Last month, I was in Houston for a speaking engagement and there was a problem with my room. The front desk was very courteous, and said they would move me and send someone down with a key. The hotel had an outdoor courtyard layout and was very close to the highway. My room was near a giant hole in the security fence, so when there was a knock at the door, I asked, “Who is it?” to make sure it was the front desk and not someone who had wandered on-property.
Unfortunately, the person the front desk sent didn’t speak English. They didn’t understand enough of what I said to respond, “Housekeeping.” When I finally answered the door, they mutely handed me a key, but couldn’t give me directions to where to find my new room. It was incredibly frustrating, and we were both left embarrassed by our inability to communicate.
Later that day, I arrived at the keynote luncheon at the convention center a little late, and, looking for a seat that was still being served lunch, I had to talk to five banquet staffers before I found one who could speak English. Even then, the interchange required pantomimed gestures and Spanglish for us to understand each other.
The hospitality industry has struggled to fill its lower paying jobs for many years, and it’s a problem that’s only projected to grow, not fade away. But I don’t think hiring people who can’t communicate with your guests is the best solution. Especially in Houston, where there are still so many displaced Katrina victims.
Why is there the perception that Americans are unwilling to work for minimum wage? Why don’t employers insist on basic proficiency in English, or provide ESL classes to employees? Do you know of any hotels or restaurants that have come up with a creative solution to this problem?