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Re-Imagining Hospitality During Covid



by Shaun Roberts

I have been told on many occasions how amazing the Great Performances sales team is. Being the director of this team has been one of the proudest achievements of my life. With rich layers of experience, the admirable qualities of the group are innumerable; among them, we are a nimble bunch, we are assertive, and we are creative. And it was these three qualities of the team that I knew, last March, I was going to depend on more than ever before to see us through the upcoming (and undetermined) period of time.

Being that this was my first leadership experience through a pandemic, I allowed myself the freedom to explore new ways of doing old things. And with every question that presented itself, I was required to approach it with a fresh perspective.

What do we sell? In a pandemic, our company which has flourished as an in-person business, this was going to be the biggest hurdle. Before the pandemic, the GP salesperson has an established, fantastic core product to sell: our menus, our personal service, our industry-leading planning services. But, when parties of all sizes were stalled due to the pandemic, the collective of talent on our team needed to be utilized in new ways. At the same time, there was a driving need to supply food for those who needed it most, and thankfully this team could be instrumental in this process. We quickly partnered with the Sylvia Center, as they were raising funds to supply meals to hospital workers, by reaching out to our clients with something new to talk about. Our wonderful clients dug into their resources, and we raised funds for more than 10,000  meals.

In late Spring, as that medical meal relief urgency waned, the next question was, what do we talk about now? By June, discussions starting with couples regarding their 10-person outdoor weddings, (what was allowed at that time), and that was a great relief. It was this that made us realize that despite a pandemic, the need to gather around a meal and celebrate a cause was not gone. What made these micro weddings so much of a pleasure was not only the chronological placement they were positioned, but also that we were given the space to really talk about the small touches, the little moments that would make the evening all their own; from the pressed flower name cards directly from the garden venue to a wine-pairing tasting menu with sommelier (one of the silver linings from 2020’s no dancing mandate was more time spent around the dinner table!).

But for those planners who were not talking about weddings, they needed something else to talk about. It was at this time that we started to develop our packaged goods. Initially, there wasn’t terminology for it, but it quickly became called our Curated Kits, and then, by the end of year, it became our Gifting by Mail, as featured in our Hospitality Guide. Finally, after three long months of not being sure what we could sell, we were dipping our toes back into the familiar (micro weddings) and stretching our creativity with the new (how to create a facsimile event experience in a box). By adhering to client data, the current sales landscape, listening to clients’ pain points or goals, and looking at our available resources, we developed some highly curated experiences for our clients.

How do we improve the sales team experience? At the onset of the pandemic, we adapted our internal interactions to video conferencing, and our once bi-weekly sales meeting became a daily one. The discovery from this period of time (though looking back to that, I can’t imagine how we could ever fit that into our schedule again), was how vital it was to have this daily discussion surrounding the challenges that we were facing, and in this new isolation. We are not a group of people that like to tucked away on our own! What was learnt from this time, and that we continue to learn, is that though it is easy to forget that your colleague, vendor or client are not there in front of you, reaching out is always the best medicine.

One of the hardships of the pandemic could be that with empty offices, how do you connect with your clients? We found that, If anything, our clients became more accessible. The pandemic has allowed a whole new customer experience, an opportunity to create a more intimate bond with our clients. By spending time that wasn’t previously afforded us, we are learning so much more about the people on the other end of the phone, finding even more commonality between us, and learning how to cherish this time that we have, as we all hope to return to something more familiar to pre-pandemic.

And while we were not able to meet up with clients in person, we still found ways to recreate some of the physical environment you’re missing out on. From what our own clients were requesting from us, we would share new ways for them to stay in touch with their clients, and we’d apply it ourselves. We’d send a bag of coffee and a French press to a client and schedule a conversation over a cup of coffee. Or have one of our bento boxes delivered for a Zoom to enjoy lunch together.

There have been many silver linings to this dark cloud of a pandemic, and many of those moments we will take with us beyond this. The best lesson though, and the one that is worth the wait, is nothing is ever as good as when you can gather in person with friends, clients, and officemates, nor is it replicable remotely. We cannot wait to return!