First impressions really do matter. Really. So much so that you actually questioned whether the title font is suitable for this article, right? Is it maybe a little childish for such an important issue?

Everyone knows that first impressions are important, I hear you thinking, but does everyone make the effort to get it right?

Will Rogers put it very succinctly: ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’.

As General Manager, I always told my heads of department that if something in a room was below standard, only the guests in that room saw it. If something was wrong in the corridor, only those guests staying on that floor would see it. If something was wrong in an area shared by all guests, well, they would all see it. If the ‘something wrong’ was really bad, all the guests would take home that poor impression of the property, and probably tell anyone willing to listen. Now that is a bad sign for your reputation.

The reason I did weekly property tours with my maintenance engineer, the head housekeeper and the food and beverage manager was to make sure that these kinds of things did not happen. One suggestion I have is to make this the F.I.T Team, the First Impressions Team, to give it a targeted meaning. Other members of the management can also fit in and replace you should you not be available.

I put myself in the guests’ shoes and we usually started at the entrance to the property. Signage, landscaping, road surface quality, parking slot outlines, lighting, sidewalks, the state of the building façade, we missed nothing as we approached the entrance. Everything irregular or even hazardous was noted to be taken care of either through maintenance or if deemed expensive, placed on the capital ‘to do list’.

The entrance was given special attention as that is the area that ‘funnels’ all guests into the property. Cleanliness, carpeting, lighting, furniture, we looked at it all. We followed in the guest footsteps to the elevators, corridors, and never forgot the emergency exit staircases.

We did the same for all food and beverage facilities. We took a look at the state of the chairs and tables for steadiness, since a rickety chair is so annoying to eat on. I am sure that you have come across many that you have passed a meal sitting on, wondering if it was finally going to come apart. Tables? How many have you had to stuff a bunch of folded napkins under to make them stable? And how often are the table bases cleaned?

Table tops, counter tops, buffets all need a quick check. There is nothing that makes a meal more off putting than dirty or badly maintained equipment. How many times at breakfast have you had to replace your slice of bread in the conveyor toaster to get it browned to the level you like? Nothing like standing in line to get your toast!

There really is no ‘one’ first impression. A first impression is made up of many first impressions, and the end result is what the guest churns out in his or her mind, much like a poll. If the arrival experience is good and problem free, the guest will feel happy about going on to the main experience of staying at the property. You already have a guest in a good frame of mind and must now make sure that the service he or she receives, the food and beverage standards, the facilities he uses, are all going to culminate in satisfaction and in the property gaining a returning guest.

No one ever said that the hospitality business is easy. So much hard work and slog goes into a successful guest stay that it is hard to count the parts that make up the sum. It is always wise to invest in ‘mystery guest’ visits from time to time to point out the shortcomings that are often not seen. You spend a great deal of your budget on advertising across all media. You spend hours deliberating on how to turn your first timers into returning guests. You invest in your staff and try to make sure that they are as welcoming as possible and give the best service.

Surely you should make sure that their first impressions of your property are perfect. It is such a simple part of our industry, and yet it amazes me how many properties I have come across that do not spend the time and energy to make sure that the first impression is a good one. When I point out the shortcomings after a STAY ‘diagnostic’ the answer is almost always the same…. “How could I not have thought about that, how did I miss that?”

So, take some time away from the desk, take a stroll outside and find out what the real first impression is of your property. You may be surprised at what you discover.

First impressions matter. Honestly, they really do.