Hotel Online  Special Report
Timing Is Everything, Or Is It?

Harry Nobles & Cheryl Thompson,  July 2002

It may be an overstatement to say that timing is everything.   In making so broad and absolute an assertion,  one implies that nothing else really matters.  While timing is important, it is only one of many elements of guest service.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that timing is a critical part of service delivery, and one that dramatically affects overall guest satisfaction.  One might argue that poor timing alone can denigrate or even spoil an otherwise excellent guest-employee interaction.
Timing is an important factor in all areas of hotel and restaurant service, from making the reservations through departure.  One area in which the timing of service delivery is particularly crucial is dining. In even a simple dining transaction, there are many things to be coordinated and orchestrated.  Imagine how much more complex this becomes when several guests are having a multi-course dinner in a fine restaurant.  
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Simply stated the scenario includes arrival, initial greeting, seating, greeting by wait staff, water/bread service, beverage service, ordering of appetizers and main courses, dessert and/or after dinner drinks, check presentation, farewell, and departure.  The  coordination required to get the right dish to the right guest at the right time, and at the right temperature involves not only the wait staff, but kitchen staff as well.  

On recent consulting projects in Asia and Mexico, we were reminded how poor timing alone can adversely affect an otherwise excellent dining experience.  In several world class restaurants in Thailand we noted  the staff’s apparent inability to properly coordinate  simultaneous delivery of appetizers and main courses.  

A delay of several minutes between appetizers being served was not unusual.  The same was true of main course service.  It was not unusual for one guest’s order to be served very promptly, and the other’s to be served much later.  This was not always the case: timing was frequently excellent.    

A more  noticeable service flaw involved the offer of dessert and check presentation.  Service often literally ceased after the main course was served.  Heretofore attentive and professional staff appeared to forsake all attempts at follow up service at this point.  Repeated requests for beverage refill, the dessert menu, after dinner drinks, or the check often went unanswered.  

One might surmise that because the tip is often automatically included in the check has an adverse effect on service. Given the traditional Oriental attitude toward service, we came to a different conclusion

Our professional assessment of this phenomenon is that it may be more a bilateral cultural thing ..  In Thailand we noticed that the majority of western tourists were not American, but European.  While Europeans tend to dine at a more leisurely pace, the typical American guests are in more of a hurry to complete the meal, pay the check, and depart. The other cultural component is the Oriental concept of service and aversion to rushing the guest.  Despite the possible negative impression of slow service, one must admit that this is a refreshing change from the perception of being rushed by the wait staff to turn the table.

The Mexican experience was somewhat similar, particularly in regard to check presentation.  While guests’ orders were generally properly timed and served, service often waned after the main course.   We concluded their perceived delay in offering dessert  reflected  a hesitancy to  hasten the check settlement and guest departure.

We interpreted this as a cultural aversion to creating the impression that the guests were being rushed.  Again a welcome change from the too frequent sense of being rushed that one often encounters in many U.S. restaurants.  

In both situations, the “timing” problem might be at least partially solved by training the staff to more accurately read the guest and determine when additional service,  and ultimately the check, should be proffered.  This educational process must be achieved without denigrating  the current service level.  Employees must be trained to provide attentive and consistent, yet unobtrusive service that assures maximum guest satisfaction.   Timing is an important component of this type service;  guest observation and accurate interpretation of subtle messages are an essential part of timing.

These experiences and observations are intended to demonstrate and reinforce the premise that proper timing of service delivery is critical to guest satisfaction. If poor timing can detract from the level of guest satisfaction,  the obvious question is can excellent timing compensate for other service deficiencies?   Perhaps more precisely, how much can excellent timing compensate?  

Even the most perfect timing of service delivery cannot offset other service flaws.  An incorrectly prepared dish served with perfect timing by a most cordial and professional waiter is not improved. An incorrect room reservation accessed immediately by the most cordial desk clerk is still incorrect.   

If this be the case, what does proper timing accomplish?  In some cases, a well timed sincere comment or thoughtful action  can prevent a bad situation from becoming even worse.   Timing can sometimes bolster and enhance the illusion of a positive guest experience.  Timing may sometimes help to mollify a disgruntled guest.  While proper timing can never totally negate an unpleasant guest experience,  it can influence the guest’s attitude in a positive way.   

On the other hand, poor timing can ruin an otherwise excellent guest experience. Late delivery of a well prepared meal, slow response to a guest’s request, or failure to render any service promptly can have the unfortunate effect of canceling out all the things done well.

What are some components needed to achieve proper timing of guest service delivery?  Properly  timed service delivery requires training,  the proper equipment,  a positive attitude, and teamwork.  The absence of any one of these can make it very difficult if not impossible to achieve  proper timing. 

What makes employees appreciate the critical importance of timing?  Employees’ attitude  toward guest service is greatly influenced by their  perception of management’s attitude.  If they perceive that management is serious about timely response to employee issues, they may well be more sensitive to timely response to guests’ needs.  The opposite is equally true.

What encourages and motivates  employees  to strive for excellent timing in every guest-employee interaction?   Reward and recognition can be very positive factors.  

Constant encouragement, effective training, and  required resources are also essential.  

In summary, an employee’s attitude toward the importance of  timing, and dedication to that goal will usually reflect the perceived message from management.

What message are you sending?


Harry Nobles Hospitality Consulting
POC:  Harry Nobles
Phone:  757-564-3761
Fax:        757-564-0076


  • Former head of AAA Lodging/Dining Ratings Program. 
  • An independent consultant serving the hospitality industry. 
  • A Special Training Consultant to the Educational Institute, American Hotel/Motel Association
Also See: Boutique Hotels: Have They Gone Too Far / May 2002
People Really Do Make the Difference / Jan 2002
What Is a Boutique Hotel? / Dec 2001
The Non-negotiable Traits of Leaders / Oct 2001 
How Important is Service? / Sept 2001
Front Desk Service Mistakes / Aug 2001
Food & Beverage Mistakes & How to Correct Them / July 2001
Bell Staff Mistakes & How to Correct Them / July 2001 
Attitude vs Aptitude / June 2001
Female Business Travelers' Expectations / June 2001
Is Outsourcing Your Training a Viable Alternative? / June 2001
Unique Identity + Consistent Service = Success / May 2001
AAA Standards vs  Guests' Expectations / May 2001
Are Your Guests Better Informed Than Your Staff? / April 2001
Are U.S. Hotels Rated Differently From Other North American Hotels? / April 2001
The Design Theme - AAA / Mobil Ratings Connection / March 2001
Attitude Can Make the Difference / January 2001
How Should Casino-Hotels be Rated? / Dec 2000
Does AAA Rate Resorts Fairly? / Nov 2000
Is Your Property Suffering From Design Deficiency? / Nov 2000 
The Future of AAA Ratings / September 2000
What Is Your Optimum AAA Rating / August 2000
If You Disagree With Your AAA Rating…../ June 2000
Are AAA Ratings Always Accurate and Objective / May 2000
Creating Atmosphere / Jan 2000
What is "Atmosphere"? / December 1999
Maintaining Your AAA Rating / Nov 1999
Earning a AAA Rating vs Maintaining a AAA Rating: Which Is More Difficult?  / Oct 1999
Can Outstanding Service Offset Hotel Physical Deficiencies in the Rating Systems? / Harry Nobles / June 1999 
Consistency: The Hallmark of a Fine Hotel / September 1999
Who Should Train Your Employees  / Aug 2000 
Mobil Travel Guide Announces 1998 Mobil Four-and Five-Star Award Winners / Jan 1998 
Key to Success: Training + Follow-Up / June 2000
The Legend of the Pineapple / Harry Nobles / Feb 1999 
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