Interview at the Hard Rock Café Barcelona

Posted: May 12, 2014 in Leadership
Tags: , , , , ,

My family recently visited Spain on an Educational Vacation Tour.  One afternoon, while our children were with their group on a bicycle tour of Barcelona, my wife and I took the opportunity to have lunch at the Hard Rock Café.

The Hard Rock in Barcelona is located on Plaça de Catalunya, a beautiful city square. It was approaching noon on a Friday, the sidewalks were a little crowded, so my wife and I were looking forward to a little refuge to sit down for lunch. Noon is a fairly normal lunch time by American standards, but in Spain it is early so we were sure we should have no problem getting a table in the café.

Hard Rock Barcelona

Photo by Tim Harvey
Hard Rock logo property of Hard Rock International (used with permission)

As we entered the door, the lovely young hostess greeted us: “Bienvenido a Hard Rock. ¿Va a estar cenando con nosotros?”

Maybe, it was the fact we were there early for lunch. Maybe, it was the baseball cap I was wearing from my Alma Mater, Auburn University. Or maybe, it was that my wife and I just look more American than European. Whatever the reason, when I made eye contact with the hostess that greeted us, she immediately said: “Welcome to Hard Rock. Will you be dining with us?” The ease with which she switched from Spanish to English was impressive.

“Please, follow me,” she said, as she led us past the bar to the dining area. As we passed through the bar, a young couple sitting to the left caught my attention. They appeared to be enjoying a lovely conversation. The hostess leads us past the bar, up three steps then looped back around to our left. She seats us at the table right next to the young couple I had noticed, with only a hand rail and a slight elevation between us.

As we settled in to our table, I noticed the young couple was speaking English. What I originally thought was a young amorous couple was in fact a job interview. Then, suddenly the couple was speaking Spanish.  Did they realize I was eavesdropping? Was I really that obvious?

We made our lunch request with our server. Shortly after, the young couple exchanged a few pleasantries and the young lady left. The interview was over. The manager that had conducted the interview, hands their drink glasses over to a bartender, wipes down the table and leaves. I’m a little disappointed, I wasn’t able to hear more of the interview.

As our food arrives at our table, the manager returns to the same table with another interview candidate. As they take their seats, he hands her a document and in English says: “This is the job description for the positions we are seeking to fill. I would like you to read it and tell me if your feel you can successfully meet the requirements of this position.” The young lady reads, then signs the document and hands it back to the manager. The manager lays the job description and what I believe was the candidate’s application side-by-side in front of himself.

Feeling a little ashamed and not wanting to be obvious I was eavesdropping, I was looking forward to listening in on this interview. Being a manager and business leader, I was excited with the opportunity to witness a job interview in another culture. What happened next took me by surprise.

The manager asked his first question, in English. Then he patiently waited for the response. His second question was spoken in Spanish. The response to that question seemed to follow much easier. Then, there was another question. This question was neither in English nor Spanish. I was not immediately sure what language he used.

The entire interview progressed like this, a question in English, then Spanish, then a third language. I began to ask myself: “How many languages is he expecting the person he hires to speak?”

The interview comes to a close.  The two of them exchange a few pleasantries. The candidate leaves and again the manager clears the table he had just used.

By now, I want to know more. I look around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the manager and get a chance to speak with him.

As a server comes to ask if we need anything, I explain to her there was a job interview taking place at the table next to us. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to speak with the interviewing manager for a moment. She had just come on duty and was not sure who had conducted the interview, but after inquiring with the bartender, she turns to us and tells us she will see if he is available and let us know.

The manager approaches our table, extends his hand and with perfect English thanks us for dining at Hard Rock and asked about our experience.

I apologized for eavesdropping, as I explained his interview process caught my attention.  Specifically, what caught my attention was the multilingual interview he conducted.  I explained we were traveling with a school group from the United States.  Many people in our country fail to see the reason to learn English correctly, let alone learn another language.

I asked if he would mind telling me how many languages he desired the person he hired to speak.  He explained he was interviewing for a hostess, an entry level position.  However, the hostess is the first person customers meet when they enter the Hard Rock.  My mind immediately recalls the hostess that first greeted us and how easily she transitioned from Spanish to English.

He continued to explain that as an American owned company, they required this person be fluent in English, since all corporate correspondence and instruction were in English.  Since this store is in Spain, naturally fluent Spanish is a must.  Barcelona is in a region known as Catalonia; many of the locals speak Catalan.  For this reason, they want their hostesses to be conversant in Catalan, to be able to great the local clientele.  Then, he added, their position advertisement asked that applicants be fluent in another European language.  They have many guests from other parts of Europe.  He said: “It is all about making the customer feel welcome, from the moment they come in the door.”

So, he is searching for an individual with fluency in three languages and knowledgeable in a fourth. Since the individual we saw listed on her application she was fluent in Spanish, English and Italian, he asked the interview questions in each of these three languages.

As he is talking, my mind thinks of an old joke:  What do you call a person that speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person that speaks many languages? Multi-lingual. What do you call a person that speaks only one language? An American.

Sadly, many Americans embrace this sentiment as a “badge of honor.”  We do this to our own detriment. Because, in doing so, we miss the blessings of better understanding and embracing our cross cultural experiences.

Curiosity got the best of me. I had to ask the manager: “How many languages do you speak?”

Almost nonchalantly, he replies: “I speak four languages.” He tells us he was raised in Southern Spain and recently lived many years in London, so he speaks Spanish and English. He says he also speaks Portuguese and Italian. Then, almost apologetically, he adds: “I have only been in Barcelona two months. I am still learning Catalan.”

Walking out of the Hard Rock, I begin reflecting over our Hard Rock experience.  The hostess, the restaurant servers, dining manager, store employees, even the manager who didn’t realize I was eavesdropping on his interview all focused on making sure we enjoyed the best possible experience in their country even in a language we are most comfortable.

What makes the Hard Rock experience so enjoyable is not the museum guitar displays on the walls, the gold records or even the music.  All those things are part of the atmosphere. What makes the Hard Rock experience most enjoyable is the people.  Hard Rock employees believe in the brand.  Hard Rock employees are sold out to customer service.  Hard Rock employees are dedicated to making the customer’s Hard Rock experience the best it can be.

Hard Rock leaders understand the foundation of customer service is employee selection.

Kudos Hard Rock! I had a great lunch and a wonderful leadership lesson.

(Special thanks to Hard Rock International for granting permission to include their logo. This blog is neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Hard Rock International.)

Link to Hard Rock Barcelona:


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