What is the difference between service and hospitality?
I’ve heard it mentioned that service, no matter how efficient, is something which happens to you.
But hospitality is something that one experiences more viscerally, on a more emotional level and feels more engaged with.
Perhaps the leading expert on hospitality would be Danny Meyer, the CEO of Union Hospitality Group and the author of Setting The Table, one of the most enlightened books on the restaurant industry.
Danny essentially advocates that hospitality is all about people.
He stated in his book that “business, like life, is all about how you make people feel” and how “hospitality is impossible to teach, it’s all about hiring the right people.”
Acclaimed writer Maya Angelou captured this beautifully in remarking that “people will forget what you said, forget what you did but never forget how you made them feel.”
I’ve recently been reflecting upon my own experiences in the hospitality industry spanning seven years in London and now seven years based in Ho Chi Minh City.
My overriding recollection of some of the most epic of nights has not been so much about the venue, the menu or even the drinks consumed, but rather the people present and the feelings of engaging with them which nourished the longest lasting images.
In short, I feel that the essence of hospitality is making memories and this impulse encouraged me to explore this topic further
It’s been a pleasure to explore this together with Matt Cowan and Melanie Casul from The Bureau given their longstanding passion for the hospitality industry in Vietnam and my longstanding friendship with them encompassing many convivial and memorable evenings together.
My thinking could be distilled down into a series of common factors and common venues, but the recurring theme was the hospitality shown to me by the local staff.
A group of committed and determined local managers emerged in my thoughts as heroes of hospitality in Ho Chi Minh City.
I wanted to explore this topic further to offer more recognition to them for their devotion to our industry, so I reached out to a fine selection of 11 young Vietnamese managers to further explore this theme.
I note that the 11 subjects featured in our inaugural season is a selection based upon my own personal experience of hospitality in Ho Chi Minh City and represents a wide cross-section of backgrounds, responsibilities and opinions that shed a fascinating light on our industry from their perspective.
We chatted individually to discuss the concept, but also gathered as a group at the tranquil Vietnamese restaurant Laang in Thao Dien in Saigon’s District 2 to enjoy each other’s company, as it was now our turn to share some hospitality to those who so often have taken care of us.
The theme of Laang is around ‘reconnecting meaningfully’, which made this a fitting venue for our evening especially noting the warm and considerate welcome we all enjoyed from Laang’s general manager Lukas Reitterer.
Five core themes emerged from my discussions with the heroes, conveniently all beginning with P as listed below:
Hang from Eddie’s New York Deli & Diner talked about how her HR background had been crucial in helping her build a hospitality culture among her team and ensuring that her entire team was focused around the same mission of delivering a consistent, warm, friendly and memorable experience for their guests.
Huy from Red Apron, who was voted Vietnam’s Sommelier of the Year in 2017, talked about the notion of “consciousness” and about anticipating what his customers might require or ask of him. Huy also feels a sense of inner confidence that he can fulfill the needs of his guests given the qualifications he has achieved and the amount of time he has spent tasting and researching his wines.
Quan from Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar shared with us about the time he spends with his kitchen and bar colleagues to ensure that he has intricate knowledge of the grades of steaks or formulation of his cocktails that his team offer so that he feels confident in making relevant recommendations to his guests.
Bao from Summer Experiment spoke of the importance of reading the body language of his guests, noting his duty to ensure that if they’ve had a tough day, he’s on-hand to console them, but equally to share in their happiness and cheer with them when they’ve had a great day.
Jerry from Climb also shared with us the importance of remembering the first names and favourite cocktails of all of is guests as key to always making that great first impression.
Building a great reputation and knowledge of our industry naturally takes time and Phung from P’Ti Saigon has been working in Saigon for over 10 years now, having started her career at the iconic Ngoc Suong Seafood.
Her experience working in teams at some of Saigon’s best restaurants equipped her with the skills and confidence to successfully welcome French Prime Minister Francois Hollande to her previous place of work, Le Corto a few years ago.
Patisserie entrepreneur Vu, founder of madebyvu believes that hospitality is “a long term process towards building trust.” He has a ruthless focus on being as responsive to any inquiries as he can, as he currently also supervises all of his customer deliveries.
Anh from Anan Saigon talked about her pride in being able to showcase their national spirit with the multitude of international guests visiting their Vietnamese themed restaurant.
Mary from Mad House also continued this theme when she talked about the importance of sharing the character of her restaurant and wine bar with guests and her joy at the sight of a full restaurant and happy customers all cheering and smiling.
Grace from Remy Cointreau talked about how much she had learned and benefited from being invited on a team-building trip with Tribe Hospitality to Bangkok and Singapore where they visited some amazing bars, which infused in her even more inspiration to reach the top of her craft in Vietnam.
Viet from Park Hyatt Saigon noted what could be described as his “FDF” approach to hospitality of “Focus, Detail & Fun”.
It’s all about that first impression, that warm welcome with a genuine smile, paying attention to guests and anticipating their needs.
Two final themes emerged from my discussions with the heroes.
The concept of the “going the extra mile” cropped up several times, which highlighted the level of commitment required to prosper in our industry – it’s a non-negotiable trait.
Finally, all heroes commented on their love of Vietnamese cuisine, which was not surprising from such a fine group of ambassadors of Vietnamese hospitality.
I trust you will enjoy reading and learning more about our Heroes of Hospitality for Season 1 and I hope you will show your support by venturing into the venues we’ve mentioned and together with our heroes, make some cherished memories of your own together.
Words by Chris Thompson
Chris has been living in Vietnam since 2013 and is the editor-at-large at Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam in which he covers the hospitality industry. He’s also the ambassador for Rothschild Wine Estates Indochina. And when he finds the time, he contributes for The Bureau Asia
Follow Chris on Instagram at @ctsaigon06
Learn more about Heroes of Hospitality HERE