Four-Star Service: Hospitality Programs Putting Premium On Customer. Service, Diversity
by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
When a group of African Americans was denied service at a Denny's restaurant last year, the incident went beyond a violation of their civil rights, as a court later agreed.
"It's bad sociology, immoral and everything else. But, also, it's just lousy business," said Dr. Christopher Muller, professor in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. "You see the aberrations like Denny's and...from a business perspective.... If you are going to stay in business, customers are customers, regardless of their [race] or what they look like."
As the hospitality industry recovers from the recession, companies of all kinds are working to improve customer service, expand large group business and boost diversity among employees and patrons. Colleges and universities are meeting those needs, experts say, by requiring students to have intensive, hands-on experience. And, as the market for conferences and conventions grows, many college curricula throughout the country are targeting meeting planning as a specialty that is increasing in popularity among students because of the variety of career options it offers.
"For many hotels and resorts [the conferences and conventions market] is a big part of their business. Small, medium or large meetings, or those tied in with a convention center," are becoming the centerpiece of their livelihood, according to Lee Dickson, associate dean of the Florida International University (FIU) School of Hospitality Management. "People in the industry are vigorously looking at group-meeting business as a way to fill their rooms."
Accomplishing this requires more than a popular location with facilities. Consumers are demanding better service. To prepare students, colleges and universities have emphasized skills and strategies to meet those requirements. Programs specializing in hotel administration, travel and tourism, restaurant and food service management, and conventions and trade shows, are designed to prepare students for everything from working with the latest computer technology to speaking a foreign language.
"Organizations have come to realize that it's a lot easier to do it right the first time. It's become extremely cost effective to have people trained in customer service," said Donald J. Walters, a former industry professional and a visiting professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). "Customer service is defined in a very large way as the ability to understand the customer's personality, but also understand what the customer is looking for."
The more than 700 students in programs at Cornell practice those skills in a full-service hotel on the Ithaca, NY, campus. At UNLV, which boasts more than 1,500 students, up to 1,000 hours of internships must be completed at an array of cooperating hotels, casinos and convention centers throughout the city. …