The essence of language in hospitality

Why your staff should play French podcasts during breakfast

This is the third blog in a series about connecting with guests in hospitality.

El primer wo Ich praat over l’importance иностранных языков nell’ospitalità.

‘English, please?’ is not the right answer here

Language. Sequences of words charged with history and culture. A key element of physical expression. An indispensible tool for detailed comprehension. Coming from lingua, or from dingua in Old Latin, meaning to hit or to strike. It even refers to a plant (lingulaca).

In hospitality, language is often just seen as a tool to enable swift communication, understand the needs of the guests and taking correct orders.

Very few consider it as the best, most fun and profound tool in creating LASTING CONNECTIONS with your guests.

I will explain here why and how language ALWAYS should be an integrated part of your restaurant strategy. First I will describe two situations, followed by a list of arguments to start seeing and using language as thé tool to create connection, smiles and happiness all over your restaurant.

Both easy to digest, so be ready to start implementing within 5 minutes.


You look up as a Chinese couple walks in. They smile expectantly as they are happy to have that always tough table in your restaurant. They were adviced by good friends -regulars- as a must-eat in town. You don’t know that, so you just return the smile, take the coats and head for the table. The guests are well-educated and polite, yet not really fluent in English. Just good enough to open a basic dialogue about some average topics.

There are more and more Chinese high-end visitors heading towards your restaurant located near the town’s historic district, so you decided to print a translated Chinese menu. This has helped communication a lot. So in this case they can rapidly order from the Chinese menu, following your fingerpointed advice, nodding happily with their choice. Chinese they are good nodders, you know.

You try to connect with them throughout dinner, being friendly and assisting where you can. Halfway you launch a food-related joke and they smile, not fully understanding yet getting your point of joking. They try to explain about their friend:

They: FRIEND! (index finger to chest, then down, then to ear, then thumbs up)

You: AHA! (smile and thumbs up)

They finish dinner, satisfied and happy with the food and overall experience, leave a good tip and leave. They write a good review and hope to come back next time they’re in town. Everybody happy.

Sounds as good as it gets now, doesn’t it?

Here’s the same couple again.


The Chinese couple walks in. You suspected their Chinese origin from their reservation name, so you make sure that Mandy, one of your younger staff, is serving their table tonight. Mandy (and also Jesse) have been taking an online basic Chinese language course since past fall on your advice and (partly) cost. Both are making steady progress. At first they were a bit hesitant and anxious, but now they really enjoy taking class. For it has also given an enormous boost to their esteem and respect of colleagues, especially from the sometimes nasty kitchen. They feel like becoming a Jedi. So they love it when a Chinese table takes seat and they’re able to practice and show their progress.

Back to the couple. You take their coats as their host, so you don’t immediately give away the element of surprise of having Mandy serving them. This way you create an authentic reception, as would any guest enjoy. They take their seat and Mandy enters the scene, presenting them the English menu yet offering them her assistance. In Chinese. They laugh out loud and happily agree on her not fluent, yet clear outset of the specialties. The couple requests for some minor adjustments as they don’t really love shellfish.

They love the restaurant and they love Mandy, and her effort to try to master their language. As Mandy explains this really is her own personal venture, which has also opened up a genuine interest in Chinese culture, the Chinese couple even become a bit emotional. Which they hide of course for the sake of politeness. They play along with her on some words, try to learn her some new words and give her some playful corrections.

They also tell Mandy about their friend who has been to the restaurant many times. As Mandy recalls the regular guest, they both joke about him in basic Chinese, which makes a funny sight. Mandy is just beaming positive energy like laser.

Also the other guests in the restaurant notice the funny and strange interaction between this blonde American girl and these sophisticated Chinese people. They adore her visible difficult effort and try to joke with her about it as she passes the other tables.

You, meanwhile, as the host, every now and then pass the Chinese table, smile, say a few words and put your thumbs up. You are happy things are going well.

As the Chinese couple later reveals that their son is also working as a chef in Shanghai, Mandy winks you and asks to give them a short look in the kitchen. Of course you agree, so both of you join the couple into the kitchen, where the kitchen welcomes them in choir with a happy 您好 (hello)!!, which they all learned from Mandy.

And also in this ‘situation B’, they finish dinner, yet this time satisfied and happy on a deep emotional level. They LOVE Mandy and they LOVE you and they LOVE your restaurant!! They praise the food and overall experience over and over, leave a good tip and leave. They write a raving good review and will DEFINITELY come back in town JUST to visit your restaurant. Again everybody happy, yet this time, happiness goes deep, a happiness between you, your staff and these guests which is one of the lasting kind. And a happiness that will reoccur the next day. And the next day. Creating happiness within your team and regulars from all over the world. Every day.

Same couple. Same evening. Same restaurant.

I hope you see the difference

Now what exactly is happening in Situation B that doesn’t apply to Situation A?

Without diving to deep into psychological theory (for this always consult my Psychology Mastermind Brother, Jan Smit), THIS is what actually happens because of Mandy, her Chinese classes and basic Chinese conversational skills:

  • The international guests instantly connect with your ‘language student’ staff because of the connecting elements of surprise, respect, charm, and so on and so on…
  • As you also happily join the scene as a ‘supporting assistant’ of your connecting staff, being active in movement yet modest in speech, they also connect with you for being a servant leader by enabling and facilitating this connection. Again the connecting elements of fun, respect and charm are fully charged here
  • Not only Mandy and you, but the entire story and experience and feel of the guests AND of the restaurant can be conveyed on a deeper level, equally flowing BOTH WAYS (critical for connection!)
  • Apart from the experience of the Chinese guests, the experience of ALL other guests in the restaurants is positively affected by this charming and funny interaction. So the energy of the complete restaurant is uplifted
  • You keep your AUTHENTICITY to the guests, by not developing a training and/or policy for the ‘Chinese’, but by enabling you to connect with the guests without changing ANYTHING about the visible setting or environment (this includes the menu!). For ANY adjustment DOES affect your authenticity
  • It creates a bond between cultures. In most cultures it it DEEPLY REWARDED that you show any form of interest in their language, culture or history. Enabling basic conversation in one’s mother tongue opens up miles and miles of connecting paths which stay forever hidden if you just limit yourself to order-related (and thus strictly business-related) phrases
  • It creates positivity, enthusiasm and eagerness within your team. They are all triggered and energised by the positive result of Mandy’s effort, not only on her work performance but also on her entire energy and self-esteem. So they will eventually all try to join and follow her example, each one choosing their own preferred language
  • As you got Mandy and Jesse on the path of learning a foreign language, by putting it as an objective in their appraisal, by rewarding and supporting them and by linking them to the right program and people, you created a work environment full of new challenges and incentives to learn and master foreign languages.
  • So your restaurant becomes a more attractive place to work, because you radiate that you are a learning environment, a place where they not only learn to master the skills of hospitality but also the skills of learning a language, both of which are key in any other future area of expertise
  • You took advantage of today’s possibilities to learn and master foreign languages in the most fun, easy and also inexpensive way. Just look at ALL those nearly free online courses and free podcasts like francais authentique or italiano automatico.
  • So when this ‘language thing’ really lifts off and becomes an integrated part of your restaurant culture, you can discuss about how you should let everybody from your staff pick a different ‘big’ language. Trigger them, reward them, so you become the world in one
  • So you create an orchestra of tongues, a symphony of languages. A perfect symphony in B Major.

So why wait? Apply this to your own restaurant and really experience a leap in deep connection.

And when all this already applies to you, congratulations.

You have bended the universe.

You will have raving fans and regulars coming from all over the globe.

And your restaurant will be tomorrow’s environment for learning, expertise, connection and happiness!

So, hope you understood my English.

Five minutes are up.

Now go out, and remember.

You get what you learn.


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