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By Tom Kelley and Rick Wolf, Concept Branding Group
It's something we hear from operators of all sizes. The answers are all over the board: outstanding service, delicious food, and a certain kind of atmosphere.
Sure, but to us those are a given. The fundamentals of a good operation aren't generally where there's room for improvement or thinking outside the box.
We contend that it's in the little things, the "something extra and unexpected" that truly makes a frequent patron out of a one-time guest. And, strategically, it's when and how it "hits" them that count just as much as the surprise itself.
Our waistlines attest to one of the occupational hazards of being frequent diners. We try to get to new places, places that have been around for years, and the independents that we find are innovating to keep pace with their larger chain counterparts. We see very similar plate presentations, very similar service, very similar décor and seating configurations – all leading, in most cases, to generally good dining experiences. But, the question remains: what's going to get us, or the others dining with us, to become walking billboards and sound horns about your restaurant's experience?
Drum roll. OK, here are some real world examples.
It's the special tasting sampling plates that come out from the chef/kitchen as folks settle into their seats after ordering their first drink. It may be a bite-sized new appetizer teaser, or a standard amouse bouche that changes each week. It may be a sample tasting of new lunch or dinner selections – again bite sized, just to whet the appetite and desire to return.
It's the chef taking 15 minutes, in all types of operations, to walk the front of the house, shaking hands and getting feedback. This type of personalized outreach creates the essential emotional connection with guests that our clients hear is talked about endlessly during operational assessments.
It's the special selection of house made cookie nibbles brought with the check. (Please, stop with individually wrapped, bulk mints). Preparing some bite-sized cookies that can be baked off throughout the week adds that extra touch that makes guests fully realize that the dining experience truly is about them.
We all like something unexpected, especially when it's very well done and well presented.
Operators who take the time, once the basics are being flawlessly executed, to bring in elements of showcasing their food to their captive audience guests will win them back again and again – and, if done strategically, perhaps for a different meal segment or for expanded menu offerings that may have better returns.
One final thought: whatever you do, do it consistently. Doing something one week, then letting a crisis interrupt these little extras, will be worse than never starting. Integrate them into your menu and prep planning, so they are never forgotten. Sharpen your strategy and use this type of menu merchandizing to drive business in slow meal segments, and before introducing new items.
Look at any costs as part of your marketing program. You've got a captive audience, market to them. Show them your absolute best and show them how important they are to you and your business.
Tom Kelley and Rick Wolf are Partners at Concept Branding Group with offices from coast to coast. They work with small and large restaurant, hospitality and retail clients – and related trade associations- to sharpen brand awareness, operations, marketing and connections to communities where they do business.
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