelling, a trainee with Seven Feathers, added “I’m hoping to be here both days. I want to get as much experience as possible. Since I’m new to serving, I’m hoping to learn as much as possible from Paul Paz.”

Even before Robin Van Winkle, UCC Director of Community Education, introduced Paul to the audience he had personally greeted every attendee he could with a handshake and a smile. As the audience settled in, Paul related how he became a professional waiter. He spoke of how some of his family and friends questioned his decision. They wondered why, as a single parent of three young children, he would give up a more traditional career selling insurance for a minimum wage plus tips job. His focus became being the best waiter he could be. He studied his job and found ways to add value for the guests at his station. Along the way he realized that, “... consumers value good service.”

In an industry that, according to the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, generates 7.7 billion dollars in Oregon annually and employs 88,000 Oregonians, it is increasingly important to provide good service. Consumers will spend up to 10 percent more for the same product with better service. Additionally, 91% won’t be back if they receive poor service. As Paul said, “In this economy the deal breaker is poor customer service.”

He then proceeded to ask the attendees to look for the moments of service where they have an opportunity to pleasantly surprise guests with service beyond the expected. He stressed, “Your customers might not remember the gift, wine or historical significance of the dinner, but they will remember how you made them feel.” He again reminded us that attitude is a choice. And, of course, so is a smile. After the Thursday session Crystal Wright remarked, “It was good. I liked it. I can easily put this information to good use.” And, at the conclusion of Friday’s seminar Austin Snelling had found a new enthusiasm for his job. He said, “I loved it. Last night on my shift I already started using what I learned yesterday. I’m impressed with how in-depth Paul got. These classes provided a great perspective; they opened my eyes and made me aware of what I don’t know. It makes me want to learn more to be able to provide our guests with extraordinary service.”

So, if you are fortunate enough to have great service it may just be thanks to Phil Hawkins who served his students and the community by having an idea and acting on it.

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