Be More Hospitable (Opinion)
Updated: Jul 22
Escape room ownership requires a surprising number of skills, not the least of which is hospitality. It's incredibly difficult to build a quality escape room, but owners can't stop there. After the room building it is done, the puzzles are created, and the environment is crafted, owners have to take the important step of creating a hospitable environment for their guests who pay to play those rooms. Unfortunately, many owners fail to train their employees, build comfortable lobbies, offer quality amenities, build relationships with their guests, and think creatively about how they will turn first-time visitors into returning guests or even brand ambassadors. This episode is all about the importances of escape room hospitality.
Hospitality is all about relationships.
When it comes to hospitality, escape rooms should feel more like Disney World than Wally World; more like Chic-fil-a than Subway; more like Grover than Oscar.
I recently asked 124 escape room enthusiasts how hospitable the average escape room is. Here are the results using a five point scale.
5 out of 5 - 19% of enthusiasts
4 out of 5 - 60% of enthusiasts
3 out of 5 - 20% of enthusiasts
2 out of 5 - 1% of enthusiasts
1 out of 5 - 0% of enthusiasts
Escape room enthusiasts think escape rooms are very hospitable, but if an escape room decided to take hospitality to the next level, would if reveal that the other rooms hadn't done enough? I think yes. People thought fast food restaurants were reasonably hospitable until Chic-fil-a revealed a new level of hospitality was possible. People thought coffee shops were fine until Starbucks added comfortable seats, cool music, mood lighting, and modern decor. Southwest Airlines did the same thing to airlines. People thought Walmart was reasonably hospitable until...ok no they didn't.
Put people first. Escape rooms are a relational experience. Those relationships come in the form of teammates and hosts. I've read thousands of room reviews, and it's amazing how often people reference the game masters and other staff in their reviews. Although a hospitable host alone cannot make an escape room experience a good experience, a hospitable host can definitely ruin an escape room experience. Hospitality, and the relationships it creates, can even turn customers into ambassadors and evangelists for the brand. Customer acquisition costs are too high not to prioritize retention.
I'm the pastor of a fairly large church in Gillette, Wyoming (yes people live here). We have discovered that it's fairly easily to get people to visit our church, but it's extremely difficult to get them to come back. We've realized that the key to a second visit is hospitality. We often say that we use hospitality to close the back door. In other words, it keeps people from sneaking out the back door. On a practical level, we accomplish that with greeters, coffee, donuts, gifts for first-time guests, clean facilities, clear signage, etc. On a missional level, that is accomplished by teaching our people to truly care about people, to prioritize relationships above everything else.
The priority has to be placed on customer experience. Value your guests. Take them even more seriously than you take your puzzles. I've been to a few rooms that bragged about the low success rate of their rooms, and it was quickly obvious that the game creators were more proud of their puzzles than of their guests. As a pastor, sometimes I'm tempted to focus more on preaching theology, but that would miss the purpose of church. The purpose of the church is to invite people into God's big, hospitable family.
When my brother (Billy) and I visit a city to try new escape rooms, we spend the first day visiting one room at multiple different locations. That night, we decide which location was our favorite, and we do all of that location's other rooms the next day. Because Billy is a complete germaphobe, dirty rooms are immediately ruled out on the second day. When you invite someone to your house for dinner, cleaning the house in preparation for company isn't the primary objective of the evening, but it is as important as any other aspect of hosting guests. You've probably been in an escape rooms that required you to get down on the ground, to wear a costume, or to touch many high-touch surfaces. I am often amazed by the dirty restrooms in escape rooms. A restroom down a back hallway in a cleaning closet makes guests feel uncomfortable, and uncomfortable guests (and the reviews they leave) will determine if your escape room succeeds or fails.