NATIONAL REPORT—At a young age, Larry Stuart grew to love the hospitality industry. He was shaped by experiences on the road—his father was an Italian crooner and together, as a family, they traveled well over three million miles to gigs around the U.S.
Today, Stuart is a veteran of the hotel, restaurant and airline industry and the author of a new book, The Spirit of Hospitality: How to Add the Missing Ingredients Your Business Needs, and he’s ready to share what he’s learned over the past 40-plus years with hoteliers.
“My journey started through my parents, who mentored me with old-fashioned values, discipline and directed my path by serving others. They were both incredible servant leaders that I admired and respected until they passed,” said Stuart. “Wherever we stayed (on the road), I made friends with the hotel crew and helped them make beds, bus tables in the restaurant and work the bellhop stand, front desk, pool, etc. These acquaintances became lifelong friends that were the foundational beginning of my career.”
Larry Stuart, author of The Spirit of Hospitality: How to Add the Missing Ingredients Your Business Needs
His father directed him to Cornell University’s School of Hotel & Restaurant Administration. It wasn’t easy, but the opportunity provided him what he calls a “golden key” to a career in hospitality. “It has blessed me more than I could have ever imagined,” he said. “In all of this, I have learned that when you are passionate about a life of service by giving your fellow man a little service, as E.M. Statler once said, you find that there is nothing better than the reward of greater purpose by being a servant leader.”
As an executive at major companies such as Hilton, Disney, Nascar and Southwest Airlines, Stuart has seen the good and bad in terms of delivering the highest level of hospitality and service. According to Stuart, these companies all had shared traits:
The highest hiring standards were adhered to.
The training budgets and quality standards were mandatory and respected as part of the company’s core values.
Monthly, quarterly and yearly evaluation practices are followed and appreciated by all staff members because they feel valued and important as the brand representatives that uphold the company.
A feeling of empowerment, initiative and purpose helped drive the guest experience to the highest level because of their entrepreneurial efforts.
“In every organization, there is a common theme: Teams first. Period. You can’t serve your external customers well unless you are also serving your internal ones,” he said.
However, old-fashioned values don’t always translate into the mores of today where profit margins may come before people. In some ways, times have changed and so have people.
“There are many reasons for it. For one thing, most businesses are looking to please banks, investors, general partners, stakeholders through return on investment versus return on relationship,” he said. “That focus is the primary reason for the lost art of nurturing your tribe, followers, guests that have been loyal throughout the years. Most companies today just look to make a buck versus build lasting relationships. I’m not saying we don’t have a fiduciary responsibility to pay your crew, expenses, investors, stakeholders, but we can do that through serving our guests and keeping them first. The money comes when you build relationships for life and they keep coming back, bringing their friends and keeping your cashflow in the black and beyond.”
So, what can be done to create change? Stuart outlined the following actionable steps for hoteliers to create engaged employee advocates and improve the guest experience:
Do The Basics Well.
“The basics have worked for me over and over again, providing proven growth, retention of staff, incredible profit, by always doing the right thing for the right reasons. It equals results,” he said.
Build Your Talent.
“Hire a person who has the ‘spirit of hospitality’ and then train them the skill sets. I have learned that you cannot train a smile, positive attitude or character,” he said.
Raise the Bar.
“Set high-quality standards that your team should consistently provide through eye contact, a genuine smile, a positive attitude or greeting. Empower them to serve, and they will,” he said.
Much like his father, Stuart has gigs of his own. He’ll be sharing his experiences at the 2019 South Dakota Department of Tourism Governor’s Conference this month in Pierre, SD, and there are more events to come through the national and state hotel lodging & restaurant associations.
“Life should not be based on transactional relationships. Instead, they should be relational sincere ones,” he said. “That is where the missing ingredients detailed in the book come into play. What happened to kindness, humility, generosity, encouragement, team unity, gratitude and accountability? That is where the rubber meets the road through the interaction of the human spirit. We have become so technologically savvy and, along the way, have forgotten the human touch. It’s not a soft science. It’s an integral part of long-term profitability.”