Frank Chen

Frank Chen

Embracing humanity and sticking to tradition can generate surprise in hospitality.

I recently had a lunchtime meal in France at a small, traditional Lyonnaise bouchon.

After being seated, we noticed a table of two talking to who I assumed to be the owner-chef of the restaurant. Based on the intensity of the interaction - the way they were leaned in, pencil and paper in hand, and gestures - the conversation appeared to be about serious restaurant matters. I didn't think much of it beyond that.

Five minutes later, the owner walked over and engaged us in the same manner as he did the previous table. He wanted to chat, talk about where we were from, why we found ourselves in Lyon, and to review the "menu du jour" in full, unfettered detail. He went through what was in season, his most prized dishes, and gave recommendations based on our preferences.

Right then, it clicked for me - he was the menu. They didn't just leave you with a piece of paper, lost in translation. A real human, the owner no less, came by to personally discuss the food.

As we enjoyed our lunch, I noticed there were zero turns at lunch service. I surmise that this level of engagement with your fellow diners takes purposeful attention, and the tradeoff means lower table turnover. Hopefully, quality and loyalty makes up for any possible profit deficiencies, but even if not, their humanistic bent towards hospitality sets them apart.

This unexpected, uncommon service shook up my traditional definition of hospitality. At the same time, there was a sense of sadness as I realized that perhaps this establishment was just the outlier. Physical menus are generally pretty standard, and I can also see the case where you just want to be left alone for most of your meal.

It's my hope that we see a revitalization of "more humanity" within the hospitality industry. It sounds obvious, but taken to the next level, it can really make an experience.