Külliki Tagaväli – An Eagle-Eyed Solution-Finder, Who Has Melted the Hearts of Guests and Colleagues
Külliki is the breakfast team leader at restaurant Nero in Tallink Spa & Conference Hotel. She is always the first to open the restaurant at dawn and again the last, after the busy breakfast period, to be heard by guests and colleagues wishing them a good day and see you soon. The fact, that the hard work and effort has paid off, is proven by the long-lasting career of this strong woman – the golden star of the team –, and her wonderful colleagues. Külliki’s colleagues have literally baptized her – “The Soul of Breakfast”. Read more below about how Külliki won the hearts of her colleagues and guests, and what she considers most important for operating a restaurant efficiently.
Background and skill set
Külliki has been working at Tallink Spa & Conference Hotel for almost 20 years, most of which she has spent sharing emotions and successes with the core team. She speaks Estonian, Russian, English, Finnish, and German. Having worked mainly as a team leader, Külliki knows that the first big emotion and impact happens when welcoming the guests. That is why she is daily found working at the entrance of the restaurant. In addition to true professionalism, her long work experience has trained her in one amazing skill – just by a guest’s posture and facial expression, she can immediately guess in which language the guest wishes to be greeted. Greeting is not a superficial activity. The duty of the service staff is to make the first step to establish contact with the guests. Well-wishing and questions must come from a sincere heart, and for the guests, the most important thing accompanying them to breakfast is the welcoming look from the greeter. With this, trust is created, and guests will dare to come and seek contact if something happens and they need to ask for advice or help. In addition, eye contact creates a positive charge in people. This energy is shared by both parties. If you are lucky, sometimes you can even hear exciting stories from the guests and exchange life’s wisdoms with them.
“If I give positive energy to a guest, there is a very high probability that they will give me the same in return.” – Külliki Tagaväli
One of the most important conditions for Külliki is that if a situation arises, a guest knows who to turn to and always has the courage to ask for help. No issue or problem, no matter how big or small, should ever leave the hotel without a solution! “After all, the guests want to enjoy their vacation here and now, and we want them to be able to enjoy every moment of it,” Külliki is confident about her mission, and adds: “Sometimes, when a problem appears, it turns out that actually there is no problem that needs solving, instead, the guest just wants someone to listen to them. It is often in life the way that if you can talk about your worries from your heart, they also leave your body, and you will feel much better.”
“Welcoming guests can be compared in its sincerest form to communicating with babies – you smile, and they smile back. It’s a human instinct and emotion that triggers happy hormones.” – Külliki Tagaväli
Our strong team is our golden treasure
A strong team begins with a strong leader who knows how to guide people well. This is the only way a restaurant can function effectively. When everyone in the team knows exactly what their tasks, duties and responsibilities are, the result is excellent. Moreover, the workload of the team members can vary during the shift – the tasks are divided masterfully so that everyone bravely endures until the end of the working day with bright eyes, and after work they can head home satisfied, not exhausted. For example, if in the first part of the morning shift one of the employees is tasked with squeezing fresh orange juice, then after a while this employee heads to tidy up the dining hall. Meanwhile, other employees take a break from tidying up and interact with guests instead. The work is varied, which creates different experiences and good emotions for both staff and guests.
What do the team members think about Külliki?
“She is caring, wonderful and friendly, like an eagle-eyed mother. There is no doubt that she is the soul of our hotel’s breakfast, during her shifts we can work without any worries. Actually, she’s more like a best friend, 100%.” – Merily
“She is friendly and kind, and she works in the restaurant as if she were at home. She just doesn’t stay still, she’s always doing something, in the most positive sense.” – Elviira
“She is friendly, helpful, joyful, and warm.” – Ingrid
“She is helpful towards the guests and colleagues. She is a solution-finder who has no negative answers in her life and is always ready to help everyone. Tough, when necessary, but always honest. Everyone knows their tasks and duties and can be sure that when working together with her everything is always 100% in order.” – Aili
Several times a year, the whole team participates in joint events. Whether they are brunches, dinners, entertainment events or mini-cruises to Finland – no-one ever gets bored, everyone enjoys every moment. The only part of these events that the team does not rush to is a breakfast, because they see it every day. In this familiar atmosphere, they tend to feel that they cannot relax and instead want to rush to serve and help.
Small gestures and big emotions
The ABCs of the hospitality world are helpfulness and courtesy. You can’t succeed working in a hotel without them. In addition to a sincere smile and a heartfelt greeting, pleasant gestures like small compliments and skilful instructions about destinations of interest to guests, create good and powerful emotions. It is also gratifying for the guests when the personnel ask them later whether they found the destinations they were looking for and how their day went. Great emotions are created by greeting regular customers by name, and, in the case of long-term guests, memorising their room numbers. A lot of joy is created by paying special attention to the youngest guests – children’s chairs, toys, stickers, and the sweetest of them is clapping hands with the little guests. And oh, how good it feels when you greet guests who have returned after several years, as if they were your own long-awaited friends from far away. Guests always feel good when they are remembered and asked for updates about their personal life, and what they remembered and liked from their previous visits.
“I don’t just strictly fulfil the tasks in my employment contract, I also add human warmth, friendliness and sincere willingness to help.” – Külliki Tagaväli
Paying sincere attention creates powerful memories
Külliki remembers a situation from 2021 when all hotel guests wanted to come and enjoy breakfast at the same time, and a long queue formed. People were in a relaxed holiday mood, talking to each other in the queue while waiting to enter the breakfast hall. The team leader noticed an elderly woman among the waiting guests. She remembered her from the previous day, as the lady had had difficulty moving to the point that she had used a wheelchair. That morning, however, the lady no longer needed the wheelchair, as the rest at the hotel had given her energy and strength. Although one could only feel genuinely happy about it, Külliki, as a professional, remembering the lady’s condition from the previous day, had quietly prepared a chair for her – just in case the circumstances should change. And she was right to do so, because now, instead of standing in line, the lady could sit calmly on a chair and rest her legs with pleasure, until Külliki found a free table for the lady and her multi-generational family to have a meal together.
The next day, Külliki asked the hotel reception if the lady and her family would come for breakfast again. Upon an affirmative answer, Külliki reserved a table for the family in advance so that the lady would not have to exert too much effort and could start enjoying breakfast with her family right away. The family was so grateful for this gesture that as they were leaving, they thanked Külliki and the staff repeatedly, and even the youngest members of the family cheerfully waved to them.
A few months later, the same family visited Tallink Spa & Conference Hotel again. But this time, sadly, the old lady was no longer with them. The family gave Külliki a beautiful box of chocolates and thanked her and her team from the bottom of their hearts for having managed to make the lady’s last hotel vacation so nice, cheerful and memorable. It only took paying attention and human kindness, just one simple act of caring, to create such an emotion in the guests. Although it happened years ago, the memory is still fresh and very emotional, as if it had happened only yesterday.
Well-known in the Nordic countries
“Working in Tallink has given me great advantages to get to know our Northern neighbours – Finland and Sweden – both, from the point of view of hotel guests and by sailing around there myself,” praises Külliki. Working at Tallink Hotels also includes a nice motivation package, thanks to which Külliki can travel between these two countries more often than she would have imagined. “Once I went to visit a friend again – this time in Finland. When I arrived, a proper reception awaited me, which ended with dinner at my friend’s aunt’s house. When I sat down at the table, there was a brief silence, because it seemed that me and a couple of guests had already met somewhere before,” recalls Külliki. It turned out that the couple remembered Külliki from the breakfast at the Tallink Spa & Conference Hotel. The couple had so many words of praise and fond memories to share about it that under normal circumstances such lavish praise would have made Külliki blush. But this was not a normal situation, because the dinner was in North-Finland, far from big cities and most significantly – far from Estonia. These incredibly nice memories of the guests brought tears of affection to Külliki’s eyes, instead of embarrassment-pink cheeks, they warmed her heart and brought a proud smile to her face. “I’m doing the right thing!” thought Külliki, happily.
“This is a position where I am like a gateway to Tallinn, and a friend to every guest staying at our hotel. Precisely – a friend.” – Külliki Tagaväli
Good emotions maintain the desire to continue in the restaurant world
“It is not important whether I receive words of praise, compliments or gifts, important is the feeling that comes from creating special emotions for guests. If visitors have the opportunity to spend a memorable vacation in our hotels, they will always come back here – Tallink Spa & Conference Hotel. They wouldn’t even think of looking elsewhere, because they can be sure that warm and caring people are waiting for them, who will do everything to make their vacation go perfectly. It’s good for the guests, for me, and for Tallink.”