"Service is simply a list of procedures, while hospitality is the way a guest perceives those procedures as an overall experience."
BY IAN MAKSIK
On a warm summer day in Brooklyn, my parents were stuck in a traffic jam. Waiting for a ferry to Rockaway’s beaches, my father was a new law school grad who would only serve two clients. Waiting for traffic to move, he spotted a “Lot for Lease”sign.
Noticing everyone else awaiting the ferry, he mused about his own hunger and his certainty that others there were equally famished. Turning to my mom, he said, “Let’s open up a hot dog stand on that lot over there.”
With money borrowed from my great-grandmother and help from several uncles, my father purchased the lot, built a small log cabin and opened that hot dog stand. It evolved through every phase of the restaurant industry.
Ultimately, the Town & Country club became the largest nightclub in the world and played host to every big showbiz name save Frank Sinatra, Sr. At the height of its popularity, it served more than 6,000 patrons on a typical Saturday night.
I was almost born at that hot dog stand. By the time I was 4 years old, I was helping my mom set tables. At 7 years old, I was working in the kitchen. I bussed tables by age 11 and became their best waiter by age 16.
My dad was vice president of the NYC Nightclub Association. When I was 13, he brought me along to The Latin Quarter. Our joint would prove more successful, but The Latin Quarter—owned by Lou Walters, the association president—was nonetheless our competitor.
Lou was Barbara Walter’s father, and she sat opposite me at that meeting. It was also memorable because it’s where I learned about the Cornell Hotel School. At age 14, I was Tony Bennett’s light man at our club, and that was also the year I interviewed for Cornell.
Having matriculated from Cornell, I became general manager of our nightclub for nine years. When it was sold, I was named general manager of the JFK Hilton. Then, I opened Terrace on the Park. I was lured away from Terrace by an offer to become assistant general manager and director of catering for Singer’s Resort Hotel in Rockland County.
I stayed on there for six years before becoming my own boss. I founded Ian B. Maksik, Ltd, and booked hundreds of high-profile events as a independent hospitality consultant. Representing 375 caterers, restaurants and hotels as a site finder, I was empowered as a commissionable agent, signing contract and booking dates on their behalf.
Soon named catering editor of New York magazine CUE, I was also made a partner in Restaurant Marketing Plus, where I brought in more than a thousand small groups per year to member restaurants and hotels. Then, I received an irresistible offer to open the Atrium Country Club in New Jersey. After that, I opened my own restaurant, The Carriage Club, which boasted singing waiters.
When that restaurant literally burned down, I became director of off-site catering for The Madison Hotel in New Jersey for seven years, booking massive, high-profile events all over the tri-state area. These events included the Nabisco Grand Prix tennis tournament and the New Jersey Governor’s Ball alongside all sorts of unique catering adventures.
We hosted a wedding on horseback for the U.S. Equestrian Team, submarine nuptials, marriage ceremonies on hot air balloons and a backpack wedding for avid mountain climbers. I’ve been responsible for over 17,000 weddings, and have, thankfully, only two catered divorces.
While managing a corporate event at Loews Glen Pointe Hotel, the service was so bad that my client refused to pay me. I complained to the general manager, a fellow Cornell alum; he replied “If you think you can train these people to serve correctly, go ahead.” So I did that, which led to the GM’s request I train staffers every month.
This premise led to the opening of my first School for the Service Arts. Within a year, I was doing a million in sales and I opened staffing agency USAWAITER. Then, I was asked to join the industry’s lecture, keynote speaker and training circuit.
Onstage, I excelled, holding the attention of Vegas audiences of up to 1,000 attendees. Those connections led to my training of owners, management and staff of hospitality facilities in major U.S. cities and over 20 countries.
I was especially popular in the Caribbean. I trained so many Caribbean island facilities that I became known as “The Caribbean Kid,” a trainer rather than a pirate. I appeared on Caribbean TV and was called upon to open restaurants, hotels, country clubs and catering facilities; I usually stayed on for a year or two, taking on title acronyms like GM, DOT, DOC, DOO and DOHR.
In the past several years, I’ve published two hit books, “The A to Z’s of Professional Table Service” and an encyclopedia on catering and service titled “Service Stinks.” These books are employed in training and staff development globally in the industry. Recently, I completed my first web-based training program, Serve-Sational Service, and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to be near my son.
Since relocating, I’ve become affiliated with New Mexico Restaurant Association as a service training vendor. When I spoke recently at the Albuquerque Innkeepers Association, I explained that service is simply a list of procedures, while hospitality is the way a guest perceives those procedures as an overall experience. As the only active hospitality columnist in New Mexico, I look forward to working with my New Mexico colleagues.
As ever, address any questions you may have on service, etiquette or catering to me via email to email@example.com, and I’ll reply via email or in this column.
Ian Maksik is a Cornell Hotel School graduate and a former Hilton general manager and catering editor for New York magazine CUE. Known as “America’s Service Guru,” Maksik has keynoted, lectured and trained owners, management and staff of hospitality facilities in 21 countries and at notable industry conferences. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 804-5413.