The Key West event featuring Jim Knight on Wednesday, June 28 at 4 p.m. will also include an expo featuring top products and services for the hospitality industry and businesses in general. Tickets are $52 in advance and $75 at the door. For tickets or sponsorship opportunities, contact Lynne Hernandez at 305-710-3962 or email [email protected]

Are they coming back? Are they going to spend more money? Are they speaking about me positively? — Jim Knight, on what matters most in the hospitality industry.

Jim Knight to talk about corporate culture and the school of Hard Rock to hospitality industry


Jim Knight will speak on Wednesday, June 28 at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association meeting in Key West. This comes on the heels of a private gig in Key Largo to the corporate managers of Hooligans. The Orlando native is making a livelihood, and making a difference to nonprofits and businesses nationwide, on the strength of his 20-plus years at Hard Rock in training and now as a consultant with his own company, Knight Speaker.

Prepare to be motivated. And Knight, laughing, says he gets his inspiration from subjects as varied as Tony Robbins to Stuart Smalley of “Saturday Night Live.” (Doggone it, people like me!)

His favorite topic is corporate culture and he has an entire book devoted to that subject — “Culture That Rocks: How to Revolutionize Your Company’s Culture” (2014). The Keys Weekly had the chance to ask him some questions in advance of his visit.

So you’re a native Floridian from the Orlando area, but have you ever been to the Keys? Of course. I take at least two vacations there a year, mostly in the Upper Keys.

What teasers can you offer about the upcoming workshop in Key West? I talk a lot about corporate culture and culture that rocks. (Because I worked for Hard Rock for 21 years, I use every iteration of “rock” and “roll” that I can manage.) I talk about hiring and retaining rock stars. And I also touch on the backside of the employee lifecycle, getting them to stay longer.

What is “culture?” It might mean something different to me than it does to you, but it’s mission No. 1 because it means a shared mindset about how to offer differentiated guest service — how to customize and individualize guest service.

Keys employers often say it’s difficult to find employees and turnover is high, especially in the islands. How can that be changed? It may be more challenging in the Keys, but I promise you the solution is no different anywhere else. You have to spend time and energy and it’s never about the product — stuff you sell or deliver — it’s about the culture. Because when you focus on internal talent, it bubbles up and parlays over to the guest experience. It’s like an iceberg — you only see the smallest part exposed at the surface. That’s the guest experience. But the 80 to 85 percent no one ever sees is where people in hospitality spend their time. I try to make it fun for employees with contests and reward mechanisms. Then the owner or manager can get out of the way because they raised this army of giants who can bring the thunder — whether it’s quiet and subtle or over the top and grandiose.

Describe a tricky situation guest interaction and your how you resolved it. Well, I can’t think of a single incident, but in general, I am focused on service recovery because something has gone sideways. My mentality was never ‘I am going to go over and solve the issue.’ I always think, ‘I am going over to table 26 and I am going to crush it. AND, I have no idea what’s going to happen.’ I get down on one knee, I throw myself on my sword, and I am authentic. I am going to rock their world.

Is there a better type of tourist? Well, first I don’t call them that because it has a negative connotation for locals. I call them travelers. I don’t know if there’s a good kind or a bad kind. I want people that have money and won’t destroy the environment. How’s that?

Where do hospitality and tourism intersect? I will give you one of my favorite examples. Mike and Carol Shipley, old friends of mine, own a small resort in Tavernier called Island Bay Resort. They have incredible reviews on TripAdvisor. The third most common comment is about the hosts. In the end, a good trip is about the person who set up the deep sea fishing trip, or the place where you went to eat. It’s not about the color of the paint. That hospitality permeates the entire experience. It’s what makes people become raving fans.

Is the customer always right? It’s a double-edged sword. But the politically correct answer is “Yes, of course.” We want guests to be gaga about their experience, the customer is always right and we should do anything in our power to make them feel like that, knowing we can’t solve every problem. On the other hand, we want to give our employees the ability to make a decision and be part of the brand. That takes time and trust.

Do you play an instrument? No, I am a singer. That’s what I got my degree in — but it’s more formal like choral work, church and opera. (Laughing) I can do a great wedding or funeral if you need it.

Fill in the blanks. It’s Friday night and I have my feet up on the coffee table. I have a (blank) in one hand and am listening to (blank). Oh, no. This is going to sound weird, but I am drinking either Baby’s Coffee or a virgin piña colada and listening to Rush.



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