Smart Food and Wine Pairing – How to Think Like a Sommelier

Anyone who eats knows that certain foods taste even better when we pair them with others—think salt and caramel, cookies and milk, or smoked sausage slathered with grilled sweet peppers and onions. Wine has the same power, and customers will spend more money in restaurants that offer exciting wine and food combinations that enhance their dining experience.

As part of the Hospitality webinar series hosted by eCornell, wine educator Cheryl Stanley from the Hotel School at Cornell University provided an overview of the basics of food and wine pairing, as well as ideas for creative non-traditional pairings that you can try at home or on a restaurant menu.

An abridged version of her conversation with eCornell’s Chris Wofford follows.

Wofford: Cheryl, it’s great to have you with us. Let’s get started.

Stanley: Today we are going to be discussing smart ways to pair wines with food. People tend to think that there’s some magic formula associated with food and wine pairing, but you really just need to start with the basics.

It helps to start by asking, what is wine? Wine is just fermented fruit juice. Yes, you have some alcohol in there, of course, but you also have acid, sugar, tannins and water. And what’s in food? You have acid and sugar, and you have tannins in some food products. You also have fat and flavor. So, with food and wine pairing, you’re just aiming to highlight or complement some of those basic similarities.

Wofford: Are there rules of thumb that we should generally follow? How do you start pairing?

Stanley: Before we get into talking about specific wines, the very basic rule of thumb is red wine with meat and white wine with fish.

There are other general concepts that one can follow. Some of them involve matching or complementing body. Kevin Zraly, the author of the Windows on the World wine book, has a great methodology for explaining body to someone. Body is like milk fat. A full-bodied wine is like cream, and a light body wine is like skim milk. Within that range, you also have two percent and whole milk. So if you’re having a food that is full-bodied, you can complement it with a full-bodied wine. There’s also contrasting, where instead of balancing, you’re actually kind of juxtaposing or using the wine to contrast something in the food.

Wofford: What’s a common example of that?

Stanley: Acid is a perfect example because acid cleanses. You can have a fatty dish like steak and an acidic wine would cleanse the palate. It actually refreshes the guest’s mouth to take the next bite.

Personally, I love complementing flavor with flavor too. If you have a particular flavor in a wine, like a grassy-ness in the Sauvignon blanc, you could match that flavor with the grassy-ness in a cheese. That ties into another concept which you’ll commonly hear in the sommelier world: “grows together, goes together.” That’s pairing food and wines from the same area.

Wofford: Can you tell us a bit more about how we can get to know different flavors? What do you recommend?

Stanley: The Flavor Bible is an amazing book because it goes through the ingredients in dishes. For example, under “mushrooms” it has all of the different ingredients and spices and cooking techniques that complement mushrooms. The authors worked alongside a lot of chefs, so it’s not just their own opinions about what makes that perfect pairing.

If you’re looking to do a food and wine pairing, you can consult that book and say, “Okay, well, these flavors are going to be in this dish and this is what’s complementary.” Then you can look at your wines and see what’s available that could complement some of those flavors.

Wofford: Is it important to have a common vocabulary when talking about this? Something like ‘flavor’ seems like it could be difficult to articulate.

Stanley: That’s right. Building a sort of Rolodex of these flavors and aromas can assist you in making pairings in the future. How often do we honestly stop to think about what’s in our food? How often do you actually taste the wine, and really smell it and think about what you’re getting from the glass, and what you’re getting from the dish?

Wofford: What are some different ways restaurants can present wine pairings with food from a menu standpoint to ultimately drive more sales and revenue?

Stanley: I always bring up a 2008 study done by Wine Spectator. About 18,000 people responded to the survey and 50 percent of them said they prefer to see the wine list organized by varietal. That can be helpful with food and wine pairing because if you have the varietal listed, you are adding another tidbit of information and it can decrease people’s anxiety. They might not know that Chablis is actually Chardonnay. Or they might know that they like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and although you don’t have a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on your menu, the guest can see that you have a Sauvignon Blanc from France.

Wofford: I think the varietal thing is a really good idea because picking a wine is sometimes intimidating.

Stanley: It is. I teach my students varietal lists because they are so popular and you can see a lot of benefits from wine sales by designing your list by varietal. One thing I also recommend which ties into food and wine pairing is to list the wines by body. For example, having your Chardonnay section list the lightest bodied Chardonnay first and the fullest bodied Chardonnay at the bottom. This way, if a server is not confident in their wine knowledge and a guest says they would like a full-bodied Chardonnay, they know to recommend the wines at the bottom of that section.

Wofford: Do you have some basic words of wisdom for how to build a well-rounded wine list? Are there any trends you’re seeing?

Stanley: Guests are getting more knowledgeable about wine. In some ways that’s good and in some ways it’s bad. There are some wine blogs out there that provide misinformation. Like with anything else, you have to be very careful about where you get your information online.

In terms of building a wine list, there are certain wines that you need to have. You need a light-bodied white wine and a full-bodied white wine. You need to have a light-bodied red wine and a full-bodied red wine. Depending on your staff’s knowledge and your clientele, do you go crazy with those and do a Nebbiolo from the Langhe region in Piedmont from Italy? Or do you do a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that people would be more familiar with?

I see some young beverage directors who try these wines that are really esoteric. They can’t sell them because the staff doesn’t even know how to pronounce them. That’s another big thing – train your staff on pronunciation. If they can’t pronounce it, they won’t sell it.

Wofford: I’d like to turn to some questions from the audience. Parminder asks: “How does one pair wine with Indian cuisine?”

Stanley: I love off-dry wines with Indian food. This could be an off-dry German Riesling, or even an off-dry Riesling from here in the Finger Lakes. Indian cuisine is so delicious and flavorful that you’re not looking for a wine that will butt heads with all of those different flavors. You’re looking more for a wine to cleanse the palette and just refresh. Another idea is rosé, which is high acid but with a little bit of a bigger body. That can also be very complementary to Indian cuisine.

Wofford: We have a good question here from Alison: “I have a really hard time knowing what dry actually tastes like. When someone is looking for a nice dry red wine, what flavor profile or flavor characteristics am I looking for in particular?”

Stanley: When a guest wants dry, I always like to follow up by asking what wines they normally drink. Because every person can have a different definition of what dry is, especially with some of the red wines that they’re now producing with higher amounts of residual sugar. They’re still being marketed as dry but they’re not, they’re actually sweet. So some people perceive dry as having very little residual sugar. Others perceive it as high amounts of tannin. That’s why a safe bet is to always ask what they enjoy drinking at home, and then gauge off of that brand or style or region to pick up on their definition of dry.

Wofford: We’ve got another great question: “As the wine drinking public becomes more sophisticated, more interesting varietals and new countries of origin emerge. How much should you change your menu based on new trends?”

Stanley: Don’t let trends dictate what you have on your list because you really need to listen to your guests first. If you have guests that enjoy drinking a full-bodied California Chardonnay, then you better have a full-bodied Chardonnay on there. They say that Grenache Blanc is becoming the hot varietal to replace Chardonnay. Well, that’s great but you’re still gonna have guests wanting the Chardonnay. So keep it on, and then introduce the Grenache Blanc. Offer a taste. If you offer a taste, you’re educating your guests and you’re giving them an experience that they might not get at another restaurant, for a cost that’s miniscule to you.

Wofford: What are some pitfalls you see people do over and over when it comes to their wine pairings? What are some common mistakes that are easy to fix?

Stanley: One thing is having wines that people can’t pronounce by the glass. You need to have some good go-tos. I go back to Chardonnay, and I go back to Cabernet Sauvignon. Those are comfortable wines. People understand them. People are familiar with them.

But if you want to still have fun with a Chardonnay, don’t do Napa Valley, do Margaret River in Australia, or do Casablanca Valley. There are opportunities to still have fun by introducing new places to your guests and to your staff, but still with a varietal that people can be comfortable with. Then see how it goes — maybe you need to go back to Napa Valley, and maybe you don’t.

Another thing is just the importance of reading the table. If the guests are having a business meeting, they’re not going to want to spend a lot of time talking about wine. They’ll want to just pick it. But if it’s an anniversary or it’s kind of an first awkward date, then you might want to talk a little bit about wine as a server because that can start fostering conversation at the table.

Wofford: Any last thoughts to share? Other than encouraging viewers to check out the great Rieslings coming out of here in the Finger Lakes, of course!

Stanley: It’s interesting you say that, as I’m the faculty advisor to Cornell University’s blind wine competition team and we were at a competition at the L’Ecole Italia in Lucerne in June. There was a Swiss Wine Magazine that had an article that said the Finger Lakes would in the future be the main competitor to German Riesling. It was pretty incredible.

The last thing I want to say is also my biggest recommendation for food and wine pairing and that is to never judge the guest on what he or she wants to drink. If they’re drinking what they’re happy with, they’re going to have a great meal. If you push them into drinking something that you think is the best pairing and they don’t like it, you have just ruined the experience.

Wofford: That’s really great advice. On the one hand, you are kind of a tastemaker, so you should be able to offer pairings when asked. But on the other hand, it goes back to reading the table and dealing with the audience that you have and making them happy.

Stanley: Absolutely. Help them out if you can but ultimately you have to please your guest.

Wofford: Cheryl, this has been great. Thank you.

Stanley: Thank you, Chris.

Want to hear more? This interview is based on Cheryl Stanley’s live eCornell WebSeries event, A Perfect Pairing: Wines to Enhance Your Guest Experience and Bottom Line. Subscribe now gain access to a recording of this event and other Hospitality topics.

Do You Know What Your Customers Really Want?

Learn from Cornell Hotel Experts how to determine what customers really want and how to deliver it to them in ways that build trust and exceeds expectations.

Here’s What Most Companies Get Wrong About Service

As we enter an age of experiential service, customers not only want more out of their interactions with companies, they also enter into those interactions armed with more knowledge – and thus greater expectations – than ever before. But in order for service professionals to exceed their customers’ expectations, they must first know what those expectations are.

As part of the Hospitality webcast series hosted by eCornell, Elizabeth Martyn of Cornell Hotel School delivered a presentation on how to determine what customers really want and how to deliver it to them in a way that builds trust and exceeds expectations.

Below is an abridged version of her conversation with eCornell’s Chris Wofford.

Wofford: What do organizations most often miss when it comes to exceeding customer expectations?

Martyn: In order to exceed expectations, you have to understand what your guests’ expectations are to begin with. That might sound kind of obvious but I think a lot of times we get so focused on going above and beyond that we sort of miss some of the key steps in making sure that we know what it is that customers are expecting when they come to us for service in the first place.

Meeting all of those expectations has to come before we take the next step and talk about exceeding them. You’ve got to hit the basics first and it’s easy to look right past that.

Wofford: Does it start with trust?

Martyn: That’s one of the things that I get really passionate about because a lot of times we end up spending our time focused on the standards we need to hit when there really needs to be a focus on what’s going to work for you to build a trusting relationship. How do we tailor our service to our clients in order to build a trusting relationship and create loyalty?

Wofford: I have to imagine it’s about the whole brand experience these days.

Martyn: That’s right. We have really left the age of customer service and are moving into the age of experiential service. We talk a lot about millennials now, and millennials want experiences. But it’s actually something that’s true across all demographics of consumers. They’re looking for a more authentic experience, a more authentic connection.

So we need to think about the holistic service experience that we’re providing. The service experience is the entire experience that your brand or organization provides to your customer. We need to think about it from a broad perspective.

Wofford: And there are many more touch points available now due to technology.

Martyn: Yes — that’s part of what this “age of experiential service” means. You have all of these different interactions going on. The guest goes to your website, they check out your social media, they look at your reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google. There’s e-mail communication, maybe some company support text communication. They’re calling on the phone. They may be engaging with the automated bot-oriented service providers that we’re seeing more and more, where customers can engage with a scripted bot online. And they’re also still interacting with your personnel face to face.

Customers have this whole digital perception of what your company is and they create expectations before they ever pick up a phone and call you or walk into your place of business. So we have a lot more to think about when we think about the service experience because it’s so broad.

Wofford: And this is changing quickly, right?

Martyn: It is. By 2020, the customer experience is going to be more important than both price or actual product differences in terms of differentiating brands. A recent study found that 56 percent of consumers have higher expectations for service than they did just one year ago, and that’s part of this flood of information that they have about who you are and what services they can expect. We can also see that 68 percent of consumers are switching brands because their expectations aren’t being met. They have other options and they’re much more informed so they can choose to take their business elsewhere.

The study also shows that 74 percent of consumers have actually spent more money because of the quality of service that they received. Think about that. With three quarters of the people you’re interacting with, you have the ability to drive their engagement and increase what they spend on your company if you provide that trusted service and exceed the expectations level.

Wofford: And that 68 percent figure shows that you can steal business away from your competitors if they’re not doing it right.

Martyn: Exactly. The stakes are really high and there’s a lot of pressure on the face to face, phone-based and email-based interactions that service providers actually have control over.

One of the things that we need to do as we look to elevate the services that we’re providing is to take a close look at how we’re currently doing things today. Often times, companies find themselves falling back on a standards-based approach that tends to focus on the customer’s stated need. But this is difficult because a lot of times our customers don’t actually necessarily know what they want. Or they know what they want, but they don’t know the right question to ask to get the answer that they want.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re traveling somewhere and you go into a hotel and you say, “Hey, where’s the best place to eat around here?”

The person at the front desk says, “Ah! The best restaurant in the area is Cafe ABCD. You have to go there, it’s terrific.” So, off you go. You walk three blocks to the cafe and, surprise, it’s closed. That’s because it’s lunchtime and they only serve dinner.

So that front desk worker actually did answer the question correctly. Cafe ABCD truly is the best restaurant in the area. But they didn’t take that extra step to ask about your real need. To ask you if you were looking to eat now or later, or if you wanted the best place to entertain a client or if you were just looking for something quick. They didn’t ask how much money you wanted to spend. There are all of these components involved in really delivering the right service at the right time to the right person.

This is the kind of scenario that tends to unfold in a service environment with a standards-based approach. Now, if we look at an excellence approach to delivering service, you’re really focusing on teaching techniques and strategies that allow your team members to think critically, to be fast on their feet and be able to adapt on the fly during that service exchange. In this approach, you’re tailoring your responses and your delivery to each individual based on all those clues that you’re picking up.

Doing this effectively helps to develop amazing relationships because when the customers feels like the person they’re talking to is really taking the time to figure out what they need, they think, “Wow, these people are great. They get me. I love coming here.” And that’s where we move into totally exceeded expectations.

Wofford: And those are the customers that are likely to come back to you time after time.

Martyn: Absolutely. You know, when we start to get into the difference of standards for excellence, it can be hard to explain, even to our fellow colleagues. What are we really talking about here? If you’re thinking about standards as being what your customers expect, how do you then deliver on those expectations? How do you meet or exceed them?

The next step in moving to the service excellence approach is to really recognize the client. Who is our customer, and how can we adjust our service delivery to make them feel important, relevant, heard, respected, or whatever it is that’s critical to your audience? What makes them want to come back and give you their business? The service excellence approach is adjusting your service to meet these standards and expectations.

A lot of companies will dictate a service delivery. You have to smile, you have to make eye contact and have a friendly and engaging attitude. The customer’s always right, and so on. These are not bad ideas but they’re limited because they’re not allowing the individual service provider to really do critical thinking and be able to take ownership of their service and deliver the best service as opposed to just being friendly and engaging.

Wofford: When you talk about the concept of critical thinking, it sounds like something that’s maybe difficult to teach and certainly something that would make it more difficult to get everyone on the same page. What does critical thinking look like in practice?

Martyn: Critical thinking would be taking an active role as a service provider in the moment and making decisions based on the information that you’re processing. That’s the real difference. Sometimes, when we’re in a more standards-based approach, we just follow the script. When we see something that deviates, we might notice it but not act on it.

In an excellence approach, if you see it, you want to do something about it. The important thing is to use that information and adjust or modify your approach because of the new information that’s coming in.

Wofford: What other approaches can help your service delivery, particularly for those who are out there on the front lines interacting with clients, guests or customers every day?

Martyn: Another great technique is to listen, observe and ask. That’s a terrific way to manage the actual exchange portion with each guest. Be open to what they’re saying, truly hear and confirm that you received the message correctly. Watch for changes in body language or facial expression and then decide, “Okay, was that a positive change or a negative change?” Then use that to reconfirm and ask thorough questions. “Does this work for you? Is there anything else I can do? We have a choice of A or B, which would you prefer?”

Make sure that you’re really open to information. Then seek out validation. Am I doing the right service for this guest?

The final piece is to be sensitive to context and use that to inform your delivery. The right service to the right guest is really dependent on the clues that you’re receiving. I think a lot of us are comfortable with the idea of using guest clues like facial expression and body language, but there are a lot of what we call environmental clues too. It can be whether they are wearing a coat or not. Do they have a wet umbrella? What kind of bags do they have with them? What else can you look at and use in order to customize that service delivery?

This is probably something that we’re all already doing automatically from time to time, but it’s about using it with every guest very intentionally to step up your service level beyond just those most obvious instances.

Wofford: It’s more than just seeing someone come in soaking wet and saying something painfully obvious like, “Oh my, you got caught in the rain.”

Martyn: Right, it’s about picking up on clues that aren’t so blatant and acting on them.

Good customer service isn’t rocket science, and I don’t want to tell anyone that it is. But that’s the thing. Some people are just innately good at it but they can’t necessarily explain why. You almost feel like they either have good customer service in their DNA or they don’t, but I think there are a lot of people who don’t necessarily realize that they’re not doing the right thing even though they’re really well intentioned.

As I said at the outset, you cannot possibly exceed expectations if you’re unclear on what the expectations are. It’s important for leaders to distill service down to a framework that puts some structure around the things that really great service providers are already doing. Creating critical thinking standards for the people on the front lines can be really successful. It helps them deliver good service to your clients and also gives them the confidence in knowing how to perform their job.

Wofford: It sort of eliminates the gray area.

Martyn: That’s right. My challenge for everyone here is to think about what they are going to do today and tomorrow. What are the next steps? This is not big picture stuff that should take six months or a year to put in place.

There are absolutely things that everyone can go out and do today and decide to put a stake in the ground and say, “I’m going to make a change. I’m going to try something different tomorrow or on my next phone call and see what sort of results I get from being a little bit more engaged, and thinking about both the before and the after, the prep and the follow-on of that service exchange.”

Wofford: Thank you, Elizabeth, for joining me in the studio. You’ve really given us some great advice here today.

Martyn: Thank you, Chris.

Elizabeth Martyn is the author of Cornell University’s Service Excellence On-Demand Training, an eight-lesson online program focused on actionable frameworks for delivering what customers need, when they need it.


Want to hear more? This interview is based on Elizabeth Martyn’s live eCornell WebSeries event, Building Trust and Exceeding Expectations: Service Excellence at CornellSubscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Hospitality topics. 

Hotel School Offers Online Food and Beverage Management Certificate

With more Americans eating out than ever before, today’s food service operations rely on food and beverage managers for sales growth, profitability and cost control in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

The School of Hotel Administration has launched a new Food and Beverage Management online certificate program to give food and beverage managers an opportunity to develop the specific operations and management skills necessary to drive sustainable results.

“From menu development, to guest service management, to revenue analysis, supply chain management and employee training, this program provides professionals with essential tools to improve operations and become value-driven supervisors. Students gain hands-on experience through exercises, projects and tools, combined with insights from some of today’s most influential food and beverage industry players,” said Alex Susskind, associate professor of food and beverage management and faculty co-author of the program.

Offered through eCornell, students can learn the essentials of managing and operating a successful food and beverage business in three to five hours per week, over three months. Participants take five courses and one elective, preparing them to:

  • design and optimize menus;
  • manage the food and beverage supply chain;
  • use a systematic inventory purchasing and management process to minimize loss;
  • assess revenue with a Restaurant Revenue Management system;
  • build guest loyalty through performance standards, service recovery strategies and better guest feedback methods; and
  • effectively lead and engage employees to improve operational performance.

The certificate is recommended for food and beverage professionals, from front-line to general management, who want to improve their operation.

Should We Abandon Tipping? Here’s What Would Happen.

A question that has been on the minds of many in the restaurant business of late is whether or not eateries should abandon the concept of tipping.

To discuss the arguments for and against dropping this long-entrenched practice, we invited Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior and marketing at Cornell University’s Hotel School, to join eCornell’s Chris Wofford as part of our Hospitality WebCast series.

Wofford: Michael, thanks for joining us. Restaurants have been around forever, tipping has been around forever. Why is this suddenly such a hot topic now?

Lynn: Well, the debate over whether we should tip has also been going on forever. There’s a guy named William Scott who wrote a book in 1916 called The Itching Palm: A Study of the Habit of Tipping in America. All the way back then, he was saying that Americans should get rid of tipping and that it was undemocratic.

In the 1980s there was a bunch of interest within the industry in getting rid of tipping because the tax law made restaurants more liable for paying taxes on cheap income. Today, the increased interest in raising the minimum wage is creating price pressures on restaurants. So it’s a perennial kind of debate.

Wofford: Let’s get right to it: should restaurants abandon tipping?

Lynn: If I had to give a quick answer, I would say that if you’re a mid-priced or lower-priced restaurant then no, not yet. But if you’re a really upscale high-priced restaurant, you should consider it.

Wofford: You and I have both worked in restaurants for years. Something that always comes up is that there’s a big disparity between the money that servers make compared to those working in back. So as you talk about the minimum wage thing, is the idea to ultimately bring the wages of these groups a little bit closer?

Lynn: Well, let’s just take New York City as an example. Servers there are making about $25 to $30 an hour. Cooks are making $13 to $15 an hour. Yet the skill sets are not that different. There might be an appearance of difference in the kind of language used to describe the minimum requirements to be a server – you have look a certain way, you’ve got to be able to speak properly, etc – but serving is not a skilled job. Cooking is perhaps more skilled, but those people are making less money.

If restaurants, through higher prices or through service charges, were able to pay servers more than $15 an hour but less than the $30 they’re currently making, they could take that money and redistribute it to the back of house or keep some of it for themselves for more profit. Servers are making upwards of 25 percent of a restaurant’s gross sales while the owners don’t make anywhere near that level of profit despite taking all the risks. It’s a model that people need to start thinking about.

Wofford: Michael, you wrote ‘The Business Case for (and Against) Restaurant Tipping’. Let’s talk about the years-long research behind that: how do you go about it, who did you talk to and what were you hoping to learn?

Lynn: My very first study was standing outside of an IHOP restaurant interviewing customers and asking them to rate their service experience and tell me what their tipping point was. I was simply interested in whether or not tips really are affected by the service quality. And the answer is that people do tip more for better service but not a whole lot more. To give you some sense of the magnitude, if someone rates the service at 3 out of 5, they’re likely to leave on average a 14 percent tip. If they rated the service a 5, they might leave a 16 percent tip.

Wofford: When we talk about the idea that maybe we should eliminate tipping, what kind of behavioral changes might take place within a within a staff?

Lynn: Theoretically, if servers start making less money, they’re going to leave and go elsewhere to make the money that they’re accustomed to making. So you might lose your top-level employees. On the other hand you ought to be able to replace them with equally competent people. I’ve done a lot of research that shows that experience is not that strongly correlated with the quality of service. It doesn’t take that long to learn how to be a good waiter, and a lot of it has to do with disposition, not skill set.

So restaurants could expect to lose some current employees, but you ought to be able to replace them with equally competent people. You’d pay your back of house more, making it easier to attract higher quality back of house people, and you should be able to keep them.

Wofford: Let’s say tipping’s gone. What happens?

Lynn: You’re either going to replace tipping with higher services, including menu prices, or you’re going to add on an automatic service charge. The advantages of an automatic service charge is that it separates the paying of services from the payment for food, and it keeps your menu prices low.

Wofford: Would the charge be related to the overall cost of the meal?

Lynn: Sure. Let’s say I’m going to charge an 18 percent service charge. I have a choice: I could add the charge to every bill or I could increase my menu prices by 18 percent. Functionally it’s the same thing from the standpoint of the total expenditures by the consumer, but consumers won’t perceive them the same. Because when consumers judge the expensiveness of a restaurant, they’re looking at the menu prices. And when they see 18 percent higher menu prices, all they know is that their burger now costs a lot more than what it used to. But if there is an 18 percent service charge, they’re still seeing a normally priced burger. So, the perceptions of expensiveness are not going to be harmed by adding a service charge.

Wofford: Ok, but might customers’ perceptions of that service charge have a negative effect on them? You’ve basically mandated an 18 percent tip, which might rub people the wrong way.

Lynn: I have just completed two studies looking at the impact that moving away from tipping has on restaurants’ online service ratings. In one study, I looked at Joe’s Crab Shack, which recently replaced tipping with higher prices at 12 of its restaurants. I looked at the Yelp reviews and found that their service ratings declined when they abandoned tipping. In another study, I looked at a bunch of restaurants across a variety of states, mostly upscale, that replaced tipping either with service charges or by raising the menu pricing. What I found was that their declines in online service ratings were stronger if they replaced tipping with service charges than if they replaced it with service-inclusive menu pricing, and it was stronger for downscale restaurants than upscale restaurants. The only group that was able to do this without suffering a decline in online service ratings were the upscale restaurants that replaced tipping with higher menu prices. Why? I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s because customers hate service charges and that hatred translates to lower service ratings.

Replacing tipping with higher menu prices makes things seem more expensive, but that’s not so bad if you’re already a super expensive restaurant catering to a pretty wealthy, not price-sensitive clientele. But if you are a restaurant with customers who are a little bit more price sensitive, then the extra expensiveness that’s perceived when you raise menu prices will lower your ratings.

Wofford:So we are back to where we started – if you’re a downscale restaurant, you probably shouldn’t abandon tipping just yet. What about the fact that customers actually seem to prefer tipping? Tipping is empowering in a strange way.

Lynn: Absolutely. You get all kinds of perceived benefits from tipping. There’s assurance that I’m going to be treated well, otherwise I can withhold payment. There’s status and power that some people get off on. There are a lot of benefits to the consumer psyche from tipping.


Want to hear more? This interview is based on Michael Lynn’s live eCornell WebSeries event, Should Restaurants Abandon Tipping?. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Hospitality topics. 

Commercial real estate certificate launches

Faculty from the School of Hotel Administration at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business have partnered with eCornell to develop an online program focused on commercial real estate investment projects. From property development to valuation and management, the new Commercial Real Estate certificate program prepares real estate professionals to successfully develop and manage real estate assets.

“We walk students through the entire real estate process, from start to finish, unifying the specialized knowledge and principles in a very intentional way,” said faculty co-author Jan deRoos, the HVS Professor of Hotel Finance and Real Estate. “Whether you’re new to real estate or looking to move up in the industry, this certificate provides a robust overview grounded in application.”

The Commercial Real Estate certificate, offered online through eCornell, comprises six courses designed to be completed in three to five hours per week. DeRoos collaborated with Hotel School colleagues Jeanne Varney and Bradford Wellstead on the curriculum. Participants will learn and practice:

  • Planning a real estate development project;
  • Managing a project budget, schedule and contingencies;
  • Developing a real estate investment strategy;
  • Structuring and financing real estate investment deals;
  • Effectively leasing and maintaining real estate properties, and
  • Managing real estate assets.

The program is ideal for real estate developers; professionals with responsibility for real estate investments; financing and asset-management professionals; and people aspiring to work for real estate funds, real estate investment trusts (REITs) or real estate advisory firms. Students who complete all courses receive a Commercial Real Estate Certificate.

New eCornell WebSeries Highlights Breakthrough Opportunities at the Intersection of Health, Hospitality, and Design

— Experts from Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures broaden ways to do well by doing good. —

In the United States, an aging population is living and working longer, while many adults struggle with lifestyle diseases and stress over money, safety, and an uncertain future. At Cornell University, experts at the innovative Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures (CIHF) are striving to meet these challenges and uncover entrepreneurial opportunities by combining hospitality, environmental design, and health policy and management to improve service in healthcare, wellness, and senior living. Now, professionals can explore this transdisciplinary approach with eCornell’s newest WebSeries, the Innovations in Health, Hospitality, Design, and Senior Living channel.

“By the numbers, senior living, healthcare, and wellness are industries poised for growth. But those numbers are people, and good business means serving people well in all settings and throughout their life. These WebCasts explore how CIHF is collaborating across disciplines to uncover breakthrough solutions for all stakeholders,” said Rohit Verma, CIHF executive director.

Through monthly one-hour WebCasts, subscribers to the Innovations in Health, Hospitality, Design, and Senior Living channel gain insights from experts in Cornell’s School of Hospitality Management, and its College of Human Ecology and renowned Sloan Program in Health Administration. Live participants also can go deeper with Q&A sessions and audience exercises.

Future WebCasts will cover:

  • Entrepreneurship in health, hospitality, and design
  • Innovations in senior living design and care
  • Service excellence in home health care
  • Behavioral health environments
  • Wellness and medical tourism, including hotel design and operations

The Innovations in Health, Hospitality, Design, and Senior Living channel is eCornell’s newest WebSeries, a service providing professionals with on-demand insights from Cornell experts that spark interest, spur education, and advance careers.

About eCornell

As Cornell University’s online learning unit, eCornell delivers online professional certificate courses to individuals and organizations around the world. Courses are personally developed by Cornell faculty with expertise in a wide range of topics, including data analytics, management, marketing, human resources, and leadership. Students learn in an interactive, small cohort format to gain skills they can immediately apply in their organizations, while earning a professional certificate from Cornell University. eCornell has offered online learning courses and certificate programs for 15 years to over 130,000 students at more than 2,000 companies.

About the Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures (CIHF)

The Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures is the first academic center in the country to combine hospitality, environmental design, and health policy and management into a broad-based platform to improve service in healthcare, wellness, and senior living. To achieve this goal, the institute develops and supports multidisciplinary educational programs, sponsors and disseminates research, and hosts conferences, roundtables, meetings, and practicum projects.

Centerplate Invests in Guest Experience: Entire Management Team Completes the Cornell University Service Excellence Program

Centerplate today announced the training of its entire leadership team through Cornell University’s Service Excellence On-Demand Training program. Centerplate’s management team successfully completed the eight Service Excellence lessons, and then a multi-day capstone session in Nashville, TN featuring hospitality industry veteran Jayne Griswold of Griswold Hospitality and Elizabeth Martyn from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. Centerplate will be using this research-based approach to service as it sets new goals and objectives to enhance the quality of the guest experience.

In collaboration with eCornell, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration delivers innovative research and educational opportunities in a format appropriate for industry leaders and executives. By leveraging the Cornell partnership, Centerplate is committing to investing in its employees, its front-line service standards, and honing the core of its service experience. During the training process, Centerplate managers learned a critical thinking framework for service, including necessary tools that can be applied to both service delivery and service process design for any interactive situation with both internal and external customers.

Griswold Hospitality specializes in customer experience by establishing service and facility standards that prioritize the guest’s journey and provide a well-defined framework for employees to operate within. This provides a tool for service measurement and establishes the basis for a robust employee recognition program. Centerplate’s alignment with Griswold Hospitality positions the company to improve its guest experience through metrics and data analysis, tracking the impact of its investment, and taking strategic action through service training.

“Hospitality is not just what we do. It’s how we make people feel. This partnership with Cornell reinforces that for all of us, and gives us a tangible education that enriches our skills as hospitality providers,” said Centerplate CEO Chris Verros. “The Cornell program, from one of the most respected hospitality schools in the country, really helps us stay true to our mission of providing a superior level of human service in each and every one of our venues.”

The Service Excellence program distills leading industry research and data-backed approaches to service delivery into a format that is appropriate, relatable, and applicable to operators. The training was authored by Elizabeth Martyn, SHA ‘07 School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, and features eight online lessons, each 30 – 45 minutes in length, with content covering topics including as contextual sensitivity, verbal and non-verbal communication, listening, empathy and more.

Over 250 participants, all Centerplate employees at the managerial level and above, were tested and graded on their mastery of the content. Each Centerplate team member was recognized for successful completion of the Service Excellence training from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. On-going implementation of standards and data tracking continues at Centerplate’s 300+ venues.

About eCornell
As Cornell University’s online learning unit, eCornell delivers online professional certificate courses to individuals and organizations around the world. Courses are personally developed by Cornell faculty with expertise in a wide range of topics, including hospitality, management, marketing, human resources and leadership.  Students learn in an interactive, small cohort format to gain skills they can immediately apply in their organizations, ultimately earning a professional certificate from Cornell University. eCornell has offered online learning courses and certificate programs for 15 years to over 130,000 students at more than 2,000 companies.

About the School of Hotel Administration at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

The School of Hotel Administration at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business is shaping the global knowledge base for hospitality management through leadership in education, research, and industry advancement. Accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the school provides management instruction in the full range of hospitality disciplines, educating the next generation of leaders in the world’s largest industry. Founded in 1922 as the nation’s first collegiate course of study in hospitality management, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration is recognized as the world leader in its field.

About Griswold Hospitality Partners

Griswold Hospitality is a customer experience firm that believes that differentiation is found through memorable service delivery. A foundation of service standards follows the customer journey and the employees’ path to delivering a product or service, ultimately bringing your brand promise to life. Add measurement, training and recognition programs to foster a culture of engaged employees who have clear deliverables and result in an improved customer experience. Leveraging over twenty years in the luxury hospitality industry, with leadership roles at both Forbes Travel Guide and United Airlines, Jayne Griswold brings an acute attention to detail, passion for excellence and an intuitive sense for what is critical to the customer experience.

About Centerplate

Centerplate is a global leader in live event hospitality, “Making It Better To Be There®” for more than 116 million guests each year at more than 300 prominent entertainment, sports and convention venues across North America, Europe and the United Kingdom. Centerplate has provided event hospitality services to more than 30 official U.S. Presidential Inaugural Balls, 14 Super Bowls and 22 World Series. Visit the company online at, connect via Twitter @centerplate, Instagram @Centerplate_ or

Cornell University Launches New Service Excellence On-Demand Training

Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and eCornell have launched new on-demand training in service excellence targeting front-line employees. The training consists of eight online lessons, all of which are available 24/7, and is complemented by a Workshop Guide to promote onsite, face-to-face discussion and application of the online lesson concepts. The training explores the foundations of service delivery and empowers employees through practical tools that can be applied to any situation involving internal or external customers.

Service Excellence On-Demand Training provides groups and organizations with a straightforward framework to increase effectiveness for all customer interactions. It provides employees with the skills needed to connect service excellence concepts to the execution of their daily duties, tasks, and responsibilities. Individuals who successfully complete all eight lessons will receive a recognition of their achievement from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

“Amazing service experiences are the result of relationships built between the organization, its employees, and its customers. Every interaction counts, and for employees to be successful they must possess tools and strategies to deliver excellent service. Cornell’s online training creates a low-cost, scalable approach that will elevate an organization’s ability to deliver consistent, high-quality customer service.”
– Kate Walsh, Interim Dean and E. M. Statler Professor, School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University

The training was authored by School of Hotel Administration alumna Elizabeth Martyn ’07, in collaboration with a Cornell faculty advisory committee. Martyn helps learners understand the important role they play as service providers within their organizations and introduces the Cornell Service Experience Cycle to guide customer interactions.
“The new Service Excellence program gives organizations a simple and effective way to deliver the highest quality training to customer-facing employees distributed around the world. As you would expect from Cornell University, the on-demand training goes beyond a to-do list and encourages critical thinking to exceed customer expectations.”

– Paul Krause, eCornell’s CEO and Associate Vice Provost of Online Learning for Cornell University

This Service Excellence On-Demand Training can be used by any group or organization with team members who are responsible for delivering service, including organizations focused on hospitality, healthcare and senior living, financial services, retail, and consumer services. To learn more or to speak with an enrollment expert, visit

About the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University

The School of Hotel Administration (SHA) at Cornell University is shaping the global knowledge base for hospitality management through leadership in education, research, and industry advancement. Accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the school provides instruction in the full range of hospitality disciplines, educating the next generation of leaders in the world’s largest industry. Founded in 1922 as the nation’s first collegiate course of study in hospitality management, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration is recognized as the world leader in its field.

For more information, visit


About eCornell | Cornell University

As Cornell University’s online learning subsidiary, eCornell provides many of the world’s leading organizations with online professional development in the areas of finance, healthcare, hospitality, human resources, leadership, management, and marketing. eCornell has delivered flexible, engaging, and immediately applicable learning experiences crafted by Cornell University faculty to over 90,000 students in more than 200 countries.

For more information, visit


Pinterest Best Practices for Hotels

Recently, Pinterest launched an analytics dashboard for businesses, which gives brands the ability to more closely monitor their presence on the platform. If you haven’t started using Pinterest, it is a pinboard-style photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, hobbies and interests. Users can browse other pinboards for images, ‘repin’ images to their own pinboards, or ‘like’ photos. Hotels and restaurants can have their own boards where they can ‘pin’ images, track which users have repinned their images, and identify followers.

Best Practice Tips for Hotels

If you are just starting out with Pinterest, we recommend the following best practices tips for hotels and restaurants:

1. Start off strong with a visually striking profile. 

Choose your brand logo as your profile photo on the website (160×165 pixels in size) to maintain brand consistency across all social media platforms. If you haven’t done so already, take a few minutes and make sure that you are using the same high-quality image on all of the different social media sites your hotel is on. This will increase your brand recognition and will clue your followers in that the profile is the official one.

2. Organize boards that make sense for you.

The biggest power of Pinterest is that it gives your brand the ability to tell a highly visual story that drives real website traffic. Pinterest users have the ability to choose which pinboard that they want to follow, so not every one of your boards has to appeal to the broadest of audiences. That said, each of your boards should consist of at least 10 photos so that it’s substantial enough for a user to follow. Also, when naming your board, make sure that your title reflects the content accurately and is 20 characters or less.

3. Get creative with your pinning.

Similar to photos you share on Facebook or Instagram, the photos you share on Pinterest should reflect the fun and personal side of your brand and ought to tell a story that you couldn’t otherwise tell on your traditional website or OTA presence. Accordingly, some best practice pinboards that we’ve come across in the hospitality industry focus on seasonal events, specific hotel offerings and amenities, vacation themes and quirky destination tips from the hotel or restaurant. Here are a few examples:

Waikiki Scenes Inspiring Hotel Interiors Aqua's Hawaii Hotels Quintessential Austin

4. Spread the wealth and stay active.

In addition to pinning your own images, your hotel or restaurant should also repin photos from others to add to your boards. This will allow you to tell a richer brand or destination story. Also, you will want to keep your pin descriptions as concise as your board descriptions. Pinterest suggests that, for the travel industry, you simply identify the location in the image and the kinds of things you can do there. Keep it to no more than a few sentences in length.

5. Activity is rewarded.

Pinterest is similar to many other social platforms in that its home feed feature is how users discover and share new content. Accordingly, if you hotel is serious about managing a Pinterest account, you should commit to pinning new imagery at least a few times a week if not once a day. By doing so, you will give your brand a better chance to be discovered and engaged with. Once you have an active presence established, make it easy for people to pin your content by adding Pinterest’s follow and pin it buttons to your website and add a Pinterest link in your emails.

Measure Your Pinterest Activity

Pinterest’s new dashboard now gives business owners the ability to see all of their Pinterest traffic activity in an intuitive, cleanly laid out display. Your Pinterest data will show your pins/week, repins/week and followers. In close, it’s never been more apparent that Pinterest has become a major social media platform that can effectively augment your overall social media strategy.

Mastering the Hotel Marketing Ecosystem at the Property Level

Today’s hotel visitors have never been more connected. With multiple devices and countless online resources to consult during each phase of the guest lifecycle – from the point they make their booking decisions to well after they check-out – travelers’ hotel expectations have shifted.

Long gone are the days when the hotel marketing tactics were all deployed pre-stay and offline. Today, easier access to guest preference data, past purchase behavior and social media profiles has made the hotel marketing discipline a multi-phase and multi-channel practice that requires involvement from many different key stakeholders at the brand and hotel-property level.

In this webinar, Greg Bodenlos, social media and digital marketing hospitality consultant, walks us through this complex hotel marketing ecosystem. In the process, Greg reveals strategies and tactics for mastering the innumerable amount of hotel marketing priorities. The following are just a few of the questions that will be addressed:

  • What are the most important marketing focus areas at the property level?
  • How has the definition of hotel marketing evolved in the hospitality industry?
  • Where should hotel marketing live in the overall hotel operation ecosystem?
  • Who are the various key stakeholders to involve in hotel marketing initiatives?
  • What new hotel marketing challenges are on the horizon?

Greg Bodenlos is a passionate hospitality marketing consultant and HSMAI leader based in Boston, Massachusetts. With a passion for digital trends, social media and innovation – and over five years of hotel and technology work experience – Greg possesses a unique perspective on the hospitality digital marketing landscape. Playing digitally-focused marketing roles at the destination resort, luxury independent property, and now city center hotel has allowed Greg to play an active role in shaping hotel marketing best practices at the property-level as well as help bring hoteliers closer to creating more meaningful, personalized travel experiences for their guests. It was in his marketing role at Revinate – a SaaS start-up in Silicon Valley that designs and develops technology to improve the guest experience – where Greg was able to help hoteliers and academics better understand the power of leveraging consumer intelligence to drive better service and maximize revenue streams across the entire guest lifecycle.

Greg is a proud graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and has been featured as a hotel marketing expert on National Public Radio. Greg has been featured as a contributor in Crowdcentric Media’s Social Media Week New York blog, eCornell’s Blog and, as well as played a co-authored role in an award-winning piece for Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research with Chris Anderson entitled Best Practices in Search Engine Marketing and Optimization.

Greg can be reached by phone at +1 781 686 2177, email at, on Twitter @gregbodenlos or LinkedIn.