A Lasting Legacy of Hospitality

Research of Fred Harvey and his inventive approach to business has revealed his contribution of many familiar hospitality-related practices such as the “blue plate” lunch special and requiring men to wear coats in the dining room. However, perhaps the Harvey “way” most influential and long-lasting is dedication to exemplary customer service.

You can imagine how unusual it must have been for early 20th century railroad passengers to encounter impeccable table settings and Harvey Girl service in the mostly uncivilized Southwest! Today the few remaining Harvey Houses that provide food service remain loyal to the Fred Harvey way of doing business and nowhere will you find more dedication to that principle of customer service than at the Slaton Harvey House. A visitor from Nebraska provided this review of her stay in the historic building:

A recent stay at the 1912 Slaton Harvey House proves that vintage charm can be combined with modern upgrades to provide a most relaxing stay.  From the re-created newsstand now serving as the registration desk to the convenient elevator every amenity is provided.  But be sure to make at least one trip up the original staircase with metal steps and imagine the Harvey Girls at work.  The bedrooms are furnished with comfortable beds and up-to-date bathrooms.    Decorative accessories provide era-appropriate ambience.  Spend a night or a weekend.  You’ll be lulled to sleep by the sound of passing trains.

This current review of a Harvey House experience in many ways echoes similar complimentary communication from satisfied customers written through the years. Since Harvey opened his first restaurant in 1879 I would guess thousands of satisfied customers took time to express their appreciation.

Outstanding service at the El Paso Harvey House was praised in a letter to the Fred Harvey company headquarters from “A Unit of Nurses” dated April 20, 1946.          

Dear Sir:

   For a long time I have intended to write to you. Seeing the movie “The Harvey Girls” made me know more than ever I must write. The advertisement in Fortune Magazine showing the Syracuse china made us appreciate the dishes our food was served from. Not a chipped or cracked one on the table.

   In our travels we were transferred to El Paso, Texas. It was between eleven and twelve at night when we arrived at the station. Several of us went into the Harvey House dining room; after days of traveling in hot coaches and having only two meals, we were so pleased to be in a cool room, where everyone was so pleasant.

   The most courteous and sweet gray-haired lady took our order. We all noticed the efficient way she served her customers. All agreed someone should write and thank her. Through you we want to tell her that we will never forget the person that showed us how to be gracious.

[signed] A Unit of Nurses.

The nurses’ emphasis on their gracious server reminds us that the “face” of the Fred Harvey service all along the line was the Harvey Girls.

Thank you, Fred Harvey and Harvey Girls, for setting the standard high! And thank you to Harvey Houses such as the restored bed & breakfast in Slaton, Texas for continuing the tradition!

Photo of Fred Harvey Blue Chain china courtesy of Everet Apodaca.

Rosa Walston Latimer is the author of a series of books about Harvey Houses available on Amazon.com or on her web site Rosalatimer.org.