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Making It Personal: Marketing That You Can't Buy In Food Service

May 28, 2008
"Good food is unquestionably the most important factor in the success of your restaurant operations. If you offer exceptional quality, people will take notice. However, today's diners are looking for more than just a good meal when they walk through the doors. They are looking for an experience. And if you give it too them, it may not only help your F&B department, it could help your hotel as a whole."

When a guest decides to eat at your hotel restaurant, you can be certain that you are starting from a negative point in satisfying their desire for a "wow" moment. Hotels have long since gained the reputation (in my opinion, for good reason) of offering lousy value. As a business traveler for much of my early career, I can speak from experience when I say that the last place someone wants to fill their stomach is in a lobby lounge. The typical perception is average food in OK décor served by polite but some what plastic staff at a price that really hurts.

Studies have shown that a large percentage of people who eat out today are more interested in the service and décor than the food. Of course, if your food is awful.

No level of service will bring them back. But average food wrapped in a grand experience will still get them talking.

The experience encompasses a number of factors. The friendliness of the staff, the lighting, the noise level, the restroom soap, even the napkins can influence the word of mouth response you get. If a diner walks into a messy bathroom, they probably won't be telling their friends to visit. So when you are thinking of 'wowing' your customers, consider a couple of areas that may help.

The first thing customers see when they come in the door is the décor. Restaurants are going to greater lengths these days to satisfy more than just our craving. They are trying to satisfy our visual hunger as well From giant aquariums, to torch lighting, to art deco furnishings, today's restaurateur is focusing on fashion nearly as much as food.

While I enjoy the occasional opening of a unique, designer restaurant, I don't see the need to go to extreme lengths. I do believe that you need great design, but I think that the elements of your design should be the replaceable items. Large, costly design projects are great for the early launch, but like most fashion trends, you can expect them to change as quickly as the seasons. Thus, today's cutting edge design is tomorrows joke.

I suggest you go with simple and neutral furnishings and fixtures and put the pizza in the accessories. You can turn an ordinary dining room into a tropical paradise with a few well placed paintings, some interesting lighting and vegetation. All of these items can be changed regularly without having to renovate the room. It not only allows you to keep up with trend changes, it also allows you to keep up with trend changes, it also allows you to offer regular guests something new to see when they come back.

Cleanliness is the second factor that diners nor only want, but demand. Your staff should be trained to keep very inch of your establishment as spotless as possible. That includes the bathrooms that may not even be located inside the restaurant. Don't think your diners won't take notice.

I have a friend who regularly visits a local hotel restaurant because the bathroom has great hand towels. For those of you who frequent restrooms in Asian, this may not seem so strange. I have gone to five star hotels that offer facial tissues to dry your hands. Why offer anything?

Perhaps the most important influence you can have on the 'wow' factor is staff. You need to find people who are almost obsessive about service. In his latest book "Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business" (Harper Collins, 2006), famed New York Restaurateur, Danny Meyers mentions a story about a couple who were celebrating their anniversary at one of his restaurants. The couple mentioned to the maitre d' that they had put a bottle of champagne in their freezer to chill so they'd be able to enjoy it when they returned home. The maitre d' recognized the potential disaster and offered to go to the couple's apartment and save the champagne, which he did, property chilling it in the couple's refrigerator and leaving some complimentary chocolates and a small tin of caviar.

Your staff doesn't have to go to such extremes but they should have that special character that drives them to serve. It is almost a motherly-type trait. And while you can't always find people who already exhibit this character, you can train them. You should help your staff understand that they need to treat the guests as if they are a friend visiting their home for the first time. Nearly everyone can understand what that means. Basically, you want to make sure the have everything that will make them comfortable. Then you should go one step further.

I was once speaking to a friend of mine who works at a pub-style bar at a five star hotel. The next day there was going to be a large parry from the hotel visiting the outlet. When I asked what the party was for, the person didn't know. I thought to myself. "How could they not know?" In order to excite a guest, you have to give them a little something extra. The staff should have been informed by the hotel at least the day before about who was coming and why. That way they could prepare and maybe even come up with some ideas to make the event "extra special."

Beyond décor and service lie other intangibles. One is entertainment. This doesn't necessarily mean a music ensemble from a local conservatory. It can be as simple as piped in music. The key is to match the music to the ambiance you want to set. And you should be aware of the way the mood changes in an outlet as time goes by.

A good friend of mine who sings in a band pointed this out to me. "In the beginning of the night we play easier listening music that is more suitable for a wider variety of guests. However, as the night goes on, the guests are either lightening up from alcohol or coming in specifically for entertainment. So as the evening progresses we get a little funkier in our selection."

A good entertainer understands this concept but you can as well. You just need to be aware of who your guests are and why they are there.

You can also entertain your guests with your current staff. I know of one outlet that has taught their entire staff a couple of small dance numbers. It isn't anything complicated but when the guests see all the staff get up on the dance floor and do their number, it makes them feel like they are among friends. Every time they finish, the floor is packed with patrons. The interaction is magnetic and the guests have become participants in their own entertainment.

None of this is advice to neglect your menu. As mentioned earlier, no amount of 'intangibles' will overcome bad food. But with a basic, yet solid menu, friendly service, good entertainment and clean, interesting décor, you can create an experience for your guest that feels personal. It is just that experience that they will describe when they get back home and talk to their friends. And that's marketing that you just can't buy.
About the Author
Francisco Faulkner is the professional freelance writer. He's also the webmaster of Newfoodhealthy.com
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