Resolve, Rinse, Repeat: Great Expectations for 2022

By Bashar Wali

Resolutions? I don’t know. I don’t typically make resolutions. Resolving to do something has never sat well with me. I’m more of a practice and you shall change, type.

This year however, things are different (again)—4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November. A million of them were in hospitality. One of our GMs has a Covid testing apparatus next to his pen cup and stapler, and unlike the stapler, it hasn’t collected dust in these first weeks of 2022.

In light of constant change, and the crater that the last two years have landed onto our industry, I’m changing things up. At this point, we’re trying everything, right? If New York Times can put Cleveland next to Courmayeur, Italy on their list of 52 Places, I can make some resolutions for the year ahead.

1. Technology—make the enemy of my enemy my friend. 

I consider myself pretty tech-savvy. I’ve in fact bought my first NFT. I’m in line for a Rivian. But also, RIP BlackBerry—I do miss you, sometimes.

There is nothing slowing down the technology advances in our industry. Last month, I experienced the latest iteration of contactless check-in, in Brooklyn. I chose to travel during this latest pesky surge, so I embraced it. I was even excited about it. It made me feel better about my decision when just about every news outlet (and Eileen) told me not to travel.

Was it truly contactless? Absolutely. I even made my own key, a first. Did I feel safer not having to come close to anyone? Sure. But did I leave the experience feeling sort of…empty? You bet. I missed the guest services agent asking about my day and telling me about her favorite ramen spot. I wondered where I’d grab coffee the next morning. I was sort of bewildered going up to my room—me, a pro. Does anyone even know I’m here? I was traveling with a carry-on, but what would happen if I had baggage (literally and figuratively)?

How do we keep hospitality alive amid the barrage of apps designed to make our lives easier, all while being told that less human contact is better for our health? Can we make technology work for us in speed, efficiency, and safety, without losing that human touch? 

Do we really need to make our own room keys? 

Does it take away from the dining experience when a server shoves the card machine in our face and stands sheepishly before us while we choose the tip? Is there a way to flip the script and somehow make it all more connective? I don’t have the answers, but I’ll spend this year working on solutions.

2. Put the people before the practice.

If the last few years have shed light on anything, it’s that connection is not only key, but vital. We know this as fearless industry professionals. We crave the connection, the smile, the surprise, the wow moment. We live for it. So when we are forced inward, when there’s a barrier between us—whether it’s running operations from our kitchen table, or a communication tool  that keeps us apart like Zoom—we realize that humans, and in-person interactions, are the shit.

In 2019 BC, we all thought we were in the people business. But I look at my professional life in 2018 and muse: was I physically at work more? Yes. Was I in front of my team? Yes. But was I sitting mostly in a back room in budget meetings, development meetings, strategy meetings, bottom line meetings? Also yes. How many times did I really walk through a packed lobby full of guests and say hello, pause, stop, and savor? If I’m being honest, that answer is few. 

RevPar, NOI, EBITDA—those are important, don’t get me wrong. We aren’t doing this for free, even if we would. But in 2022, as we teeter on the tightrope of “in person” vs. “virtual,” I’ll never take the “in person” for granted again. I will focus again on practicing what I preach. I’ll continue to put humans first.

3. Get real about great expectations.

GMs are room attendants, managers are prep cooks, bar backs are bartenders. Cost of food, linens, and dry goods have skyrocketed. But, in more cases than not, the expectations of our customers haven’t changed. They’ve been accommodating, they’ve been sick, and now they’re just tired. Lately the mentality is they’re risking their health to eat out, so we’d better keep it 100. We had better deliver the same vibe—and price—from that great experience in 2019. Gulp.

Of course, we want nothing more than to deliver. It does us no good—pandemic or not—to fall below expectations. That’s not what we’re in this for, hospitality is how you make people feel, after all. We have to pull back the curtain—let the smoke and mirrors fade away—and be real about what we can deliver. 

I resolve to check in with our teams about how they’re feeling, and be honest about how I’m feeling, too. I won’t over-promise. I will encourage the people I see everyday (albeit with Zoom or an N95 between us) to do the same. 

We’re in the people business, after all.

Let’s check in. Let’s be optimistic and realistic about our goals. Let’s look ourselves in the mirror and resolve to feel good about the road ahead. What are your hopes for 2022? What have you resolved to do better?