By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business
This is the seventh article in a 12-part series, adapted from my dissertation work at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, on the discord between academe and industry over the role of hospitality education and the purpose it serves in career development for hospitality professionals.
In the previous article, we discussed why the service experience in hospitality businesses is so dependent on social and emotional intelligence. Here, we’ll look at the reliance on human interactions for the successful operation of hospitality enterprises.
Hospitality Relies on Teamwork, So Emotional and Social Intelligence Are Necessary for Career Success
Hospitality businesses are human-centric. Hospitality companies are uniquely dependent upon emotional and social intelligence to effectively deliver their service products.
But they are also, at their core, organizations consisting of people working together. In this sense, emotional and social intelligence are vital to hospitality professionals’ career success.
Most positions within the operations of hotels, casinos, restaurants, cruise lines, airlines, and other aspects of hospitality and tourism rely on a team environment, with interdependence among employees at the heart of successful service delivery. Consider, for example, a busy restaurant.
In order for a restaurant to maximize volume and profitability, members of the team must be able to work and communicate effectively with one another. They must also be able to trust one another. Hosts and hostesses must seat customers in a manner that is efficient for the restaurant, but also equitable and fair for the servers, as this has a direct effect on their earnings.
Servers must communicate orders accurately and expeditiously to culinary staff to keep the preparation line moving in an efficient manner; failing to do so can lead to customer frustration and hostility. Likewise, bussers must vigilantly support their servers to clear and clean tables and communicate their status to the host so she can seat new customers as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Other personnel in areas such as stewarding, custodial and even marketing have equally interdependent roles in promoting the overall success of the operation. In light of this dynamic, it is critical that restaurant professionals possess the emotional and social intelligence necessary to foster constructive relationships with each other. This is not unlike any other business environment, but it is arguably exaggerated in an industry where service (and not a tangible product such as the cuisine) is a primary asset.
Hospitality Leaders Must Possess a Mastery of Emotional and Social Intelligence
Similarly, leaders must possess a mastery of emotional and social intelligence to earn the respect and support of their subordinates. Understanding how to be adaptable with approaches based on the particulars of individuals, how to motivate staffers to achieve desired business outcomes, and how to effectively correct behavior through coaching, mentoring, and even discipline without provoking antagonism are crucial skills for all hospitality leaders. And these skills all stem from the precepts of emotional and social intelligence.
Moreover, the need for these skills is only magnified as leaders climb the rungs of the corporate ladder through supervisor, manager, director and executive roles. Eventually, the weight of one’s authority and the degree of political influence call for nothing short of emotional and social mastery. It is precisely these skills that many industry practitioners perceive as lacking in formal hospitality education programs.
Hospitality education instructors, however, would likely counter that social interaction is emphasized in almost every aspect of a student’s studies. Admittedly though, many hospitality programs appear to prioritize technical skill sets over social and emotional intelligence.
Relying again on UNLV as an example, the undergraduate program is filled with required coursework such as three accounting and finance classes; five classes in food and beverage logistics (purchasing, cost control, sanitation, service operations, and quantity production); two classes in law; and one class in hospitality facilities management (covering, mainly, systems operations and maintenance).
The Majority of Hospitality Education Coursework Favors Technical Skills over Social Skills
To be fair, a few required classes cover leadership and organizational behavior theories, but the majority of coursework favors technical skills over social skills. However, digging a bit more deeply into the content of the curriculum, there is evidence of an opportunity for developing social dexterity nearly everywhere.
In almost every one of these classes, students are assigned some type of project or presentation, and many of these assignments require group collaboration. These tasks promote the development of communication skills, healthy conflict resolution, and the general ability to understand and relate to different personalities. For these reasons, academics would say emotional intelligence is an overarching theme throughout every student’s academic career.
Academicians and hospitality industry practitioners perceive the efficacy of hospitality education very differently. However, as the adage goes, “perception is nine-tenths of reality.”
Regardless of whether colleges and universities are in fact doing a sufficiently good job of preparing hospitality majors for their careers, the reality is that some in industry positions with power to influence those very same careers don’t see it that way. This attitude not only frustrates the ambitions of aspiring professionals, but also has the potential to reshape value perceptions of those very same professionals as they pertain to their education.
In the next parts of this series, we’ll look at the socioeconomic views on higher education in general and how they relate to hospitality education specifically.