Flip The Switch: Turning On the Passion For Service

Join Jon Wool at TSE2015 on Tuesday, January 6. He'll be speaking in the Grand Ballroom Salon A/B at 2:30pm. Here's a SNEAK PEEK at his topic!

Having a positive attitude rooted in customer service and problem-solving is key to excellence in hospitality. In a crowded marketplace where clients have countless options, it is not enough for a catering company or dining spot simply to do a good job. A successful company must distinguish itself by offering a level of care that all those other options do not reach.


Every member of your team must share a desire to provide excellent service to each guest. Chefs should thrive on the challenge of developing new menus. Every time a sales person or reservationist answers the phone, it must be with the enthusiasm of someone eager to hurdle any obstacle before them. This positive attitude is the characteristic which will help elevate your company above your competitors.


Let’s be honest though. After a busy series of events or toward the end of a difficult party, you may forget to keep that positive attitude. We've all reached a point where our feet are aching and our beds are calling.  More often than not, it is in those moments that disaster strikes.  When we're tired or disengaged, it's easy to accidentally send out a plate that's missing its protein. Or to forget to order napkins for a BBQ. Or to snap impatiently at the tenth guest to ask where the bathroom is located. These are mistakes that can ruin an otherwise great event and tarnish the reputation of an otherwise good company. Luckily, these mistakes can be averted by remembering to Flip the Switch.


Flip the Switch is a concept I learned when I was a young actor. I was cast in a silly, fast-paced comedy. The theatre was located in a Midwestern farm town which boasted a Dairy Queen, a karate academy, and a few tennis courts by the high school. We performed the show 6 nights a week plus matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays. One Wednesday, I woke up early, took a long run through the corn fields, played 3 or 4 sets of tennis, showered, hit the Dairy Queen for a healthy lunch of fried food and a root beer float, arrived at the theatre for makeup and warm ups, and bolted on stage for 2 hours of melee without missing a beat. The audience loved it, showering us with laughter and applause.


After the show, I hastily changed out of costume, drove to class at the karate academy where I paid for the privilege of having a hefty farm kid pummel me senseless. Once my poor Bruce Lee imitation was over, I drove back to the DQ to wolf down another fried meal and another root beer float. I returned to the theatre just in time to slap on some makeup and stumble onstage for the evening performance. The show seemed to stretch out and drag on endlessly. I was exhausted. I longed to lie down and go to sleep. The audience, I am sure, also longed to lie down and go to sleep.


In the dressing room following the show, I moaned “I was so tired out there.”


The older male lead looked me dead in the eye and replied coldly “You looked it.”


He explained to me, not unkindly, that I had pulled the entire show down for both my fellow cast members and the paying audience. Everyone deserved better! My job as a professional, he explained, is to be ready to perform. Regardless of the events of the day, at that moment under the spotlight, I need to be “on.” I must Flip the Switch.


He explained Flip the Switch to mean: high energy, full volume, an electric charge flowing through the limbs, and desire to create a one-of-a-kind experience for all. He ended with: “That’s the job!” It’s a lesson I hadn’t learned in theatre school but one I remember to this day.


In the hospitality industry, Flip the Switch is a reminder to adjust our attitude and remember that our professional work requires us to be “onstage.” Each catered event is similar to a theatrical opening night. Each blends art, design, color, and texture. We have an audience, and in order to deliver an excellent performance, we must keep our energy level high. Flip the Switch means to stand up straighter, smile more sincerely, and pay closer attention.


Each of us has important concerns outside of work. For example, hourly servers frequently come to an event site after already working their day job or attending school. They are often tired, sometimes hungry, and almost always preoccupied by thoughts of other things in their lives. However, when in front of the client and guests (our audience) those challenges must be left “offstage.” Staff must Flip the Switch to turn “off” their distractions and turn “on” their good service attitude. 


The phrase is also a good reminder for those moments of laziness that arrive 3/4 of the way through an event: the party is winding down, the initial hustle and bustle has passed, and guests might be starting to leave. Every moment of a special event must capture our full attention. This means total focus on the tasks at hand, high energy, and the willingness to engage until the last guest has left and clean-up is complete. When you notice posture starting to droop and smiles starting to fade, remind each other to Flip the Switch and turn your positive attitude back on.


The importance of a positive attitude does not only apply to servers at events; it is just as important for the person delivering a box lunch order or the office receptionist fielding a client’s call.  Everyone in the company needs to adopt an attentive, caring, service attitude:

  • Instead of dragging your feet as you go to your weekly production meeting, Flip the Switch! You may be surprised by how much more receptive your colleagues are when you approach them with a good attitude.
  • Tired of answering the phone for the umpteenth time today? Flip the Switch! Although you may be bored with talking to clients, the person on the other end of that line may be contacting your company for the very first time. Greeting them with friendly excitement immediately signals that you and your company care about them and are ready to help them create an unforgettable event.


Flipping the Switch is the first step toward great hospitality and service. This emphasis on a positive, customer-friendly, problem-solving attitude is the foundation of success. It is as important to achieving excellence in hospitality as it was to performing a crowd-pleasing farce in the middle of a corn field.

For more details on teaching your team to Flip the Switch, join Jon in Anaheim at TSE 2015!

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