Cognitive Bias Within The Bar & Hospitality Industry

Under The Influence! – Cognitive Bias within the Bar & Hospitality Industry You See Everyday

Any of you that know me or have interacted with me on line will most likely know how much I love developing people and helping them with their learning. This, I extend to myself. I love to learn! One of my favourite topics that I’m passionate about at the moment is the subject of Cognitive Bias…..wait, here me out, it’s more interesting than it first appears and you’ll be amazed at how it plays in to what we all do every day within the Bar & Hospitality Industry in terms of influence, persuasion and more. Read on….I think you’ll like this…

So, what is a Cognitive Bias? Well if we ask Wikipedia

A cognitive bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgement, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own “subjective social reality” from their perception of the input.

…Got it? No? Well let me translate…A cognitive bias refers to a situation where we humans make a judgement based on our own version of reality and not necessarily on the objective evidence that accompanies the situation.

Within the Bar & Hospitality Industry we see and do this all the time without realising it. Both positive and negative outcomes can occur through our quick judgement within a situation through our subconscious. Being aware of cognitive bias can help us to avoid them within ourselves but being ware can also present us with opportunities where we can purposely create situations where we know others will become influenced.

There are lots of different biases but it is most common to refer to ’The 25 Cognitive Biases’ when discussing the concept. I strongly suggest you to read further into these 25 biases but for now, let me introduce you to 10 cognitive biases that are seen and used (whether purposely or not) within the Bar & Hospitality Industry.

1: Projection Bias

This Cognitive Bias refers to our own misunderstanding of how our own preferences differ to that of others. For example, within a bar, the manager may buy in products to sell that he/she likes themselves ‘projecting’ the idea that because they like the product others must also like them too! The Bar Manager in this example has misjudged the wants and needs of their customers based on their own biases towards their preferences. This is not to say that the products they choose won’t sell, it just means that the judgement made to base the decision on stocking certain lines was not based on any objective evidence.

Come on, how many times have we seen this in our own workplace?

2: Correspondence Bias

Be honest, we all see and probably do this one every day. Your boss comes up to you and gives you a hard time about something that seems out of context. He/She leaves and you say to your colleague, “What a $%£$%, why are they always like that’. What we have just experienced is what is called the Correspondence Bias where we attribute a person’s negative qualities at a given moment to become our overall perception of their persona.

There could have been any number of external influences in this example that could have led to the boss acting in that way at that certain point of time but it is the quick judgement through the Correspondence Bias that causes us to label that person negatively based on one single action.

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3: The Curse of Knowledge

How often have we seen or read instructions that even though they are teaching us how to do a certain task we just can’t get from A to B based on what they say. This is often the result of ‘The Curse of Knowledge Bias’.

If someone is knowledgeable about a certain subject they often are not good at explaining and demonstrating the subject matter to another person. This is because they are blinded by their own understanding and have a bias towards the complexity of the subject matter.

How often have we been involved or witnessed a staff training session where a person just doesn’t seem to understand the task that they are being trained to do? Take ePos/Till training for example. To the experienced user this is so easy and has become second nature through repeat usage. To the new user it is completely foreign and the bias held by the instructor due to their expert knowledge of the subject actually becomes the barrier to their learning.

4: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

You are doing a series of interviews for a job role…we’ll use a bartender position for this example. You find what appears to be the perfect candidate. They tell you that they’re the best bartender that has ever made a drink and they have tons of experience. When they show to demonstrate their skills it turns out that none of it is true!

This isn’t necessarily always about lying, this is about someone having a bias towards their own perception of their skills. They are actually unaware that they aren’t the best bartender in the world! Think about times where you have met or seen people who are totally sure of their own abilities and skills but their actions don’t back them up…this could be due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

5: Hindsight Bias

The Hindsight Bias is pretty common even though we may not pick up on it every time. This Cognitive Bias refers to a situation where somebody may claim to have already predicted the outcome to an event but doesn’t have anything to back up their claim. Take the success of a promotion in a bar. You have a ‘Buy 4 get 1 Free’ on a certain drink that doesn’t get the response and uptake that the Bar Manager originally thought. The Bar Supervisor says at the end of the promotion, “I knew that wouldn’t work”, yet at no point did he/she make that claim prior to the start of the promotion.

As I said, this is very common actually. I bet now you are aware of it as a bias you’ll spot people saying similar things regularly.

6: Sunk Cost Fallacy

A customer places a deposit for a gathering at your bar…let’s say a small amount of £50. As it turns out, on the day the majority of the people can’t make it so the group postpone their plans. However, the deposit is non-refundable. In this Cognitive Bias it is common for the customer who made the booking to still attend the bar at the time of their booking as they do not want to waste the £50 that they have already spent. During their time at the bar they may spend an additional £50. So, if we think about it the person has shelled out £100 when they could have just settled for the £50 loss.

This Cognitive Bias happens because people often cannot come to terms with losing their initial investment but are more than happy to invest more on top.

7: Outcome Bias

Let’s use or ‘Buy 4 get 1 Free’ offer from a previous cognitive bias. The Outcome Bias comes when people have an opinion on the success of something once they already know what the outcome is.

So, if we take the fact that we know this ‘Buy 4 get 1 Free’ promotion wasn’t really a success then somebody else who works in the bar may say something like “That doesn’t sound like a great offer” whereas if the offer had been successful their opinion of it as a concept may completely change given the fact that they know it was actually a success. The promotion is exactly the same either way but the person’s opinion as whether it’s good or bad is actually predicated on what the outcome turned out to be.

8: Self Serving Bias

This is one that you all will have come across…maybe even daily.

We can use our ‘Buy 4 get 1 Free’ offer for this one again…Let’s say that the promotion went well. The Bar Manager may say something like “It’s a great offer, I put a lot of time into researching the market for what would work”. The Bar Manager is taking the credit for the success of the offer due to their input in its creation. But let’s say it didn’t go well. In this outcome the Bar Manager may say something like “The Marketing Team didn’t push the offer enough”. See the Cognitive Bias here? Even though the Bar Manager still put the time in to do the research the resulting failure in its success was down to another factor that may be easy to justify towards their colleagues.

9: The Swimmer’s Body Illusion

Here’s a common one but not necessarily one people will agree on. (You may want to read my article “Hospitality Is Almost Impossible To Teach. It’s all about hiring the Right People” that speaks about this very subject.

Let’s say that you, as a manager for example, model the training for your staff on the outcome being that they have excellent customer service skills just like you. You teach them all the things that you know about customer service and all the skills, tips and tricks that you have learnt over the years that have made you an authority on the subject.

Where this Cognitive Bias comes into play is that you may be a natural for customer service and have an affinity for being a ‘people person’. Can this be taught, or will you be teaching the same skills that you have to people who do not have that natural talent for people skills?

This Cognitive Bias is called the Swimmer’s Body Illusion because people often say that the top swimmers in the world have a body type that lends themselves perfectly to being in the water. If this is the case then teaching somebody who does not have such a natural body type, regardless of identical training regimes will still not present identical or even comparable results.

I’m not saying that I believe in this cognitive bias per se in my hospitality example but it is an interesting concept!

10: Negativity Bias

Here’s one that managers may fall foul of a lot without meaning to or without the outcome being as hurtful and negative as it turns out.

A member of bar staff works really hard and is a fantastic member of the team. They have recently done a couple of shifts in the kitchen too but with lesser success than on the bar.

The manager comes to speak to them and says “You’re fantastic on the bar and you could go far in this business, but you’re just not great in the kitchen”.

Whilst the manager has actually given the bartender a great compliment, because he/she followed it up with a negative point the bartender is probably only focusing on that aspect of the conversation.

As managers we have to be aware of our communication at all times and understand that different people communicate at different levels so what we say and how we say it to one person may not be the same as how we should communicate with another.

So there’s 10 Cognitive Biases that you may come across everyday working in the Bar & Hospitality Industry. I’d love to hear if you have any examples of these within your own workplace.

I do recommend that you read the full list of 25 Cognitive Biases. There’s quite a few articles out there and YouTube videos (Charlie Munger’s talk on The Psychology of Human Misjudgement is a commonly watched video). Check out Wikipedia’s article on these and take it from there…it really is quite a fascinating read.

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