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25 (Lessons Learned) in 25 (Years in Business)

25 Lessons I learned from over 25 years of Hospitality

The ESPN Series "30 for 30" happens to be one of the favorite shows. The documentaries that they have produced are wonderful to watch. I have my own version of this show...well, sort of.

What have you learned in your career? Someone asked me that the other day, and I must admit, I was stumped by that question at first. But when I sat down to think about it, I realized that because of great employees and wonderful coaches, I have learned some pretty good things over the years.

Since I have been an entrepreneur now for 25 years, this is my "25 for 25". Here are just some of the lessons learned in my career that I still put into practice today. I call them now - "Our Black Tie Beliefs".

Lessons Learned - When working with our customers, we strived to…

  1. Make it easy for them to do business with us- that meant taking all the worry from their minds and developing the systems at our end so that we could take care of all the details for them. We always wanted to make sure that we thought of everything, including Plan B. Most people don’t think of Plan B. We did and it always paid off for us.

  2. Make them look Great! If they looked great to their clients and/or guests, we looked good and we booked more business with them.

  3. Greet customers by their names; this is the favorite word for any customer to hear; we made sure that our people knew the names of the people that booked our services. And for respect-always used their surname unless they asked otherwise.

  4. Make it personal with them- what did we know about them- favorite beverage (yes, there is a big difference between the two major diet soft drink brands; favorite dessert or snack; hobby; birthday.

  5. Do little extras to make them remember us- We were in the food business so why not use our food to say “thank you.” Whether that was a complimentary food item for an event, a special gift at the end of the event; a gift card for “just because”, or gifts from any of our preferred vendors. These little details made the big things happen.

  6. Ask their opinion on how we were doing, and listen! - This made them feel that we truly cared how we were doing- and we did care! And when they gave us an idea that we implanted, we let them know and thanked them for it.

  7. Really wow them when we made a mistake- We not only wanted to make it right, we wanted to really make it right. We wanted them to say- “if this is how they take care of us when they mess up, I can’t wait to see what they do when everything is great!

  8. Follow through on our promises- Do what you say you are going to do and when you are going to do it. It’s that simple. And if you don’t have the answer yet, be proactive with them, let them know the progress and when you will be back to them.

  9. Have flexibility with their last minute changes and embrace them- one of the most difficult lessons that we learned. We knew that most of the time they were getting these requests from someone else, so we practiced the art of professionalism all the time. However, we tried very hard to never let them walk all over us with the changes. You do need to put your foot down.

  10. Make them feel like they were our only client; at that particular point in time- they were. We focused all our attention on them, especially when we were in meetings or on site visits with them. And when we were with them, we brought out our knowledge that we gathered about them to really let them know that we were listening.

  11. Try to think one step ahead of thembeing proactive, not reactive; Anticipatory service was (and still is) one of the highest forms of service that we taught. Our goal was for our staff to anticipate the needs of our guests by reading body language, listening for cues. Our clients were wowed because it seemed like they never had to ask for anything, we strived to be one step ahead.

  12. Listen to what was really important to them about our products and services- we could always hear our clients and what they were telling us, but once we started listening to them, we created loyal fans. Why? When we listened to them, we showed them that we truly cared about them and that it was always their events and never ours.

  13. Create friends and not just clients. Some of our customers became lifelong friends. It’s about being genuine, authentic and empathetic with them. When this happened, trust happened. And when trust happened, friendships blossomed.

When training Employees, we learned (and taught them) that…

  1. We were in the Hospitality Business, first and foremost. That meant that we were in the people business, creating wonderful events and memories, not the other way around. We needed to make sure that we involved our people in how to wow the client and their guests, and to make that personal (and emotional) connection with them.

  2. Perception is 9/10ths of the law; how people perceive us usually becomes their truth. This was one of my favorite sayings. Meaning, everything they did was a reflection of first themselves, then our brand. A guest or client could determine the entire guest experience with us by how our staff person treated them, cared for them or respected them.

  3. Knowledge is confidence; give people the knowledge to do their jobs -Our goal was to empower our people and making sure that they knew that we expected them to handle some of the challenges that our company encountered on a daily basis. The only way to do that was to teach them our systems so that they could become experts for us.

  4. Training never ends, especially if you want to be the best. We wanted to be the best, so we made sure that our training and development were always continual. Whether that was through quarterly training seminars, pairing up new employees with veterans to act as mentors, a certification training program, etc. we made it an investment, not a cost.

  5. Let them make mistakes, not errors. Everyone makes mistakes. However, an error means that you may not have learned from your mistake. We empowered them to make mistakes (little ones), because that gave us the opportunity to become coaches and help them to overcome the mistake, so that they wouldn’t make the error.

  6. Truly cared about them as people- What we did was hard work, as we never “played a home game” (meaning all of our jobs were at other locations). I made sure to always thank our staff for working as hard as they did. In fact, they were more than staff, they were family. We celebrated all types of successes with them and cried with them when they had sadness and heartbreak. All of this made a difference.

  7. Taught them how to handle customer complaints- This was one of the best lessons I learned. If we could empower our people to handle most of the challenges and not pass our customer from person to person, everyone would win. We taught them to be confident and how to effectively diffuse an unhappy customer by practicing a technique based on the acronym RAVING.

  8. They needed to work smarter, not harder. They were already working hard enough, but in order to work smarter, they needed to think outside the box and look for ways to improve the way they did their jobs. I told them that my door was always open if they had new ideas. They came up with some wonderful one that we implemented.

  9. The little details made the big things happen. We had the big stuff down, but one of the keys to our success was how well we handled the little details. So, we trained our staff on how to spot the little details and how to stress over them. Our clients were always impressed that we took care of everything for them, no matter if it was about of our business or not.

  10. The power of Appreciation- It is amazing what saying “great job” or “thank you for being here today” did for the morale of our staff. I learned that you could never say it enough. And the key was that you had to mean it. And I did, because I knew that they were the success to our business. When you ran multiple events in different locations you quickly figured out that you could not do it alone and that your staff had to represent you and your company. And they did.

  11. To keep calm under pressure- We needed to be “on” for every event. People were spending a lot of money with us for 3-4 hours. That alone is a lot of pressure. And when we ran multiple events on any given day, that compounded the pressure. The key was for our staff to never see me (or my leadership team) panic. Because when we panicked…so did they. That never meant that we didn’t panic. You better believe we did. But we did it (or tried to do it) in private, away from them.

  12. We needed to make sure that Respect was always a part of our culture- I would tell our people that while I had hoped that they would like everyone they worked with, (and that wasn’t always the case), that they must respect their co-workers. If they didn’t, that would put a strain on our culture and ultimately our clients and their guests would suffer. If my staff didn’t agree to this, they didn’t work for us.

What about you? If someone asks you, "What have you learned in your career?", what will you say?

Bob Pacanovsky is a Keynote Speaker and Strategic Trainer

who works with organizations to:

  • Build more Customer Loyalty

  • Develop Selfless Leaders

  • Forge Lasting Impressions

To learn more, and to book Bob contact him:

Call (330) 352-6084 or email

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