• SERVICE: What's There to Smile About?

    Tags: Service

Paul Paz is a "career waiter" turned hospitality consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the author of "Service At Its Best: Waiter Waitress Training -- A Guide to Becoming a Successful Server" (Prentice-Hall), and operates the hospitality information Web site Waitersworld.com.

"Smiles everyone!"

Recall that line made famous by Ricardo Montleban, also known as Mr. Rork on the old television show "Fantasy Island"? What's interesting is that the show's main premise centered on fulfilling visitors' fantasies. And if you carry that thought out to the fullest extent, it would mean smiles and hospitality were only the things of dreams, not reality.

A stretch you say?

Perhaps. But anyone who's ever been the victim of a hostile hostess, a surly server or just plain bad service might beg to differ.

Paul Paz

An article I read in The Oregonian newspaper got me thinking about how smiles affect the hundreds of one-to-one encounters our employees have with customers every week. In a stressful business like restaurants, it's tough to wear a smile all the time. Add in a cloudy economic forecast and possible war on the horizon, it becomes a real challenge to be happy at all.

Regardless, smiling is crucial during routine communication with customers, and especially expected when you're a delivery driver greeting a paying customer at the door and working for a tip.

History proves the value of a smile. Studies indicate it's the oldest form of expressing the desire and willingness to cooperate. It is a potent facial expression that can be detected from as far away as the length of a football field, making it the most visible facial expression from a distance.

The Oregonian article cited New York psychologist and author (The New Secrets of Charisma) Doe Lang who said, "Any tension in the mouth when you're not smiling is very, very rapidly picked up. People assume that you are mean when you purse your lips."

As such, smiles encourage others to communicate and conduct business with us.

Ever notice all the "game faces" employees wear during a busy rush, that serious "Outta my way, I'm on a mission" expression? That makes you wonder what customers are thinking: Do they feel welcomed and relaxed by such expressions, or are they made uneasy and feel rushed to pay up and leave.

History proves the value of a smile. Studies indicate it's the oldest form of expressing the desire and willingness to cooperate. It is a potent facial expression that can be detected from as far away as the length of a football field, making it the most visible facial expression from a distance.

That's why it's so important to acknowledge others visually with a smile, whether you're a table server, a delivery driver or just someone who answers the phone. People can "hear" you smile over the phone, because that expression actually changes your tone of voice.

But a smile on the lips only is not enough, Lang said. "A smile can heighten your magnetism. I teach people to do the secret smile that's seen in ancient statuary. It's a pleasant smile but noncommittal. It looks like you have a wonderful secret that you will tell or will not tell. First you smile with your lips then you leave the smile on your eyes and on your cheekbones but drop it from your lips. Eyes are essential to a good smile,"

A smile of true enjoyment is difficult to fake. A true smile is connected to the muscles surrounding the eyes, which cause the cheeks to rise and create crow's-feet at the eyes' edges.

In the words of the 19th-century French neurologist, Duchenne de Boulogne, "The emotion of frank joy is expressed on the face by the combined contraction of lip and eye muscles. The first obeys the will, but the second is only put into play by the sweet emotions of the soul ... ."

That proves it: the eyes have it!

Further, said, Lang, "Smiling is a universal sign of acceptance. In American culture smiling holds an honored place. We had vast spaces and new frontiers, and people had to show that they were friendly. The smile was considered a necessary component of social skills."

So as each of us engage those significant individuals (including peers, customers and loved ones) we need to remind ourselves of Mr. Rork's command: "Smiles everyone!"

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