Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: awall01 (page 1 of 7)

Why we should look towards the hospitality industry to improve visitor experience

This post was written in collaboration with second year Museum Education M.A. student Taylor Fontes

When moving to the Greater Boston Area to pursue my Masters degree in Museum Education, I made a hard decision. I chose to continue working in restaurants (a job I’ve done since I was a teenager) instead of pursuing a position at a local museum. I made this decision because restaurant work is a great way to make fast cash. As I move forward into a career in which that will no longer be the case, I wanted to start off strong with as little debt as possible and ample time to complete my course work. Sometimes, I have struggled with this choice as it has meant there is a gap in my resume when it comes to museum work. However, I have recently realized how important working in the hospitality industry has been to my experience in museums. So many of the skills I have learned in hospitality are transferrable to skills needed in museums. I firmly believe that these hospitality skills have strongly informed my ability to provide positive visitor experiences in museum environments.

When Taylor brought up the idea for this post she came from almost the opposite perspective. While she had been working in visitor service positions for a long time, she was new to the restaurant industry. Quickly however, she began to be referred to as a “rock star hostess.” So how did Taylor pick up the restaurant brand of hospitality so quickly? For her, it was so similar to the type of experience she strived to provide for visitors in museums she has worked in.

As museums become more visitor-centered and less object-centered it is important for us to see ourselves as institutions of hospitality. We can look towards the hospitality industry to help inform our practices within the museum. So what are our biggest takeaways?

  1. The vocabulary we use matters: Most hospitality focused restaurants don’t refer to their patrons as customers. It is too transactional. We focus on our guests. Guests are those that we invite in, they are wanted, accommodated, and catered too. In museums we need to think of our visitors as guests as well.
  2. First impressions are everything: From the atmosphere, to the signage, to the person greeting you. In a restaurant, the host/hostess is your first point of contact. They will set the tone for your entire experience, so friendly and personable staff are a must. But what about museums? Is there someone to greet visitors? Are the visitor service staff responsive? What is the tone we are setting?
  3. Restaurants know how to sell their product: Hospitality industry professionals have a lot of experience in selling their product. From the restaurant itself to up-selling the food and drink, this takes lots of knowledge of not just the products but of the audience as well. We need to know our audiences and understand what they want out of their experience. As we know, there are many different types of visitors with varying needs.
  4. Flexibility: Not all guests are looking for the same experience. We have to be flexible and fluid in order to provide satisfying and enriching experiences to a diverse audience. The same approach will not work with a group of millennials out for drinks that will work with an older couple having lunch. The same is true for museum visitors.
  5. Steps of service: Restaurants have very defined steps of service that guide our guests experiences. This does not in turn mean there is no free-choice within it. However, by creating these steps of service restaurants are able to be flexible while still provide superior service. Many museums think about visitor flow when designing exhibits. Creating steps of service within a museum experience can help us to better serve our visitors.
  6. Empathy and Tolerance: Restaurant professionals are highly experienced in empathy and tolerance. While we may use these words differently in the museum field. It is important as museum professionals that we don’t just teach empathy and tolerance but that we live it. In order to provide positive visitor experiences it is important that we can empathize with our visitors to better understand their needs as well as be tolerant to those that have different needs.
  7. The human connection: Hospitality professionals are experienced in creating personal connections in short periods of time. We talk to people from many different walks of life on a daily basis and if we want them to return it is important to create those connections. This, to me, is the biggest transferrable skill to the museum field. We want our visitors to make personal connections to what we are presenting. If museum professionals are not adept in making those connections how can they design and implement experiences that do. These social skills are so important.
  8. Ability to anticipate visitor needs: It is so important in both restaurants and museums for staff to be able to anticipate our guests and visitors needs before they can verbalize, or even know, what those needs are. These can be as basic as providing easily accessible bathrooms and comfortable seating or more complex such as providing for guests with disabilities. We need to anticipate everything our visitors may need when designing programming and exhibitions.

While this is just a short list there are many more things that museums can learn from restaurants as museums become more and more visitor focused.

WEEKLY JOB ROUNDUP!

Week of April 9th! Take a peek at the latest national jobs roundup!

Northeast

Public Programming Assistant [Fruitlands Museum- Harvard, MA]

Head of Public Programs [The Clark Art Institute- Williamstown, MA]

Exhibit Designer [Harvard Museums of Science and Culture- Cambridge, MA]

Assistant Museum Preparator [Mount Holyoke- South Hadley, MA]

Museum Educator and Docent Program Supervisor [Wellin Museum- Clinton, NY]

Programs Project Coordinator [Connecticut Science Center- Hartford, CT]

Museum Assistant [Natick Historical Society- Natick, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Museum Education Specialist II [Space Telescope Science Institute- Baltimore, MD]

Senior Advancement Program Specialist [National Museum of African American History and Culture- Washington, D.C.]

Public Programs and Outreach Manager [Samek Art Museum- Lewisburg, PA]

Education and Program Coordinator [National Museum of Industrial History- Bethlehem, PA]

Southeast

Exhibition Designer [High Museum of Art- Atlanta, GA]

Director of Museum Planning and Operations [International African American Museum- Charleston, SC]

Coordinator of Youth and Community Programs [High Museum of Art- Atlanta, GA]

Midwest

Manager of Curatorial and Exhibits [Harley-Davidson Museum- Milwaukee, WI]

Senior Museum Content Developer [Hilferty and Associates- Athens, OH]

Teen and Community Programs Manager [Ohio State University- Columbus, OH]

Curatorial Assistant [Denver Art Museum- Denver, CO]

Director of Education [Spurlock Museum- Urbana, IL]

Manager of School Programs [Museum of Contemporary Art- Chicago, IL]

Specialist, Interpretation and Digital Learning [Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art- Kansas City, MO]

West

Volunteer Coordinator [Thanksgiving Point Institute- Lehi, UT]

Collections Specialist [Bowman Museum of Crook County- Prineville, OR]

Director of Collections [Nordic Museum-Seattle, WA]

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Hello job seekers! Here’s the national museum jobs round up for the week of March 18th!Northeast

Northeast

Director of Programs and Education [Fairfield Museum- Fairfield, CT]

Manager of Family Programs [New York Historical Society- NY, NY]

Registrar [Hood Museum of Art- Dartmouth, NH]

Assistant Curator, Southern Baroque-European Paintings [The Metropolitan Museum of Art- NY, NY]

Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs [Museum of Arts and Design- NY, NY]

Special Projects Manager, Visitor Experience [New York Botanical Gardens- Bronx, NY]

Executive Director [Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center- Mashantucket, CT]

Director of Access and Community Programs [Whitney Museum of American Art- NY, NY]

Education Coordinator [Historic Newton- Newton, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Curator of Education [Chrysler Museum of Art- Norfolk, VA]

Manager of Teacher Initiatives [The Phillips Collection- Washington, D.C.]

Southeast

Director of Learning [Kentucky Historical Society- Frankfort, KY]

Midwest

Family Programs Associate [Walker Art Center- Minneapolis, MN]

Interpretive Planner [Nelson-Atkins Museum- Kansas City, MO]

Heritage and Art Center Director [St. Louis Co.- Duluth, MN]

Assistant Educator, Learning and Interpretation [Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum- St. Louis, MO]

Curator of Exhibitions [Canton Museum of Art- Canton, OH]

Assistant Exhibitions Designer [Kelsey Museum of Archaeology- Ann Arbor, MI]

West

Curator of Art and Community Engagement [The High Desert Museum- Bend, OR]

How Should Museums Deal With Controversy?

In the wake of the “Leaving Neverland” documentary, chronicling the allegations of of sexual assault by Michael Jackson, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has decided to remove three Michael Jackson artifacts from display. The Museum’s decision was the result of their decision to be “very sensitive to our audience.” The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis made a swift decision when faced with controversy. However other museums, such as the Bundekunsthalle in Germany, have chosen different paths. The Bundekunsthalle has decided to continue with their plans to open Michael Jackson: On the Wall, an exhibition focusing on the musician’s influence on contemporary art. Museum organizers have decided to avoid discussing his biography in favor “examining his cultural impact” as a way to anticipate and avoid the allegation’s and controversy surrounding Jackson.

In both these cases the Museums have decided to remove or avoid objects or subjects as a means to evade controversy. Yet, as Willard L. Boyd wrote in his piece Museums as Centers of Controversymuseums should “consciously invite controversy” in order to inform and stimulate visitor learning. While Boyd speaks more to controversial ideas presented in the museum than to the more recently common controversial actions conducted by a museum, as more often than not centers of controversy, museums must learn how to deal with controversy.

So, how should museums deal with controversy? Museums can look to the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Best Practices for Managing Controversy as a good jumping off point. The best way to deal with controversy is to anticipate it, have a plan, be transparent, create an educational framework that can provide context to why a curatorial choice may be, or is, controversial. What I believe if missing from their “Best Practices” list is the importance of speaking with the communities involved or effected by the controversy. Museums are not neutral and generally have institutional biases that reflect Western colonial power imbalances, we must as museum practitioners acknowledge that fact and incorporate the voices of those that were historically silenced.

Overall, I am not quite sure how a museum should deal with controversy. Likely, there is not one definitive answer. But, as museums have been dealing with controversy for many years and will continue to in the future, as museum professionals we can take note of how museums have dealt with past controversies to help inform our decisions for the future.

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Happy February! Here’s the job round up for the week of February 25th!

Northeast

Evaluation Manager [Boston Children’s Museum- Boston, MA]

Executive Vice President [Billing Farm and Museum- Woodstock, VT]

Internship Program Coordinator [Museum of Science- Boston, MA]

Executive Assistant [Rose Art Museum- Waltham, MA]

Deputy Director of Education and Engagement [Williams College- Williamstown, MA]

Collections Care Technician [Historic Deerfield- Deerfield, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Museum Director [Dumbarton Oaks- Washington, D.C.]

Museum Educator [City of Alexandria- Alexandria, VA]

Assistant Registrar/ Preparator [The Phillips Collection- Washington, D.C.]

Exhibitions Assistant [Philadelphia Museum of Art- Philadelphia, PA]

Collections Interpreter [Philadelphia Museum of Art- Philadelphia, PA]

Southeast

General Museum Educator/University of North Florida [Jacksonville, FL]

Coordinator of Youth and Family Programs [Oklahoma Contemporary, Oklahoma City, OK]

Manager of Public Programs and Community Engagement [Oklahoma Contemporary- Oklahoma, OK]

K-12 Education Program Manager [Missouri Historical Society- St. Louis, MO]

Manager of Education and Youth Programs [Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg- St. Petersburg, FL]

Midwest

Curatorial Fellow [Walker Art Center- Minneapolis, MN]

Deputy Director of Public Experience and Learning [University of Michigan Museum of Art- Ann Arbor, MI]

West

Manager of Digital Strategy [San Jose Museum of Art- San Jose, CA]

Assistant Registrar [Gerald Peters Gallery- Santa Fe, NM]

President and Executive Director [International Museum of Arts and Sciences- McAllen, TX]

Education Outreach Coordinator [Computer History Museum- Mountain View, CA]

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