Having worked in the restaurant industry for most of my professional life, I’ve taken for granted how unusual it is. Even though its product has a certain universality to it (facilitating some of the most fundamental human needs like food, comfort, and social connection), there are aspects of the customer journey and labor structure that probably have no equivalent. For example, in restaurants there is no distinction between service and sales: service is sales, sales is service and every key customer-facing employee must constantly walk the line between the two.
The imperatives to serve and to sell both sharing a room with each other can result in the server experiencing certain dilemmas. It can sometimes seem that success at one must come at the cost of the other. For example, coaxing someone into spending $50 more on a bottle of wine may look good on paper, but what has it done for your relationship with them? Or perhaps you provided guidance through the menu that resulted in a wonderful dining experience, but didn’t give them much support when they spilled their drinks by accident.
In other industries, the customer experience is somewhat fragmented into different departments: sales mainly handles providing the customer with the product and the service department mainly handles the problems the customer may have with it. Dividing these tasks is often necessary for efficiency, but something is palpably lost when you divorce the principles of service from sales – and vice versa.
The client relationships that can form in a hospitality environment can become very intimate. And I believe that this comes from the sense of ownership staff have to the entire client relationship. Someone in a highly-specialized service department can become isolated from the customer’s relationship with the company and how important it is to continue to nurture it through how they tend to their needs in that moment. It’s all too easy for their perspective to narrow as they prioritize simply processing them and their problem and moving on.
And sales departments can easily become outcome-oriented, believing that achieving the sale equals achieving success, rather than always showing up to the process of nurturing the relationship – attending to small needs and problems over time. Many salespeople understand this, but still think they are ultimately responsible for selling. But the power of the sales role gets revealed when it is looked at as essentially an art of service.
Isolated departments are missing out on the waiter’s dilemma, which I believe to be the result of a very healthy sense of responsibility to the total client-to-business relationship. However, when approached mindfully, sales and service stop being a zero sum game. When you’re always honestly asking, “What does this person really need and how can I help them?” with a kind, compassionate intent (that means not “what you think they should need,” but what you can actually do to bring them to a more elevated state), both sides of the sales/service process always reinforce each other.