How to Develop Effective Communication Skills for the Hospitality Industry

Anyone can become a better communicator, and in hospitality, communication is key. We’ve put together a simple guide to help you start honing your communication skills.

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October 30, 2023 10 min read

The hospitality industry heavily involves serving and interacting with clients and customers. Fortunately, the communication skills that can make or break your career in the hospitality industry can be learned.

These “soft skills”—those skills that reflect how well we communicate and interact with each other, as well as our ability to be creative and work with teams—are just as important as technical knowledge of budgets and operations (“hard skills”), regardless of the industry.

In hospitality, you need clear communication, empathy, and problem-solving skills—all things you can develop. These show up when you create a positive experience for guests or clients, when you communicate information to staff, resolve conflicts, or negotiate contracts.

No matter your personality type, you can develop a range of skills that can help you interact more effectively with people. That, in turn, could boost your business’ bottom line or help you advance in your career.

Deeper Communication: How Listening, Tone, and Body Language Help You Connect

Communication does not always equate to “talking.” In fact, the person who talks a lot may not always be communicating well. Instead, effective communication involves listening skills, body language, eye contact, tone, and word choice.

Tone in the hospitality industry is also very different from kitchen communication. While the tone of kitchen communication might be more commanding, intended to keep order in a loud and chaotic environment, the tone of good hospitality focuses on friendliness as well as efficiency.

A smiling female hotel clerk takes a credit card from a customer.

Careers in the hospitality industry often involve direct interaction with clients and customers.

But just as the brigade de cuisine system, a hierarchy of tasks within a kitchen, can be described and developed, so too can a variety of “people skills.” In fact, the Business and Professional Communications course within many of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts’ programs explores these techniques. The course covers listening skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, conflict resolution, cultural differences in communication, and debate techniques.

Why Good Communication Skills Are Important

Effective communication reduces misunderstandings and frustration and can be good for your business and career.

Potential benefits of good communication may include:

  • Better working relationships: effective communication can foster deeper personal connections with customers and coworkers
  • Happier customers: customer needs are met and they feel heard
  • Increased bottom line: satisfied customers may buy more and come back again
  • Better productivity: when expectations are clearly defined, people tend to perform their tasks more effectively
  • Better and faster problem-solving: increased clarity in identifying and understanding issues expedites their resolution
  • Cultural understanding: an inclusive and welcoming environment is more than a professional courtesy, it’s also good for business
  • Getting buy-in on goals for sustainability1: when customers and employees understand that their experience isn’t diminished by sustainable initiatives, they are more likely to participate
  • Effectively handling an emergency or crisis: Whether natural disaster or an internal snafu, good communication can help relay needed information as well as influence public perception

Attention and Intention: How You Can Develop Your Communication Skills

Like many other skills that rely on technique—knife skills or baking, for example—you can practice and hone your communication skills. But even a well-honed set of communications skills can’t operate on autopilot. That’s because effective communication requires consistent and conscious intention. You have to be engaged from the start, ready to pay close attention to the spoken and unspoken communication coming at you.

Let’s take a closer look at some aspects of effective communication and see how you might begin to develop them.

Active Listening Allows You to Hear Someone Fully

An active listener seeks to fully absorb information and also let the other person know they understand what they’re saying. This is different from a passive listening scenario like when listening to a speech or lecture, which may include little to no feedback.

Active listening involves follow-up questions, rephrasing, asking for clarification and using open-ended questions. The listener will often allow some silence for a moment as they take in information. One example might be a couple that wants to make sure everything is just so on their wedding day. A hospitality professional might say something like, “To make sure I understood correctly, you’d like xyz on each table” in response, repeating back what the couple said to simultaneously confirm the information and assure the couple that they’ve been heard.

You don’t have to incorporate all of the aspects of active listening at once, but you can focus on one or two the next time you have a conversation. Make an effort to rephrase something you hear and notice how your conversation partner responds. Or force yourself to take a beat after you hear something. Say it over again in your head to let it sink in before formulating any response.

Taking small steps like these can help you incorporate the skills of an active listener.

Verbal Communication is More Than Just Words

Verbal communication includes the words you choose as well as the volume and tone with which you speak. It can take place in person, by phone, and by video chat.

It can also involve a one-on-one conversation, a small group, or a large convention—each of which calls for a certain style of communicating. A wedding coordinator out on the dance floor has a different job to do than a sommelier hosting an intimate wine and cheese event.

So, how can you gauge what tone is appropriate for a given scenario? Some of this may seem like common sense, like using a soft but encouraging tone with an employee who’s down about their performance or welcoming in new customers with warmth and engagement. But to develop skills to handle more nuanced situations, like having to resolve a conflict, you’ll need to start by listening.

Employing the techniques of active listening can set you up to know which tone to take. Furious customers rarely need you to correct them. Rather, they want someone to validate their experience, to align with their outrage and then address the problem head-on. You can try this in any conflict scenario that occurs in your personal or professional life. Take that person in like your life depended on it and use the techniques of active listening to engage with them where they are.

“Right off the bat, when students start the Hospitality and Restaurant Operations Management program, they can be studying communication, professionalism and service standards, menu design and management.”*
Jason Goldman
Jason Goldman
Escoffier Lead Chef Instructor, Pastry Arts and Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management

Nonverbal Communication: Deciphering Body Language

People send out a lot of clues via their body language in addition to the words they use. Nonverbal communication includes things like gestures, posture, eye contact, and touch.

In the hospitality industry, it can be helpful to read nonverbal cues of customers and clients and to be mindful of how you present yourself. For instance, nodding (in moderation) when a customer is explaining something they need can demonstrate that you are listening and understand.

But body language isn’t always crystal clear, and it can take some time to become fluent in it. The first step toward developing an understanding of nonverbal communication is to look at yourself. The next time you feel a noteworthy emotion—a burst of laughter, the gut-punch of disappointment—remind yourself to do a quick body scan. How are you standing? Where is the direction of your gaze? If you can identify the way your body unconsciously communicates with the outside world, you can identify that behavior in others and approach them from a place of understanding.

Perfecting Written Communication with a Little Help

Whereas many interactions in the hospitality industry involve face-to-face communication, you’ll also encounter plenty of times when you’ll use the written word. This includes emails, reports, requests, marketing materials, employee evaluations, and more.

Because the written word doesn’t include nonverbal cues, you’ll want to use extra care to ensure your word choice is clear and also respectful. You’ll also find that different situations will call for different written tones. Often, shorter sentences and paragraphs can help readability and efficiency when communicating with employees, but these can come across as curt with customers.

This skill can take some time to develop, but there are tools available now that can give you a head start. Asking AI to craft an email or text message that you want to convey a specific tone is a great place to begin and is just one of the ways AI is making waves in the hospitality industry. Read its response as though it was addressed to you and see how it makes you feel. Then, note the nuances of the writing. Was it short and to the point? Was it warm and inviting?

A chef and a manager sit at a wooden table in their restaurant in the midst of a pleasant and active discussion.

Communication includes eye contact and body language as well as spoken words.

Special Situations: Cultural Differences, Neurodiversity

Your career path might place you in situations in which you interact with people from different cultures than your own. Intercultural communication competence can be vitally important; this refers to an understanding of everything from customs and language to current events and a general respect for other cultures.

You are also likely to interact with neurodiverse individuals, whether co-workers, customers, or clients. It’s important to note that nonverbal communication can be particularly challenging to interpret if you or others are neurodivergent.

So, along with trying your best to communicate effectively, keep in mind that other people’s cues may not reflect their intent; and vice-versa, some others may have trouble interpreting your nonverbal cues. Remember: effective communication is a combination of skills.

When you understand how to read verbal and nonverbal cues, approach interactions with respect, and communicate clearly yourself, you may find better outcomes.

The best way to begin harnessing a sense of intercultural communication is to expose yourself to other cultures whenever possible. If you’re not spending money on international travel, this can be as simple as taking a trip to a local restaurant that serves regional cuisine. Here, if you can engage with staff or other diners with an open mind and a boatload of respect, you can quickly hone this skill.

A Hospitality Education Can Fast-Track Your Communication Skills

Whatever path you’re interested in, effective communication will likely be beneficial. A degree in Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management from Escoffier can provide the background and expertise to help bolster those skills–while letting you explore a host of other concepts in the world of hospitality.

Contact us today to discover more about our offerings and how you can build your knowledge of industry best practices in a flexible, interactive learning environment.


*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

1 Leiyan Shen, Jianwei Qian, and Sandy C. Chen. Effective Communication Strategies of Sustainable Hospitality: A Qualitative Exploration.

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