Saying “No” with Grace

According to a recent study of guests at 5-Star Resorts in Europe, the three most significant, positive employee behaviors that impact the guest experience are:

  1. Being polite and cheerful
  2. Making the customer feel special by anticipating needs and providing relevant surprise and delight, which is tapping into their unidentified desires
  3. Being knowledgeable enough to answer questions confidently

The two most significant negative behaviors are:

  1. Being sulky or moody
  2. Giving negative answers to requests

The good news for us is that delivering on the positive behaviors, while avoiding the negative behaviors, costs us exactly $0.  So let’s take a few moments to dive deeper into the topic of how to say NO in a very positive way.

First Rule of Hospitality
No one ever wants to hear what they can’t have.  Guests feel more valued when they have choices.  While we can’t anticipate EVERY request we may get, we will do a better job when we are prepared. Sometimes we do have to say no.  The challenge is how to say no with grace, and how to elevate the guest experience in the process.  We need to take it from a negative place, and put a positive spin on it.

The first rule of hospitality is that we do not say “NO.”   Instead, our immediate reply should be “let me see what I can do for you.”  This reinforces the three most significant positive behaviors of being polite, making the guest feel special, and confidently answering questions.  If guests can’t have ‘A’, offering them a choice of ‘B’ or ‘C’ is a good strategy and still makes them feel valued and accommodated.

What are the requests that trigger “No?” What criteria do we use to respond?  Is it policy? We know that there are common issues at all wineries – guests show up late, with unruly kids, having consumed too much prior to reaching us. Let’s look at the criteria for prompting the “No,” and see how we can reframe the answer in a positive light.

When & Why We Say No – with Grace
How we respond depends on the type of challenge.  Here are some decision criteria to consider when we need to handle these difficult situations:

Compliance Issues
This covers how we handle over-served guests.  Know the regulations.  We cannot serve an intoxicated guest, no exceptions, it is illegal.  Even if they say they aren’t driving, we still can’t serve them because they might fall and hurt themselves or someone else.  So we show our concern for them by offering to get them a ride, offering them water, getting assistance from someone else in their party.

Safety Issues & Internal Company Policies
Show concern for their safety and use 3rd parties as the ‘Bad Cop’ when needed.  This takes the pressure off us and moves it to someone in higher authority.

Please stay on the path with the tour and hold your kids’ hands.  Bob the Gardener will kill me if his plants are trampled. 

My boss would be very upset if I allowed you to smoke here because it would violate our LEEDS certification. 

Robert the Cellar Master won’t let our guests wander into the barrel room when the floor is wet and covered with hoses because it is so slippery and dangerous.

I’m so sorry that the wine you asked for isn’t available here today, but I do have these extra special bottles that I can open for you.

Bothering Other Guests
Most people feel a certain social pressure to be considerate of others, but with large, celebratory groups wearing tiaras, caution sometimes goes out the window.  When pantomiming SHHHHHH doesn’t work, we need a relief valve.  Identify the group leader and ask for their assistance.  It is ideal if there is an overflow area outside, in the barrel room, or elsewhere, where we can take the large group to continue their own party.  Bring them a complimentary bottle to enjoy in this new setting.

Inconvenient to Staff
Saying no just because it is inconvenient is always unacceptable. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were the guest. Every day we need to put on our “guest eyes” and think about the guest perspective.

Saying No – with Grace

Be Prepared: When the feathers hit the fan, and they will, we can be mentally prepared for what we might encounter and be ready.  There are times we may have to scramble like mad but, like the swan, let’s be sure our guests only see us glide gracefully along and not peddling like mad under the surface. For example, what do we do if our group is early? Late? Larger than anticipated?  When we are prepared and have everything in place, we are set up to succeed and what our guests will remember is how cheerfully we said YES!

Use Decision Criteria: Consider why we need to say ‘no’ and use these criteria to help manage expectations, turning a ‘negative’ into a positive, memorable experience.

Deliver with Grace: We can’t always say ‘yes,’ so when we can’t, let’s ensure we’re delivering the message in a positive way, offering alternatives for what we CAN deliver, and elevate the guest experience in the process.