Hospitality Needs Functions and Feelings

Published November 19, 2018

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Hospitality is about caring for the emotions of the guest just as much as it is about serving them, if not even more. That means knowing when it’s time to go above and beyond the call of duty or when it’s time to walk away. Hospitality is about merging the function—the tasks—and the feeling.

Every time a guest experiences us, we should honor them enough to deliver the same level of hospitality. But that same level of hospitality might mean responding differently each time, because the experience is about the guest. It’s not about making ourselves feel good about the service we provided. It’s making the guest feel good about the hospitality we showed.

Many organizations have been “doing” this serving thing for so long that all they worry about is “doing.” We need to reimagine what it means to be the guest and what it means to add feeling back into it. This means prioritizing the feelings of the guest over the tasks we perform for them.

It’s not about making ourselves feel good about the service we provided. It’s making the guest feel good about the hospitality we showed.

There’s a story in Luke 10:38-41 where Jesus visits the house of a woman named Martha. She invited Jesus into her home and, being the good hostess, was busy preparing a dinner in the kitchen. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, was simply sitting with Jesus and conversing with him. Martha complained to Jesus about this. “Can you tell my lazy sister to help me prepare the meal instead of lounging out here with you?”

She expected Jesus to have her back and instruct Mary to help with the tasks. But he reminded Martha of the value of being with someone. Martha was so busy serving Jesus that she neglected to be with Jesus. How many of our team members are so busy serving our guests that they neglect to simply be with our guests? Imagine if Martha had spent more time with Jesus. Imagine if she had merged the function and the feeling of what she was doing. She might have brought the bowls and ingredients into the room where Jesus was sitting. She might have even explained what she was doing, bringing the relationship into the function.

How does this play out in our organizations?

Parking attendants can get so busy simply parking cars that they forget there’s a real person behind that driver’s-side window or a family experiencing their own stresses. When parking cars becomes a service, you might see the attendant talking to a friend while gesturing to the nearest open spot. Or the attendant might look a bit uncomfortable in the heat of the summer day. You can tell it’s more about the function than about hospitality for the parking lot attendant

Hospitality looks different. It acknowledges feelings. As a person looks for a parking spot, they are experiencing feelings. They might be feeling anxious, confused, or overwhelmed in this new place. A parking lot attendant who gets what the guest is feeling will make subtle changes to his approach. He’ll still park the cars, but he might make the following changes:

  • His gestures will be slower
  • He’ll be more patient when people don’t quickly make it to the spot he’s guiding them to
  • He won’t be as sharp
  • He’ll make eye contact with the driver
  • He’ll notice the children in the back seat and wave at them with a smile
  • His facial expressions will be gentle and warm
  • He’ll notice the tire pressure is low and offer to fill the tire or change it for the guest during the service

He’ll realize that the feeling he can give the guest is even more important than the task he’s performing. He realizes that people respond to feeling and that feeling is memorable. His job is not to park cars; it’s to show hospitality to the guest through the act of parking cars. To be honest, the guest could probably find their own parking spot. But if the parking lot attendant is able to ease the stress the driver is feeling, then he performed a valuable function. He (or she) delivered hospitality.

The idea of merging function and feeling is about a perspective shift more than anything.

Think of a time you visited a new church or a business. You probably had an impression of the place, and you formed a decision to stay away from the place or visit again. There are times we can pinpoint why we like a church or a business. But there are other times we aren’t sure why we liked or disliked a place. It’s just something we felt.

There will be people who will return to your church or business and won’t know why. They simply felt good there. And there will be others who won’t be coming back. They can’t explain to someone who asks why they decided not to return; it was just a feeling. Feelings are important—often even more important than the function. That’s why we must merge the two.

The question to ask when faced with this information is obvious: Do we simply let the tasks go in exchange for the feeling? No. This idea of merging function and feeling is about a perspective shift more than anything. It’s not strictly a behavioral change, though this will affect your behavior. It’s about focusing on the feeling of the task—not simply the task itself.

To read more about Jason Young’s hospitality process, check out his book The Come-Back Effect.

Adapted from The Come-Back Effect by Jason Young. Copyright 2018. Used with permission from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

About the Author
Jason Young Author Headshot

Jason Young

Director of Guest Experience

North Point Ministries

Jason Young is a hospitality, leadership, and emotional intelligence coach and communicator. He has worked with leaders in numerous churches and companies including Ford Motor Company, Life.Church, and Chick-fil-A. He is also the Director of Guest Experience at North Point Ministries, a nationally-known network of churches, led by Andy Stanley, with 36,000 people in average weekly attendance. Jason is the author of The Come Back Effect, which focuses on how hospitality can compel guests to return to a church or business.

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