US Hospitality: Emerging from the Pandemic – Investing in Service

While the future of the pandemic is by no means certain with more variants and more waves, the US hospitality industry has certainly learned how to keep operating as demand continues to strengthen and travellers feel more increasingly resilient and, in many cases, just tired of not travelling.

In most markets, average rates are strong and occupancies growing as well.  Of course, along with the higher rates, come higher expectations from our guests – or at least that was the case pre-pandemic.  There has been some complacency from hoteliers and restauranteurs knowing that guests will be more understanding as we come through the pandemic, perhaps having read about how hard it is to recruit in our industry, or tolerated reduced services because they are pandemic-related.  This tolerance is wearing off and a growing problem facing the industry is how we continue to reach pre-pandemic service levels as our properties get busier and rates increase.

In most markets in the US, hotels and restaurants continue to be short staffed and recruitment gets more and more challenging as 38% of those that left the industry during 2020 have decided not to return.

Not only are we faced with shortages which put more pressure on the colleagues we do have, but in many cases, we are hiring new staff that may not know anything about our industry.  They require not just high levels of technical training to give them the skills to do their jobs, but additionally they require training about the soft skills of service and knowledge of company culture.  Often these last two categories of training are falling by the wayside as we either don’t have people to train them or we don’t find the time to train them preferring to get them onto the front line as soon as possible.

As we emerge from the pandemic, I am increasingly hearing from companies at all ends of the spectrum who are realizing that they have to find a way to shift from survival mode and push to invest in their people, their culture and their service levels again.

Luxury hotels and hotel groups have the sense that what was once an incredibly strong sense of culture has become diluted as a disproportionate number of colleagues are new, and many tenured team members have moved on from the company, each one taking a little piece of the culture puzzle away with them.

At the other end of the scale, I have been working with a group of franchised casual dining restaurants where about 6 months ago, the owner realized how important it was to reinvest in service in all his restaurants.  He had great vision to start the ball rolling in Q2 of this year and while investing in additional service training, he is also finding many ways to improve the employee experience throughout this group.  This will certainly help overcome recruitment challenges, despite his managers committing to a more selective approach to the hiring process in order to find those that fit the culture rather than just hiring to fill shifts on a schedule.  Already they have seen quick gains in satisfaction levels and long term they will certainly be ahead of the competition in terms of hiring.

So, as you take a strategic look at your own business as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, do you see that your culture has lost its way, are your service metrics in steady decline?  If so then you have to decide at what point you return to investing in this essential part of the business, one that creates a virtuous circle of improvements to guest experience, staff experience and your business results.

If you would like to learn more about our Culture Coach, service culture program or our Hospitality Anew reboarding program please contact us


Donald Bowman, Vice President, Hotel Solutions Partnership

Donald is a leading luxury hotelier with an international career in hospitality and hotels spanning over 30 years.  He brings a wealth of knowledge in hotel management and international luxury operations to his consulting work.  He has operated resorts and city centre hotels, union and non-union properties, luxury and boutique hotels and is known for his strategic planning, delivery of luxury experiences and strong owner relations.