How Do You Measure Guest Experience?

Author: Michelle R. Davis       

International food-and-beverage provider Centerplate serves up everything from ballpark food in stadiums to restaurant fine dining and refreshments at convention centers. But as Centerplate partners with a large network of 300-plus venues across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and serves 115 million guests annually, determining how to make consistent enhancements to service is a challenge.

Centerplate has launched a company-wide initiative to set goals and objectives to measurably improve guest experiences — whether those guests are enjoying a rock concert or a catered event dinner. The program includes new training for employees as well as creating clear frontline service standards, according to Bob Pascal, Centerplate’s chief marketing officer. “Creating standards provides a tool for service measurement,” Pascal said in a statement, “and establishes the basis for a robust employee-recognition program.”

But how to create those standards — and who will measure them? To gauge guest experiences and make data-driven decisions around improvements, Centerplate is working with management-consulting firm Griswold Hospitality Partners.

Part of that effort means establishing an infrastructure through which nearly every employee interaction with a guest can be evaluated — everything from eye contact and demeanor, to welcoming behaviors and strategies, said Jayne Griswold, Griswold Hospitality’s founder and president. 


“Metrics can measure the behaviors of employees, their attitudes, their graciousness, their communication skills,” Griswold said. This will be done through a third-party organization that employs “undercover” guests to visit and dine at various Centerplate venues, all doing evaluations based on the same standards. Guest-satisfaction surveys will also play a key role in data collection. Centerplate wants to “deliver a quality experience in the variety of venues they have,” Griswold said, “that is consistent around the globe.” 

[pullquote] ‘Metrics can measure the behaviors of employees, their attitudes, their graciousness, their communication skills.’ [/pullquote] 

The data will be presented to Centerplate in digital-dashboard form to help the food-and-beverage company pinpoint deficiencies and hone areas of success. Centerplate management can use the dashboard to drill down on different data points in different venues. For example, did guests report that uniforms seemed mismatched at one venue? Or, how did employees respond in a medical emergency? Griswold will make strategic recommendations to Centerplate for improvements based on that data, she said, allowing for customized training and recommendations. 

According to Pascal, Centerplate seeks to improve its guest experience through the use of “third-party metrics and data analysis, tracking the impact of our investment and taking strategic action through hands-on service training.” 


Schooled in Service Cornell University’s Elizabeth Martyn worked with Centerplate to establish a framework for service excellence.

But to have metrics that everyone agrees are important and that employees can be measured against, Centerplate first has to find common ground. As part of its overall improvement initiative, Centerplate also collaborated with The Hotel School at Cornell University’s Service Excellence On- Demand Training program to provide education for 250 of its management- level employees around a critical-thinking framework for service.

The training — typically aimed at frontline-service employees — combines eight online, on-demand sessions (about 30 minutes each) with face-to-face instruction from managers who have been coached in the program. In Centerplate’s case, management employees took the online courses and then received in-person training with Elizabeth Martyn, the Cornell training program’s content author, at the food-and-beverage company’s 450-attendee annual meeting, held this past March in Nashville.

[pullquote class=“l­eft”]Instead of focusing on individual tasks or actions, the program teaches a thought process that can be used for any guest interaction — even the unexpected.[/pullquote]

“The intention was to make senior leaders knowledgeable about this process,” Martyn said, “so they could start moving it down the hierarchy.” Courses cover everything from strategies for conflict resolution to anticipating the needs of guests. Instead of focusing on individual tasks or actions, the program teaches a thought process that can be used for any guest interaction — even the unexpected. “You can’t write a standard for every circumstance and situation that’s going to arise,” Martyn said. “We teach people how to think through the moment of service interaction, so they’re delivering the best service in the circumstance, as opposed to a version of service outlined in a task.”

Once everyone in the Centerplate organization has a common reference point in the framework, Griswold said, measurement and improvement can take place. “The whole notion around data is being able to use it to improve operations and help employees feel recognized for a job well done,” she said. “They need to know that any deficiency will focus on getting them trained accordingly, so they can ultimately succeed.”


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