It was the year 2001. I had received a fail on a section of my soon-to-be defunct commerce degree, and I remember thinking Hotel Management sounded like a much better idea, a fantasy where I would deliver and receive incredible service and attain ‘new level’ hospitality heights as I travelled the world, living the life, and becoming part of my own solution. Flash forward to 2020 and during this time of Covid-19 (I’m refusing to allow the reader to count the number of times I say pandemic in this anecdotal piece), I find myself encountering more and more Teflon service and non-stick personalities in the hospitality world, defying that very word, hospitality.

‘Examples Shane?’ you say. ‘How long do you have, esteemed reader?’ I’d reply. Could it be the laborious 15-page menu in a restaurant that is over-priced, with uninspiring banter and unskilled labour force, that doesn’t have the first thing I order off said menu, ‘their’ said menu? At least once a day in some form. With no explanation. Just a ‘we don’t have that.’

Wait, what!? You’ve seated me. You’ve given me a menu. You’ve watched me read it for 15 minutes. You’ve (polite and courteous restaurateur), said nothing. No inclination that you don’t have every item on the menu, yet when I order the first thing, BOOM it’s not there. The art of communication (also seemingly not there) is simply dead. I’m fast losing all the will power inside me not to say something. Then I snap, I become another pompous patron who’s ‘difficult’. If my wife is with me, she starts to cringe. I become ‘that’ guy, all because I ordered from the menu (forget custom jobs), and here we are. I’m the bad guy, there’s an argument brewing with my wife because of my stellar ‘prick’ performance, the tables have definitely turned against me and my cheese is well and truly not cut; ergo Teflon Hospitality.

Hospitality that has no follow through, no sustenance, no cognitive balance. Imagine in that lecture theatre of Deakin University, it was beyond me to think;  as I was falling out of love on one track, preparing to shimmy to the left and get on another one, that, like it took out the Empress from the Never-Ending Story (you just re-read that and sung it), the ‘nothing’ which in this case isn’t non-believers, it’s acceptors of bad hospitality, their reign had begun. If I’d known about this, I might have not gone down the hospitality path. Bygones. Now I’m too old and too stubborn to get off my soap box. So it (hospitality) is stuck with me.  

It’s easier just not to say anything. More comfortable not to ‘stick’ to your guns and make the point. We embrace Teflon hospitality because it’s a safer option than explaining to ‘said’ establishment why it’s not OK to deliver poor service and or have a vague attitude, because then you pass on the responsibility to someone else. You then moan about the Teflon hospitality you’ve received but hey, you did nothing about it, so stop your whinging, Capiche?

Bangkok has a formidable hospitality scene. Jaw dropping architecture, hotels that really are the all singing all dancing. A culinary scene that rivals any city on the planet and is often more affordable. I have even found deep-dish pizza here, so Chicago/Detroit we’re even coming for you. But I have to say I’ve experienced Teflon hospitality on every corner. But here’s the catch. I’ve politely reached out to the owners of the establishments, and explained to them that if this kind of bastardisation of our industry continues, we all lose. We as punters lose the offering as venues close down. They as owners and entrepreneurs eventually close because ‘Do nothing about it actually moaners’ don’t speak up, they just don’t return and mumble to their friends, and then the overall the vicious cycle concludes, game over.

But, and there is one (but), EVERY owner I spoke to was both receptive and gracious in receiving my feedback that I presented constructively and unfiltered. I’m not a TripAdvisor, give-me-some compensation guy who’s out there to make an issue. I’m the medicine guy fixing the hospitality ailment. Like a hospitality doctor. I step by step, in granular detail, explained just WHY it all went wrong with my experience. Maybe it was a payment gateway advertised that wasn’t working, forcing me to go to an ATM in a digital/mobile solution world. Missing menu items (every day almost). Perhaps it was the attendant on their phone, literally not giving a shit if I get up and walk out or not. Sequence of service is another one of my favourites; the list goes on. I paid every cheque, and if for whatever reason was refunded anything I left it in gratuities, as I believe you can train those people with the will for good hospitality not to provide Teflon service, (and if I’ve committed to being at that establishment, I’ve committed to paying for it). Those who don’t care, who don’t want to work in hospitality (and I’m predicting a barrage of ‘they have no choice,’ style comments), should really consider something else. Maybe no choice, but the choice to deliver good hospitality is also a choice is it not? Thrown into it or not, the onus is on you to deliver non-Teflon experiences.

All I’m saying in this great time of change, is we have a window of opportunity to better our industry and re-program the way it’s delivered. It’s not a luxury to receive good hospitality. It also shouldn’t cost more. It’s a standard. I’ve had incredible, mind blowing hospitality experiences where I would least expect it. But I’ve had train smashes where there’s no reason to.

Next time you have a ‘moment’, in this wonderful world of hospitality, ask if you are contributing to the problem, or if you are helping to reconnect the world to our great labour of love. Owners out there, before flipping a customer for just being difficult, also ask if you’ve played the part, engaged your staff and led from the front. Together, we can keep the dream alive, and let’s leave Teflon to the frying pans.

Article by Shane Jameson