Service Magic: Practicing the Art of Amazing Your Guests

In this guest blog post, Chip R. Bell, a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books, shares his unique perspective on a guest story from The Ritz-Carlton. Chip’s newest book is “Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.”

The Art of Service Magic

The creation of a memorable, positive guest experience—service so unique that it takes the guest by surprise and leaves them with a story to tell or tweet—is strikingly parallel in structure to fine stage magic. Just as a skilled stage magician is the master of audience enhancement, the service magician brings a touch of charm and delight to his or her guest’s day … even if just for the moment.

Service magic, like stage magic, is a set of skills developed through desire and mastered through thought and determination. Service magic separates the food carrier from the professional waiter or waitress who has a devoted clientele; the hair cutter from the personal stylist with an avid following. The service magician takes pleasure in the pleasure of others and in the practice of skillful service. Making the difficult appear easy draws applause for the stage magician; it draws gratitude for the service magician.

Tricks of the Trade

Practitioners of service magic understand that the art of enchantment is more than a pocket full of tricks and a velvet bag of illusions. It requires an understanding of timing, presentation and situation. Most importantly, it takes a deep understanding of the audience and what method of magic will bring the best pleasure. One powerful technique for service enchantment is what stage magicians refer to as misdirection (or direction).

Misdirection is the art of establishing a frame of reference or stating a premise that occupies audience attention while something different is happening. It is a fundamental of magic: the magician who gestures and looks off to the left or right of the audience is almost always moving the audience’s attention to where the trick (magicians call them effects or illusions) is not happening—to be precise—away from where the effect is subtly being set up and staged.

Misdirection in everyday life is a frequent phenomenon. The nurse asks about the patient’s weekend while giving a flu shot; the bellman calls the guest’s attention to a beautiful plant or painting opposite the site of new construction. We even practice misdirection on ourselves—listening to the radio while mowing the lawn. Misdirection can turn an otherwise generous gesture into an amazing and inspirational one.

Making a Problem Disappear

On a sunny afternoon in March, a returning guest entered the Herbert Samuel Restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya in Tel Aviv for lunch with his family. The guest was immediately recognized and greeted by the Food and Beverage Director. During their short conversation, the Food and Beverage Director noticed that the guest had a bad stain on the back of his coat. Concerned the incident causing the stain might have just occurred, the Food and Beverage Director asked what had happened. The guest advised him that it was actually an old stain, and he had never been able to it get out of the coat, which was one of his favorites.

After their brief conversation, the hostess sent the guest and his family at their table for lunch. She collected the coats to hang them up while the group had their meal. In the meantime, the Food and Beverage Director asked the Restaurant Manager to take the coat to housekeeping to see if they might be able to remove the stain while the family was dining. The Restaurant Manager estimated that they had less than two hours before the guest would be finished at the restaurant. The Assistant Housekeeping Manager immediately began working on removing the stain and after an hour and a half he succeeded!

The restaurant team kept it as a surprise for the guest. When the guest finished his meal, he was delighted to find out what had been done. He never expected this kind of service while having lunch and was amazed they were able to get the old stain removed.

Unique, Personalized Service is Magical

Great magicians demonstrate deep respect for their audience in many ways. Master magician Henning Nelms compares the magician’s code to the poker player’s: “No one expects a poker player to reveal the cards he holds. However, if he tries to deceive by dealing from the bottom of the deck, he may get shot and he will certainly be shunned.”

The same type of respect for guests is necessary for service magicians. They treat guests as individuals worth of dignity and consideration, not as adversaries or dupes.  They observe guests closely and listen fanatically so they can respond to their real needs—not always the ones voiced.

Great service brings your guests back, but great service with magic and wonder turns guests into enthusiastic advocates eager to sing your praises to all who will listen. Look for ways to bring a bit of service magic to those you serve. Instead of providing only the generous value-adds; look for opportunities to deliver ingenious value-uniques. 

Our Enrichment Courses immerse clients in The Ritz-Carlton ambience while offering philosophical and tactical service excellence knowledge. Please visit our Course Calendar to learn more about our upcoming courses and to register.