by Mike Silver (@stretchmike) For those of you who visited Cape Town last December, you may have experienced some of the finest food, wine and weather that the country (if not the world!) has to offer. What you were unlikely to experience, though, was unforgettable service.

Silly season

Unless it was, of course, for the wrong reasons — medium-rare steaks turned into well-done in an instant; mysterious items being added to bills (including a friend that was charged for 20L of cranberry juice at a table for four!). In general, great settings, ingredients and décor fell flat this season when employees delivered a weak (and generic) brand experience.

What with a currency rivaling the former Zim dollar, it’s critical for Brand South Africa that the hospitality industry gets its service in order before the next barmy army wave descends. Should the SA hospitality industry stop at ‘good’ service, though? Or is there an opportunity to strive for something greater: an unrivalled brand experience?

English fans delighting in the Rand’s demise

A desire to be better

For SA brands, it goes without saying that the operational stuff needs to get sorted out and quickly. Weak HR-selection processes, poor training, lack of systems etc are not insurmountable challenges. All that’s required is an intolerance of mediocrity and a few nominal investments, be it in consultants or technology.

As to the latter, it’s pretty common place to find all staff mic’d up in restaurants abroad [and some clothing stores — ed-at-large]. While it can be somewhat intimidating and arguably ostentatious, this simple and relatively inexpensive solution ensures effective and instantaneous communication. Ironically, if the maths were done, more tables could be turned and items sold by reducing an unnecessary delay of this nature.

A final example is the dreaded wait for the bill. Over ‘season’, it’s not uncommon to request the bill from three separate waiters. This process is then repeated when the waiter forgets that we’ve been using credit cards since the ’70s and begins (and quickly forgets) to hunt for the outlet’s lone machine. Snapscan might as well be in the next Back To The Future sequel! It’s a waste of time to elaborate any further upon the basics when the solutions are so simple.

An app for everything

Casting our eyes abroad, we would do well to take lessons from our friends with stars and stripes. While they may have serious problems such as gun crime and Donald Trump, they are definitely doing something right when it comes to harnessing the power of employees to build their brands. State-side, good service is generic. Instead, they strive for differentiation through innovation.

While we struggle to embrace walkie-talkies, the Yanks are using apps. Inside Levi’s Stadium (belonging to the San Francisco Giants NFL team), you need to make peace with paying US$14 (R200+) for four chicken strips and a handful of fries. For those of you more extravagant, however, download the stadium’s app and request your 50% banting meal (high fat but also high carb) delivered to you in your seat by a smiling (and sometimes a tad sweaty) waiter. While this obviously comes at a premium, the service is hugely appreciated by a nation that find walking an unnecessary chore.

Order food to your seat with the Levis Stadium App

Nightclub theatre

I was ‘fortunate’ enough to have my bachelor party at the beginning of January 2016. My kind friends thought it would be a good idea to dress me up like a hula girl and take me to one of the country’s largest outdoor nightclubs. With nearly 40 of us in tow, the best man decided that we needed to do this properly with a table and a bar tab for booze that rivaled the military budget of a medium-sized Asian country. In spite of this investment, the establishment kept us waiting at the entrance for 20 minutes and then another 20 inside as they tried to locate our forgotten table. Now, standing around with nothing but coconut cups on my chest can get a little frustrating after a while.

Looking at on-trade venues abroad (nightclubs and bars), we see a different story, where VIP actually lives up to its tag. At Marquee nightclub in Vegas, VIP bottle service is literally taken to the next level as waitresses deliver bottles inside miniature airplanes, carried by bare-chested male models.

Marquees Las Vegas service in the skiesService in the skies

Lastly, it’s worth taking a look at one industry that, at times, seems to get service so right. In Cape Town, we’ve come to accept poor service and mistakes. We’ve also come to accept that the word “sorry” is considered blasphemy by most establishments. Jet Blue airline in America not only says sorry but it means it.

Famous tale

One famous tale (of the company that sees its employees as key brand builders) saw the pilot leave his cockpit to personally apologise to passengers for a four-hour wait on the tarmac. If that weren’t enough, he then took their orders for fresh pizzas that he arranged to have delivered to their seats from the local airport pizzeria!

For those with more expensive taste, Emirates Airways builds a knowledge database of its business-class frequent flyers. A client of ours commented that it had picked up his keen interest for mid-flight wine tasting; the on-board sommelier came over unprompted to ask him if he would like to indulge in its featured merlots (his previously recorded blend of choice!).

To end off our trip from bad to good to great service, I have to mention Westjet’s Christmas Miracle campaign. Westjet’s marketing doesn’t just boldly place experiential marketing at its heart but it uses its own people to deliver them. If you haven’t seen it, below is the amazing story of how Westjet’s staff served up an unforgettable Christmas experience.

Westjet Christmas Miracle Campaign case study

We need to start doing more

Yes, we’ve got the mountain, the beaches and pathetically underpriced food and accommodation. Thanks to our friends at OPEC, though, so do Brazil (while Thailand and Bali didn’t need cheap oil to become affordable!). If we really want to maintain our competitive edge and keep winning those awards, we are going to need to start doing a more than just taking one 0 off each bill.


Mike SilverMike Silver (@stretchmike) is director of Stretch Experiential Marketing ( He established Stretch — a specialist experiential marketing agency developing strategies and concepts for national execution — after working in sponsorship consultancy and experiential marketing in the UK.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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