Talking With: Micah Solomon, Author of ‘The Heart of Hospitality’

Who doesn’t want to know a secret? 

Hospitality industry expert Micah Solomon reveals closely guarded secrets from top hotel, restaurant and other hospitality professionals in “The Heart of Hospitality.” This hospitality management resource will become an essential guide to navigating customer service and consumer trends in the hospitality industry and others. With a foreword by Ritz-Carlton President/COO Herve Humler and contributions from top professionals in the hospitality industry (restaurateurs Danny Meyer, Eric Ripert, Traci DesJardins, Patrick O’Connell, Stephen Starr and Tom Colicchio; Four Seasons Chairman Isadore Sharp; Virgin Hotels’ CEO Raul Leal; and many others), this book will help you understand and serve guests of all generations, including the newly-prominent millennials, via first-hand stories and closely guarded hospitality secrets from top hotel, restaurant, and other hospitality professionals.

In this Talking With column, Solomon discusses slacker service, social currency and how he defines the heart of hospitality with Modern Restaurant Management magazine. 

For readers of  Modern Restaurant Management, we’re offering this deluxe, free sample of  the new must-read book for the restaurant, F&B, and hospitality industry,  Micah Solomon’s The Heart of Hospitality: Great Hotel and Restaurant Leaders Share Their Secrets. In this exclusive free sample, not only do you get Chapter 4 (“Building a Culture of Yes”) and the foreword by legendary Ritz-Carlton President and COO Herve Humler, but we’ve been able to include the entire text of Chapter 9 (“How the Digital Revolution Has Changed Your Customer”) as well, which features an in-depth spotlight on how digital realities and a changing customer base are central to the changing face of our industry. If you would like to purchase the complete book for your organization, the author, Micah Solomon, has invited our friends to contact him directly:  Click here or email for an immediate response.

Why did you want to write on this topic?

This is my third book; the first two (“Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit” and “High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service”) cover customer service and the customer experience in general, with examples that come from multiple industries. But always I have felt that the hospitality industry is exemplary as an industry to benchmark, with examples that are applicable across industries.

Micah Solomon
Micah Solomon

There is no industry, no human calling, with a longer history (well, maybe there’s one) than hospitality: the urge to serve guests, to feed them. And to turn what could be a commodity—a rectangular room, running water, a well-cooked meal—into what can be a truly enchanting experience.

How did you select who to interview and include in the book?

I spoke with the leaders and practitioners in hospitality who I feel have insights to offer on either the timeless essentials or on how hospitality has had to change and will continue to change. 

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to get the involvement of some of the best-known leaders and companies in this business: On the hotel side, Herve Humler and many others from The Ritz-Carlton, Isadore Sharp and others from Four Seasons, Raul Leal at Virgin Hotels, Mark Harmon at Auberge, Mark Hoplamazian and team at Hyatt, and so many more.  In F&B (food and beverage), Danny Meyer, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Steven Starr, and more.  And there are also practitioners who cross these fields, for example designer David Rockwell. 

What was the writing process like?

I find writing usually hard and usually rewarding. This book was special to me because it combined my opinions (which I’m never short of) with those of all of these greats in this special industry. So I had plenty of material and shaping it was the question:  phrase by phrase, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. It was really a pleasure to put together.  (Of course, there were site visits involved as well, and those were perhaps the best part of all.) 

Why did you close each chapter with “And Your Point Is?

The “And Your Point Is?” are “Cliff’s Notes”-style summaries to help the reader review the material and commit it to memory.  Or, if they don’t have time, to skim the content I suppose. Cover Only Final The Heart of Hospitality taken from complete cover proof by DS [1]

Was there any piece of advice you received that surprised you?

Well, Chili’s spending a hundred thousand dollars to put a photogenic/Instagram-friendly glaze on their burger buns surprised me.  And other answers/insights definitely energized me in surprising ways, for example Tom Colicchio talking about how if a chef is having a bad day and telling a poor waiter that he’s going to refuse to make a substitution that the diner has requested,  Tom himself will stare the chef down and tell him, “If you don’t want to do it, you go out on the floor and tell the diner no.”  Which usually takes care of it, as you can imagine it. 

I also enjoyed Danny Meyer’s “stick shift” analogy: that giving great service is like driving a stick shift.  Until you are really comfortable with the mechanics of doing it, you can’t loosen up enough to enjoy the ride and be fun for your passengers. 

Why is the “Culture of Yes” so important to a restaurant’s success?

Though nobody wants slacker service, and it’s important to make sure that informality isn’t used as an excuse to do a sloppy job.

Employees are sometimes told so many reasons to say “no” that that becomes their default. A culture of yes means striving to have an attitude of “the answer is yes–now what is your question?” When employees — and their managers! — have this attitude, you can tell it in their body language, tone of voice, and of course answers.  And this makes all the difference in the restaurant experience. 

How have service, standards and guest expectations changed over the years?

Customers today–especially, but not only millennials–prefer a peer to peer, eye level style of service delivery. Formality is out in language, dress code, hair and jewelry and tattoo restrictions.  Though nobody wants slacker service, and it’s important to make sure that informality isn’t used as an excuse to do a sloppy job. 

Timeliness have sped up; customers are impatient, and they also tend to expect flexibility in time, for example the ability to get a Happy Hour app even when it’s not Happy Hour, or something from the dinner menu at lunch. 

Local sourcing and other authenticity/terroir markers are very important to customers today.

And adventure, the idea of “foodspotting” is a big deal. 

Social sharing is key as well. There’s a strong feeling that “if I don’t have it on my phone, it didn’t happen.”  

What are your views on tipping and what do you predict will happen over the next 10 years?

Ten years is a long, long time.  That certainly is long enough for tipping to go away, though I don’t know if that will happen. 

There’s a strong feeling that ‘if I don’t have it on my phone, it didn’t happen.’  

I discuss Danny Meyer’s “hospitality included” innovation at length in the book, and conclude that it is probably right for him but I can’t make a judgment as to whether it is right in all context. I certainly applaud the social justice aspect of doing away with tipping, but I also understand the tax and other realities that come into play, and I know that some customers really like to tip. I think Danny’s most interesting point on the subject is really a good one: that tipping allows the customer to make a judgment on the quality of the server based on a brief interaction with him as well as on whatever prejudices the customer brings to the (literally) table, whereas Danny would prefer that the front of house be judged based on how much they are team players and other criteria that are simply not visible to a diner. 

What is social currency?

Customers today like to collect and share what I call “social currency.” A picture of a great meal in a yurt is social currency, for example. Herve Humler, the President and COO of The Ritz-Carlton, who was a wonderful contributor to this book, points out that even 10 or 15 years ago, luxury travelers traveled the world to bring back furs, or china, and so forth. That idea is out today, and has been replaced with bringing back experiences, and sharing those experiences. 

What do you see as challenges facing the restaurant industry right now?

Not all challenges facing the restaurant are within the scope of what I write about, but in terms of the customer experience, I think balancing technology and the human aspect is important to get right; one of the examples I would commend to your readers is the restaurant, The Natural Epicurean, on the campus of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. This marries very useful technology — a tablet driven experience that allows the calorie, sodium, fat, etc. content to be calculated for every possible combination of ingredients/dishes — with highly trained and engaged human servers with great success. Other challenges include the need for speed, the need for authenticity, for a feeling of “terroir” or localization that customers today are demanding. 

How would you define the Heart of Hospitality?

Well, people are the heart of hospitality. The people serving guests, and the people who are the guests, who ultimately decide whether the service, the experience, was successful. Beyond that two-sentence answer, I would suggest the question took me a couple hundred pages to answer, hopefully with  a lot more nuance.  

For additional information about Micah Solomon, click here. “The Heart of Hospitality” is available here