OHI’s Charles Grieco Earns Honorary Doctorate and Offers Inspiration


By: J. Charles Greico

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]his past June, the University of Guelph conferred an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree to J. Charles Grieco, the executive director of the Ontario Hostelry Institute. Grieco is a long-standing and respected member of the foodservice-and-hospitality community, having served as the former owner of La Scala, one of Toronto’s pre-eminent Italian restaurants. The eatery was founded by his father, John Grieco, in the ’60s. The following is the text from Grieco’s Commencement Address.

I am sincerely honoured and humbled to have been recommended by the senate of this institution to be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws — honoris causa degree — and to share with you a few thoughts on this commencement day, a day I am told should empower you, the graduate, to go forward on the career pathway you have chosen with confidence, determination and commitment.

This is graduation day, your commencement day. You have worked diligently; you have achieved your goal and you believe the world, and the appropriately chosen business pathways, are yours for the asking.

This past Sunday, while reading my favourite weekly email newsletter called “Mindpairings,” I read that the Commencement Address is the secular sermon of our time, a packet of timeless advice on life, dispensed by a podium-perched patronly shaman of wisdom to a congregation of eager young minds about to enter the real world.

And, while The New York Times has indicated that a Commencement Address might require “some poetry, some stand-up comedy and a good deal of truth,” you will find that I will follow the latter suggestion.

Although my admitted bias and theme today may be that of hospitality, please understand that it is about people and how you and I, and our daily relationships to them, can mean the difference between success and failure.

Stop, take a deep breath, and reflect seriously on the words recently attributed to Col. Chris Hadfield, our astronaut of national renown. “If you view crossing the finish line as the measure of your life, you are setting yourself up for a personal disaster.”

Perhaps disaster is too strong a word; perhaps surprise, or disillusionment are better ones. You have arrived at a new starting point that comes with your accreditation today.

Know that your real education is just beginning. Today you have been handed the key to start. I’m not telling you to make the world a better place. I don’t think that world progress is necessarily part of your package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it but to live in it.

To look at it, to try to see the whole picture, to live a little recklessly, to take chances and expect failures. Embrace them and, yes, you may, from time to time, make glorious, amazing mistakes — the best kind, by the way.

Learn from your mistakes; don’t repeat them, and do everything you can to make others feel good and well served.
To make your life’s work hospitality, take pride in it. Seize the moment, and remember you have chosen to embark on this career track. You are now part of the hospitality world, with all of its many manifestations, options and self-satisfying pathways.

Certainly the hospitality industry has its challenges … but at its very core remains an age-old fundamental: the art of hospitality is not simply the science of business theories and practices or service. The art involved with hospitality is the understanding that at the end of the consumer’s experience … there is a sense of feeling good. It’s a feeling of extreme satisfaction — that we/they were well served.

While service may be generally defined as the technical delivery of a product or an experience, never forget service is a part of your hospitality career. Enlightened hospitality, or how the delivery of that product or service or experience makes its recipient feel, is the crucial aspect of its success…. You would be well served to embrace the concept and apply it to any and all hospitality paths or to other career paths you choose and have gained accreditation
to follow.

It has been argued that hospitality is the distinguishing factor of success in our ever-evolving, multi-faceted industry. In the information age, most competitors know how to offer similar products, even better ones, memorable tastes and experiences that exceed expectations. But, overlay a heightened culture of hospitality and the memorable experience created for our properties, for your enterprises, for your customers and clients will always ensure you stand out. It is your competitive edge. As you have chosen a career management track, you have a responsibility that goes beyond training for skills. It involves the nurturing of this culture of enlightened hospitality and an attitude that dispels the idea of perfunctory servitude.

I was reminded recently, on the occasion of the passing of cultural icon Maya Angelou, of what is perhaps the best definition of hospitality. It was found amongst her many memorable writings: “People will forget what you said before they forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Smart hiring seeks out attitude first and skills second. Smart management understands that the right attitude, and a commitment to mentoring, persistent and consistent training, and learning that enlightened hospitality can be achieved, accrues to exceptional results in every sector of our industry.

I cannot stress enough that the answer to a lot of your coming challenges is often found in someone else’s face and in the sound of their voice. Try putting your smartphones and iPads down; stop tweeting and texting, and every once in a while look at people’s faces and listen to what is being said to you. The answers and the solutions to those challenges are there for you to see and to hear.

Don’t work for fools; it’s not worth it. Getting paid less to work for people you admire, believe in, even envy, and who are committed to, and who walk the talk of excellence, is much better for you in the long road of hospitality.

Imagine the immensity of what lies ahead: don’t compromise and don’t waste time. Start now, not five or 10 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now. As a sage in our industry once said: “The soup of civilized life is a nourishing stew, but it doesn’t keep bubbling on its own. Put something back in the pot as you leave for those in line behind you.”

True success takes time, experience, patience and being with the right people and the right organizations. And, the right mentors are critical to your next learning pathway.

Hospitality is not a job, it is a vocation. You have chosen the best career there is. No day is ever the same; no guest is ever the same. Each day, be prepared to wait for a new story to unfold. Imagine how much more fun and challenging that is.

If I can leave you today with one thought that has served me and many others well, it’s this: in a business ruled by a passion for people and hospitality, keep in mind that success in this industry, and in any of the related paths you choose and that may be offered, is a careful journey, not a destination.

Thank you. Good luck.
You won’t be disappointed;
I haven’t been.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.