Creating a Positive Workplace Culture: Insights from Professor Ashley Godfrey

Hospitality Mavericks Podcast - Creating a Positive Workplace Culture: Insights from Ashley Godfrey, Professor of Escoffier School Of Culinary Arts on how theory can help hospitality managers overcome real-world hospitality challenges.
Reading Time: 14 minutes

“Every morning we would have a breakout meeting before our day started. So whenever you came into your shift, we would kind of just remind ourselves ‘Hey, we’re at Walt Disney World. This is your job. You’re living your dream right now.’ It’s a huge honour to work at Walt Disney World and just remembering that and remembering that you’re there to help the guests. That you’re there to make sure they have a great time while also maintaining safety values and providing them with a good experience.

Ashley Godfrey

We are back with our BlogCast, a Bizimply blog series!

🎧 A series in which we revisit Bizimply’s favourite episodes from The Hospitality Mavericks Podcast. Podcast hosted by Michael Tingsager. Don’t forget to check out the latest BlogCast!

Today we will get to know hospitality industry expert Ashely Godfrey. In this chat, she delves into the importance of ‘real-world experiences.

How does this shape the way her teaching works? How does this influence the new generation of hospitality management professionals?

We will also learn how a positive work environment culture is the key to training the next generation of hospitality managers.

Tune in as Godfrey talks about how to give customers a great experience and how to deal with bad online reviews. Along with some insights into the rising costs in the industry.

Main Highlights:

  • What does it take to become a successful professor in hospitality management?
  • How does Godfrey incorporate real-world experience into her teaching?
  • How is technology affecting the industry?
  • What skills and qualities will be important for future leaders?

Journey into Hospitality: From dreaming to teaching hospitality management.

Growing up in Florida, Godfrey knew from a very young age that she wanted to work in the industry.

“So I have always been in love with hospitality in the industry. I am from Orlando. So I grew up in the heart of tourism in America. So going to the theme parks and having annual passes growing up. Just got me started loving the hospitality industry and tourism and so. Actually, my first job when I was 15 in high school was at SeaWorld Orlando and so I started working at a theme park right away and I just loved it so much. I loved meeting people from all around the world. I love talking with the guests and providing great customer service.”

“And that really got me started thinking about a future career in Hospitality. So as I went on I always worked in hospitality and then when I got to college, I took a Hospitality class as an elective just to see what it would be like again. I loved it so much and I changed my major to hospitality management. And so I went on to graduate from the University of Central Florida the Rosen College of hospitality management with a degree in event management and then I started working at Westgate Resorts.” 

“And over the course of six years, I just kept getting promoted. […] And did that for five years. I loved it. But I decided I had reached my goals. So I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree at the University of Central Florida – Rosen College. Because I have a master’s degree three in hospitality and tourism management as well. And I knew I somehow wanted to get into higher education at some point in my career, but I wanted to get more experience. “

“So I ended up leaving Westgate and went to Walt Disney World . (Than) I became a recreation manager and then I was a front desk manager and then I was a resort Duty manager which is kind of like the manager on duty for the whole Resort, the acting general manager if he will while the general manager is a way everything is reported up to that team. I was one of the highest managers on the property, that was a huge goal of mine to get to that position and I loved it so much. It was so fun.” 

“So covid hit and I experienced and went through like a lot of hospitality industry workers did at this time and I got furloughed from my job in the industry. And then later on I got let go when Walt Disney World let go 28,000 employees in Florida. “

I ended up losing my position and I didn’t know what I was gonna do next. I was terrified of what was gonna happen and what I was gonna do. I didn’t even know what furlough meant before this.”

I was terrified of what was gonna happen and what I was gonna do. I didn’t even know what furlough meant before this.

Godfrey then explains how even in your worst crisis there is an opportunity to come if you keep your eyes open.

“I never thought this would ever happen in the hospitality industry. Never thought we would get hit this hard. So it was really a learning experience that I went through. I was trying to figure out what’s the next step. What am I going to do? And so I just started doing some research on schools and maybe where I could teach because I had this dream to get into higher education at some point in my career and I thought I have had over ten years of management experience, almost twenty years in the industry so far. I have all this knowledge and maybe I can share it with others. “

So I ended up finding the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. They were hiring for online remote professors and I was like, oh my gosh, this looks perfect for me. They’re hiring hospitality management instructors. So I ended up applying and I started teaching in January of 2021. And really haven’t looked back since then. I started diving into the world of higher education now.”

Customer Experience, Customer Experience and Customer Experience again

It’s crucial to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. This not only helps to understand their needs better, but it also simplifies the process.

“I mean, the main thing is guest service. Everything revolves around guest service at Disney because, without the guests, you don’t have your business. So we need the guest to keep coming back and essentially spending their money at Disney to keep the business.”

They’re making memories with their family or their friends. And so you want to make sure you keep that up and you ensure that the memories are happening.

“When we were making decisions, everything stemmed from safety first and then the guests. So just making sure that everything was running properly. The experience was as magical as it could be. When you are little or when you’re at home and you’re travelling to Disney and you see these commercials about Walt Disney, Disney World or Disneyland.”

“And they kind of paint this picture for you and you think like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna take my family to Disney’ and we need to try and recreate those commercials for them there. We want them to have these magical memories. And because you want to create the experience and, sometimes they’ve made to be taking home souvenirs, but really what they’re taking home are these memories that last a lifetime and that’s what people pay money for when they come to Disney.”

They’re making memories with their family or their friends. And so you want to make sure you keep that up and you ensure that the memories are happening. It’s a magical time and they’re gonna keep coming back because of that.”

Godfrey’s Teaching Methods of Learning

Learning from someone who has already worked in the industry helps bridge the gap between theory knowledge and practice.

“Yeah. Definitely. I’m still connected to the industry because my husband is a manager at Disney still. He is still a cast member at Walt Disney World. He’s a manager at one of the resorts. So I still get to know everything that’s still happening. I still get to go to Disney weekly because we have passes and I’m still involved in the industry through him, which is amazing.”

“But what I’ve tried to bring into my classroom is […] I bring my real-world experience, which I think is very unique. Because when I was in college and when you’re learning you’re sitting in the classroom. I feel like we learned a lot from the textbooks, which is fine. And it’s like you said great theories to learn. But I was terrified when I got into my first management job and I had to deal with my first angry guest and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to talk to this angry guest or how I was going to handle that. I was so nervous. I was so scared because no one taught me in my college classes in hospitality how to talk to angry guests and how to solve problems. So that’s what I’m trying to teach our students is these real-world examples.”

“Examples this is what you could be dealing with. We teach in one of my classes how to write an online review. Like how you respond to an angry online review on a Yelp page or Trip Advisor page, which is something that every business owner needs to know how to do. Because no matter how perfect your operation is, you might  get an angry review sometime or a bad review as much as you don’t want it to happen, but you need to know how to handle it.”

“So we’re trying to let the students go out into the industry knowing what to do, not just learning from a textbook. You’re learning from someone who’s already done that. Already had experience with that.”

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts foundation

What was exactly the foundation of Escoffier? What type of programs does the school run?

“If you have never heard of Chef Escoffier before, he’s the namesake for our school. He is a famous French chef. He’s actually called the father of chefs basically so he started the chef movement in France and he did invent about five thousand different recipes that were published in a culinary cookbook back in the day. And he also is the one who invented the brigade system for the kitchen.”

“He had a military background, and this was back in the day when cooks would come to work drinking, smoking. Not really caring about their jobs. And he kind of whipped them into shape and created this brigade system where everything was very organised in the kitchen. Everyone had their own stations that they were working at, and it improved efficiency a lot in the kitchen, and he’s credited for that. And he also created the Mise en Place, which is when you are creating a recipe and you gather all your ingredients together first, and then you start cooking your dish. So he’s also credited for that as well.”

“Our founder, Jack Larson, wanted to create a school that would kind of be able to teach culinary with smaller class sizes and eventually become an online culinary school so that more people could access this knowledge. So he reached out to Chef Escoffier’s great-grandson out in France and asked if it would be okay to use his name and if he wanted to get involved with the school he was trying to create. So Michel Escoffier is actually on our Advisory Board, and he also helps contribute to the school’s mission for his great-grandfather’s name. “

“So Escoffier was opened in 2011. We actually have two ground campuses in America. So we have one in Texas and one in Colorado. These are on-campus schools. And then we have our online programs as well.”

“We have culinary programs, we have baking and pastry programs, and then we also have a lot of programs that are new and up and coming. We follow the trends in the industry as well. We have our hospitality and restaurant management program, which is the classes that I teach. So a lot of management programs. And then we also have a new program that’s plant-based.

Why did you choose to become a hospitality professor? What do you hope to achieve?

“I think of my mission as just using my personal experiences and knowledge in the industry with my years and years of management, some of the world’s top companies. So I want to be able to take what I’ve learned and bring it into the classroom to help our future leaders of hospitality as they go out into the industry.”

“It is a little bit of a rough time for hospitality because we got hit so hard. I think everything is bouncing back. Coming back stronger. Hopefully. Some of these students have never worked in the industry before and they’re choosing hospitality as their college degree. They might not have experience and but they’re passionate about service. They’re passionate about food. The Culinary Industry. And they want to get into the industry.”

“I think there are a lot of opportunities right now. So that may not have been there in the past so lots of opportunities for growth or new businesses, which is really great. It can be a good time to get into the culinary industry but just sharing those real-world experiences and knowledge.”

“I think it really helps the students prepare themselves. They know what to expect when they get out into the real world and they know what to do. They have some training. They have some learnings that they can kind of take with them in the future, hopefully.”

Rising Costs: What can restaurants do to deal with it?

Can technology help business owners and managers deal with rising costs?

“I also mentioned the staffing issues because we are also still experiencing that and I do think of that as one of the biggest issues as well. But I think that technology might be able to help with that in the future. So the automation of tasks might be able to be completed by technology so that could help with the staffing issue that a lot of businesses are facing and they could also save money.”

“So being able to utilise new technologies to maybe have touch less orders. So you don’t have to have a cashier at the front all the time. Maybe you do touch less transactions with automated processes so you can save some money on staffing. Maybe you were pressed with not being able to find someone to staff that position in the first place because the cost of living is going up. People are expecting higher wages right now, too.”

“They need higher wages and it’s very difficult for small businesses, especially to be able to pay those competitive wages. Pay for their products with the rising costs that are going on and then still have good customer service and provide the experience. It’s all just a lot going on right now. So I’m hoping that maybe businesses can utilise the technology that’s coming out to help with that.”

Businesses are changing. The hospitality employees’ skills as well. 

With the changing of business needs what qualities or skills do you think future leaders need?

“Yeah, so I think one of the biggest skills that’s important to have now, especially after covid times is empathy. Being able to care and be empathetic towards your employees. We were just talking about the staffing issue. One of the challenges is once you get your staff, once you have your employees, you need to retain them too. So being caring towards your employees. Being empathetic creates a really great culture at your workplace to keep your staff.”

“You can teach someone how to do the job but to kind of be empathetic and caring and have that really great customer service attitude that’s really hard to train.”

“I think it is really important to be empathetic towards your guests, too. You never know what someone is going through in their own life. Provide the best service to everyone because you just never know what they’re going through. And so you just always want to be caring and empathetic towards everyone that you encounter and I think that just makes the customer experience and just the world better in general.” 

“I think especially in hospitality, it’s really hard to teach customer service attitude. You really have to have that personality to want to work in hospitality. Because you can train someone all day how to check in at the hotel, how to clean a room, how to serve food, how to cook food. But if they don’t want to serve people, you can’t really teach that. You have to already kind of have those qualities in you to want to serve and want to be in hospitality. I think that’s really important.” 

“You can teach someone how to do the job but to kind of be empathetic and caring and have that really great customer service attitude that’s really hard to train.”

Just like muscle, empathy needs to be regularly exercised to stay strong. How can you actually become better?

“Every morning we would have a breakout meeting before our day started. So whenever you came into your shift, we would kind of just remind ourselves ‘Hey, we’re at Walt Disney World. This is your job. You’re living your dream right now.’ You know, it’s a huge honour to work at Walt Disney World and just remembering that and remembering that you know, you’re there to help the guests that are here you’re there to make sure they have a great time while also maintaining safety values and providing them with a good experience.”

“So kind of just reminding the employees the cast members like this is what you’re here for. Remember where you are and this is what our goals are for the day.”

“And then we at Escoffier we actually do quarterly training and we use it’s called Presidio Skillfoft skill soft training and they let us choose whichever classes we want to take refreshing courses on each quarter. And so I usually take one is like professional development and one is like soft skill development.”

“So I think those are really helpful too and just like keeping up with your training. So offering your employees those classes or those types of classes. I think it would be really great. And for management. I think you really need to hire in management that I like. It kind of exudes these skills that you want to see in your employees so that they can kind of lead the way you lead by example and train people to act as you do.”

“Basically, I know when I first started in management at Westgate, I had a really great mentor that was helping me along the way in my first management role. He was very caring and very empathetic and so I think I learned a lot of those qualities from him as my mentor and it kind of just went on throughout my career.”

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry today?

“I think starting out by searching if you’re just going into it. College or university. Maybe take an elective class in Hospitality to get your feet wet and kind of learn a little bit about the industry about something you’re interested in.” 

“If you have never worked in the industry before try and reach out to people who are working or have worked in the industry, maybe you know someone. Try and think about what your dream job would be in the industry and then find someone in that role and talk to them about it and figure out you know, what was their Journey. How did they get to where they are in that dream job that you’re looking to have? And talk to them about it. So I think that would be a really great place to start.”

Hospitality Management Mindset: The secret to being your best self.

We all have our own methods of managing life, but is still a trouble for most people. 

“Yeah, so I usually try to think of my students as my guests. I have a very guest service mindset from all of my years in Hospitality Management. It’s just ingrained in me from working at Walt Disney World. And so I just think of my students as my guests and I feel incredibly lucky to have this job and be given this opportunity to share what I know about the hospitality industry.”

“So I just remind myself to live my dream now. I’m in higher education teaching students what I know about the industry and helping them go forward into hospitality. And so I just don’t take that for granted and just remind myself that I have an incredible life and I just want to provide the best service that I can to the students and make sure that they’re getting the most out of the classes that they’re taking with me and just sharing my knowledge which is a privilege and I love it.”

“You know, sometimes we struggle to get out of bed, but if there’s something that’s big enough, then we can go and do it and we can deliver what we need to deliver.” 

Godfrey’s chat finishes with a reminder to keep track of customers’ needs, like the move towards a more eco-friendly hospitality business.

“ I definitely agree with you about the planet and choosing environmentally friendly green options is definitely growing now.”

“If you can afford to do that, then do it. So, like offering compostable materials instead of plastic materials. I just recently went to a new restaurant that opened in my area this past week. They were offering a program where you purchase your salad bowl (and it’s a hard plastic Bowl) you purchase it and you bring it back every time you come to the restaurant and you reuse the same bowl and as an incentive to do that you get a free topping in your salad like a free extra topping. So I thought that was a really cool program that they had implemented at that business to try and like help with the environmental footprint of their business and you know.”

“I think it is great. A lot of companies are adding those plant-based menu options to their menus, which is plant-based. I’m a huge fan of that and I love to see that and then I also think I am just a Force for good overall, you know, like we’ve been talking about providing that great customer service, but also treating your employees well so if you want to keep your employees you need to treat them.”

Do you like our content? Share with a colleague!

Top Posts

Try Bizimply's All In One

Workforce Management Platform

Scroll to Top

Why are thousands of businesses switching to Bizimply?

From large chains to independent operators, Bizimply is the #1 WFM solution.

Camile Thai Logo