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Good Service is Irrelevant - 7 Things the Shake Shack Founder Taught Me About Running a Glamping Business

  • Good service is irrelevant.
  • Ignore your competitors.
  • Stalk your guests obsessively.

Okay, that’s not quite the message of this piece. But you should read on if you want to pick up some nuggets of advice for running a glamping business from the founder of Shake Shack, Danny Meyer. 

Full transparency: Danny Meyer has never spoken about glamping as far as I’m aware. But he has written a book on hospitality called ‘Setting the Table’, which I’ve shamelessly ripped from and applied to running a glamping business. After all, hospitality principles are universal. 

Oh, and if you enjoy the blog, you should take a look at what we offer at Glampitect. We’re pretty good at helping people start glamping businesses.

Turn Mistakes Into Net Positives

Even the biggest and best glamping businesses in the world will mess up from time to time. Take Under Canvas, widely considered the market leaders for glamping in the US. You think everything they do runs completely smoothly? Of course it doesn’t! They’re run by humans, and humans can be stupid.

Instead of worrying about never making mistakes, accept that they’ll inevitably happen, especially as your business grows. The odd hiccup doesn’t matter in the long run. What matters is how you respond. One of the chapters in Meyer’s book is literally called “The Road to Success is Paved with Mistakes Well Handled”.

If you mess up, acknowledge it, apologise for it, make up for it and offer something a little extra to turn the situation into a net positive. These little extras can include paying for meals at local restaurants or offering a 50% discount for their next stay. Yeah, you’ll still get the odd asshole, but generally you’ll delight the guest with your response and encourage them to sing your praises. 

Be an Agent, Not a Gatekeeper

close up of a calendar-1

If you’re lucky enough to own a world-class glamping site that’s always fully booked, you’re going to have to deal with angry people who think they have a god-given right to stay at your site. This is annoying, but instead of getting defensive, you should act as though you’re on the side of the caller, rather than the business. Share in their frustration about not being able to find a slot in the calendar.  

“Can you give me a range that would work for you, so that I can root for a cancellation?” 

By working with the caller, rather than against them, you can find a solution that works while maintaining your sanity.

Know the Difference Between Service and Hospitality

It’s all well and good having high-quality glamping units, beautiful views and fresh breakfast delivered to your guests’ doors every morning, but it’s completely pointless if it leaves them feeling empty. Glamping sites shouldn’t just aim to deliver great service; they should be creating a memorable experience. And that can only be done by understanding Meyer’s definition of hospitality.

'"Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel. Service is a monologue—we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.’"

So, great service obviously isn’t irrelevant. But you’re not going to be anything other than mediocre unless you pair it with great hospitality.

Target a Niche to Begin With

Meyer’s first restaurant, the Union Square Cafe, is known across the world and is never short of dinner guests. This wasn’t always the case though. He first had to rely on attracting a specific group of customers, which in his case was ‘the downtown publishing crowd’. By keeping this group happy, word spread about the restaurant, helping it become the giant that it is today.

‘To the degree that a restaurant can serve as an unofficial club for any constituency, it takes on an additional mystique that leads to more and more business.’

Which niche can your glamping business target to get some initial traction?

Be Extremely Attentive

Attentive

Once your guests arrive at your site, you shouldn’t just forget about them. Keep an eye on them throughout their stay, noticing what surprises them, what delights them, and what makes little impression on them. Remember, you’re out to create a memorable experience, but you don’t know what’s memorable until you see what actually has an effect on your guests.

‘I observed that some families chose Heinz ketchup, while others used Hunt’s or Brooks. I got to know and cared about the differences in the flavors of these ketchups.’

Obviously, this has its limits. Don’t cling onto them like a leech, and certainly don’t intrude on the privacy of those staying in the honeymoon suite. You want to be on awards shortlists, not a register. 

Respond to Feedback Personally

You should treat guest feedback very seriously. For one, it allows you to constantly improve your site. More importantly, by making the guest feel heard, you create a bond with them and encourage them to return. Attracting new guests is key in the short run, but retaining them is where the real money is made. 

‘Early on, I responded personally to every comment card, but today that is the job of our chefs and managers, who read up to 100 cards a week. It’s an excellent way to build trust, encourage and enrich dialogue, and give our guests the confidence that, at our restaurants, their suggestions are taken seriously.’

Again, there’s a caveat to this. Don’t just send a nice little message to the person giving the feedback and then completely forget about it. Make sure it’s actioned, so that you can truly delight them with your response next time they stay.

Don't Copy Your Competitors

Don’t get me wrong, stealing great ideas is the backbone of creativity. It’s practically impossible to come up with a truly original idea. You should always be looking around you for inspiration (this blog is living proof).

But you shouldn’t just copy and paste what your competitors are doing into your business. It won’t work anywhere near as effectively for you. Their version will have gone through countless iterations and improvements to get to where it is, and they’ll simply care more about it than you will. If you’re going to steal an idea, make sure you put your own spin on it that makes it 10x better than what they’re doing down the road. 

‘I do not want to see a dish like tuna tartare (which became ubiquitous in New York during the 1990s) on any of our menus unless our chefs are doing something singularly excellent with it.'

For example, if another glamping site near you runs mindfulness classes, don’t just ring your local yoga instructor in an attempt to compete with them. That’s just lazy. Take the time to think about what you can offer your guests that would be truly different to your competition. 

If you’re based in the US, UK or Middle East and you’re interested in starting a glamping business, book a call with one of our experts here.