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Restaurant Host? Air Traffic Controller? 
Same Job, Not the Same Pay
by William F. Orilio, MHS / September 2004

The last time I flew, I saw something staring me in the face, and I suddenly realized it had been for over twenty-five years. The significance of the message didnít hit me until that last flight.  Itís odd, because I fly a lot; I should have seen the correlation sooner.

On a yearly average, I fly between eight and ten thousand miles every month.  So when I say, ďStaring me in the face,Ē I mean just that.  It was so obvious, it just plain makes sense; itís so true and simple it is amazing when you think about the similarities: the job of an Air Traffic Controller is not that different from that of a Restaurant Host.

I know weíre in the restaurant business, but if you bear with me Iíll give you my tour of our Air Traffic Control center.  When all is said and done, if you understand the importance of Air Traffic Controllers, this could revolutionize your entire operation.

Here we go, letís take off.  Have you ever flown in an airplane?  Of course.  In this day and age we all have, so we know what itís like.  Letís skip those flying lessons and go straight to the Air Traffic Controller, and their responsibilities.  This is a major, major job.  One mistake may go unnoticed, two show up at some level, and three in the same day, let alone the same shift, regardless how small, have a rippling effect. 

Youíve been there.  Mis-connections, late departure, misplaced luggage (Southwest), lost luggage (all other carriers), gate not available after a twenty-minute early arrival, curt if not rude gate attendants, plans altered, meetings cancelled, long waits, disappointing service, poor damage control, and of course, the insincere, ďIím really sorry, but thereís nothing I can do about it.Ē  If you fly youíve been there.  If you donít fly and you own a restaurant, youíve been there.  If youíve been a customer in a restaurant youíve gotten that same insincere excuse from the host staff when they failed to do their job properly.  ďIím really sorry but thereís nothing I can do about it.Ē  When this happens, you get the same result from your guests that airlines get from passengers. In effect, your Host staff is your watchtower of success.

This correlation between Air Traffic Controllers and your Host staff is an incredible observation that has been overlooked for far too long.  Simply put, pay the money, hire the right person who knows how to do the job, and your near air collisions and fatal accidents decrease dramatically. 

Letís look at the facts and areas of responsibility:  (1) Air Traffic Controllers schedule incoming flights and monitor them.  Hosts make reservations and monitor them.  (2) Air Traffic Controllers compare flight plans and book terminals for maximum efficiency.  Hosts estimate table turnaround time, reset time, and prepare tables for the next seating.  (3) Air Traffic Controllers observe and record early arrivals and approaching aircraft.  Hosts acknowledge and accommodate early arrivals and plan for approaching guests.  (4) Air Traffic Controllers ensure a gate is ready, with proper staffing and equipment in order to deplane.  Hosts ensure tables are ready and there is proper staffing.  (5) Air Traffic Controllers estimate on-ground time.  Hosts estimate table turn time.  (6) Air Traffic Controllers plan next turnarounds.  Hosts plan next turnarounds.  (7) Air Traffic Controllers ensure all requirements are met before takeoff.  Hosts ensure that the staff is monitoring their guest for proper turnaround time.  (8) Air Traffic Controllers clear runways and wish happy flying to the pilots. Hosts open doors, thank guests, and invite them back.  (9) Air Traffic Controllers start the same process for the next incoming flight.  Hosts start the same process for the next incoming party.

The job of an Air Traffic Controller is to avoid collisions not only in the air, but also on the ground.  They keep the runways clear and they keep the traffic moving to make sure everyone is working to the maximum potential, resulting in timely service.  When compared to the Host position, the worst thing that can happen is a near or mid-air collision in your restaurant because the Host has not calculated the arrival times and departure times correctly. 

Need I go on, because I canÖ. The question here is, do we get the message? It has been staring me in the face for years.  Here it is: After reading this article, if you donít think the Host position holds the same significance in your restaurant as the Air Traffic Controller does in the airport, youíve got a much greater chance of failing.  Hereís the kicker:  If you acknowledge the correlation and the importance, then you need to ask yourself this question: the next time I fly, which one of my Host staff do I want as the Air Traffic Controller overseeing my flight?

If you canít find a single person in the Host position that you would put in the control tower to oversee your next flight then youíve either hired the wrong person for the job or your training for that position is not as serious as it should be.  Think about this, one of the most important jobs in any restaurant is the Host position. The Host serves as the Air Traffic Controller to prevent those incidents that happen when there is a delay in one flight.  And if youíve flown, you know that just one flight delayed, has a trickle down effect throughout the country, causing delays for all other flights.  When itís more than one flight, the problems grow exponentially just like they do in your restaurant when your Host makes one or two mistakes in the same shift.

There are many comparisons to be made with regard to Air Traffic Controllers and Hosts, and that fact alone dictates that you need a skilled, educated person to coordinate the incoming and outgoing traffic.  That person requires maturity, sophistication, knowledge of working a restaurant floor, and quite likely more money than youíre currently paying.  How much more?  Probably not a lot, but certainly more than what youíre paying.

There is no need to measure the importance of each job; they really are the same job, just different industries.  As such, the same level of people should be hired.  While this is a strong message, it is one that needs to be heard. If you donít, your restaurant is truly on a collision course.

To avoid the collision course, we need to shift the industry perception in reference to the position of Host.  We must acknowledge the importance of the position, rather than simply staffing it with, for no better term, ďa pretty face.Ē  The person hired for the position needs to be analytical, methodical, and have an understanding of the elements of air traffic control.  If you want to ensure safe flying for your customers, spend the money on the front side and youíll reap it on the backside.

That said, go out there and enjoy your next flight.  I wish you happy flying in the months and years to come.

--
William Orilio is CEO of GRANTHAM, ORILIO & ASSOCIATES INC., a San Diego based hospitality consulting company, which specializes in ďMystery ShoppingĒ. He has been the publisher of ďHOSPITALITY INDUSTRY REPORTĒ for 9 years and has taught restaurant and hotel management at San Diego Mesa College for 19 years. For more information or a free subscription to the monthly newsletter call 800-711-7776 or go to www.goashoppers.com.
Contact:
GRANTHAM, ORILIO & ASSOCIATES, INC.
William F. Orilio MHS
CEO/President
4490 Fanuel St. Suite #222
     San Diego, CA 92109
800-711-7776
billyo@goashoppers.com
www.goashoppers.com
Also See: Defining Customer Service: the Customerís Perception is our Reality / William Orilio, MHS / September 2004
Don't Wait for Signs of a Better 2004! Hoteliers Will Realize the Gains So Desperately Sought by Giving Customers Exactly What They Want / William Orilio, MHS / January 2004
The Bottled Water Phenomenon; An Easy Sale, But Is it an Abusive Sale / William Orilio, MHS / August 2003
Forget Damage Control - Managers Should Focus on Pulling the Weeds! / William Orilio, MHS / May 2003
Salt & Pepper Shakers Being Purloined? Retail Them! / William Orilio, MHS / Feb 2003
Simplicity, Not Basics; Post Hospitality Bubble of 2000 / William Orilio, MHS / Nov 2002
Super Bowl Deception Leaves Bad Customer Perception; Short-sighted Greed Overtakes Hospitality in San Diego / William Orilio, MHS / Feb 2003


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