What Travel Agents Can Learn from Waiters | TravelResearchOnline

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What Travel Agents Can Learn from Waiters

This week, we have been looking at other professions to see what can be learned from each. When you enjoy a retail experience, and even when you don’t, there is almost always something to be learned that you can apply to your travel practice. There are loads of lessons to be gained by watching a professional waiter. In many ways, the profession of being a server in a dining establishment is especially instructive. Not only do most of us have frequent exposure to waiters, but many of us have actually been servers.

Who does not enjoy a truly great waiter? It does not matter if the meal is in a breakfast diner or a fine restaurant, a great waiter improves the experience. Equally true, a bad waiter can ruin the best of food. Here’s what I see as the quality that makes a great waiter great: intuition and timing.

A great waiter certainly knows the menu, can recommend a wine, and does so confidently. But more importantly, a great waiter knows how to size up the people at a table and make appropriately timed and empathetic connections with the diners. Some people want to chat, others do not. Some want the waiter to lavish attention on them, others basically want to be left alone. However, everyone wants each course brought at exactly the right time. A great waiter has an impeccable sense of timing. The moment the salads are finished the next course appears. The coffee is filled at exactly the right moment. The great waiter expertly anticipates the needs of the table and is there to meet them.

I think there is something teachable here.

What quality is it that allows for the remarkable ability to get inside another person’s head? Empathy is the ability to sense what another is likely to be thinking and feeling. By developing a sense of empathy, you create a bridge between yourself and others.


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Great travel consultants are intuitive and empathetic. They know how to anticipate the needs of their clients, even when the clients may be unaware of the needs. A great travel consultant can size up the demeanor and temperament of the client and adjust their bedside manner appropriately. One client is all business and just wants the facts. Another is a warm, people person and wants to talk about the travel “experience”. A good travel consultant adapts to either client and meets those needs. Mirroring the demeanor of the client is a way of making the client feel more comfortable with the experience of meeting with the travel consultant. Authentically mirroring another person while in social or business interaction demonstrates the empathy that is so important to establishing a rapport.

By the way, there’s one other thing I want to say about wait staff. Some time ago I read an article by a Fortune 500 CEO in which he made a very interesting statement: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.” So in addition to what we might learn from waiters, perhaps there is something to be learned by watching diners as well.

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